Introducing Ariel, the utterly outspoken, abrasive and loquacious ex-spy who is uprooting pop music as we know it with her nuanced and sophisticated sonic labyrinth.
Ariel left home at 13 years old and moved to Berlin where she infiltrated the fashion industry, ghost designing clothes for some of the biggest names in fashion. Eventually, she found her way back to England and into Cambridge University where her eyes were opened to the behaviour of the elite. Her time studying at the most right-wing male-dominated college gave her an insight into how the most potentially powerful people in the country operate. She mentions “the fellas would wear black armbands to commiserate the day that women were allowed into the college…”. This ignited a fire of anger which eventually fuelled into a fascination, seeding the narrative of her three-record project — an evocative political and social commentary of the corruption and abuses of power in our modern society.
Fresh out of uni with a first in Political History, Ariel was hired by MI6. She became an expert in observation and strategy, mastering the art of assuming identities and morphing into illusory roles. Due to health reasons, she had to leave her life as a spy behind but it continued to ooze into the creation of Ariel’s world and her art. “Art has a very special place in society,” she says, “you’re above everyone else’s rules. You can say and do things that other people can’t get away with because you’re holding up a mirror”.
Ariel wields her mirror with “Too Big To Fail (Act 1)”, solo written, produced, and mixed from her living room floor in Shepherd’s Bush. The 10-track record is the first of three tripping us to tumble into her rabbit hole. Underwritten by a wider political narrative the storyline follows a girl who goes on a post-break-up night out with her friends, gets high, and is assaulted. Ariel’s songwriting is fuelled with “fuck you energy” as she deals with the emotions that follow this series of events, she delves beyond the pain to spin feelings of freedom and abandonment into a tongue-in-cheek parody of how women are sold their power. The project is a psychological experiment, “these records are not about me”, Ariel says, “they have a personal narrative element to them but they’re actually about you, they’re about everyone else”. By deflecting this intricate, dangerous narrative onto her audience, Ariel coaxes us into our own self-analysis and questioning of our world.
Throughout the album Ariel fuses unexpected experimental sonic elements into a bold creation of labyrinthine sound, blending layered and distorted vocals with unhinged, chaotic beats and voice samples (including a secret recording of Boris Johnson). Revealing her invasion of pop Ariel says, “I’m interested to find out whether there is a space for art in pop music because I find a lot of pop music very monocultural. It’s very two-dimensional and life is much more complicated and nuanced than that”.
I meet Ariel (a few Stellas down) at The Owl And Pussycat pub in Shoreditch, we’re sitting outside so she can smoke a packet of Marlboros whilst a thunderstorm crashes onto the corrugated plastic roof — atmospheric to say the least. I delve deep into Ariel’s dangerous, uncensored, and frivolous world. Dive in if you dare…
Congrats on the debut album, how are you feeling now your work is out in the world?
I’ve been very anxious about the whole thing for ages but now I feel very calm about it. I’ve been thinking about this project for a long time. Even when I write songs I think about them for ages before I actually sit down and write them. When you’re working on a project you can feel a bit crazy because you’re the only person that’s in on the process, you’re the only person that’s in the ideas and all your friends think you’re mental because they don’t see what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s nice because there’s this thing I’ve been working on for so long and now it’s tangible and real, it finally exists.
I completely get that, it’s terrifying putting your soul out into the world through this creative project and you just don’t know what the response is going to be.
You know what, it’s funny because I don’t really give a shit about what the response is gonna be at this point. I don’t care if no one listens to it, it’s been much more of a process of figuring out in my own head how I feel about certain things and I now have this sense of knowing who I am in terms of my identity because it’s my own.
That’s a massive deal!
Yeah it is! Personally I feel like there’s an evolution that’s coming to fruition that I’ve been trying to achieve for a while just for myself, so even anyone listening to the record is wild and it was never the point. But yeah it feels good, for the first time in a long time I feel like things are the way they should be. It’s not just this esoteric concept that I’m writing this piece of work, it’s out in the world now. It’s nice to relinquish a bit of control, whatever happens from this point on I’ve done my bit as far as I’m concerned, well this is album one of three but yeah that’s how I feel.
Well that’s what I wanted to ask, so this is the first album of three which you have arranged into a singular linear narrative carrying through the project. Where, why and how did this narrative come about?
