Ray Philp travelled to the UK's south coast to meet Lara Rix-Martin, founder of a crucial outlet for emerging experimental artists.
Rix-Martin's label, Objects Limited, has resisted convention in several ways, not least in the music it's released so far. Its most recent EP, from the Chinese artist Rui Ho, gestured toward experimental club, but its Eastern melodic scales and the tender power of its sound design softened that style's harsh edges. Ziúr has successfully spun experimental club signatures into precise, rhythmic collages that blossomed on last year's excellent U Feel Anything?. Another LP, by Vivienne, was a collection of "kinda punk, kinda folk" acoustic ballads with celestial electronic touches. "I just really loved it," said Rix-Martin. "It was so raw, and I think that's the same rawness that Jana Rush has"—Rush being the Chicago artist behind Pariah, another Objects Limited LP from last year. Each of these records is defiantly experimental, existing on the fringes of whatever style it most closely resembles.
One thread tying all these records together is Rix-Martin's taste for what she calls "the darker stuff, the sadder stuff." Another is that they're all made by women and non-binary artists. In practice, this has given Rix-Martin an unusual degree of flexibility. "I was a bit worried about putting out footwork," she said. "When Mike was putting out footwork [on Planet Mu], everyone went, 'Oh, it's a footwork label'—people do that, don't they? And I just thought, well, I'm young enough—in the label—that as long as I put it against something else that I like then it should be OK. And it has been, because I've opened the label up by saying, 'Well, the focus is that it's putting women on a platform.' That's already given me a wider range to deal with."
In 2015, Rix-Martin was asked to compile an album for Digital Muse, an EU-connected charity that encourages girls aged 11 to 16 to engage with STEM subjects via the arts. The compilation, which featured mostly female artists, never came out—down to "a lot of bureaucracy," Rix-Martin said—but it gave her a taste for promoting women while making her realise there weren't enough of them having their music released. By the following February, she'd signed her first artist, Eva Bowan, on Objects Limited. The Brighton artist's EP, Ringwoodite, was gorgeous electronic pop touched by atmospheric voids in the Karin Dreijer mould. "I maybe could've gone more experimental," said Rix-Martin, "but I wanted to ease the label into that, because it needs a platform before it can go, 'Here's a woman standing here just going, brrrrrr! for two hours—which I would put on the label now!'"'
She was especially self-deprecating about her own music. "I inherently think all my stuff's shit," she told me in the car to her house, before bringing up a negative review of her last album, Ghost On The Stairs, she'd found on a German music blog. "[He] said this was the worst thing he'd ever listened to," she said, matter-of-factly. "To the point where it was painful. You know Germans have a word for a whole sentence. And it meant something like, not only does this hurt my ears, but my soul and I hate it." The album's unsettling, semi-ambient pieces were stitched together with everyday sounds—dial-up modems, breathing, manipulated voices—that sought to reflect Rix-Martin's auditory processing disorder, which makes speech harder to disentangle from other sounds. The LP's range of ideas, however raw, suggested an imaginative personality at play—not least on "Siren," whose doleful strings, whale calls and jittery vowels evoked a comic sadness.
"Now I feel like I actually make slightly better music," she continued, "but I don't care either way, because that's the music that I make, and I can't really change that. And it's my label, so I can do what I want!"
Paradinas, who was driving and on the wind-up, offered some tepid words of encouragement.
"I think it'll get better… "
"You think it'll get better? That's good to hear, Mike."
"That's my… guess," said Paradinas, making a left. He resisted a smirk.
"That is your guess," said Rix-Martin, feigning a headmistressy disapproval. "That's a good guess!"
At 14, Rix-Martin began going to local ska and punk gigs. Some were at the Concorde 2, a 600-capacity venue by the Brighton seafront, where, on Sundays, she could dip in and out, usually onto the beach, for daylong drinking sessions with mates. Her sources for electronic music were closer to home. Her two older brothers were mostly into hip-hop, but one of them, Louie, introduced her to Radiohead. "I remember my nan playing Aphex at one point," she said. "We used to just watch what was on MTV2—that's how I found a lot of music, which you don't get so much these days. Incidental. Just finding out, 'Oh, I like this; I like that.'"
Rix-Martin was exposed more intensely to electronic music at house parties. Her boyfriend at the time, the breakcore artist Shitmat, was into jungle, and so she got into that. (She was especially fond of the junglist UK Apache.) It was Venetian Snares, though, whose music she first heard at one of these get-togethers, who had the deepest impact. "The one album that really just grabbed was Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding. I used to play it every night before I went to bed. I always used to have terrible nightmares or insomnia, and that's just like…. I found it quite soothing. I found parts of it really deeply emotional." She played me the first track, "Huge Chrome Peach," an ultra-minimal, rubber-ball breakcore track. "I just used to listen to this, over and over." I told her I was surprised she'd find it soothing. "I know, it's weird, isn't it," she said, "but that particular album isn't like… argh, I really hate saying 'intelligent,' but you know what I mean. It's got so many layers to it. In its manicness, you could find calm, because there were so many ways you could listen to it."
