Before speaking with experimental electronic musician Elysia Crampton, she sent us an email briefing us about certain facets of her identity, so that there wouldn't be any awkwardness. We appreciated the heads-up, truth be told, because we like to get things right from the off. More importantly, the communication pointed to just how important her identity is to Crampton, and no wonder.
The artist formerly known as E+E has been open about the fact that she's a transgender person, once saying in an interview for Rouges Foam blogspot that, "As trans, I've come to know my own beyondness—this selfhood, this selfness that walks alongside and through this space this isn't quite a space—between thinglyness and subjectivity, object and phenomenon, fold and vortex, etc. trans is trans-thing, trans-animal, trans-human...any trans or queer person that lives another day, as living negation of binaries, regardless of access to controlled surgeries/medications/documents etc., is an activist."
That's important, because it points to just how much thought she's put into her identity. Her Native American roots (Aymara, to be exact) are something that she speaks about in depth, the research and knowledge oozing out of her as she discusses the plight of the Aymara people and how that relates to the current mood of the nation.
"I have to speak from a Native American perspective," Crampton says. "For us, technically, 500 years ago, we had to undergo the apocalypse of our way of life. But we survived that. I know that most people think of American Indian people as this group that 'We'll never know their ways but they were so noble.' But we're still here. It's interesting to see people open to discussion and to thought, but also to feeling and empathy. Before, they would have thought, 'This is an annoying conversation, I don't want to have it, let's get on with our day.' That's been the incredible part—to see how it effects other people. It's interesting to see how much things have changed and how things are changing, and it'll be fascinating to see where things will be three or five years from now."
Including her years performing as E+E, Crampton has been making music for over a decade now, and she says that a lot has changed. She's grown as a musician, producer, songwriter, and performer. Originally, she wanted to be a performance artist but, over time, the music increasingly made its way into the show.
"I had a band at one point, and then from there, I just ended up doing it on my own," she says. "When you do music on your own, especially in a performance setting, when you're traveling to different spaces and having to set up, you have to really be smart and strategic. Also, all the money is in performance. So just on an economic level, you can be really clever. I came from writing music, just from doing editing and remixes, so that's something that you do at home on software with a computer. But having to translate that into a live format, with other bodies there, that's where I think all the growing happens and I had to be a much stronger performer for that. This year, that's what I've been advertising—my show, which culminates more than 10 years of work, all edited together to tell a story."
Crampton's electronic music is uniquely hers. It sounds like nobody else. Often dark and uncomfortable, Crampton is telling stories, usually without the aid of words. It's a stunning achievement. Still, even Crampton can't describe the style of music.
"It's difficult," she says. "I usually turn to a friend—hopefully there's a friend there—and have them answer. I don't think genres, naming things, is my strong suit. But a friend of mine came up with a good point: If you don't come up with a name, definitely other people will and a lot of times it's something you don't agree with and you end up trying to defend yourself. It can be like an antagonistic kind of thing."
A glance at Wikipedia and it looks like Crampton has been incredibly prolific over the last three years, putting out a new studio album every year. In fact, she says, 2017's Spots y Escupitajo was more a side project that the label wanted to market as a full album. As far as Crampton is concerned, 2016's Demon City was the last full album. It's a great record too; a wonderful example of Crampton's gift for blending EDM with the music of her roots.
"For us, our idea of culture isn't something static," she says. "It wasn't this idea of culture being legitimized from the static, enclosed unit. I think that informs my music in a very simple way. Even when I'm not directly referencing Aymara, my approach, maybe just listening in the way that a DJ would listen to different music and then accumulate that, is a very Aymara actapproach. Even if it incorporates all these different genres that one would label to other cultures or people."
This weekend, Crampton performs in Tucson, and indeed Arizona, for the first time. The set, she says, will again tell a story as it follows a loose narrative.
"Not the kind of thing where you have to pay attention at every angle, but it has that feeling, that arc, of build up and tension," she says. "It's loosely based on this ancient oral history about this puma that lives in the water and marries a mermaid, and has a fish for a child and the puma ends up eating the fish. But I translated that into a story about a comet which falls in love with a planet. It's a doomed relationship but it's a very emotional experience."
After this current tour, Crampton will continue working on her next album, and also a book. Her activism will continue to inform her work, and we'll get the benefits, both socially and artistically. Frankly, the world needs more artists like Elysia Crampton.