I guess like in the way a novelist might, I wrote the last bit first. I was writing very different stuff at the time and I wrote this song which will be the last one of the project coming out at the end of the year. I wrote the chords and then just ad libbed, including the lyrics which I never normally do. I usually have a very solid idea of what I want the lyrics to be before, I have a map of what I want to do. But this song just came out of somewhere, I don’t know where, and I haven’t changed it since I first sang it. It was clearly coming from somewhere very different and deep, and I was a bit confused. I thought fucking hell, I really need to figure out what I’m trying to say to myself here. That song sort of unravelled a bit of a journey which made me realise I needed to work backwards to work out where this song was coming from. I was in the process of tracing the story back. At the time I was doing a lot of transcendental meditation and also gong baths — lol — which I loved. It was really hippy and I don’t consider myself to be particularly spiritual but I was doing that at the time because I found music therapy really interesting. I really trip when I go to gong baths, they really trigger something visual for me and I could tell that my subconscious was trying to say something. Every time I do it and get to that place it’s always the same trip, it’s the same place I go to, it’s the same little creature I follow around who I think of as my little muse, she’s a little ball of energy, she just giggles. It’s all underwater, that’s why I called the project Ariel because it’s the place — this sounds so wanky — but it’s the place that I see and go into that’s all underwater. I started really connecting to that narrative which incited that first song.
I was reading the David Lynch book Catching The Big Fish, I was thinking about how to access my subconscious. I felt at the time that some of the previous stuff I was writing was surface level and wasn’t quite hitting where I really needed it to hit, so I was searching for that deeper connection to myself. It sounds lame but I just felt that was lacking in my writing, then that song happened and I just thought “fuck I need to follow this” and go down that rabbit hole. I guess almost what I’m doing now with these three records is taking them down that rabbit hole in reverse now I’ve come to the beginning of the story. The first and the last record are more linear but the second album goes down into that world, in my head it’s a Pan’s Labyrinth type thing where there’s this surreal space that explores themes extricated from the real world.
*Thunder rumbles through the pub* That introduces this quote pretty nicely, you say the project “should feel like a descent from on top of the world, it should be carefree, provocative and shocking but also darkly funny and disturbing… A blurring of illusions, realities, half-memories and dead dreams.
Yeah! Wow did I really write that, am I that much of a cunt? I mean it was the middle of a pandemic and I was sitting on my own writing this stuff, I think I went a bit loopy and so into it. It was a very special time to be creative because you could really get lost. But anyway yeah it should feel like that, as I said, the first album should have this feeling of post break up liberation, kind of on top of the world, also getting high and going out. Then I think the second record delves into those dead dreams and half memories — I’ve got a shit memory, the worst memory of all time and a lot of my childhood and teenage years I have complete blanks, I remember real snap shots of key moments but I have weeks, months and years that I don’t remember at all. My friends from music school will talk about anecdotes and I’ll be like “what, did that happen?”, I think that’s maybe a consequence of moving around a lot and having an interesting but difficult childhood. I don’t have a linear sense of my life and I think that’s what I’m exploring in the second record.
You’re piecing it all together…
Yeah exactly, I feel like the whole thing is a bit of a jigsaw and I’m going backwards from a very present moment of this is where I’m at, the record is me working out how to piece it all together and make it a whole narrative if that makes sense! I think the idea of “narrative” is such an interesting one in today’s world because everyone is encouraged to tell their truth all the time, and I wanna play around with what is true, what is real — if you remember things, are they true? Narrative weaving is a huge thing of our day. The docu-filmmaker Adam Curtis talks about this a lot, in the absence of grand ideologies and wider narratives we’re all searching for our internal narratives, our story. I find that fascinating, maybe because they’re often half true or half real.
Exactly, I always ask artists where their narrative is coming from and most of the time it is rooted in experience but when you turn that into a piece of art it’s going to grow and evolve from that experience.
Yeah, I think in a very wide sense people are searching for things to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense. It’s the psychological process that I find really interesting.
And your intention by piecing this narrative together “is to keep jolting the audience in a new direction just when they’ve got comfortable”.
The 3 albums have very distinct personalities, I think partly because I get bored if I write the same type of thing. By the end of the first album you feel like you know the kinda stuff I’m putting out and you know the sound well but I completely flip it on its head on the second record, and the third. I’m interested in moments of big change and conflict, I’m interested in nuance at the end of the day. As a listener myself I love it when artists fuck with me a little bit, I wanna be made to feel something and have that spun around, I wanna be upset. That’s what art should do.
