In Conversation with Tsinder Ash

Tsinder Ash is a London-based recording and performance artist, currently in residence at Limewharf in Hackney. They have performed across the UK, Europe and the States. Ahead of the launch of Offerings, their new EP, HISKIND sat down with Tsinder to chat about music, performance, and voodoo.

So where did this new EP emerge from?

Offerings is a four track EP that I’ve been writing for the past year. I write really, really slowly. It was the reaction to an album I realised last year called The Ecstasy of Making Things Worse, which was basically an album all about the end of the world. I was looking really heavily into Anthropocene theory, how we’re basically in the sixth mass extinction now. There’s this unspoken trauma that’s going on, this rise of nationalism and the far right. It’s all stemming from, I believe, this psychosis that we’re denying, that something really bad is happening to our planet. I was in this really dark place writing this album, I felt like the world was ending, for me at least.

After that, I wanted to just finish everything but you have to find ways out, believe that there’s hope in some way. So I think Offerings came about organically as a way to find hope for myself, finding different ways to image a future for myself and everyone.

What inspired you to write it?

I got really interested in some magical practices, like Paganism, Voodoo. I think it was the way they approach the world, the fundamental core: they’re very fluid with how they see the universe. A core belief of traditional paganism is that the universe is unknowable so we have to find ways to tap into the consciousness, there are ways we can get into it. In Voodoo, I was really interested in the way they approach death and ancestry; I guess that was about trying to find ways to connect with other people, connect with our past, without doing so in a hierarchical way.

How does this come through in the music?

Offerings tries to create landscapes where I trace my thought patterns weaving through these ideas of Paganism and Voodoo. The whole EP sounds like it was recorded in a sea cave at the end of the world. The first track is about queer witches running the world in the future, All My Sisters, which I wrote after last summer: Brexit happened, the Orlando Pulse shooting. These things that made everyone feel vulnerable – even me, and I’m very much a loner. So it was weird with everyone feeling so scared for each other and coming together. Some of the EP stemmed from that, trying to find ways to take over.

So there’s a queer influence too?

I was really inspired by Genesis P-Orridge – they founded COUM Transmissions, fronted Psychic TV – they had a really amazing life. They met their partner, Lady Jaye, and they decided to become a pandrogyne, they wanted to become the same person. You hear Genesis’ voice at the very beginning of the EP, where they say, “Pleasure is a weapon, pleasure is a weapon,” it just repeats over and over again. They’re really interested in the idea of pleasure as a way to change society. What I’m interested in is their investment in magic and cult practices as a way to subvert the political status quo. I’m really into artists who try and find ways to create something untouchable about their work and being, it’s both a method of creative freedom and resistance.

How do you go about writing music?

Whenever I write something, I have multiple streams of ideas coming into this mess. It’s really about creating landscapes – sonic and poetic – I’m really invested in lyrics, lyric writing, poetry, the voice: I do a lot of voice work, I do throat singing, overtone singing. Even though I might have 20 instruments on one track, it’s all very minimal, it’s focussed on the words because that’s what interests me.

Do you perform live as well?

I much prefer making live music to making recorded music – it takes so much time and I have very little patience. And I like the immediacy of live performance. I’m quite rare as a musician – a lot of people play with backing tracks and loops – but I’m very pared-down generally when I perform, it’s about the instrument and the voice. Occasionally I’ll move around the audience and use the space to take people a little further out of their comfort zone. At the same time, I really enjoy sonic landscape building. I like both aspects, they’re very different.

How often do you put on live performances? Do you plan to tour Offerings?

I try to: being a solo, multi-instrumentalist I’m always carrying about five things at any one time so touring is actual hell. But once I’m there, I really enjoy it. It depends on what’s going on: I’ll have times when I won’t perform for five months. Because I’ve always been a bit of a loner – a musical loner and a general loner, I’ve never felt like I’ve quite fitted in as this weird gothic queer person – a lot of my musical friends are in Canada, the States, Europe. But it’s generally just been me. It has advantages and disadvantages: you get a sense of yourself that you wouldn’t get if you were entrenched in a scene, you are able to see yourself apart from everyone, but it’s hard to get your hooks in, especially in London where it’s quite cliquey and if you’re not a part of that you feel quite isolated.

Do you try and do something more with live music?

I call myself a performer as well as a musician. I like going to a show and feeling moved and feeling something I haven’t felt before. I don’t want to go to a show where people are chatting amongst themselves and not paying any attention, there’s so much of that: go to any pub and there’s an open mic night sometime. It’s pleasant: I write pleasant things sometimes as well. But for me what’s important is that there’s something happening right now: pay attention, or I’ll make you pay attention. Which is a great challenge as well, but that’s part of what my performance is about.

With Offerings wrapped up, what’s next?

Once this is launched, I’m going to be starting a new project based on the painter and illustrator Raqib Shaw. He’s this really amazing Calcutta-born queer painter who’s been based in Peckham for decades, in this huge warehouse that he bought for absolutely nothing. It’s full of all this really ornate stuff: he does amazing bronze sculpture and these huge, floor-to-ceiling enamel paintings, which are so intricate, with glitter. He takes Italian renaissance paintings and ideas and warps them, making them both beautiful and monstrous at the same. I think it’s a commentary on globalisation versus culture, how we think that culture clash is providing us with creative freedom but actually our imaginations are more constrained than ever by what came before us. I’m really interested in artists who create a mythos or a world for themselves.

What are you hoping to do with this project?

I’m really interested in his portraits and how he creates this world for himself. Where does that come from? A lot of it comes from trauma, especially with queer artists. A lot of it is about a creating a safe space for yourself, untouchable in a way, somewhere you can escape to. That’s something my work is often about: I’m always drawn to artists in other media who do that. I think the project about him is going to be building a musical world around this character that features, which is him but I’m calling it The Emperor.

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