Divlja, gorka opera za džunglu i hippie-orkestar.
Petra Glynt's new video is a hypnotizing and operatic hippie acid trip that has a longer list of credits than most short films. At every turn in this video you're treated to a rush of colored smoke, flowers, chains hanging from the ceiling while dudes in freaky costumes swing around sledgehammers, flowers on fire, more colored smoke, and crazy kaleidoscope lens effects. It's a bit too much to make sense of, in a good way, so we reached out to Petra aka Alexandra Mackenzie to have her describe the video in her own words.
The "Sour Paradise" video began when Blake Macfarlane messaged me out of the blue last January asking if I'd like to work together…we didn't know each other, but I checked out his work, thought it was dope, we met and I thought he was dope and we became good friends. Now we even live together…but backing up, the ideas for the video came together through a number of brain-storming sit-downs between Blake and myself but were ultimately inspired by the message of the song itself.
The song is open but also militant at the same time, militant in it's urgency to see change in the world. It tries to express the disconnect between our relationship to the land we live on and asks us to question the validity of the system our civilization has been built upon and where it's taking us. The song is meant to empower in circumstances that can be disempowering. We didn't want to come across as too preachy or confrontational while maintaining an artful/magical approach to video making. Amidst all the inequality in the world and damage that is being done to our planet, people need positivity. We need to celebrate our likeness and freedoms we all share, that no one can take away from us- that is the power of music, art, and dance. The video has something ominous, but it is intended to be a celebration of the power of community. We had a very small budget that we generated through a show/dance party fundraiser called "Paradise" at the Comfort Zone in Toronto back in September.
Director + Editor + VFX: Blake Macfarlane - Noisey Canada
Breakout Toronto Bands: Petra Glynt
You might have seen Mackenzie's visual work around Toronto: she designed promotional materials for Autoshare, and her drawings are currently featured in the main lobby of the Drake Hotel as part of their Dream Chasers exhibit. Now rightly described her work as "fantasy pages from the greatest 70s sci-fi colouring book that never was," but there's much more to Mackenzie's work than fantasy: within her strange, fluid pictures is imagery tied to issues such as the environment, indigenous rights, and identity: themes she continues to investigate in her music.
Mackenzie's band Wet Nurse are a rare but impressive live project, and I myself first saw Mackenzie's huge murals and meticulous line drawings and paintings at live shows hosted in her old studio space: the artist is neck deep in her connections to music in Toronto. Still, I was caught off guard to hear Petra Glynt's Bandcamp demos: Mackenzie can not only craft danceable, interesting, lo-fi psych sounds, but she has a strong and soulful voice, and a fierce perspective lyrically.
Petra Glynt is beginning to pop up live more often in Toronto this year, as Mackenzie hones her sound and prepares a debut album. I caught up with Mackenzie to talk about how her musical projects and work as a visual artist connect.
How would you describe Petra Glynt, and where did the project come from? How much does it tie in with your visual work?
Music has always been big in my life, but since deciding I couldn't commit to being in a full-on band while also trying to focus on visual work, I put together a solo-act. My music doesn't differ too greatly from my visual work, they are beginning to mesh together in concept and intent the more I give them equal time and focus.
The OCAD Student Gallery asked me to curate a music/art event at the Music Gallery back in September, so I took it as a chance to write some new music. I studied voice for 11 years as a kid and teenager, and have since played drums in bands and experimental projects. Somewhere along the way I've grown an interest in making danceable music with heavy beats and drums. With Petra Glynt, I wanted the option to really sing again, for real, or not. I also wanted to sing about meaningful things.
I'm sick of music that doesn't promote anything valuable, that prefers not to challenge things in music and also in the system/society we live in. Things like decolonization, deforestation, indigenous rights or workers rights but in the context of really celebratory, good vibes music. I feel that community gets lost in cities, and communities are groups that have the power to make change. There's too much hustling happening to get together sometimes, and sometimes music can be a very unifying thing.
