By Devon Acuña, with editing help from Jack Farrell
pseudo-antigone is the newest musical endeavour by Simone A. Medina Polo, who you might also have heard of from her work in Philosophy, Arts Management, or one of the other thousand dope things she does. She made time to chat with me about pseudo-antigone, changes in the scene, sustainable community, and Hyperpop.
Check out her two most recent singles here. See her master post regarding the situation with MacEwan here.
Devon: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started with pseudo-antigone?
Simone: Yeah, I think we’ve kind of known each other for a while so you know that I've been running a few different projects here and there. I’ve been doing music for about 10 years, but in very different capacities, like Grindcore bands, Art Punk bands, Emo, and shit like that. By myself, I was mostly doing Folk Punk and whatnot. I guess, over time with doing music, I got to this point where I was always trying to do the same sort of thing with a formula. At this point, I kind of refer to it as guitar music, because that's really what I was doing. For a while, I was just putting out very DIY recorded things on Bandcamp, like just shitting out music every so often.
Devon: That was under Tiny Desk, right?
Simone: That was under Tiny Desk and the shit prior to that which used to be called Paperlife, which was my Folk Punk project for a little bit. It was a live band with my friend Elli Bookhalter, and Cassia Hardy was the drummer. We played for a little bit together and then Elli left, because he was going to focus in school, and then Cass left because she was starting to focus pretty seriously on WARES, which was a gift to everyone realistically speaking. For a while, I was really into shit like AJJ and Nana Grizol and that whole space of Midwestern sounds. I'm a prairie girl at heart in many respects, I guess.
I used to live with my old Grindcore band Busted Femur and at some point our drummer, Justin, was also a member of a couple other bands. The one I remember most is Cold Lungs which was just one of the best hardcore bands that ever came out of Edmonton, honestly. I think there was a prime time for hardcore in Edmonton around those years, so that really made me want to try to do some of that myself and I got particularly into the Screamo, Emo kind of sound. A consistent thing except for Busted Femur is that I was the main person hustling out a lot of the music happening. Aside from Busted Femur, every other experience I've had musically I've been pretty much in the situation where I’m booking the band rehearsals and shows and I'm doing a lot of the management for the act. A lot of the people there were great, but it was not the relationship I wanted. At some point I was kind of disillusioned with guitar band music, and I took the beginning of Covid as an opportunity to just test recording.
I’d just gotten a MacBook and shit, and I knew a little bit of how to use just very basic things from early high school because I did an engineering class. I took the chance to mess around with something a little bit fancier than Audacity and be a little bit more involved in what I was trying to do. The main thing that made me realize that whole era was coming to an end was starting to work on g3n3ric fr4ct4ls with Ty. That summer, in the middle of a pandemic, we made a pretty elaborate plan to meet up and be safe about it, and we ended up chatting a lot about the 100 Gecs remix album because it had just come out that week before. We kept chatting about the fact that we could just start sending stems to each other, because that's what Laura Les and Dylan Brady tend to do.
Ty was a really welcoming person to get to learn about engineering properly from. So, with a big chance to be silly and fun and put out the EP we did in October and then, you know, I was pretty happy that we got to do that, but I wanted to do more. We still are working together, we actually have a few things in the works right now, but the pace of it was not matching up because we operate in very different ways, which happens just with people overall. So, the antigone thing would come very much from - I needed to have that space for myself to work at my own pace, and even learn what my own pace is in a certain respect, like, the EP that came out at the beginning of the year, pretty much was all recorded and produced in a week, and the mixing and mastering would happen in the following weeks.
Devon: Wow, that's super fast.
Simone: Yeah, I just get really finicky. In my case, I stopped playing video games and I stopped reading philosophy, and that's what I do now in my own personal time. It's just been hours of “I just want to get this one thing right”. I like that EP a lot, particularly the lyric writing on it, but the production and whatnot is honestly a pretty muffled output insofar as, like, I put so much reverb and shit because I tried to be shoegaze, so it's kind of hard to tell apart the instruments. There's just a lot of things that, at this point where I'm currently at right now, I wouldn't do in my production. But, it was fun, it was great, and honestly I just really liked the songs and I might actually remix and do the whole thing to make them sound better at some point.