Yeah you want to have that visceral experience as a listener
Yeah! It needs to be full of risk and full of danger, it needs to be full of the worst of humanity. A depiction is not an endorsement, I definitely delve into some of the darker reaches of what I see humanity is doing you know throughout the three records. I think that if you’re an artist now and you’re not doing that, if you’re just towing a very monocultural line and you’re saying the right things online, you’re a traitor and you’re not a real artist. Art has a very special place in society, you’re kind of above everyone else’s rules. You can say and do things that other people can’t get away with because you’re holding up a mirror. People are too afraid to do that now, they’re too afraid they’re gonna get cancelled or their label’s gonna drop them and that’s bullshit.
Well let’s talk about that and what you say on social media. You have a lot of DMs from all sorts of people concerning all sorts of concerns! I know you’ve already explained that artists have a contrary role within society but why are you so outspoken on social media?
I think that artists have a role of asking questions, putting out different ideas and having a debate about it. Ultimately some people think I’m doing it for a shock value and that’s not actually true. I do genuinely have a problem with the way liberalism is playing out these days and I find it very authoritarian and closed minded, people think that they’re being open minded but they’re not — and I was one of them! I had this epiphany that actually this is stifling free speech and that we have a right to ask and say things that aren’t comfortable without being sent to a fucking internet goulag because you’re saying something different from someone else. Artists can’t exist in a space like that, they can’t! What great art comes out of towing the line, you know things that are mainstream are mainstream for a reason. They’re usually mainstream because they’ve been co opted by a corporation or political movements for their own benefit and they exist to retrench themselves in that space in a mainstream way. I think my intention is to be much more contrarian than that. I just find most music and art at the moment extremely boring and I wanna see something a bit deviant that isn’t towing that line. I mean why the fuck are we looking at celebrities to comment on the Israel/Palestine conflict? It says something about whose opinions we’re listening to and why is that important?
It’s interesting to bring that up because I always think about the collision between art, industry and the world that surrounds it. For many artists, their artistry begins bound to an inner-world of catharsis, a precious and vulnerable creation — there is the fear that once it’s out in the world the art is corrupted. But I feel like for you, your art has come to fruition because of what surrounds it and intends to reflect and corrupt those surroundings.
Yeah, for my role within it I’m much more interested in how people respond as opposed to how successful the music is going to be. With my live show I try to break down the barrier between me and the audience. I want there to be a conversation between the two and I wanna challenge that relationship. I want people to be pissed off — at least that’s something. I’m not interested in the brain dead, carry on with your day thing.
Let’s talk about the plans for your live shows
So I have two different live shows. One is very raw and stripped back, it’s just me and it’s cheap. The other one is a higher level, conceptual and interactive art piece. I’ve built a set for it with my friend and people are encouraged to participate within it — so for the first half an hour there’s stuff on the stage and the audience telling me what to do. All my lyrics basically relate to food, drink and drugs. I’m interested in the idea of consuming and being consumed, it’s voyeurism, it’s the internal versus external space — I’m so interested in that and I love performance art so I wanted to marry all that together to have a bigger conversation about complicity. The first half of the show is people texting in what they want me to consume off a menu based on my lyrics, I end up snorting coke, eating three burgers and downing whisky. At first it’s got this fun party atmosphere and by the end of the hour I’m obviously worse for wear. It’s so interesting doing that show because it has the exact desired effect as people realise how dark it is, and for me it’s a question of who’s doing this to me, is it them or me?
It reminds me of the performance artist Marina Abramović
Yeah, it’s that question of who’s got agency here, is it you, is it me? Do I stop this? Putting yourself in that dangerous risky space in front of people to me is fascinating. Being on stage is an incredibly vulnerable place to be.
What you’re doing is getting people to ask questions about themselves, a lot of artists write music as an internal discovery about themselves but you’re extending those questions onto everyone else.
100%. When I did start writing it I was trying to figure my shit out but then I realised that actually this is not just my shit, this is everyone’s shit. These records are not about me, they have a personal narrative element to them but they’re actually about you, they’re about everyone else. That’s where I feel really comfortable saying shit that’s gonna piss people off because ultimately it’s not about me and not necessarily even my opinion, I wanna know how you react to this. By watching my show everyone recognises their own shit and that to me is way more powerful to me than banging on about my life, that’s not interesting to anyone, I can do that in therapy you know what I mean.
