INTERVIEW The Golden Filter

Let’s see the world through a golden filter or The Golden Filter even if or especially when not everything is as golden as it seems in the world. Penelope and Stephen, probably best known under their The Golden Filter moniker, have been responsible for several highly acclaimed musical pieces throughout their career, which started with ‘Solid Gold‘ in 2008. Last year the duo released ‘Talk Talk Talk’, one of Sonar Festival’s most talked about tracks, while 2019 tends to be another busy year for the duo, who just released two EPs, ‘Dislocation’ on their own label 4GN3S and ‘Restraint’ on Dischi Autunno. According to Stephen, music is really all the duo does, but above the both have much more to offer than music. In their latest interview for Torture the Artist Stephen and Penelope speak about the reasons of leaving New York and moving to London, their musical relationship, art exhibitions, the aspect of nature in their music,social media and the internetand, of course, generally about music.

Torture the Artist: Hello Penelope and Stephen, tell us something about your day.

Stephen: Hi. A couple bits of good news came today, and the weather felt a bit like spring.

Penelope: Hello. We sent off a new release to get pressed on to vinyl today.

Torture the Artist: What’s the track that best describes the relationship between the two of you, and why?

Stephen: ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror‘.  We know how to help each other though the harder moments.

Torture the Artist: You got to know each other as neighbours in New York. What are you now that you live in London?

Penelope: Partners and Lovers.

Torture the Artist: What was the crucial reason you left the Big Apple for London?

Stephen: Health insurance. People in London always ask why we moved away from New York City, but they don’t know the daily anxieties that exist when you don’t have health insurance because you don’t have a regular day job. If you get hit by a car, or develop an intense illness, you could be in major debt for life…

Penelope: Also funding for the Arts. The Arts in the UK may be suffering, but there is still plenty of support out there compared to nearly zero in the States.

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Torture the Artist: Do you participate in the local art scene in London to some extent and do you have some places / exhibitions to recommend?

Penelope: We aren’t really a part of an art scene per se in London. That said, I curated an exhibition at the Copeland Gallery in Peckham for my solo music project which was signed to Houndstooth; this included my music and performance along with photography and film by Agnes Haus, which is an elusive collective making stark visuals. I am planning to do one of those each year. I also occasionally do talks at galleries about being a woman creatively, socially, and sexually.  

Stephen: We’ve just seen Tracy Emin’s exhibition at White Cube Gallery which was quite moving. The Tate Modern is generally a great place to go if you have a spare day. They often have free exhibitions like Jenny Holzer’s ‘Artist Rooms’ and Christian Marclay’s ‘The Clock’ – both brilliant!

Torture the Artist: You just released your EP ‘Dislocation’ on your own label 4GN3S. Did you found the label initially place in order not to musically ‘dislocate’ yourself or were there other reasons you found the label?

Penelope: We have always had our own label, but this one is Europe based and releases vinyl.

Stephen: So far it’s only released us and remixes of us, but perhaps eventually we’ll release other artists.

Torture the Artist: We’re basically catching up with you in between releases. As mentioned before ‘Dislocation’ was just released and ‘Restraint’ will be out soon on Dischi Autunno. Releasing two EPs within just three months in 2019 is almost the same amount of music (or even more) that you have released before in one year. Do you have to ‘restrain’ yourself from releasing any further music this year?

Stephen: We make a lot of music – it’s really all we do. There is also more to come out this year.

Penelope: No restraint.

Torture the Artist: So what else do you have scheduled for 2019?

Stephen: We can’t really talk about the details yet, sorry. But definitely a lot between Penelope’s solo project, The Golden Filter, and also my own music.

Torture the Artist: Let’s do some ‘Talk Talk Talk’ on ‘Restraint’. As the EP is the second one this year are they connected with each other – by way of that they were written in a certain period of time and capture events in your lives – or did the EPs come about another way?

