Jam Rostron aka Planningtorock, the master of transformation, uncovered herself for an in-depth interview and photo shooting.
It’s been two years since the release of ‘All Loves Legal’ and whether or not you think Planningtorock’s next release is overdue, you can’t say she hasn’t been busy. After extensively touring her last album, Jam Rostron took on another creative challenge by producing music for choreographer Ian Kaler’s multi-part dance piece ‘o.T.’ The first instalment ‘the emotionality of the jaw’ saw its premiere at Halle G of Vienna’s Tanzquartier in 2015 and set the starting point for her tour.
Lately Jam finished her residency at Villa Aurora in L.A. holding an artist fellowship for three months and possibly started the groundwork for her new album. But before the Berlin-based artist Planningtorock left Europe we met prior to her performance at Tanzquartier Wien.
I’ve seen you at donaufestival last year and at one point you were throwing your prosthetic nose into the audience. I wondered, ever since, if this was an impulsive act or actually part of the performance?
It’s really a funny story, because I toured so much for years and the prosthetic has never fallen off, ever. It was the first time it started to slide off my face. I could feel it happening. How do I, as an entertainers and performer, incorporate this in the show? Then somebody shouted “I love you, Jam!” and I wanted to give this as a gift. The irony is, that the person who got it was actually a friend of mine: a little rascal, Alejandro, aka Arca.
Regarding the prosthetic and the masks, are they a medium to alienate and distance yourself?
The masks and the prosthetic were about dealing with being gendered on stage. When you’re identified as a woman, you’re treated in a very particular way and sexism is alive in the music world. It was my way of dealing with that and at the same time creating it was fun for me. When I first started out, people thought it was intense and strange. This was before Lady Gaga went totally costume crazy and then it became the norm.
And now she’s just super mainstream…
Haha yeah, totally, we’re all going through phases. We do that in our lives. My goodness, I had so many phases. But the other thing is, now that I’m older, I’m 44, I really enjoy being an older person. You just get more relaxed, because shit doesn’t bother you the same. That brings you a different kind of freedom and I’m very interested in that identity. I’m looking out for other older women or trans-women or people who identify as female and work in the music business.
“I thought I had to hide myself, but now I can feel sexy and own it.”
You had this mask to degender yourself, but how was it in between the concerts? Since you only wore the mask on stage…
Yeah, that’s right. But on a private level, I definitely went through some transformation too. A lot of wig wearing (laughs) and also my body changed an awful lot. There was a point where I was very big and just had a different body. For me, artists like Beyoncé, who own their sexuality and sexiness, were very important. For a long time, I really thought I had to hide myself, but now I can feel sexy and own it. That was a really powerful lesson.
Do you think yourself a metaphysical person?
Performing with the prosthetic felt different every time and it grew as well. I have a huge affection for that part of my work and also that persona it creates, which is very much about my gender identity. Now, I’m going through quite the fem period, which is really great. I also have a new boyfriend in my life, so that is also new for me. But I’ve been through many phases in my life, in terms of gender identity.
How does that affect your sound? It’s really exciting what’s happening with this new movement of queer electronic music like Arca, Lotic and the whole Janus crew, as well as Angel-Ho in South Africa. I feel they have a different approach to sounds, they feel much more digitally hyper processed or edited. Do you think that sound has a sort of political agency?
That’s a really interesting question. Alejandro [Arca] and I talked about this aspect and also about discrimination. I also met Lotic and he’s such a sweet person. I found it so funny that anyone of them makes such heavy stuff in terms of sonic queerness. It’s interesting, because I’m much older and I’ve been around a lot longer in terms of sonic identities, sonic possibilities and also the growth of software. When I started, over ten years ago, I was working with Logic and now Ableton Live comes along. It really does affect how you record and in terms of fluidity and sonic transparency there’s lots of potential there. I still really love producing and messing with sound, but I also really love songs that manage to communicate content.
A lot of what Arca does with sonics definitely has content, but it also has a vibe and power. I’ve been listening to Fatima Al Qadiri’s new record. Her track “Power” is so amazing and she achieves to use her music to bolster the quote she uses on “Power”. It really gets that quote, that statement, that person [ex-LAPD sergeant Cheryl Dorsey] - it makes you feel them. I feel that’s when music is really powerful, when it bolsters a person’s position.
Like an extended materiality of your own feelings that enables this political agency that music instruments and sounds themselves can have. Do these sonics already possess a queer quality that is subconsciously recognized by the audience or are they rather linked to the conscious?
I think it’s also very linked to the people who are creating it. How you identify with the performers. For example, for me, it was really cool to see Arca perform, because he’s so funny and doesn’t give a fuck and he’s both, commanding and playful. That, combined with his music, is a perfect marriage. When I’m making music, I’m always thinking ‘Who’s listening to it? Who’s it for?’
Do you compare yourself to people working in this field but outside of music or arts? For example in academic discourse.
