Given the label, however, it should come as no surprise to learn that Skirt, real name Bethany DeMoss, lives in Birmingham, England—that famous home to some of techno's most influential names. The city has had a long, profound effect on her musical psyche; just listen to some of the DJ mixes posted on her Soundcloud page, and her love for the pumping, industrialized sounds of Surgeon, Regis and the like becomes obvious. But it turns out that DeMoss's story essentially begins in a small town in Texas, in the United States. So, how did she end up in Birmingham, crafting such abstract and uniquely understated music for labels like Horizontal Ground and Semantica?
DeMoss was born in Houston but grew up an hour north in Willis, Texas; population 1,764. She fondly recalls her teenage years in that tightly knit community and parties in the forest with industrial music blaring from car stereos. On her own, she would tune in to late-night radio broadcasts from Houston clubs like Numbers and Club 6400. "There was a lot of industrial dance music being played and I used to tape those shows every time," she says, pointing out The Normal's "Warm Leatherette" as an early favorite as well as New Wave tracks like Vicious Pink's "Cccan't You See." Around the same time, she remembers stumbling across Cocteau Twins at "some mainstream record store in a shopping mall." She still claims the group as her favorite band today.
Finished with high school and looking for direction in life, DeMoss enlisted in the Navy as a medic, which took her all over the States, but eventually ending up in California. She mostly worked night shifts at hospitals, which went well with a newfound love of clubbing. I mention Jeno, Garth and the Wicked Sound System, all names that bring back happy memories for her. "I was really into the sounds of the music, but I never paid much attention to the DJ!" DeMoss admits, until she experienced a DJ trainwreck in real life: "I could hear the two songs literally coming apart, and I rushed to the DJ booth to understand what I had just heard as I was immediately fascinated."
Fast forward a few months and she had taken out a loan to buy a pair of decks, but it took a rave out in the Sierra Nevada mountains for her to finally discover techno. She had given a friend a ride to the event and decided to stay, and remembers the night being a transformative experience. "People were losing their minds, throwing themselves against the speakers, clinging to them. I was straight into the record shop the following Monday, explaining to the man behind the counter that I had heard this insane type of dance music, darker and more aggressive, like I had never heard before, that I loved it. He started laughing and informed me that I was into techno."
In the late '90s when her time with the Navy ended, DeMoss impulsively moved to Phoenix, Arizona. There, she discovered the record shop that would decisively shape her tastes. "At Swell Records," she recalls, "I was able to get into some proper techno. They were stocking all the Downwards, Blueprint, Dynamic Tension, Tresor, USER, Olga + Josef, Utility Plastics, and I would just spend hours in there listening and buying absolutely tons of records. It was heaven for me." It's also how she found some of her first gigs under the name DJ Switch; Swell's owners noticed she was a regular on the store's turntables and ended up booking her for their parties.
Personal circumstances took DeMoss to England in the early '00s, where she first lived briefly in Ipswich before a happy series of coincidences led her, finally, to Birmingham. In Ipswich, she explains, "My life was completely up in the air, but I thought, there is no way I'm all the way in England, and not going to House of God to hear Surgeon play. I was looking at his website to see when he was playing there next, and I saw his email address. So I felt brave and emailed him. To my enormous surprise, he answered." What did she write to him? "I think I asked him a shitload of questions like if he liked airplane food, and stuff. And he answered them. I think he was bored that day and changed the course of my destiny!"
So, she took a train to Birmingham for the HOG party, and met Surgeon in person—who then introduced her to Regis and Function. "I met them all that night! At House of God!" she exclaims, as if the state of disbelief never fully went away. "When I was in Arizona just loving these records, I never ever knew I would ever see them, all together in the same room… It was crazy for me." A trip to the next month's party sealed the deal: it turned out Regis's distribution company, Integrale Muzique, was looking to hire a new salesperson, and DeMoss was offered an interview. She ultimately got the job and in late 2002 moved to Birmingham. Amidst this dream-come-true scenario, the irony of having to ship her records from the US to the UK wasn't lost on her. "It's funny how many of my records came from Integrale all the way to America, then crossed the Atlantic Ocean by boat to come back to Birmingham."
industrial techno, I would have."