You say ““*** TOO BIG TO FAIL ***” is about the hypocrisy of the political elite”.
I wrote that so tongue and cheek. That song is revisiting a story about Boris Johnson when he was working at The Telegraph and he and his pal conspired to have this News Of The World journalist beaten up. “***I REALLY MEAN IT***” is a secret recording of this phone call.
Is it real?
Yeah! I ripped it off the internet, I’m probably gonna get in loads of trouble but I don’t care. For me it sets the tone perfectly of what I’m trying to do which is create a sense of infallibility. “*** TOO BIG TO FAIL ***” sets a wider mood of where power comes from.
We’ve got to talk about “*** GODPU$$Y ***”, you say “is about having an exceptional and nearly perfect pussy”.
Which I do! *laughter* To be fair I’d never fucking heard of the term before but a guy I was seeing last year sent me a voice note one day saying “get you and your godpussy over here” and I was like “what is that?!”, so I guess I’ll take it. God how do I answer this… Listen I was in that headspace of recently being broken up with and I think refinding your sexual power when you’re newly single is kind of nuts and frightening. I read this Camilla Paglia quote the other day, “feminism, coveting social power, is blind to woman’s cosmic sexual power”. Women wield their sexual power all the fucking time and in that song I was just having a laugh thinking about all the times I’ve used my sexuality to my advantage and loved it. If you have a good pussy, you can get shit done in the world.
Let’s talk about the sonic construction on the record. How did you arrive at this sound?
A lot of trial and error. I’m gonna say something really wanky. I think when you first start writing music you sort of copy things that you like and you use it as a bit of a template. When I first started writing songs I couldn’t produce and had to rely on people to do it for me and I always felt they weren’t nailing it in the way that I wanted it to sound. When I write a song I have a very clear idea of the sonic world I wanna embed it in, there’s so much nuance and creativity that goes into creating a soundscape that reflects the meaning of a song. A lot of my songs are very different from each other. I’ve always been fascinated by how to marry thematic intention with the sound world and that just takes time. I had an amazing human being in the form of a man called Laurie who’s a producer in Brighton, he taught me everything he knew about production. Quite frankly many of the male producers I worked with previously had such a massive ego and wouldn’t let me touch the sound or sit in the chair. It was just about growing my own technical ability so that I could reach the sound that I wanted.
How would you describe your sound?
I feel like you’d have something to say about the concept of “genre” being thrown around within music…
I don’t really know what genre means in terms of creativity. I don’t feel like I’m part of any kind of movement… hang on I’m just gonna order another pint… *orders another Stella* You know I’m very much a lone wolf when it comes to making this stuff.
I’d say your sound is labyrinthine
I love it, exactly! That sums up the whole project and the G-Drive is supposed to be a reflection of that.
Yes! Talk about the G-Drive
Well my manager was like you need a website and I was like “I don’t want a fucking website, what’s the point in a website?”. The G-Drive is a manifestation of the process of making the whole thing, it’s a massive jumble of shit but in there somewhere if you dive deep enough there are some little hidden gems. All three records are in the G-Drive if you can be arsed to find them, if you wanna look hard enough they’re there — everything’s already in there. It’s about uncovering stuff, again this is very wanky but everything I do needs to reflect the point of why I’m doing it which is to peel back layers and find out shit about yourself and other people. Everything needs to replicate that. It’s a proper labyrinth. I just wanted to create a weird little scrappy universe.
Speaking of universes, you’ve collaborated with digital AR artist Masha Batsea for visuals to extend Ariel’s world into the digital universe.
My CGI goddess, yes! We made a 360° google earth inspired fully-immersive video which is unlisted and you have to find it in my G-Drive, I’m not making it public. I just think it’s more rewarding when you have to find things that way. I don’t expect anyone to give a shit now but maybe as the story unfolds… I’m interested in how people experience my art rather than my art in itself. I got introduced to Masha and I just love her work aesthetically, but I also felt that a lot of what we’re talking about — worlds within worlds — I find when I look at her stuff that she weaves subtle, implied narratives. So I reached out to her and sent all three albums and we really understood each other. It’s such a genuine creative collaboration.
Well Ariel, thank you for letting me into your world.
I’m just here to tell you what you don’t wanna hear.