A lesson in ambient DJing.
When you're not playing dance music, DJing is a whole different ballgame. It's not easy, although some people seem like naturals. Few artists are as good at this as Glenna Fitch, AKA sold. Listening to them DJ, especially outside of a club setting, is likely to make you curl up, sprawl out and make your hair stand on end.
Fitch, who also DJs as one half of Farplane with their partner Hi-Vis, is a former resident of Hugo Ball at Chicago's smartbar, where they cut their teeth alongside some of the Midwest's best DJs. Their style is all their own: footwork floats beneath ambient clouds, while booming basslines anchor field recordings and dance music dissipates into murmurs.
This kind of DJing requires careful pacing and layering. Fitch’s RA podcast moves through deep passages of drone, intimate vocal-led sections and even incorporates the serrated sounds of Cruel Diagonals and the ethereal footwork of Jana Rush. The curation is just as impressive as the sequencing, cutting across traditions from dyed-in-the-wool experimental artists like Eliane Radigue, Oval and Terre Thaemlitz to some of the leading lights of the American leftfield such as MHYSA or gayphextwin. Some tracks are academic in their precision, while others are pure DIY. It takes a special ear to put them all together. This is an ambient-leaning mix, though it's not meant as background music. As sold tells us below, "I love making people feel things, even if that feeling is disconcerting."
What have you been up to recently?
I recently took a hiatus from DJing, social media and going out. Everything but my day job basically. If you know me you, know that I was/am an ~extremely online~ person and it was making me lose my sense of reality. And that was just one layer of that onion of my failing mental health. I've always felt that the best way to deal with my trauma and poor mental health was to just keep piling on more things to distract myself, and for many years, it worked.
But back in December, two months in to being an agent for Discwoman, traveling one or two times a month to DJ out of state, DJing three or four times in Chicago a month on top of that, working as the techno buyer for Gramaphone on the weekends, organizing parties AND working a full-time day job... I finally just... broke. I stopped being functional in any way. So I got on SSRIs, took a step back from everything and tried to remember why I love music and DJing. Because quite frankly, I couldn't remember anymore. And 8+ months later, here I am. I'm not at 100 percent (was I ever?) but I feel feelings outside of crushing depression again, and that's raw. I'm actually excited to catch up on all these mixes I promised, ready to DJ again and getting back in the swing of planning parties. This time though, I just have to know and remember my own limits.
How and where was the mix recorded?
In my girlfriend and I's living room in Pilsen, Chicago. I used two Technics 1200s, two Pioneer CDJ-900s and a Pioneer DJM-700 mixer. Nothing fancy.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
Well being that you caught me in the middle of my... whatever that period was, it's a wonder I was able to conjure anything at all. I didn't think it was in the cards for me to make this mix, but out of nowhere I was listening to the piece I have in here by Strategy and my brain just suddenly lit up saying, "Get it out! Get it out!" I don't even know what "it" was. Even as I fleshed it out, I don't think I had any sort of idea outside of my usual, "How do I describe what it's like in this brain?"
When I came back to social media in July I found out Colin Joyce wrote up the mix I did for my girlfriend's series Beyond / Below for an end-of-year list, and said probably the most accurate thing anyone (including myself) could say about my ambient mixes: "Sometimes ambient isn't about self-care, sometimes it's about self-obliteration." I swear I'm not shoehorning in some media mention, I just can't think of anything more apt. This one was definitely about working out some shit. They all are, really.
To you, how does DJing ambient and downtempo music differ from dance floor DJing?
It's a lot more emphasis on programming (the order and timing of your selections) than technique. Not to say I'm not obsessed with programming when I DJ dance music too. I just don't need to worry about beatmatching, a skill that I'm still honing and long gave me anxiety. But both types of DJing are about feeling. Always with feeling. I think there's an idea that ambient is typically peaceful and I really enjoy dismantling that (as I alluded to earlier). Granted, I don't just play ambient (I tend to work in other forms of music like sound collage, footwork, experimental, etc.) but all of that is about pushing and deconstructing what ambient means anyhow. I love making people feel things, even if that feeling is disconcerting.
You were a resident at Hugo Ball alongside Justin Aulis Long, Eris Drew and Sevron. Can you tell us about that party, and has it shaped the way you play music?
I say this all the time, and mean it both jokingly and seriously, but Hugo Ball ruined me. In the best way, but it made my standards on myself so unbelievably high because I was playing with three of the most amazing DJs in Chicago, and I could never measure up. That absolutely was my own anxiety, and nothing they imparted on me intentionally. I think part of my time off from DJing has been coming to terms with the fact that I don't need to measure up to them (or anyone), and just being me is all I need. But Christ, the shit they taught me—as music lovers, as DJs, as artists, as humans.
All three of them taught me different lessons, but the biggest lesson between the three of them was deep listening. It was Eris who introduced me to the music of Pauline Oliveros (which led me to Eliane Radigue), but all three have their own ways of appreciating doing nothing else but LISTENING to the music. When you realize that the whole time you thought were listening to music you were only just hearing it and not actually LISTENING, it changes your world. Music changes from a passive thing you take from to a revered spirit you want to give back to (i.e. the Mother Beat). That is honestly the most important thing I had to learn. I could write a book on how these three people changed my life, so anything I say here doesn't really feel adequate.
What are you up to next?
Hopefully it's not too much. I've been involved in Groove Cafe, an events calendar alternative to Facebook my friends Mike Sugarman and Erica Mei started that has blossomed into a group of individuals focused on making the DIY and underground community safer and more connected. I am still doing my party Relate (a Chicago-talent-only night meant to shine the light inward on Chicago) at smartbar. I'm bringing back my DIY party Neon Falls (I desperately needed to hear a Bill Converse set). I'm playing the Honcho Campout with my girlfriend as Farplane thanks to the beautiful individuals of In Training inviting us to play their curated "afters" stage (another group I could write a book on), playing a smattering of other gigs and planning more and will be playing in Berlin soon again as Farplane for a show on the brink of being announced. Starting up a deep listening night with my girlfriend. Hopefully always finding ways to help and heal others. Still working at Gramaphone, just less often. Plus you know, my day job. Gotta pay that rent.