The 4-track demos on your Bandcamp are rough, but full of feeling and technique. They remind me of some weirder Broadcast cuts, as well as Peaking Lights, but also feel new and unique which is pretty rare. Can you tell us about your song writing and recording process? What instruments are you using - I think I heard a horn or a sax at one point?
Thanks. I recently ordered that 4-track off Ebay, and those tracks are what's come out of it so far. Live, I use a floor tom, rack tom, sampler, and a mic through a loop pedal. That sax/horn sound you hear is a kazoo that I looped with reverb. I program the sampler with sounds I record by mic-ing drums, other percussion instruments, vocal loops, or misc. noise; there are also some keyboard and synth sounds in there. I jam with these things through effects, get real deep and lost, and collage the sounds I like into a composition. I drum to them and sing along, and they sort of come together this way.
I like having a simple live set up; it's important for me to not allow things to get too complicated in performance. Weird out-of body feelings and misc. technological blurps and hiccups can happen live, and I can become less tech-minded. I prefer to feel the music as opposed to handling too many objects. It also makes travelling with gear easier. Sound is the most infinite thing, so I'm open to learning and using different instruments as I go along.
Before I heard your Bandcamp demos, specifically "Sour Paradise," I had no idea you had such a strong voice. Its soul really caught me off guard. How did you first start singing, and who are some of your favorite vocalists?
I started when I was seven. I wanted to sing, so my parents found a teacher in Ottawa named Yoriko Tanno-Kimmons and I stayed with her until I was eighteen. I started out doing musical theatre and classical music, and ended up heavily studying operatic voice. That was my thing for a long time and Yoriko had a hard love approach that made me work hard. She challenged me to sing soprano, but I'm certain now that my range is strongest in the mid-tones. In terms of favourite vocalists, I have an appreciation for all kinds of singing. It doesn't need to be coated in velvet and silk, nor does it have to be technically good. I love the voices of the Baka pygmies in the African rainforest to Chloe from the no longer in circuit Montreal band, Aids Wolf. I like it when people make their voices their own. I'm also not one for favorites.
What does the name Petra Glynt mean?
Its derived from the the words Petro Glyph: rock carvings or drawings that go back thousands years, that often illustrate stories pertaining to the indigenous cultures at the time. They are all over Canada and the rest of the world. There is a Petroglyph park not too far away from here in Toronto. I went last summer and it was cool, but all the carvings were inside this big building that was erected over the site as a means to preserve it. I get why, but it wasn't the experience I was hoping for.
Petra Glynt is a spin on those words. Indigenous affairs are important to me and I feel that they should be for everyone. They lived here in harmony with the land for thousands of years before our colonial ancestors came, and we've managed to pollute and destroy an overwhelming number of land bases across North America and the world in a small fraction of that time. As civilization has grown, we've lost touch with the land, have become dependent on foreign resources and labour and don't know how to take care of ourselves if we had to - and we will have to at the rate we are going. I feel that we could learn a lot from the indigenous peoples and they deserve respect.
Petra Glynt then represents a way to illustrate and work through my thoughts around society and civilization as it changes, and disseminate resistance around some of the oppressive forces it's powered, while also promoting a respect for mother nature for her phenomenological beauty. Reality is really weird and psychedelic, let's not forget.
What musical projects are you focusing on right now - just Petra Glynt, or are there others too? Pachamama and Wet Nurse are two of my Toronto favourites.
Pachamama is another focus for sure - a duo project I do with my partner Brandon Valdivia. We just did some recording with Matt Smith at 6 Nassau in November, and have plans to go back into the studio and do a a couple more songs to hopefully complete a 10" for the summer. We also have a tape single coming out soon through Craft Singles, a DIY singles label from Halifax.
Wet Nurse was a music project between me and Rebecca Fin Simonetti, and it now more or less represents the instances where we come together and collaborate on anything, whether it's visual or music.
Your visual work would be a lot of musicians' dream cover artwork. Have you done many collaborations like this so far, and can you tell us about projects past and future related to art for music releases you've done?
