exploring horror and beauty in the music of LA suffocated
How murderous Avon ladies and demonic plastic surgeons inspire the sounds of this incredible Sydney duo.
LA Suffocated are a young Sydney duo making music best described as hard-hitting - songs that are as effervescent as they are melodic. All thudding darkwave beats paired with delicately pleasing lines of analog synth, members Milly and Ellen struggle to cite one specific genre or artist who influences their work, operating with the simple intention of making you "dance while you cry." With the trend of young Sydney-siders moving to LA, ostensibly to escape the Aussie cultural cringe/guilt and chasing an idealised vision of the Californian dream, it’s this very utopic naivety that the band are unintentionally subverting.
Upon forming LA Suffocated devised and wrote a kind of patchwork band manifesto, written hastily and made up of super campy, psychological horror vignettes detailing a psychopathic surgeon who mutilates his patients. Their intention was to use these stories as inspiration - drawing from that classic cocktail of glamour and decay, celebration and death.
We met the band in a deserted playground in Sydney’s inner west - underneath a dramatically loud flight path - to discuss emerging from the loneliness of the bedroom studio, the ongoing legacy of degeneration and Sydney as an artistic melting pot.
To start off, I’d love discuss your name and how people interpret it in relation to your music.
M: I think people think it sounds ugly. It is a bit ugly, and the word “suffocated” has such a doomy, emo association. I guess there’s also confusion cause we're not from America.
What image does it represent to you?
E: Something like botched plastic surgery - at least, that's where we went with it. We started thinking about all the things “LA Suffocated” made us think of - it was definitely a dystopic LA. But I think people interpret it as "we're suffocated by LA culture."
Can you tell us about your manifesto.
E In one an Avon lady comes to the door, selling a perfume. The lady buys it, sprays it on and ends up covering her house in mirrors. Then she dies.
M: In another one there was a demonic plastic surgeon who thought it was really funny to fuck up peoples faces.
Gruesome, I love that idea of the music telling a story. What music do you tend to listen to?
E: Pretty much all 80s synthpop, kinda gothy stuff. Maybe even Christian Death. It’s moreso the sub-cultural context of all that dark music I find really fascinating.
What kind of bands and scenes do you run in within Sydney and how would contextualise it for people who don’t live there?
M: We always end up playing with electronic, techno-y people and hardcore bands. Otherwise sometimes pop or experimental sort of electronic outfits. It's a nice assortment, lovely and diverse. It's not a cagey environment where you have to fit in with one style of music.
E: It's not big enough for anyone to be like "we're only going to play with other punk bands." There's something that links us all but it's not weird for an electronic band to be on a hardcore line-up. It makes sense in our world. It’s shared taste.
It’s so great because it definitely wasn’t always like that. When I was going to hardcore shows in my late teens and early twenties I was sneered at because I didn't limit myself to one genre or style.
E: Right. How could you only like one style?
J: I think it's just tribalistic – young people perhaps feel this need to curate their circle, to make it familiar and to be able to define it in strict terms.
E: If it's an identity thing as well, you cling on to shit that defines you because it's so rarified. But it's also very boring, being a ‘hardcore purist’.
M: I've noticed as I've grown older I like a lot of little aspects of many different things, so I can appreciate many different genres. If anything, we try to write songs that are less influenced by genre and more emotively directed. For some reason it's just very emotionally neutral music but still really driven or reflexive, or something like that.
J: How would you describe your music?
M: Pretty and weird. Also quite feminine, but that sounds bad on paper.
E: Maybe it's not that weird. I think it sounds sad. Ha. But in a way that is emboldening or uplifting - we're always talking about music that you can dance to but that kinda makes you want to bare your teeth. That would be my goal, is to make music that is fun and danceable but creates some kind of visceral reaction.
J: You create a lot of your music digitally. Do you ever feel you’re judged for that
E: I think so. I've heard people say they won’t listen to music made with a laptop and I think that's ridiculous. They’re usually gear nerds who spend thousands on their set-up and their music still sucks.
M: Yeah, I hate gear junkies. I just think that like, when you're relying purely on the gear to make you sound good, then shouldn't you also be relying on your ideas to get whatever sound you want? It's also this self consciousness about digital versus analogue, and a fixation on style or aesthetics, where people are still attached to the past. It's also quite classist or something, not everyone has a stupid amount of money to spend.
J: It really is a weirdly money driven evaluation from a punk scene. Do you think Sydney DIY is different from maybe five years ago?
E: well yeah, there's a lot more women in the scene. There’s jack shit venues now obviously and everyone's always like, "the lock up laws fucked up the scene", but I suppose having always been in the inner west, that stuff hasn't really affected us. There's never been venues in the inner west really. And people have always had to put on throw-up shows, in pretty random, last minute spaces. There’s definitely a lot more complaints from all the old punk dudes who are like "you’ve changed, the scene's all about fashion now." I just think that, these days, everyone's more embracing of each other's weird quirks, and I think that's more of a global thing. I don't think that's necessarily due to the change in this small community.
M: I don't actually think about ‘scenes’ and I don't really take that much inspiration from many other bands. I'd rather watch a movie and then write a song that inspired me. Being detached from those things and valuing my time alone, that's definitely more important to me.
Text and photography Jonno Revanche