INTERVIEW & ART:CAST SPECIAL Sofia Kourtesis

The Peruvian-raised and Berlin-grown artist, Sofia Kourtesis, puts her kiddy cats away for the hour to discuss her drive behind the cause, her musical upbringings, and the prospective threads she seeks. The refreshing Sofia Kourtesis has been a hurricane on the radar and has failed to disappoint with her newfangled EP, the rejuvenating and liberating Fresia Magdalena. The exceptional quality of the EP parallels her production possibilities and heightens her buzz. Delightfully cinematic and sunny, Fresia Magdalena EP is named after Kourtesis’ mother, Fresia, and is dedicated to her activism work in their hometown Magdalena, Lima. The lovely Kourtesis embodies herself as an true empath; her grit for activism runs deep in her familial roots and personal experiences. Because despite pandemic headlines, plaguing issues perpetuate. Kourtesis’ presence on the album is even more magnetizing, as enchanting synths wines and dines her (debut) velvety voice. The sample powerhouse pairs her lo-fi cuts with crisp rings and bell tones to compose a dancey blissful transaction. She also shares her multidisciplinary skillset in the hour and how her diverse expertise allows her to wholly steer her artistic vision. To ensure her concept is authentically executed from top to bottom, she holds visual and auditorial jurisdiction in all creative projects. This is Kourtesis’ final word about the album as she transitions into her next life chapter, moving away from Fresia Magdalena’s limelight and into the studio in the coming months to work on her next album.

Torture the Artist: Hello Sofia! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. Can you tell us something that you’re looking forward to in the upcoming weeks?

Sofia Kourtesis: I’m very looking forward to working on the next album and writing a script for a movie. I want to direct the videos that I want to bring out with the album. After all, we didn’t do a lot of visual stuff now because we were so involved in doing remixes for some other bands which takes you a lot of time and energy. And like I just finished a remix for Diplo that is going to be up in three weeks. I also got asked by Coldplay to do a remix for them and I think it’s a funny thing because musically I don’t really agree with a lot of things that they do or maybe it’s not the type of music that I would do, but I really like Chris Martin’s voice, I think it’s very beautiful. I’m also looking forward to doing some other remixes for other bands and I may be a producer for some HipHop acts that I enjoy. It takes a lot of your energy when you do music for other bands, but I’m most looking forward to working all summer and then escape in the winter to South America again and maybe California to surf.

I moved to Germany for school because I was tired of always feeling like the Antichrist.

Torture the Artist: Let’s start from the beginning. What part of Peru are you originally from and when/what pushed you to move to Berlin where you currently reside?

Sofia Kourtesis: I left Peru when I was like a teenager, about 17 because I wanted to be an actress. I used to take part in a lot of theaters and my uncle was a director. I also started to act in movies, that always had the weirdest pics and directions. But I was very lost at the time because Peru, Lima was very conservative, and I was still looking for my sexual identity. I was once kicked out of school because I kissed a girl and then I was kicked out from another school because I did the wrong movie and had the wrong color of hair. I had red hair and I was listening to Nirvana at the time, so people thought that I was weird. So, I moved to Germany for school because I was tired of always feeling like the Antichrist. Then, I had this opportunity to go to school and I wanted to be like a film director. And then I said, where I can be to find myself without feeling afraid to be who I am. So, in Berlin, I found my perfect match because everybody was very open, and everything came together at the right moment I was an outsider because everybody in Berlin is fucking insane. So, I felt very welcomed and that I found my voice here.

My mind is always very cinematic.

Torture the Artist: Where did you study in Europe before you decided to pursue music more seriously in Berlin?

Sofia Kourtesis: So basically, I started and went to school in Hamburg for Communications. I always say that I’m like a frustrated filmmaker because I left filmmaking to become a full-time musician. And I never finished like any of the movies that I always wanted to do. So basically, this is one of the reasons why my music and my songs sound a little bit cinematic to some people. I am very visual because I sample a lot of my favorite, the places where I go, the people that I met, and the things that I do. My mind is always very cinematic, I’m watching movies or photography all the time or traveling around the world to see something that inspires me. I am always recording a lot of stuff, with a field recording machine with just my phone. The idea of one of my songs is always initiated with something that I saw that touched me. Yet, this comes to me because I am a frustrated filmmaker. So maybe in the next couple of months or so I’m really looking forward to taking my time and also like write a script and shoot it.

Torture the Artist: How was music already involved in your life that made your decision to change focuses a feasible one?