Stephen: Yes, they were both written in 2018. There are a few running themes throughout all of our music, but honestly the Restraint EP‘ tells more of a story as all the songs pertain to dominance and suppression in one form or another. Dislocation‘ was more of a statement on isolation, as we generally don’t know exactly where we fit musically, and now that we are living in a different country than where we grew up, we also feel a bit dislocated.

We’re really happy when people think about the music they are listening to. We feel like music can exist for so much more than just to have a good time. (Penelope)

Torture the Artist: Every track is accompanied by a little story; what’s a story that immediately pops up in your mind when speaking of either one of the EPs, or do you wish your music to be interpreted on its own without giving too many hints and clues? Are you ever surprised how close reviews/critiques hit to your intended idea or do you rather enjoy it when people can adapt to your idea in the first place and the soundscapes you used to express or highlight certain ideas in the track?

Penelope: We’re really happy when people think about the music they are listening to. We feel like music can exist for so much more than just to have a good time. ‘Coincidence’ came about after in-depth reading about a Blood Moon and how it can affect people. I think people need to be in touch with nature more.

Torture the Artist: What’s your relationship to nature and what’s your greatest concern with how people should be in touch with nature?

Stephen: It’s not an unknown concept, by any means, but too much living on the internet, which is literally the opposite of nature, I think can be damaging to humans. People can forget how to interact. I think there’s a massive benefit to stepping away from business and social media and connecting with an ocean, a field, or a forest, and feel the multidimensional space of reality.

Sometimes we drag ourselves away on a trip without laptops, and just exist… Those are the times where the visuals and photography for our music comes from, as we have the ability to focus more clearly.

Talk Talk Talkis about this very thing… our relationship to the internet, the endless noise online and how it creates mental block. (Penelope)

Torture the Artist: Picking up on the nature aspect, to what extent and how is nature depicted through your music, even if it’s not necessarily noticeable for the audience?

Penelope: I think it’s there constantly within the vocals… Talk Talk Talk‘ is about this very thing… our relationship to the internet, the endless noise online and how it creates mental block. If you place that track alongside ‘Coincidence’, you can see a lot more clearly where our headspace is.

Torture the Artist: When do you decide to put a conceptual idea of a track into practice?

Stephen: When we are both in a purely positive headspace.

Torture the Artist: Which one of your tracks or releases has been the most forward-thinking in your opinion, and why?

Stephen: It depends on your definition of ‘forward thinking. For us, ‘Unselected Works’ was probably one of the more forward thinking releases we’ve done. At the time, music had to be distributed on CDs and all properly produced and done the way things have been done for decades, but we released three albums worth of unfinished ideas out into the world for free, then it came out on a trilogy of vinyl. It’s much more commonplace now to release music that is incongruous to what you normally do and everything is generally accepted, even if it’s ignored, but back then… it was a bit of a leap of faith that gave us confidence to not overthink what we release, and be less concerned with what others think.

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Torture the Artist: What phrases have you tried to get attention for one of your releases on your social media, ranked in order of their effectiveness?

Penelope: We have never paid attention to this. We barely say anything on social media and we aren’t concerned with pushing out a constant stream of noise to get attention.

89% of my Twitter feed are DJs complaining. We don’t want to be a part of that.

Torture the Artist: What’s the reason for not being so active on social media? 

Stephen: I really don’t see a point in chatting about the thing that I bought today, or complaining about things in public, It’s just people trying to get other people to interact with them to grow their followers.  89% of my Twitter feed are DJs complaining. We don’t want to be a part of that. There are outliers. We were chatting to JD Twitch about this and he pointed out Helena Hauff and how she has no social media at all, which is amazing and inspiring. 

Torture the Artist: Every artist has some kind of routine when producing music – what is yours?

Stephen: We meet over coffee or tea, then set out to accomplish what we want for the day.

Torture the Artist: What’s a sound/element/instrument that always gets the job done when you are stuck in a rut with a track in the studio?

Stephen: Penelope’s vocals. Always inspiring.