Some of my favourite Objects Limited tracks have the same kind of unlikely contrasts, where lovely moments emerge from nominally forbidding music. "Bac Up rmx," from Rush's MPC 7635 EP, is austere vocal-and-drums footwork until digital leads tie themselves in funky knots. Rix-Martin's "The Void Consumes," from an EP inspired by extreme morning sickness, laces gassy vox synths through big, steel-capped drums. The jelly-like pads on Yoneda Lemma's "Rainforest Mars" are a foil for drums that sputter like some ancient machine. (That track was on last year's Object: Resistance compilation, proceeds from which went to Black Lives Matter and the Albert Kennedy Trust.)
A few days before we met, I came across a meme Rix-Martin posted on Twitter—the tagline read, "deleting my mental health to focus on social media"—and brought it up as we sat in her lounge. Her whippet, Reenie, was leaping around the carpet, on the sniff for a macaron I'd just eaten. Rix-Martin called Twitter her "horrible oversharing diary," in which, apart from memes, she retweets or writes about body positivity of a kind, domestic episodes starring Paradinas and their two children, and Twin Peaks. She's no less prolific on social and political issues. The things about which she's most passionate online—LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, and intersectional feminism—reflect an openness to hearing other people's stories as well. The label's sense of mission, and the assertive advocacy that complements it, has naturally enhanced her camaraderie with peers outside of her "white, middle-class Brighton bubble."
"The thing is, I am a very open person," she said, "because I don't have any shame. I've never been embarrassed by how ridiculous I can be, or also how good I can be sometimes. Even before I started Objects, I used to do all this stuff on Twitter. It's kinda weird now because I've got more followers and I'm saying all this shit! I'm like, 'Oh, there's people following me that write for the Guardian!' I think my openness is why I have a label like I do, because I don't think you could have this sort of label if you were too… you know, corporate, or however you're supposed to play the normal game, I guess."
I asked her if these were views that she'd held for a long while, or whether running the label had made these insights more apparent. "I didn't know about trans issues, say, before I started the label," she said. "Because when I first started the label I was like, 'Oh, I should include women.' Although I talk a lot, I will always be someone who listens. So I didn't know about trans stuff. I held some views which were… not bad, but it's just I didn't know. 'What's non-binary?' I didn't know what non-binary was before I started Objects Limited. I just took the time to listen to people."
The Objects Limited logo is adapted from centuries-old Icelandic sigils, or magic staves. These sigils were meant to ease the burden of farming, fishing, legal disputes, or, if one was so inclined, making "necropants." (Björk has one on her left arm so that she "doesn't get lost.") "[The logo] basically means protection from men," Rix-Martin explained, "and I just said to my friend, can you put a big snake on there, cause I really like snakes!"
It hasn't always been effective. "I get some demos from men," she said. "They will just send it and send it and send it, like four a week. But a woman wouldn't do that. A woman would send a demo and go, 'I'm so sorry I sent you… ' And I'm just like, 'Don't be sorry!' It's funny to see the differences in emails. Before I started properly A&Ring from Planet Mu"—Objects Limited recently became a Planet Mu sublabel—"I got this demo from a guy, and he was like, 'I really like what you're doing, that's so cool you're getting more women into music—here's my demo.' And I was like, 'You're a man!' It wasn't even like, 'I didn't know what you were doing.' Who has the balls to do that—a man, obviously! I can't imagine a woman ever doing that."
Shortly before I left the house, Rix-Martin and I sat round the kitchen table. She took out a blue pouch and tipped out its contents: a large pile of gemstones, which her daughter, who had hopped onto the chair next to me, began inspecting.
"Is that rose quartz?"
"That is rose quartz, yeah," Rix-Martin said.
Her daughter then picked up a green, marbly pebble, and showed it to me. On the table there were dozens of blues, greens and pinks, which she was patiently working her way through.
"I used to gem collect when I was a teenager," Rix-Martin said. "Don't judge me. I was a cool teenager, but also an uncool teenager."
Lara Rix-Martin supplements tracks from her label with experimental sounds by artists like Toxe, Laurie Spiegel, Klein and Via App.
Ziúr - Bud Dallas (Objects Limited)
Toxe - Blinks (Pan)
Anz - Loa (Chow Down)
RUI HO - Theia Impact (Drum Version) (Objects Limited)
Laurie Spiegel - Reson Arpeg (Unreleased)
Negroma - Body Memory (Self-released)
Lyra Pramuk - Scrytch (Unreleased)
Via App - Living Decoration (Bank)
Klein - Stop (Self-released)
Meemo Comma - Meadhead (Objects Limited)
RUI HO - Albafica (Dis Fig Remix) (Objects Limited)
Swan Meat - Phist (ft. 111x) (PermaInk)
Meemo Comma - Migrane (Objects Limited)