I haven't done a whole lot of cover art to be honest, apart from my own music projects, but I'm totally down for these kind of collaborations with other artists. I started screenprinting for music reasons, though, making posters for gigs or shirts, and ended up majoring in printmaking at OCAD. Recently, I did give a drawing to my friend Airick of Doldrums for "She is the Wave" but there wasn't enough time to come up with anything new, so I grabbed one from a sketchbook. I also did a collage for Toronto's Healing Power Records: a tape for LA synth artist M. Geddes Gengras.
Let's get a bit personal: what led you to commit to being an artist? It's a hard life, and I know you've expressed a desire to be an environmental and human rights activist.
There's a lot about our society that's backwards. The whole thing is insane, which as an artist can be both alienating and inspiring at the same time. There are a few mighty money-bags out there that have the rest of us tethered to their needs. It's hard to find "work in your field" these days, as civilization grows beyond its boundaries of sustainability. It's easier for big companies and corporations to look to other parts of the world for cheap labour then look within their own communities.
This not only kills communities, but the workers are treated badly, the environment suffers from irresponsible manufacturing/whatever practices, the rich get richer, and now we live in a society of scarcity. I would rather fight as an artist, as myself, than fight to be apart of something I don't believe in.
I saw your work for Autoshare: how did that come about?
I was living with my bud Jeff Garcia and he recommended me for the gig. It was definitely one of the more fun design-type gigs I've done. Our job was to make art out of the parking signs, and we could be really open and free with them.
To me your work depicts mythology that seems to comment more on Western culture in general than on one nationality, but I think your work has a Canadian-ness: I see motifs of pine trees and mountains that feel very familiar, and you've used a Canadian bill as canvas. How does your work fit into your identity as a Canadian?
I don't really identify with any sort of nationalism or pride, but for sure the landscape of Canada has shaped me. As a kid, I grew up around a lot of nature and spent a lot of my time in it, so naturally it comes out in my work at times. The bill you saw is a twenty, where I drew on the Queen's face. It was a show poster for Toronto's Not the Wind Not the Flag, Fleshtone Aura, Wet Nurse, and Jax Deluca at the Tranzac. Brandon and I later submitted it to a Monarchy vs. Anarchy show in the east end.
Photography Josh Silver
Words Zarah Cheng
Words Zarah Cheng
An artist of multiple disciplines, Alexandra Mackenzie has a powerful voice both literally and ideologically as she performs under her pseudonym, Petra Glynt. Taking her experience as a visual artist, Petra Glynt’s shows are known to be an unforgettable sensory escape. With lyrics that reflect her dedication to social justice topics surrounding indigenous issues, community, and the land, Mackenzie creates electronic music that not only makes you want to dance, but also to think deeper about the things you take for granted every day. Looking forward to tour dates in October with Austra, Petra Glynt chats with us about her days in Toronto’s DIY punk scene and how she feels about being compared to Grimes.
Your EP is titled "Of This Land." What's the meaning behind it?
It’s about paying respect to where your roots are, and the importance of having a relationship between oneself and the land/history of the land where you come from.
The “Sour Paradise” video is hypnotic. What was the inspiration behind the art direction?
Blake Macfarlane and I deliberated over all sorts of ideas. Maybe the one that curated the aesthetic the most was inspired by anarchist, writer, and poet Hakim Bey's T.A.Z.: Temporary Autonomous Zone. It is an essay that undogmatically states that the best way to elude conventional systems of control and to create non-hierarchical spaces is to create temporary uprisings of short duration that can reappear and disappear before they can be discovered and penalized by the powers that be.
You have said in a past interview that you consider your various art practices to be distinct from each other. Do you ever express any common themes/subjects between your media though?
I have expressed this in the past, but my feelings have taken a different shape – I feel that my visual and music practices are becoming more interdependent. I intend to have an exhibition with the release of my new album, one that works deliberately with the vibe of the music.
People are often quick to visually compare you to Grimes. Does that ever bother you?
Not a whole lot, but I suppose any artist would want to be recognized for his or her own voice and not for another's.
Katie Stelmanis (of Austra) is also from an operatic background. Do you think that there's a strong connection between classical music and electronic music?