It was around this time that DeMoss began to dabble in producing her own techno. "I didn't have any skill or control at this point, but I really had the desire to make music. So I made really crap tracks!" Integrale closed a year later, and DeMoss wound up with a full time job as a legal secretary. She kept her affinity for playing records and making music to herself for almost a decade with the occasional gig as DJ Skirt (a new name she'd thought up after some friends asked her to play a party in Amsterdam), until an online forum connected her with Spain's Subsist label, which released her debut track "Black Widow" digitally in early 2010. Later that year, she received an email from Horizontal Ground, whose mysterious owner wanted to give her a full EP release on wax.
"It is like dealing with the Wizard of Oz," she jokes about her relationship with the label. "But I was really surprised and absolutely overjoyed for a vinyl release. I didn't know about being the first named artist [on the label] until it was out." The record grabbed the attention of a select few producers noteworthy for their own experimental approach to techno—Obtane, Mike Parker, Smear and Edit-Select charted it, among others—and helped lead the way to two things that would excite almost any aspiring techno artist: getting a gig at Berghain, and being remixed by Torsten Pröfrock, of Monolake and T++ fame. Her set at the Frozen Border night at Berghain "was another dreamlike experience. I was overwhelmed when they asked if I wanted to play at the label party... it was just incredible. A very special place, a sound system to die for, and a crowd that is really and truly there with you. It was just a perfect night!"
The Pröfrock remix of "In The Meadow Under The Stars" (credited as 126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.19., in the label's usual nomenclature) happened after DeMoss had sent a few more tracks to Horizontal Ground, which made their way onto her second EP—the label's tenth vinyl—in July of last year. It's a powerful, heavily swung interpretation pitched up, way up, to 140 BPM; but DeMoss's original tracks on that record are just as compelling. Take "Racing the Sea," which overflows with timid melodies and frightening otherworldly energy. She had started to put that one together just before last year's tsunami struck Japan. "I was watching some horrendous videos of people running for their lives against the sea, and that's why I called it what I did."
And then there's the untitled piece, which sees DeMoss going forth once more on an anxious ambient excursion. That approach helped lead her later in the year to the consistently excellent Semantica label, where another beatless Skirt track (this time a remix of Svreca's "Jade" featuring more of her own vocal efforts) found itself on wax in the company of Regis, Silent Servant, Orphx and Svreca himself. So, the question again rears itself: How did DeMoss, an adamant fan of Birmingham techno, find herself producing this music?
To be sure, she's still just as fascinated with the DJ craft as she was when she heard that first trainwreck years ago. "I think if I could have written industrial techno, I would have," she says, "But I actually don't know how to create those sounds. And my production and my DJing are two very distinctively separate animals in my mind. I don't have a dance floor specifically in mind when I make music, to me it's more like an art form rather than party fodder. But I think if I was great at writing slamming industrial techno, I probably would!" At the moment, that probably won't be necessary. The freedom she's been given has only sharpened her production skills, and the labels continue to respond positively. She's got more stuff in the works for Frozen Border, Semantica and Perc Trax later this year.
A surprise first encounter with techno in the mountains of California; the experiences at House of God and Integrale Muzique that lead her to Birmingham; the support she's received from some of modern techno's most vital labels—DeMoss is cognizant of the good fortune she's received, and intends to take advantage of it. "I think I am just so lucky to have people that are into what I am doing, and allowing me the artistic freedom to make the music I want to make rather than fit any criteria," she explains happily. "The real joy in making music for me is creating a truly unique piece every time. I don't take it for granted. I do realize how lucky I am and it just makes me want to get better at making music all the time.
"I feel I am just getting started," DeMoss concludes. "I feel this is a great time for techno so I'm really thankful that this has kind of happened for me when it has. I can feel plenty of music still inside me waiting to be written."