Thessa Torsing's unconventional sound has earned her a residency at De School and made her one of the scene's most promising new artists. Carlos Hawthorn finds out more.
We were headed to the small city of Nijmegen for Drift Festival, where Torsing was DJing on the main stage. De Vasim, a former factory located just past the elegant De Oversteek bridge, was both leafy and industrial, with shipping containers stacked opposite grassy ridges. By the time Torsing got the ball rolling with a slice of gloopy ambience, the sun was beating down, and the wide concrete dance floor was empty.
The unrelenting heat meant numbers barely improved over the next two hours, but the music was fantastic. Gliding from 90 through 124 BPM, Torsing touched on ambient, downtempo, instrumental hip-hop, dubstep, house, techno, IDM and whatever you'd call Amon Tobin's "Proper Hoodidge." Rhythmically and melodically the set was constantly morphing, with fresh drum patterns and tingling synth lines unfurling every few minutes. Her mixing was confident and sharp, full of tight blends that never hung around for too long. When she finished, closing with Neinzer's "Horus" off the recent Timedance compilation, she exited the booth and walked down to the dance floor, where a 46-year-old woman, a friend of Torsing's mum who had recently discovered clubbing, was bobbing animatedly down front.
This performance took place almost exactly a year on from Torsing's first proper gig, at the Berlin club ://about blank in June 2017. Since then, thanks to two killer EPs, a residency at Amsterdam's De School and a handful of excellent online mixes, she has shot onto the scene, presenting a broad and hard-to-define sound that champions weirdness over functionality. "I really hate it when people say, 'Oh upsammy plays electro,'" We were back in Amsterdam, sat outside in De School's pretty courtyard. Birdsong mingled with the chatter of friends enjoying barbecue and cocktails. A single turntable sat on a stone ledge, overseen by a young man with a crate of records and a plastic chair.
"Sometimes I go in that direction but I really don't like labelling my music," she said. "Maybe in a broader sense it can be a bit psychedelic, but I don't want to bind it to a genre. I think you can hear an upsammy record when it's a bit trippy or... I don't want to use the word 'sci-fi' any more, but a little bit quirky, a bit strange."
In person, Torsing was shy yet funny and quietly assertive. She was clearly getting used to talking about herself, but when it came to discussing her young career she showed conviction and ambition. When I said her style felt suited to warm-up sets, she agreed, before adding, "I've seen that now and I'd like to move on." She described making club music as "too limiting," while DJing, which has helped propel her into the spotlight, isn't something she sees a future in. "The ideal thing would be to have a live set," she said.
This restless attitude belongs to an artist uninterested in taking the easy route. When I asked Torsing if she had any go-to tracks for getting out of a tight spot, she seemed annoyed at the very concept, referring to them, in a sarcastic voice, as "trick records." In February, when she warmed up for Palms Trax in De School's basement, she was adamant that she wouldn't change her sound to please his fans. "My feeling was that if I give in now, if I just play smooth house, then I can never go back." Many up-and-coming artists in her position may have bent to the occasion, but Torsing says this is all part of the challenge. "The crowd isn't always going to go along with it, and I like that."
"Sometimes I'm afraid I expect too much from a dance floor," she continued. "It really depends on the venue, of course. But when I go out dancing I just want to be surprised all the time. I don't want to have to rely on taking a substance to have fun. I just want to hear the weirdness in the music."
One of Torsing's biggest stresses as a DJ is finding enough tracks that hit the sweet spot between weird and danceable. "Right now I'm doing it by mixing really danceable records with very spacey records," she said. "But then you sometimes get a set that's too dynamic. I notice that people just want a continuous groove."
I suggested that her own records fall into that sweet spot. Tracks like "Another Place" and "09-06," released as part of the striking Another Place EP in February, have eerie sounds and fizzing melodies set to slamming breakbeats. But Torsing said she wasn't "super fond" of playing her own tracks in DJ sets. "I would rather just do a live set that's totally me," she said. "Because it feels like instead of playing another great record by someone else, I'm going to play one of my own. It feels like I'm comparing. Maybe I'm not that proud of what I'm making, I guess."