Not necessarily, but electronic music does allow for any sort of instrumentation. It is a very open world, so classical music can hypothetically find a home in it pretty easily.
Social justice issues come up a lot in your lyrics. Which topics are most important to you?
All of the issues intertwine. To me they are obvious issues that are slowly getting more attention, but it's still not enough – number one being environmental defence. In Canada we have an abundance of land and natural resources but unfortunately, it is appreciated for its potential to be profitable and not for its sacred qualities, ones that need to be respected and left alone. As the economy and our systems of control are becoming less and less transparent, our land mass (and each other) is the only thing we can trust. It needs to be protected and it's terrifying to know that the oil sands are only getting bigger, that more and more remote areas are getting fracked and that Canadian fresh water is increasingly under threat. It is all getting closer to home. As the resources become scarce, the health of the land will no longer support us and we will have screwed ourselves.
Number two is indigenous sovereignty. Respecting unceded indigenous land and responding to their calls for resistance against the extermination of their culture/peoples need to be on the forefront of the agenda. If it were, much of the land mass would still be thriving and the indigenous populations would not be on the decline. And seeing as they lived well without our intervention for thousands of years, we could be learning a thing or two from them. There is something to say about our quick decline.
Last is all about community and building strength in numbers. We've all felt screwed over by the system, but instead of continuing to support the capitalist mentality of competition – which divides us and makes rivals out of our friends, neighbours, and future collaborators – I want to see more of us banding together because I feel that our futures rely on our ability to realize our common interests and to work together with love and support of our differences.
What sort of experience are you trying to create for spectators when you put together visuals for your live shows, and how does it tie in to your music?
I try and make it a full experience. I am on my own up there so I like to fill the space. I tend to build worlds within my visual and musical work, places to be explored, and my combining the two makes it more of an extra-sensory/virtual experience. I also make art projects out of all the projects I do, ever since I was a kid in grade school. I'd neglect the research or writing portion of the project in order to make the most elaborate visual object out of it. It got me into some trouble but at least I've always known where my priorities were, which have gotten me to this point in my life.
You sometimes have other artists joining you on stage. How do you approach these collaborations - would you plan out the performance or is it more spontaneous?
Petra Glynt has so far been entirely solo when it comes to the stage and live performance but I am open to different collaborations, whether they be inviting dancers or different percussionists to join in. I am only at the starting blocks of figuring out how this might be incorporated into live performances. There are other projects besides Petra Glynt that have incorporated friends and their different talents. High World, curated by Lido Pimienta and Blake Macfarlane, is one that aspires to invite people from varying scenes, backgrounds, and orientations. We see the segregation in Toronto and want to challenge it. I love when I can be a part of it. Pachamama, a duo with my ex-partner, has also made a point to invite dancers, singers, and percussionists and we improvise together within the structure of our songs. But the era of Pachamama has likely come to pass.
Most of your previous projects have been part of the Toronto DIY punk scene. Why did you decide to delve into electronic music?
It came out of necessity. I have a soft spot for playing high-energy drums in punk bands but with Petra Glynt, using the electronic tools has allowed me to collage my own compositions and to perform them on my own. It is an infinite world for delving deep, where sound can be arranged and manipulated with as much or as little artful intention. I am in love.
Who would you like to collaborate with the most?
I would love to tour with a group of percussionists one day, preferably all female, but that's all I have in mind these days...a girl can dream.
I'm in the process of writing a full-length album, so I'm staying put for most of the summer, but I have plans to do a few dates in Montreal, Quebec City, Fredericton, and Halifax with Austra in October which I'm super stoked about. I want to eventually cover all of Canada. It is my home and I know very little about the landscape.
Who are your favourite bands/artists right now?
Right now, like this week, I have been listening to Spooky Black on repeat, a 15-year old kid out of Minnesota. His music is way too sexy for his years. And everyday I catch a listen of my friend Vic Cheong's (half of Healing Power Records) reggae covers mix tape: volume 2. It's the bomb.