Sofia Kourtesis: Music had always been an element that was in my blood because my father used to play in a rock band before, he was like a lawyer and a judge. So there was a lot of music around me, he taught me how to play the piano and how to sing. It was very musical in my home all the time with my mom and dad. So, when I moved to Europe and started to study, I was working in a bar to make money to pay for my flat. And then I and then there was a lot of live music. Then I became a booking agent when I was still studying film. And then this little sparkling from the music came out of me. And then I started to deejay a lot and to play my first gigs and I felt like I really could make a like living out of it. And then I started to buy some gear and decided to produce some music. And then that the story evolved and then took me to a completely another path when I was like studying. You know, sometimes it’s like a lot of stories when you wanted to study something and finished doing something very different, you know. So, this is like I’m one of the best examples, but I always think it will be next to you. The thing that you wanted to do, it would be always there and one day you just catch it and take it back.

It’s always important for me to be involved in the process of the artwork or video so it’s the right thing to represent my voice.

Torture the Artist: That’s wonderful how you can incorporate your different talents into your music career. Can you tell us a little about the videos for the album?

Sofia Kourtesis: Yes. I still have to do a video for La Perla. But I don’t know, I think I’m done with everything related to this EP at the moment. So I guess I would let an artist’s work on it, but from there I want to have one hundred percent creative control of it. I would try to work with the government and directive and also write a script for it. I’m very special about how the piece has to be and what kind of direction it will go in. I don’t want the video to be taking away from the music. For example, something very important for me is that the artwork always goes in hand with the music. It’s always important for me to be involved in the process of the artwork or video so it’s the right thing to represent my voice. Like it’s when you write an article or when you write your own poems or when you write your books or your stories, you don’t want anybody to take over it. So it’s just kind of feeling that I know now how wanted also to be done in a way that I think is representative with my own community and work with artists that I know represents our queer community. I also feel like I have a responsibility to somehow send a message through the things that I did, so it reaches its full potential, and I can authentically carry out my artistic direction. Thus, I think the next couple of things will be a little bit more political in a way, so I will try to leave a message out there.

Torture the Artist: Can you tell us a little bit more about what your pre-discovery story looked like as an artist and how it went down?

Sofia Kourtesis: One of the pre-discovery stories I had was when I used to be in a hip-hop band. But I didn’t really like this hip-hop band because I couldn’t rap like Missy Elliott. And I said like, oh no, this is not sounding good. And I’m not a rapper, so I’m just going to do Electronic Music and I think this is music I feel the most comfortable with because with Electronica I am right. And if I feel I have something to say, I just write it down and put it in the new album, like maybe singing. I think I’m finding my voice like I never wanted to sing before because I didn’t feel comfortable, but now I feel that I have also something to say. I just want to do electronic music with a message.

Torture the Artist: Let’s talk about your discography and whom you have made relationships with along the way, specifically the Studio Barnhus trio. Can you tell us about how you met and how you fit in so nicely?

Sofia Kourtesis: I love them so much. I f*cking adore them. The first time I got on contact with them was very funny. I sent Axel Boman a song when I was very drunk. And then he replied the next day and I was like, “oh my God, Axel Boman wrote me, he really likes my song”. Then he put it on the Studio Barnhus compilation at the time. And then they asked me if I wanted to do an EP and I said yes. And I felt like that is my home and wanted to stay there. But somehow my path took me to another way that is now with Ninja Tune record label. But I will always love Studio Barnhus and I promised them that one day I would go back home and write more music for them.

Torture the Artist: Clearly, your track record has already proven an exciting and impressive one; what do you have planned for the upcoming year?

Sofia Kourtesis: What I plan for the upcoming year is to travel a lot hopefully. This year I am going to play some shows in London. I may be going to New Zealand and Australia. When the world is in a better place, I will be able to go on tour and then bring the new album out and write the script for a movie. These are the things that I’m looking forward to next year. But I don’t know if they would be fulfilled because life is full of surprises. So, this is one wish, maybe I have to go on a completely different path because of things that are happening. And I also want to do a lot like more activism. I started to do it when I was in Peru, in South America, in the last weeks, but I think a path I want to go down also is activism to do something more for my community.

Torture the Artist: Is there a particular cause that you resonate with the most?

Sofia Kourtesis: I think more than anything, it’s equality for women in general, for also our gay community and our transgender indigenous community in Latin America. They’re fighting for a change. And the queer community, in general, is trying to be in politics and trying to make a point and say that we are as well, and we are like trying to figure out our identity and we need you to help us. So, equality, in general, is a cause that is really very important for me. Even like for the indigenous people that are losing their rainforest where they live. Even if you bring somebody to jail, if you don’t educate them, this will happen and happen again. So education is also one point that needs to be changed and fixed somehow. But, in general, I resonate with what is involved with my community around Peru.