Once the EP was done, I started working on the full length that I'm still working on, it kind of looks like around 11 tracks. So yeah, that's been my experience in terms of how pseudo-antigone happened. I just realized that that is something I want to do more, I don't want to play an instrument, I want to chill and sing out loud and just be there. Just really create an experience for myself in being really involved in music in a way that I haven't had before.
Devon: So, I'm assuming you haven't played any shows yet? Because it's been a pandemic since you started this project. But, do you make the music with playing shows in mind?
Simone: Oh, baby, I do want to play a show real bad, like a live show as soon as it's safely possible. I really want to embrace the pop aspect of this and become an engaging entertainer. I’d like to be an entertainer in ways that I haven't been able to because I'm too busy with my hands doing this *mimics playing guitar* and I am tired of that. I want tracks that my friends can dance to, I want shit that goes fucking hard. Like, I want shit that doesn't have people just crossing their arms and nodding around. I'm done with that. So, yes, I have it in mind and I had some opportunities to perform virtually in a pre-recorded setting. I learned how to do my setup to do my own pre-recorded, small performances.
Devon: So is it hard to recreate the vocal effects for a live performance like that?
Simone: It's actually quite simple because I tend to duplicate the project that I'm doing. Sometimes I just render out the instrumental and have the instrumental and the vocal track. When I'm working the vocal track, I try to set up the automation before that, so that's all done for me as I'm performing. So far, I haven't actually performed with a master yet, so I imagine that would sound crispier especially, but already it is. The only time I came to something close to that was for a recording of the performance I did for two nonprofits. One was a research collective called The Investigaytors, and the other one was this North American trans organization called Trans Lifeline that operates both in the USA and Canada. I recorded all of that in a studio at Macewan. I did the video editing. It actually kind of looks like a documentary in retrospect, which is really cool, because I was chatting with a nonprofit about community issues in both cases, about LGBTQ communities.
Devon: So that's a good transition to one of the questions I wanted to ask. I - at least - think of you as super activist, you're very involved in a lot of stuff and have connections with a lot of organizations like that. Do you consider your activism part of your music? Do you consider them kind of tied up together? Or are they separate for you?
Simone: It's really tough. I was recently confronted with a similar question in school, because I'm actually doing two things for full length school projects right now. I realized immediately that, you know, I feel pretty fucked-up confident about philosophy and all this academic shit I’ve gotten into for years, but when I tried to mix that and music together, it really freaked me out and I was really uncomfortable. When it comes to the question of activism, that’s actually something that I recently had to consider because of some of the things that have come up with MacEwan University. I think it's certainly by circumstance that I tend to go with spaces that tend to be pretty activist “fuck-you” circles, or community focused. There's certainly an element of that which I embrace, mostly because I'm tired of being in white and cis spaces. I’m just not going to invest into those things if they don't invest back for communities like mine. There's also this second sense, like, when I was actually having to think about it more consciously, I was just thinking about how a lot of the music that I do is really coming from a very personal space that I tried to cultivate in some respects, and so what that meant for me was a lot to do with the advocacy surrounding the 54 letters that got sent to administrators for MacEwan University concerning the issues of systematic racism stretching over to a timeline of like four years.
I had my own experiences of racism at MacEwan, but it's not as bad as it's gotten for some folks. That's what I need to stress, at least as far as I’m personally concerned, that there's a magnitude of difference in that particular department, the music department, and that also does translate into the Edmonton music community at times, because a lot of folks from the department go on to influence a lot of other things that happen in music, and that's concerning, if that's the fundamental culture that informs all of that.
So, I'm not going to invest in that shit, if that shit don't care for me, right? I don't have the time for that anymore. That's me personally, but also, at the same time, there's this constant of violence being committed against community and folks among us in a way that I don't think a bureaucrat cares for. A bureaucrat will be tactless and calculative about this in a way that obstructs the lived realities that these things entail. I've seen the provost of MacEwan University say that there's no such thing as systematic racism in universities, sharing that kind of shit on Twitter pretty openly and just sharing all these right wing, pure ideological things he says. Just that level of systematic-ness of having these kinds of people in power, informing the decisions that happen from a top down perspective, as well as the horizontal things between different administrations, especially if it is all white people operating under this social contract of whiteness. It ultimately has concrete consequences for folks. It has affected people around me, it has affected me, it’s tangible that there's an issue there, and so we have to learn from it because the results are felt in a certain way by white people, but also by people that get caught up in these power dynamics. It can be as small as the micro-fascisms of cliquey groups in the scene, but it can be to the extent of having these macroscopic organizations that are just reeking of power dynamics all across.
