Afrodeutsche: “Techno. It’s that language that I can speak”
Born and raised in Devon in the west of the UK, Henrietta Smith-Rolla knows to tell stories from the dark side of civilization. Being the first black kid in town and having a single mum and not a proper family back then made you a social spectacle – and sadly it might still today… Spending hours and hours on the piano of the houses her mother was cleaning, helped Henrietta to find her own path into the world and eventually she moved to Manchester.
In the music she produces under the moniker Afrodeutsche, Henrietta Smith-Rolla explores both personal identity as well as the borderless country called ‘techno’.
Henrietta Smith-Rolla is what we could call a reality dreamer – a shining example of what’s possible if you keep running against all odds. So suddenly her dreams have come true and she’s got to play all those wonderful venues, alongside all those zeigeist-ignoring freedom-exploring artists she admires.
Which music was the first to touch/inspire/move you? What made it so special?
A jungle track by Leviticus called The Burial. It was the synth in the beginning, it starts with deep heavy synths – and just goes into this brilliant, just drums, proper jungle. I was a teenager at that time, I was listening on headphones in school.
It was on a jungle compilation called “Jungle Mania 94”, a double cassette. I remember taking that compilation to church – and it got stolen. That was the first track, I got into electronic music through the heavy synths.
Have there been people whose contribution to the development of your musical identity was of special importance?
An obvious influence has been Drexciya, Underground Resistance. That language of that electronica, I don’t know what you wanna call it? Techno. It is that language that I can speak – and a lot of other people can speak the same language. You can be anywhere in the world and talking to someone about music – and when someone mentions Drexciya: “I know you! I know you!” It is definitely and influence but it also feels like an inetit thing, like I was always able to speak that language. Yes, I am heavily influenced by Drexciya, Dopplereffekt, Underground Resistance, Aux 88, that side of electronics.
I love film, so a lot of composers, people who write scores and soundtracks are also a huge influence to me: arrangements, how to make sense of something.
Are you able to share the process of evolving your identity with us?
When I was really young, my mum was cleaning houses, and I used to go visit her after school. That one house she used to clean was owned by a woman who had a piano. I asked her if I can play on the piano – I just played stuff and write stuff and kind of told myself how to play. I can still remember the first piece I wrote there. I had lots of friends with pianos in their houses, so I used to go there and say “hey!” and got on the piano.
What do you hope to find in music?
I listen to things that help me process or I just wanna dance to it. It’s like total opposites. Sometimes I just wanna dance, I wanna lose my shit in my flat, I know my neighbours are banging about it… I wanna feel something.
What do you prefer, the secluded working process of the studio or being in front of an audience?
They are very different. When I am writing at home I usually will have to process something, I am feeling a certain way and ask myself what’s going on. Music is how I gonna deal with it. When it comes to live – I actually have an audience. It is either about I wanna please that audience, or I wanna bring that audience into my world, or …
What is your ideal space/place to listen to music?
I think I am spoiled, I am going out dancing for a long time and I can’t think of one place that has been … Plastic People in London was great, sound-wise and space-wise, a tiny, little space – it was brilliant.
Travelling that much and playing on so many different soundsystems is all like a learning process. Every soundsystem sounds different, so your work sounds different every time you go to a different place. So I got a slightly different perspective now, cause I was always on the other side: dancing.
I never leave the house without headphones. I walk everywhere and I am always listening to music while I am walking. It’s like staying in a room with myself.
Which female artists inspired you to make music?
Leila, who was on Warp. She got this brilliant way with melody and movement – I kind of relate to it, but I don’t know if I can understand it.
More recently NKISI, she is just next level. We had a few moments together, we did an improvised live thing on her NTS show together as she got this new drum machine and I brought my old mic kit. We said “fuck it” and she was doing drums and I was doing synths. It is quite hard finding people you can jam with, make music with, have a nice time with. You have to know this person quite well. She is super inspiring. I love her. Anz, a DJ and producer, she is brilliant, she just released an EP. There are lots.
What or who else has inspired you?
Erik Satie, Claude Debussy. Yeah, music without words that has a story. And the piano, I just love piano. I am really lucky that I can sit at a piano and play music. That’s how I told myself, I was listening to Satie and Debussy and find my way on the keyboard, I start with the right hand and just listen and listen and listen.
And recent inspirations?
Decal “Riptide” on Satamile Records – seven and half minutes of joy.
What’s a secret guilty pleasure, an idiosyncrasy of yours or something that would surprise people about you?
90s R’n’B – I would not call it a guilty pleasure, I just love it. If I wanna go to a very nice dancing, moving-my-entire-body space: 90s R’n’B.
What would be a fantasy venue or event to DJ at?
I dream about that stuff and then I wake up and it is real. My dreams became reality. I played Säule at Berghain, I am supporting Aphex Twin. It’s like magical.
Do you see a connection between your femininity and your work? And if so what is it?
I don’t see it in my work, my work is neither male or female. It never crossed my mind. When I am making music, it does not come into it. When you shout about something, people’s ears close off. It is like with kids. The more subtle you are with things, the more people get it, they feel it for themselves, they understand it. I try to be more subtle about it so it gets normal.
This interview with Henrietta Smith-Rolla is part of the ongoing photo-project „Electric Lights – Women in Electronic Music“ by Hamburg based photographer Katja Ruge and Kaput co-publisher Thomas Venker focused on the role of women in electronic music. Each shoot is accompanied by a short interview, based on a personalised questionnaire.
The interviews will be published on the kaput website on a monthly basis, before finding their way into a book publication.