10 things you need to know about eliot sumner’s new techno project, vaal
Taken from her brilliant forthcoming album 'Nosferatu', watch the cinematic video for 'Blue Eyes'.
Photography Pierre Ange
Anyone with a good pair of ears and respectable music taste will remember I Blame Coco’s 2010 electropop bop Self Machine with fondness. Nine years on and the British musician born Eliot Sumner has a whole new sound, having spent the past half a decade DJing clubs and festivals across the world, experimenting with electronic production, releasing music on Life and Death as well as Afterlife Recordings, and slowly but very surely making a name for herself as VAAL.
Starting 2019 as she means to go on, the talented 28-year-old is currently gearing up to release her debut album as VAAL, Nosferatu on 25 January. The project is dark, disconcerting and deserving of a cinematic visual to match... which is exactly why we're here today. Lead single Blue Eyes (Eliot’s favourite track, because it has the most heart) has been given the short film treatment by director Sergei Rostropovich.
“I’m someone that feels quite a lot, for better or for worse, and it’s a contrast of power and fragility,” Eliot says of both herself and the track. “The video was such a wonderful coincidence. I’d met Sergei in Paris on another video shoot for a band called Film Noir. I told him about what I was up to and sent him the album and he was really into it. A week later he cut together this footage he had of this guy called Michel De Windt and it was so perfect because it reflects what I was going through emotionally in 2018 when I made the album.”
Sergei has captured a wild trip through mania, aggression and despair; footage following Michael through the late night neon lights of a city and out the other side. It’s voyeuristic and beautiful. “Quite a lot of anger and rage went into making the album,” Eliot rexplains. “It all made perfect sense, it was like a wonderful marriage of the video and music.” Agreed. Get stuck in and get to know VAAL via the 10 fun facts below.
1. VAAL means ‘deadly pale, faded’ in Dutch.
“It also means whale in a few Baltic languages, so for a while I think people thought I was a Flemish producer because of the name. I managed to stay completely anonymous for about three years. The idea was that the music would speak only for itself and there would be no background on who the artist was.”
2. The Fat of The Land by The Prodigy was the first cassette she ever owned.
“It’s still very relevant in my life now, I find it very empowering. I’m quite glad I don’t drive a car because I’d probably listen to it and drive it into something. My mum used to play Bach and Vivaldi to my little brother because it’s supposed to make you more intelligent. It worked for him -- I have a very intelligent younger brother!”
3. When people ask what she does, sometimes she tells them she’s a dolphin trainer.
“That’s always quite an awkward question I think, because I make music under ‘Eliot Sumner’ as well, so it depends how I’m feeling on the day. It goes with my split personality. Some of the time I just say I produce electronic music and write songs but then sometimes I tell people I train dolphins at Seaworld. But I think the album has a clear enough identity that I’m glad I’ve got that to show people what kind of music I make. I think the album is quite menacing and sinister in parts and has shades of light and dark.”
4. She started producing techno before she had ever been clubbing.
“I get quite anxious in social situations but the label Tale of Us had a clubnight in Elephant and Castle in 2013, they’d been in touch after my first EP, so I couldn’t not go and see them. I heard them play my track and it was a bit of a mindfuck but it was an amazing experience. I tried to enjoy myself as much as I could -- it was the best few minutes of my clubbing life. I rarely go out, unless I’m playing or I have a purpose to be there, but that definitely gave me the buzz to keep making music and it was nice to know there was a bit of belief in it.”
5. But now she loves a nighttime adventure.
“I think my favourite was my gig at Mandarine Park in Buenos Aires. And then obviously my first gig at Berghain -- that was kind of amazing. Last year I played at a festival in Tunisia called Orbit Festival and that was also pretty cool. Those are my top three. I’ve also had some pretty scary adventures too. I was held in an interrogation room in Lebanon for eight hours once. It wasn’t great. It was quite scary actually, but I’m still here.”
6. Nosferatu is inspired by the electronic music she was raised on.
“It’s quite a departure from the EPs I put out in the past but I wanted to go back to my roots of how I felt when I listened to like Massive Attack and The Prodigy and Aphex Twin and Portishead and Kraftwerk, so I think there’s a lot of influence from that era of music but with a typical VAAL sound.”
7. She reckons it would soundtrack a Stanley Kubrick movie quite nicely.
“I think parts of the album would suit a Barry Lyndon or Kubrick movie. I grew up watching Guy Ritchie movies, so those soundtracks really filtered into my influences, which funnily enough I had the great pleasure of landing a small role in his newest film. I just finished shooting it, so that’s really exciting."
8. Which is fitting, because she loves a good sci-fi score.
“My favourites are the score for Moon by Clint Mansell -- I listen to that soundtrack relentlessly -- Good Time by Oneohtrix Point Never and Ex Machina by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury.
9. The fictional character she most relates to is the iconic silent horror villain she named the album after.
“I guess it's Nosferatu’s vampiric nature. But I’ve also been compared to Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon.”
10. And, according to Wikipedia, she lost her sense of smell in 2010 after a head injury.
Though we forgot to ask her about that.