When an artist makes art, they become known for doing a certain thing, and that doesn’t always allow artists to branch out into other tangents. (Penelope)

Torture the Artist: Besides producing music under your The Golden Filter moniker you both have released solo as well. To what extent do your solo productions depict your musical personas differently in comparison to your productions as The Golden Filter?

Penelope: When an artist makes art, they become known for doing a certain thing, and that doesn’t always allow artists to branch out into other tangents. Like, you won’t go to a photography exhibition to see sculptures. It’s the same with music… we created a self-imposed constraint on The Golden Filter, even though we have so many more musical interests than just dance music.

Torture the Artist: What other musical interests do you have and what kind of track would you like to produce that does not match the Golden Filter sound?

Stephen: We have a lot…I listen to ambient or experimental music when I am on airplanes, which is really the only time I have to listen to music outside of what we are working on. I produce a lot of things that don’t sound like The Golden Filter, under a different name, which I won’t disclose.

Penelope: Low, Aldous Harding, Grouper, Cocteau Twins, and Kendrick Lamar, come to mind. 

Torture the Artist: When you produce music on your own and not as The Golden Filter, is the other person somehow involved in the production process, or do you separate these things from each other?

Stephen: Generally they stay separated, unless our two side projects come together to help each other out…

Torture the Artist: In what way do you help each other on the solo projects?

Stephen: Penelope will lend me vocals… I lend her sounds, a bit of aura, and advice.

Penelope: Stephen is really prolific and often gets inundated with choice, so I help him with some decision making and curation.

Torture the Artist: You’ve been working together for quite a few years; what do you appreciate most about each other?

Penelope: Patience and passion… dedication and focus.

Often when I am on stage, it feels like acting, and also kind of comedic at times. (Penelope)

Torture the Artist: What apart from music do you dedicate yourself to? Additionally, could you imagine doing something else other than music for a living – any ‘hidden talents’?

Stephen: I’ll be making music forever, but if making more experimental music meant that I had to have another job, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I went to art school for design and photography and have had lots of jobs doing graphic design in NYC.

Penelope: I think I would look into a career as an actress or comedian if I couldn’t do music. Often when I am on stage, it feels like acting, and also kind of comedic at times.

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Torture the Artist: As you’ve provided your listeners with quite some music this year already, you’re also due to go on tour in Europe with Sharon Van Etton. Was Sharon a neighbour of yours when you lived in New York?

Stephen: No. We’ve never met her. She was listening to our track ‘End Of Times’ a lot last year and put it in a playlist, and then asked us if we wanted to support her UK and European tour. It came about pretty much as pure as can be, and it’s all about the music, which is lovely.

We hardly play clubs or dance music festivals because we aren’t completelyaccepted as ‘DJ music’ by promoters, even if well-known DJs consistently play our music(Stephen)

Torture the Artist: Musically speaking, Sharon’s approach and audience is quite different from yours – what chances do you see for yourself when you go on tour with her?

Penelope: I’m not sure her approach is all that different from ours… Music is music and shouldn’t be relegated for certain fans. I imagine that her fans will be responsive and curious about Sharon’s choice, and willing to connect with us. I am looking forward to that aspect.

Stephen: We hardly play clubs or dance music festivals because we aren’t completely accepted as ‘DJ music’ by promoters, even if well-known DJs consistently play our music. So perhaps we are playing exactly where we should be. Either way, we’re happy to play a lot of shows this year in amazing venues opening for an inspiring artist. We love Sharon’s new album, and I think there is room for her fans to get into our music and vice versa.

Torture the Artist: What is a musical overlap between Sharon Van Etton’s music and yours?

Penelope: Mood. Songs. Words. Music.

Stephen: We both make music that is meant to be thought about while listening.

Torture the Artist: What’s an artist you would like to collaborate with, and why?

Stephen: Jon Rafman. Love his work. 

Penelope: Laurie Anderson. It would be a dream to collaborate with her… She’s been an idol for ages for me.

Torture the Artist: What’s noticeably absent in your lives?

Stephen: How would we know?

Interview by Holger Breuer