Mark Smith explains how a no-bullshit attitude is shaping the music and DJ sets of this breakthrough artist.
"When I did this album, it was exactly the moment where there was some sort of transformation," she says as we clink clay cups of mescal on a Berlin sidewalk. "Everything around me was saying that you are wasting your time on music. For a period before the record, I was irritated by everything and felt very insecure. Somewhere inside, you think you're the shit. But at the same time, you can see that you amount to nothing."
Weightless is the sound of working through this paradox. The album seemed to come out of nowhere. Jiménez's first three EPs as JASSS showed her to be a promising producer of EBM grinders. But the sonic and psychic rigour of Weightless was on another spectrum altogether. It tread where functional music cannot follow, beating a path down to the subconscious, toiling through a purgatory of self-interrogation, before arriving at redemption and a transcendent lightness.
You become weightless when you come to grips with your fears, which is exactly the place Jiménez seems to be today. She comes off like a yogi returned from the mountains, thoughtful and empathetic yet direct in her realism. "In some aspects, what I do is sickening," she says. "It's built around me, my emotions and expressions. When you're doing the work, it's the most important thing in the world. But at the end of the day, you're just an average person, and that's fine. That's how it should be. You cannot totally escape your ego, but you have to have a balanced mind to be in this field without getting confused."
Jiménez would shudder to have her music tagged as industrial, but Weightless goes a long way to dragging the genre's corpse out of the grave. These days industrial is often a by-word for a shallow depiction of darkness, amounting to a series of aesthetic signposts and a colourless palette that betrays the sound's early impulse for the surreal. What was once a powerful manifesto for psychic liberation collapsed into a constellation of "industrial" sounds and imagery.
Weightless goes deeper. It attempts to reconcile with harsh reality rather than indulging in the temporary relief of escapism. Jiménez draws from subterranean recesses, reflecting half-understood anxieties in lurid, vivid colours rather than shades of grey. The LP's spectrum of feeling is more honest than generic industrial's po-faced posturing.
On the album's cover, Jiménez seems to be floating in amniotic fluid or a bath of milk, conjuring a disarming intimacy and maternal softness that contrasts with her day-to-day character. In the opening track, "Every Single Fish In The Pond," her voice creeps out of a curtain of line hum, sounding like a lost confession tape. "I've had a child because I wanted to love someone more than I love you," she mutters. Then we're thrown Gysin cut-up style to Americans laughing about nameless aquatic creatures that "eat every single thing until there's nothing left." Jiménez proceeds to build the track's atmosphere like Captain Willard leading his doomed crew down river, evoking humidity, sweat, dirt and fear. Most of all, it's a fear of what cannot be seen. But in the final third, when things seem at their most hopeless, God-sized pads of deliverance bring us from doom into clarity and light.
"Every Single Fish In The Pond" is like a shorthand for Weightless as a whole, moving from resignation, doubt and horror, through to feather-light redemption. Musically, it shows Jiménez's talent for scene painting. While many of her contemporaries have similar tastes in deteriorated textures, Jiménez always contrasts them with colour, often through acoustic sources, high-definition drums and synths and transportive samples.
"At the bottom of it all, it's about fighting mental rigidity," she says, eyes narrowing as cigarette smoke seeped from her mouth. "You suffer and you want it to stop. So you need to identify the reasons why you suffer. First, you spot the situations that trigger it, but then you have to understand that you can't change these situations—they keep repeating because they're not up to you but up to circumstances. Maybe it sounds selfish but for me, I was suffering because I felt misunderstood. I was being underestimated."
She deals out this self-analysis matter-of-factly, as if she's talking about another person. "Most of the time, this type of frustration only has to do with yourself. It doesn't have anything to do with the industry or how many friends artist x or y has. I didn't want this to affect me anymore. Things around me weren't going to change, so I had to change myself. Now I understand that none of those feelings were relevant. It had to do with me holding onto values that I fabricated in order to feel valuable. I had to let go of those values and understand that I am not exceptional."