Doing music in the context of that, for me, is just really a space to be mad at times. I think the thing that shows that, at least for me personally, out of the two tracks that I put out today was Everything You Made Me Do. That track is just a lot more aggressive, like, 54 letters is just bratty and a little bit more playful and expressive. The other one is just more angry and a lot more aggressive in some respects. So that really came from that point of, like, I'm just fed up with the fact that these people will keep deferring to the same decrepit processes, because they think that they actually amount to anything significant or substantial, and they will keep perpetuating the same systems that they are maintaining just because it maintains the economic invariability of having a paycheck. They have no vested interest in actually making a change, in a sense. The second point - because these things affect the music community, they affect my communities, they affect people like me, and they affect me, and I cannot pretend that they don’t - I’ve got to be learning my own ways and it can sound annoying and playful if I want to and it can be aggressive and a little bit more poetically beautiful if I need that space for myself, and it's not about MacEwan at this point, it should not ever be about MacEwan, it's about the people that are trying to do better and create a better space for just sustaining life. An institution is not going to sustain life, it only kills it.
Devon: I think that Hyperpop is probably a good genre for that too, because it's kind of niche in a way that, you know, if the Grant MacEwan Provost heard that it would be meaningless to him. He wouldn't have the foundation to understand it, so it's kind of a good genre for that kind of sentiment.
Simone: Oh, absolutely. Well, it actually makes me think of back when I was doing my philosophy degree, many years ago. I think the chair, or the former chair of the department, didn't know who Foucault was. For me, that just kind of echoes that these people are so caught up in their echo chamber of Anglo-American, analytic philosophy that they really don't know how to think otherwise than this. He just made me realize how unreliable any of these people were in a fundamental way, especially when it came time to talk about concrete lived experiences, not just this bouncing around of philosophy with no point. So, in this case, I'm happy he doesn't know about Hyperpop because first of all, Hyperpop is too cool for people like this. But also, in a certain subtle way, Hyperpop and a lot of contemporary shit has really destabilized the music industry. I think in the last three years, there's been some major changes that are shaking up what mainstream music looks like.
Devon: So is there a decent Hyperpop scene in Edmonton or Alberta? Is there much of that around?
Simone: Oh, I don't fucking know, I just wanted to do it. I think Symfan, who I've mostly known as a synth pop artist is trying to dip into that, which is really sweet. I love Hannah's work and Hannah is just an amazing musician in many respects. I'm just really thrilled to see the label of Pyric Gestures, which is just like a loose collective of folks that just really want to support each other in that we basically try to do our own version of Hyperpop. For us, Hyperpop is not so much about a determined sound, it’s more about the kind of niche community space that does a lot for BIPOC and queer and trans artists. Also, in many respects, it's just really embracing electronic approaches to making music and wanting to make pop that sounds weird. I see Pop in Edmonton, but I don't know if it’s the same shit like this. I know that there's other places in Canada where Hyperpop is certainly happening, like there's an artist in Montreal called 8485. They put out some of those tracks that just ended up in the Hyperpop Spotify playlist, and I’ve really come to enjoy a lot of their production. There’s also Kmoe who is a super young artist from BC really killing it. I listened to their first album An Internet Love Story and that album is pretty solid. It's just fun pop that really embraces that synthy Pop vibe. The last artist I can think of that is also another super young person from Calgary is Elyotto who has a couple of singles on Spotify, but that's enough to be like “okay, I'm curious, are you gonna do more because what you're doing is sick and I feel like that should keep going”. That's one of the things I see happening with Hyperpop; I need to stress I'm 26 years old and I'm only now figuring out what to do with music, but it makes me really happy to see folks that are younger than me really figuring out that stuff for themselves and making some really cool production. It blows my mind and I only have to respect that emulation for it. Youth are fucking powerful and they inspire me every day.