Academia is a problematic topic to me, because it’s very exclusive and closed. I don’t say that it’s not useful, but the last time I went to school was when I was 14. I don’t have any education. I’m more interested in activists and autodidacts. And I really have a high respect for the idea of subjectivity, emotionality and experience informing theory. I’m reading this book ‘Plantation Memories - Episodes of Everyday Racism’ by Portuguese writer Grada Kilomba. [Jam pulls out the book] She talks a lot about academia and knowledge and who owns knowledge, that it’s mostly white knowledge that is being taught in academia.
I actually wanted to ask if you had any book recommendations.
Bell Hooks, I read so much by Bell Hooks. She is a philosopher and a social thinker. My favourite book of hers is called ‘All About Love’.
That’s the thing with knowledge. Where’s it coming from? Who is saying that we should listen to this group and not another one?
Do you think you can perform those thoughts and build a bridge to a more performative approach to knowledge, for people who’d rather receive it through performance or music?
Music is this kind of vehicle which is very fast-paced and can communicate to a lot of people. Beyoncé samples a quote by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in ‘Flawless’ and suddenly everybody knows it. It’s a sharing platform and that’s what I’m really trying to do. I run a music label called ‘Human Level’ and I try to give back what I get. Everything that I earn, everything that I get from Planningtorock, I then use for ‘Human Level’. At the moment I’m releasing Planningtorock music and music by Hermione Frank aka rRoxymore, who’s a very inspirational producer.
Your studio in Berlin, is it like a hub where you invite people to? I guess it needs an own form of networking, to be inclusive and exclusive at the same time?
I think rather than exclusive it’s specific. It has a very clear agenda. If you share your space like that you get a lot out of it and you get a lot in return as well. Being in the studio on your own is so boring and isolated. For me, it’s important to have contact with people. It’s this access to everybody’s knowledge and skills. For example Hermione is such a skilful producer, she’s got the patience that I do not have. I learn by sharing the studio like that. It’s really inspirational.
Last year at donaufestival a lot of people with the same interests and motivations came together. You, Noise Manifesto, Arca. This year it continued with Lotic, Fatima Al Qadiri, Angel-Ho and Le1f. Do you think it may be a bit dangerous in the sense that you’re creating this big bubble?
I guess it’s difficult to say. I’m online all the time and have all these online friendships and connections. So in a way for people that’s all they know. Is that a bubble? How big is that bubble? I don’t know. I have had experiences, which were like reality checks.
A friend of mine is teaching in a pretty deprived school in California, in a pretty rough area. One day she’d asked the kids to bring something in class that meant something to them. These two kids came and they brought my album. They were both queer kids that wanted to talk about Planningtorock and they said that the record gave them hope. I was like ’What the hell, that’s amazing’! I reached those kids and that meant a lot to them.
You never know who you will reach. My world is very small, because it’s self-run. And of course there is a difference in who you’re gonna reach and how far your voice reaches out, depending on how much financial resources you have.
“I’m not a believer of separatism, but I do believe in making a compulsory female quota.”
Was there an important moment or artist that pushed you in this direction to go public, maybe like an analogous experience to that of those kids in California? Has there been a catalyst?
There have been many artists and there continue to be many artists, people and friends that influence me a lot. One artist that really influenced me from early on was Kevin Blechdom. She’s an incredible electronic artist and producer. She loves musicals and would make these painfully honest songs about difficulties in life. The first album I made was very much about working out who I was, where I was going and also early explorations in feminism.
There was that moment when I asked myself honestly: “What do I wanna make music for? There’s already so much music, and people are doing all kinds of stuff, but what do I wanna do with it?” I realised, that I wanted to make music that is about things that care about and that’s when I wrote ‘Patriarchy Over And Out’. I remember thinking to myself “What do you want to happen with patriarchy?” - “I want it to go away! Like fuck off, go away”. That’s how I wrote the song.
Have you experienced any changes because of a heightened sense for equality? Did it actually get better in the past 12 years?
It is better in a sense that it’s possible to talk about it. But still, when you’re on tour, when you go to a venue, it’s predominantly male. You can experience gender discrimination run into difficulties and you see that your male counterparts don’t have to deal with the same shit. Also pay is different and most festivals don’t book enough women.
An Austrian magazine edited a poster from a festival and took out all the male names and there were 3 acts left on this huge poster. It’s so absurd because the lack of women isn’t really visible.
Yeah, exactly. I’m not a believer of separatism, but I do believe in making a compulsory female quota to address in-equality and until the deficit has been repaired. There are a few artists I know that have tried to have it added in their contracts that they will only play a festival or events that have a 50:50 quota. It’s pretty hard.
But it’s interesting, the awareness of one’s own privileges. I feel privileged as a white person and sometimes I’m even like “White people should just stop. Stop filming, stop writing, stop recording music, stop everything you’re doing and just make fucking space. Get out of the way!” (laughs).