#PHANTASYMIX 22: The Golden Filter

Formed in New York in 2008, and now based in London, The Golden Filter have existed on the undulating musical fringes of electro, disco and post-punk for over a decade. Consisting of the creative and romantic partnership of Penelope Trapps and Stephen Hindman, the past few years have been the band enjoy their widest success yet. Releasing not only on their own 4gn3s imprint, but Optimo Music and Dischi Autumno, they built on a trilogy of much-loved releases for The Vinyl Factory to produce singles and releases that have been played by DJs including Ben UFO, Jennifer Cardini and Ame. 

Their propulsive, thrilling new mix for Phantasy reflects the bands forward-thinking musical vision, indebted to a rich history of EBM, electro, techno and post-punk. Featuring artists including Boy Harsher, Tom Of England, Aleksi Perälä and Intergalactic Gary, alongside a few classics, it’s a rhythmic ode to raw electronics and dancefloor imagination.

Stephen from the band caught up with John Thorp to briefly talk about creative life in the UK, the delicate relationship at the centre of the band and what has kept the pair continually inspired for the previous ten years.

The Golden Filter have been part of the alternative, electronic music landscape for more than a decade. Broadly, what’s changed for the band and your sound, and what has stayed the same?

We started out as part of what the press at the time called ‘Nu Disco’, though in our minds we were some kind of cross between Suicide, and Donna Summer. Outside of having drummers on stage with us, The Golden Filter has always been us two, and essentially we have been writing music the same way for the whole decade. The only thing that has changed in our sound is that after our first album in 2010, which had some vague outside influence on production and writing in an effort try to “get signed”, we kind of just blew up the whole thing with a left-field soundtrack record and film in 2012 and then restarted staying more true to our childhood post-punk influences on subsequent releases.

You’ve been active in London now for a number of years, having moved from NYC, perhaps an even tougher environment to be comfortable and creative. As ‘outsiders’, is the city still fulfilling for you?

Five years ago we moved to London and have recently been granted permanent residency. To be honest, in 2008, when we started The Golden Filter in NYC, most of the interest in us came from the UK, so oddly we felt more like “outsiders” in NYC. I think New York is a lot more cliquey and skeptical in regards to electronic music. We were probably too independent for NYC to handle, writing and producing ourselves before bedroom producing became the norm, and I think there was a distrust that comes with that. If a label didn’t discover you, if you don’t have friends who own cool venues, or if you aren’t in mainstream press, then people really won’t know what to think of you, even if they hear your music out every weekend or they see you all over blogs. Another factor could have been that we lived in Jersey City, just across the river from NYC, back then. We had more space, and were relatively comfortable with a great studio in the house, but it was kind of rough and very isolated from NYC. We never felt part of a NYC scene, if there ever was one. But, In answer to your question, we find London to be much more welcoming, and willing to take chances with new artists, or people like us that aren’t all that new. Also, Europe is so close, and has been so great in supporting us with live shows and releasing music… It’s unfortunate about Brexit, though.

This is a superb, coherent mix, and it speaks for what I see as a bit of a resurgence in electronic music currently towards a respect for DIY, experimental and punk culture. What’s more, most of the records featured here are new. Do you think electronic music is somehow aligning once again with your sensibilities? And in the span of the existence of your partnership, how often do you think the stars align in this way (if it even matters?)

Thanks! In our rare DJ mixes, we generally have tried to put a lot of old music with new music to show the correlation between the two ever since making our 2011 FACT mix, but in this one, we tried to keep it mostly new music. It’s a lot easier to find new music that pays respect to the origins of electronic music, but still sounds fresh. So yeah, I guess theres’s a bit of a resurgence. For this mix, we wanted to include music from labels that we have ties to, and artists we’ve met who were really really nice people. It’s worth mentioning that it seems like as music-making becomes harder to make money with, the artists all seem a lot more nice to each other, like we’re all in this mess together… no matter what genre it is. We definitely feel a kinship with a lot more artists now than we did in 2010. We’re believers that the stars are always aligning for us, as we are thankful being able to still make music for a living. We may also just be a lot more positive than we were back then too, not worrying about what is going on around us so much.

Do you think ‘The Golden Filter’ as a project is beneficial to the overall state of your relationship as friends and lovers, or a creative space that exists beyond that dynamic? Sorry if that question is a little too complex for a Q&A accompanying a mix, but you seem like thoughtful folks…

The Golden Filter wouldn’t exist if we weren’t a couple. It was borne out of our relationship and it is still all about that dynamic. One of the reasons the project was ‘secretive’ in the beginning, was because we were a new couple but not yet public about it, even to our friends. the barriers blur between real life and music for us all the time… It’s intensely personal.  When we write an album or play a show, it’s always about us together. I think it’s beautiful to be so much on the same page as your partner. We’ve both been in relationships with people on the opposite end of the spectrum and in our experiences, it isn’t as positive. I think it’s quite hard for people who aren’t creative to understand what artists do in a day, or how they make money, which can create unnecessary drama. All of that said, We both feel it’s important to have our own spaces too, which is why Penelope has her solo project, and I have mine.

As a child of MP3 blog culture, I was really into your earlier musical efforts as well as your current releases and it’s been nice to trace how you have quietly evolved. The music industry has become a different, possibly even more unforgiving beast since you made the decision to “untangle yourself from the industry.” Do you think it’s become easier or tougher for independent artists such as yourself to live a meaningful and fulfilling life?

Of course ‘meaningful’ and ‘fulfilling’ are different for everyone, but I think the key to making music work long-term is to do it if you love doing it. It’s cliche to say, but If you are trying to make money or be famous, then the probability of being fulfilled is not in your favour. As far as our own evolution, I think an artist’s path kind of directs itself automatically, and an easy way to derail it is if you listen too much to labels, managers and the ‘industry’. It’s really hard to be fully true to your art, when other people’s livelihood or fulfilment is reliant on your music. As for the music industry changing, we initially got discovered on Myspace, haha. But I suppose we are all in it together, and we’re up for rolling with the punches. There was a time when we were intent on being a really visual project, with music videos and films to go with every bit of sound that we released, but Youtube has essentially killed that possibility. Outside of some algorithmic anomaly, there is no real way to get your video seen organically, which is to say they actively throttle views, which is quite sad, but we’re not going to stop making music because of it. The same can be said for all social media outlets and pay-to-play mentality, as it becomes more and more corporate marketing based, we’ll move further into our own isolated outlets, along with all the other independent artists and small labels. I suppose time will tell who will still be doing their thing in the end.

Finally, simply, what next for The Golden Filter?

Oddly, we’re working on a few cover versions at the moment, and probably only going to release one single this year. We had an album and three EPs in 2019, so we decided to let people live with those for a bit before releasing new Golden Filter music.  We’re playing live in Manchester on February 22 ( https://www.residentadvisor.net/events/1373647 ), then we will be doing a South American tour and a European tour in April and May. Penelope has her third solo album coming out on Houndstooth later on on 2020 along with live festival dates this summer, and I have a new project called “Isolating”, which will be releasing its debut EP on May 8 on Optimo Music, and debut LP in August on Dark Entries which i couldn’t be more thrilled about! Josh Cheon and Keith McIvor have both been instrumental and beautiful presences in our musical lives. Beyond that, the goal is to essentially try to keep on doing exactly what we want to do.

John Thorp, January 2020.

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