Devon: Oh, you're a better person than me. I see people younger than me doing well as musicians and I'm like “oh, it could have been me.”
Simone: I definitely had that perspective for a while. Here’s what changed it for me: I had this conversation with my friend Amy from Obroa Sky, because they've done some touring and stuff around, and what Amy told me was the way that they approach the music community tends to be just being stoked to learn about what other people are doing, and just be stoked to be there. Since I started approaching being around music like that, it's been a lot better, because when I was working at the Sewing Machine Factory and stuff it got me into this rut of not being able to appreciate music anymore. It was not feasible to just go and see a show by Pepper’d or shit that’s not white. So yeah, it's just come back. I would love to see a new scene happen. I’m pretty over what was there before.
Devon: I kind of think that the music scene is going to be a totally different landscape when we come out of this pandemic.
Simone: Oh, God yeah. It's gonna be like a Pandora's box. Who knows what we are opening up in that moment, what lucky lager diseases there's gonna be this time around. I'm really curious. I've been chatting with Stem Champ a lot about this lately. I actually just did an interview with them yesterday, about this zine they're making but also I've been trying to reach out to them to be like, “hey, do you wanna do music together” since we're kind of over working with the white people and just trying to see if we can make something different happen once this is done. So that's a hope. I just really want to see a completely different scene.
Devon: On that note of what things will look like when it opens up, when you picture 10 years from now with Pseudo-Antigone, what's the end goal? What does that look like?
Simone: I had this question come up a little bit lately, I was on a walk with my friend Ricky a couple days ago and we just asked ourselves, “okay, once this is done, what do we want to see ourselves doing?” And my immediate answer was, I want to be a pop star, but pop star on my own fucking terms, damnit. I want to be this weird, paradoxical person that I already am in some ways, where I kind of do a little bit of everything. Mostly I want to be focusing on my music, and maybe a little bit of philosophy still, but I really like doing my work in arts organizing and I really want to maintain that, mostly because the reason why I started doing that was because I wanted to figure out how to maintain infrastructure that sustains community that actually takes care of us. So, in the case of music in the city, we have so much of a for-profit focus on how we do music here. It affects even just the fact that you either start, or stay, a low-key band, or make it big and there's no in between. Just infrastructurally, music is set up in this way that the for-profit method just keeps us hustling. Even if we are a big influence or something doesn't mean that we will actually get paid or that we have our needs met, which is realistically speaking the most important thing. For me, it's been this question, at least as far as me looking at music goes, how can that gap be filled? In my mind, we need some sort of music non-profit that helps us share gear, that helps us share resources, that helps us share studios, just to help us shape venues, that helps us shape all these things so we’re not constantly having to fall back on these scenes.
I know this is how a lot of folks maintain their venues, but we should really reconsider how we relate to alcohol in music. I'm not straight edge, I smoke hella weed, but we really need to reconsider substance abuse and sometimes consumption in the context of music, and socially. I think here's where music could take some lessons from theater organizations or dance organizations: It's having that infrastructure to really facilitate those in-between spots so we can really develop our crafts and practices and not just stagnate in that constant repetition of building bands over and over that go nowhere, or even just being caught up in ultimately feeling like you're gonna be going nowhere.
Devon: I think that ultimately that's becoming a lot more important, especially because the music industry is so ridiculously saturated now. I think that more and more, being a musician is becoming a community role to an extent, where you need to be doing organizing, working with a bunch of people to make it have some kind of local impact.
