Alis interview: “More personal things”

15.06.12 Words by: Charlie Jones

I first heard of the Italian born, London based producer Sabina Plamenova back in the summer of 2008, when she was chosen to participate in the Red Bull Music Academy. I’ve been intrigued by her work ever since. Her personal output is far from prolific, having released only a handful of 12” since 2007, but she has run two record labels (Immigrant/Imminent and Opit) for years, and always seems to be flitting between roles in a way that keeps me on my toes. I rarely know what to expect from her.

Unsurprisingly then, the subject of transition usually frames our discussion. I find her incredibly difficult to pin down. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it’s very endearing. If a friend of yours searches for a term for your sound and eventually comes up with ‘monastic rave’, then you know there’s something curious going on. Every time we speak about her new material I’m surprised by what she’s done and what she has to say about it, and our most recent chat was a case in point. As of 2012 her habit of transition has now become departure. She has a new name, a new sound and a new outlook. Subeena has become Alis and from the sounds of her latest track ‘Shame’, the departure is also a full-bodied progression.

Whilst Subeena sounded like a sensual, bubbling mix of mid-90s IDM meets Detroit techno, and was briefly aligned with that much debated mid-to-late 2000s dubstep sound, which definitely wasn’t DMZ but wasn’t like much else either, Alis is a less complex creature. Mercifully. What I loved about the Subeena sound (that rolling percussion that kept my head nodding whilst also being deceptively slow) has become more electro-leaning with Alis, and seems to have developed from the 2010 Subeena 12” ‘Neurotic’, the first to feature her own vocals.

While Neurotic/Wishful Thinking came across as fragile dips into using her own voice, Alis takes up the task with a charming newfound gusto and confidence. There’s a defiant strangeness to her vocal exercises. Sure, it’s melodic enough to give her presence a real structured weight, but there’s also a “yeah, so what?” to the dips, slips and nasally quirks of it all. It’s quite refreshing to hear her work becoming more up-tempo too, as the eeriness of the Subeena production I felt always begged for a more driving element. As different as they are I cannot help but think of Cooly G when I hear Alis; these woozy, feminine swirls of vocals could easily translate to a club sound system as well as headphones. To mark the birth of Alis, Sabina has kindly given away her brand new track ‘Shame’ as an exclusive free download with us and from the sounds of things, there’s definitely more to come.

Tell me about Alis – who is she and what does she sound like?

Alis is me, doing a totally new project. It’s the result of me taking in more personal things, such as where I live and where I grew up and so on. It’s not just ‘music about music’, which is partly why I took some time off before starting again. I still value production as I used tom it just has a different take on it. Practically speaking, one difference is that I started arranging my production around the use of vocals. A good part of Alis is quite dance floor-led and up-tempo, which is where I ended up in the ‘second part’ of my life as a producer. The Subeena part of me was much slower and more about the experience of just listening. I’m still trying things out at the moment, so it’s all a strange mix right now. I’m always trying to think more and more about what kind of sound I’d be able to perform the best live, yet still sound satisfying and interesting to me.

Why did you decide to leave to Subeena moniker behind and start something new, and what about Alis is a departure from the Subeena project?

It was just the right time for a change for me production wise. It’s like… when you decide to change your job or your flat; it’s often without one specific event to trigger it, but more that you gradually realise that you don’t really have much in common with it anymore, or it doesn’t satisfy you as much. So many other things had changed in the meantime, so it seemed like the right thing to do. I would have started something new anyway, musically speaking. It’s always nice to reset yourself sometimes. That was then, this is now.

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What are you plans for the Alis project, both immediate and long term?

My short-term plan is to be much more consistent in working on more music, as well as developing my live shows. I enjoy playing live and singing, so I definitely want to focus on that side of things improving. Long-term wise, I guess ‘going with the flow’ is a good prospective. Alis is forming production-wise as a parallel to my singing. I’m not even too bothered about labels at the moment. I spoke to a few when I was recording my first material and some of the ones I really like already know about my work and are interested by Alis, but there’s no pressure on that side of things. For now, I’m definitely cool to just ‘go with the flow’ on this one.

Who or what inspires the Alis project that is or is not like the inspiration for your past work?

I think they are same things influences really – they just have a different take on them now. I constantly rediscover music as well, both electronic and not electronic, but being ‘Internet ADHD’ I forget about it all quite quickly and move onto the next thing. My capacity to absorb and retain music online is tiny, so I want to take the time to rediscover things that I loved. I’m also aware that I have much more experience now than I did a few years ago in terms of production, so that obviously has had an impact on my attitude towards my work. I’m also more conscious about what I do, and curious too. I’m still impulsive in how I approach production but now I don’t want to leave some influences or ideas on the side, which I used to do in the past all the time. I changed my mind so many times about how I wanted my work to be, and what I wanted it to sound like or be defined as, but I eventually figured out that it’s just best to include lots of things that have influenced me over time and see what happens. It can be called whatever you like.

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You’ll be singing a lot in this project, which isn’t totally new ground for you, but it’s definitely more upfront and confident. How do you feel about putting yourself out there in this new way?

Yeah, it is kind of new, but luckily it turned out being a lot of fun. It is more personal in a way, but then it also depends on what the vibe of what you’re singing is.  Performance wise I sing and play at the same time so that keeps me busy. If it’s fun I’m not even too worried about the exposure. Saying that though, I haven’t played my new stuff out enough to be able to properly compare it to past work and other vocalists but in short, it didn’t end up being as bad as I thought at all! [Laughs] Before playing my first gig I thought “why the hell did I do this to myself?“ but it ended up being great. Everyone just needs to find his or her angle. It does feel a bit funny sometimes singing live, but then I care much less now about other peoples perception of me than I used to.

I haven’t heard much from your label Opit Records lately, is this something you’re still working on alongside Alis?

I haven’t worked on projects with Opit for a while now unfortunately. I have so much going on, and doing a small indie label is still taking up far too much of my time. So for now, it’s on an undefined break. Who knows, maybe I’ll change name of it as well once I decide to deal with it again.

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