The honest appraisal of insecurities might be surprising for anyone who's seen her perform. In the DJ booth in particular, Jiménez oozes magnetic confidence. While she's received accolades for her work on the decks, her live sets are as arresting as Weightless itself. She's only performed live a handful of times, and I'm shocked to hear that the set contains totally new material rather than reinterpreted aspects of the LP. Like most things she's turned her hand to in the past year or so, the results have been spectacular. Whether it's in a cavernous hall like Berlin Atonal's Kraftwerk or the intimate confines of Cafe Oto, her live sets are riveting, combing plangent strings and sax with guttural drum detonations, slow motion chordal shifts and salvos of noise. Despite her imperious stage presence, she says she's mostly staring at the gear making sure nothing goes wrong.
With DJing, however, Jiménez's self-assurance cannot be denied. She only began mixing in the last few years, but quickly asserted herself as one of Berlin's more fearless jocks. Within months of her first gigs, she was playing regularly around the city, eventually finding a home with Mannequin Records' events at OHM and later Berghain's Säule. Her bread and butter is electro, techno and EBM, but she could easily play a set of '80s synth pop and machine punk. More often, she mixes them all together, usually with lashings of cutting-edge UK sounds and a healthy dose of breaks. She can also change tempo at the drop of a hat, cutting into warp speed electro or drum & bass before cruising back into downtempo zones. What's more, she's equally comfortable stringing together narrative-based mixes of avant-DIY.
I've seen her DJ at Säule, OHM, Berghain and Sameheads, and the no-holds-barred approach remained consistent. During the Berghain set, as she set loose a rancid battery of hoover-laced breakbeats, a friend said to me, "She's got no fear… no fear at all."
"I have a lot of fun doing it," she says. "I never wanted to become a DJ who doesn't love what they do and is transformed into a money-making machine. If you're really into it and you can take something out of it personally, it's amazing, because you feel like you're doing this for a reason."
At the same time, Jiménez is wary of the circus surrounding the DJ circuit. "I've always found that world to be surprisingly aggressive. Psychologically you have to keep up with it big time. I'm very privileged to be getting paid for doing such a thing and I think about it deeply. I'm a student of the craft, as they say. But a DJ is not a doctor. I am not out there saving lives. You have to be able to laugh about it and take it for what it really is. A promoter is just a promoter and this is only a party."
This attitude allows her to step back from the hamster wheel of international DJing and focus on the long view. "If I get into this dynamic of 'I need to do this in order to get that,' then I should quit. The reason why I'm dedicating the most precious years of my life to go through this anxiety is because there is a desire to express myself. If the creative aspect is disturbed by this DJ career mentality then I will stop."
This no-compromise mentality is a defining trait of Jiménez's creative life. Although she shot to new levels of visibility with the release of Weightless, she'd been deliberately protective, almost cagey, about her work. Where many artists feel the pressure to release music purely to drum up interest from other artists, media and bookers, Jiménez deliberately kept her cards close to her chest, developing her sound until it was at a point where it spoke for itself. Weightless seemed to come out of nowhere "because I decided so," she says. "You have to keep ownership over your work. You have to decide when you're ready and not fall into this anxiety of wanting to release something because you want to become this or that."
"If you don't have a clear vision of what you want musically," she continues, warming to the topic, "you end up doing things that aren't truly what you want. You can hear this in the music. I don't feel that my work is worth more or less than anyone else's, but no matter how many people hate to hear a woman say it, when someone tells me, 'Your album is great,' I say, 'Thank you, I feel the same way.' I am satisfied with it because I worked to get it to that level."
Part of the protectiveness is based on Jiménez's aversion to cliques and scenes. Whether playing in hardcore bands in Spain or techno in Berlin clubs, Jiménez tended to feel on the outer. "No one was supportive in the beginning. Other artists are afraid that you're going to eat their piece of the cake. There's something about a group mentality that I just can't handle. The politics within these music cliques can be quite disturbing. I never had a core group of friends all in a scene or whatever you want to call it. I had personal connections with individuals scattered all over the place, not with groups."
Nowadays, Jiménez has no shortage of supporters. But as ever, she's more interested in creative opportunities than harvesting hype. In a few months, she'll be heading to Portugal for an extended residency, where she'll work on her next album. She describes her early ideas as "trip-hop with soft singing." She also wants to record with a choir and string section. Given the scale and scope of Weightless, it's an intriguing proposition. "I'm interested in new possibilities. If my work gets attention and I'm offered beautiful opportunities, that's exactly what I'm looking for. I just want the chance to keep exploring, and to do that, things need to be flexible."