Simone: Yeah, this is where I'm just always in awe about Hyperpop and PC music. I think I had something just really daunting hit the moment that Sophie died. I actually remember those two days pretty vividly because I had just had a pretty bad day. Since I started doing HRT, every few days I get pretty bad mood swings and I just can't see a point to shit, so sometimes I just need to be not moving around, laying in bed and blasting albums, and one of my choices at that time was Sophie's Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-sides. I was just blasting it and then the next morning I woke up and Sophie was dead. I was just like “what the fuck”. I fell into an existential crisis. Anyways, the point being Sophie has meant a lot in my mind, especially because of the kind of people she worked with, not just the message. She had a whole new world quite literally spelled out at times in her music, but, you know, in terms of providing music production, passing down and distributing the means of musical production, I think means a lot right now. My communist ethos is pretty apparent, I would say, but it's pretty prescient in a lot of Hyperpop. A lot of folks met without much pretension about what they were doing. They are just hanging out trying to come up with shit that bops and trying to learn from each other and what they're doing, and giving them the space and the freedom to do so, for example Charlie XCX ended up working with Sophie and A.G. Cook, like Sophie with the Vroom Vroom EP and A.G. Cook with most of her stuff in the last few years. In some ways you have these folks just taking the opportunity to produce with everyone or just really be friendly with folks. I'll definitely go ahead and say that there's also some toxic things about parasocial relationships. Devi and Rook from Black Dresses have been constantly harassed, and sometimes I constantly doublethink myself like, am I just constantly pestering this person on the internet just to get their attention? It's a slightly different conversation because I think we're in a slightly different space, but even then there's still a big openness to collaborate and to be engaging with folks. It makes me very eager to learn from collaborating and working with other people. But it's also kind of shaping the ethic of what Pyric Gestures is coming from.
Devon: I was thinking a lot about Hyperpop this week because it's not something I've ever thought about before, if I'm being honest, and it made me think about how drag treats gender, where you take the conventions of something mundane and follow that logic to a place where it’s kind of rendered absurd and counterculture, and that that’s kind of how Hyperpop treats Pop music.
Simone: Yeah, I guess for me, it comes down to - someone like Dorian really performs that, that theme does play out. And I do concur, that's kind of what Hyperpop does in a way, like it just shows how plastic it really is, and that's what we're experiencing: the wave of music that we thought was going to be the 2000’s, in a sense. So, Dorian Electra I particularly talk about because he does some things about his music that are engaging a gender discussion. It actually influences some of the production I do on my own shit because the moment I learned that Dorian uses a modulator on their vocal tracks just to have an effect on their voice that can have that gender ambiguous output, it really adds to the experience of what you can do with your vocals. For me, a lot of the reason why I use vocal effects and shit is because of, like, a little bit of gender dysphoria, and learning to embrace my own voice too, but mostly it's nice if I don't have to hear my own voice at times, especially navigating that kind of aspect. Dorian straight up has tracks that are openly commentaries on gender and queerness and all this stuff, like even commenting on those right wing resistances to that. So yeah, I think there's a reason why this sound is like this, and why a lot of queer folks are making music that sounds like this. Even someone like Sophie, who didn't really come out ‘till Oil of A Pearl’s Un-Sides. At the time that her compilation Product came out, people already wanted to work with her real hard, like, I think the biggest name I can pick off the top of my head was Madonna. I think just trans women doing that kind of shit really opened up the room to even examine what I'm doing personally, like, that's why this is having such a personal and transformative effect. I don't know, just listening to shit eventually made me realize that I needed to transition, not just in my own physical way, which has been - I think that I noticed almost like six, seven years ago - but musically, I think in the last couple years, it just got reinforced. So yeah, the whole gender and music thing. It's something that I actually think about some, like I was at least thinking about more actively in the last EP.
Devon: Is there anything else you wanted to touch on?
Simone: I mean, I think the only thing left that I can touch on is that I'm still working on the LP. I didn't throw it in the garbage because I had an existential crisis, thank God. So, yeah, I hope that sometime like halfway through the year I put it out because the thing I learned is how to slow down in my own production and be compassionate to myself as I do this. I might have slowed down, but this is still my intention. Once the record is done it's still gonna be a little bit closer to the EP, then some of the tracks will show off my upcoming direction more and more. But yeah, I think we’re gonna be going harder and harder into that kind of Industrial Pop, Hyperpop aesthetic. My hope is just to get harder and let's fucking dance hard once this fucking pandemic is over because I just want to have the space to just go hard to tracks like this with people, like DJ sets, and have our own local pop stars to just have fun with.
The Absurd Collective is a collective of young artists that operates on Treaty 6 land.