Torture the Artist: We understand that you were once in a HipHop band. Who was in the band and what was your role so to speak?

Sofia Kourtesis: I met my boyfriend at the time that was an English producer. He used to do electronica music too and since he was an electronic musician, we both moved to Berlin and then we traveled a lot around the world because he was very successful at the time. He was kind of one of the leading people that showed me the gears and how he used a lot of samplings.

Torture the Artist: Do you have a few favorite HipHop artists?

Sofia Kourtesis: Yeah, I love Jay-Z. I liked the way that HipHop music, like in the 80s and 90s were made with Soul and Blues and turned it into something so beautiful. They take this amazing artist and create a completely new art out of it. So yeah, I like the HipHop culture I think it’s amazing.

A lot of my music warrants sampling things from moments that I love.

Torture the Artist: How has your background experience in the HipHop genre and culture affected your present taste and overall production skills?

Sofia Kourtesis: HipHop music is a lot about sampling and like a lot of my music warrants sampling things from moments that I love. So HipHop has a huge, huge impact on my music. You have to listen to old HipHop bands like the Beastie Boys. The Beastie Boys were also very funny and then there would be completely other kinds of HipHop like West Coast and East Coast HipHop, which are very different. The whole culture is very interesting. But why I like HipHop it’s not because I like what they’re rapping about, I like the composition, and to know how HipHop is made. It’s like the way they choose to use the samplings or the way that they did the production is very unique and very inspiring. That’s why I love HipHop, not because I love what they’re singing or saying. Even if a Kanye West song is very nice musically, his lyrics could still be shitty, but I really like how they take like old versions and make something completely new. I like the composition lot, how they do it.

Torture the Artist: Speaking of samples, you eloquently incorporate magnetizing samples into many of your tracks. How do you choose to pair a sample with a selected track?

Sofia Kourtesis: I first listen to a melody and then from there the story goes. Sometimes I choose a lot of melodies and tracks that don’t even belong together, but somehow, they come together in a song. So, it’s intuitive you know, and depending on the state of mind that I am in at the moment. It’s not that I’m thinking of something specific, but it’s just so in the moment. I was in the Amazon, in the rainforest, and it was amazing to record and do some field recordings over there. But when I try to bring this to force into my daily life, it doesn’t work because of its nature. You know, you cannot keep that moment.

Torture the Artist: Given the pandemic, will you resume your position as a booker for Funkhaus as things start opening (very) slowly?

Sofia Kourtesis: Yes, but not fully, because I am very occupied as a musician at the moment. But will keep still doing itsince I enjoy it and love it so much. Come and visit us it’s a beautiful space.

You need to find a balance between booking the bands that you love and booking the bands that will sell out the venue.

Torture the Artist: As a booker — circa one year ago — what did your process look like to selected artists and determine seamless combinations for the night?

Sofia Kourtesis: Being a booker is different because it is like doing commercial work. You need to learn how to book the right band that is hyped at the moment, which is still cool, but not too mainstream to play in a high place. So, it’s a very intuitive job. But also, you must be a more selective person, in the way you do it. It has to fit the place, but you also need to make money out of it. It’s a special work because you need to find a balance between booking the bands that you love and booking the bands that will sell out the venue.

Torture the Artist: Absolutely, what is one thing, physical or non-physical, that you want more than anything else in the world?

Sofia Kourtesis: It would be for my dad to be alive, but he’s not and I cannot bring him back. I guess the only thing that I would like non-physical is for him to be with me. I just want something that is non-physical, so maybe a physical time machine would be nice.

Torture the Artist: What time would you go back to?

Sofia Kourtesis: Back to when my dad and I were younger, and to really like enjoy the moment again and again. So, when I miss him, I would go to this time machine and go back in time and be with him and not say certain things that I shouldn’t have said while he was still alive. You know, when you are stupid and angry, and you tell your parents something that you really don’t mean just because you were frustrated. So, yeah, a time machine would be nice!

There are a lot of people that have been very depressed at the moment that are too shy to ask for help.

Torture the Artist: Lastly, is there anything that you would like to be express or be featured here?

Sofia Kourtesis: One thing that I want you to mention is that we in general, need to have more like a sensibility regarding mental health and looking into your environment because there are a lot of people that have been very depressed at the moment that are too shy to ask for help. So, mental health should be taken more seriously as a disease and also, not to make fun of people who are suffering through these depressions. It’s very normal to feel not okay! So this is one of the things that just are very important for me.

Words by Isabella Gadinis

Cover picture by https://www.instagram.com/fatchristof