Welcome to the world of experimental pop luminary Kate NV
Kate Shilonosova’s artistic alter ego Kate NV sets avant-garde instrumentals beside future pop to create experimental electronic compositions with Blade Runner tendencies and a nod to the work of Miharu Koshi. It’s the sonic equivalent of peering into a 3D printed holographic rainbow pool—we’re not even exaggerating on this one!
“I went to music school when I was younger, but the only thing I really loved there was the choir,” NV explains. “When I finished school I was just composing stuff on piano, later when I attended university I decided to form my first rock group. It was me and a friend from music school, she played guitar but we couldn’t find a drummer so I just gave her drum sticks and told her, “now you’re gonna play drums.” I played guitar really badly [laughs]. That was life in Kazan. When I finished university I went to live in Moscow.”
Having studied architecture for six years in her native Kazan, NV took a job at an architects firm in Moscow, but the 9-5 routine did not agree with her sensibilities as an artist.
“It was very hard as a routine, the work drained all of my strength and desire to live [laughs]. I came home in tears and didn’t understand at all what I was doing and why. Even now I can’t say that I fully understand, but I feel a lot happier.
If you’re into the Russian indie scene then you might recognise NV from her other music project Glintshake. Her solo stuff, however, is something of a well kept secret that’s been a slow burning development.
“I started Glintshake with my roommate Zhenja, and as far as I can remember he was the one who pushed me to do my solo stuff. There was a competition on the famous Russian website and the winner would play at Primavera festival. So he helped put my stuff together with some of his and apply there. We called it NV and the terms were that if I didn’t win then we would start a guitar band and if I won I’d continue doing NV. But another cool band won it - Trud. So i stopped for a while and we started Glintshake.”
Thankfully NV didn’t stop for long, feeling a deep need to express herself in her own individual way, feeling that there just wasn’t enough of the music she imagined in her head. Her innovative first release, the Pink Jungle EP, arrived in 2013 but NV felt that “no one really cared about it ... every creative person needs feedback to move forward, it’s so important.”
While NV might not have won a gig at Primavera she did win a coveted place at the Tokyo branch of the Red Bull Music Academy ...
“That year was super hyped, they had so many applications! I remember spending my last penny on DHL to send the application package–I was the first customer at the DHL office that day and they gave me a discount [laughing]. I received an email saying they had received my application, but unfortunately when they announced who was accepted, in June, I didn’t receive any email from them, so I assumed I didn’t pass. I thought about putting NV on the side and just focusing on Glintshake, but the next morning I received a couple of emails saying “TOKYO IS CALLING!”, and found out they were sending emails to my old address that I never check. They only found my personal email later and gave me a notice. Just like in a movie [laughing].”
What was the RBMA Tokyo experience like?
“I knew next to nothing about it, only that there would be workshops and it was a it’s a place where people collaborated with each other and wrote music. At some point I got an email saying “we set up a live date for your show, you have a 60 min set” and I was like, wow, I’ve never played a solo show before. I had three songs finished, but the reset were just demos and sketches, so it was a good kick in my ass to finish and prepare a set.
I remember sitting almost every day for a month and half writing, finishing music, and preparing my live set. I learned so much during that period. My friend Zhenja was making fun of me, saying that my RBMA program was complete before having actually started because I gained so many skills in Ableton just preparing my material before I even went.
RBMA was your first solo show ever then?
“Yes, it was. I decided to play a few shows before I went there, to not shit my pants during the first show ever in Tokyo [laughing], so I booked two other shows to try out my set.”
Did it help?
“[Laughing] No, don’t think so! Tokyo was a completely mind blowing experience. After the two week course programme, everyone attending played a show. They set up mine in the karaoke bar from Sofia Coppola’s movie Lost in Translation. It was a really tiny room and many people were watching from the LCD screen in the space next door. I met some Japanese people who were super excited about my show and told me that I have amazing Japanese songs, but actually I didn’t [laughs]. I just have a few songs with no words or specific language, and I’m just producing some tones and random phrases which sound like Japanese.”
Along with experiments in ambient sound, these “random phrases” from NV’s own made up language feature on her debut album Binasu (Venus in Japanese) ,and are intentionally based around phonetic sounds from Japanese and English.
“I don’t really think it matters what language you sing - English, French, Russian or Japanese - the main thing is that it needs to work with music. Honestly you shouldn’t limit yourself with words. I guess this idea comes from my early age when i was listening to old Japanese pop music, which I was so much attracted to. I was inspired by the whole composition and the feeling it evoked in me, that’s what was, and still is important for me. Words have too many associations. Abstract music gives you the freedom to use your imagination. It’s magical how some people hear a track and go on to imagine a field with cows.”
When did Japan and Japanese culture first have an impact on you?
“When I was 8-years-old andwatched Sailor Moon for the first time–I was so impressed that I immediately began to try and paint in this style. I wasted a tonne of paper, but still learned something [laughs]. It's strange, perhaps, but I never had the fan attitude towards Japan. It's kind of a natural part of me. It’s very close to me in spirit. I listen to a lot of Japanese music from the 80s, it’s wild, free, silly, and very bold. It’s crazy how the arrangements of synthesisers and everything were made, so progressive and innovative. I think this is what I’m looking for in my own work. Don’t be afraid to write funny and absurd music.”
NV’s foray into experimental sound doesn’t stop with her own material. Not only is she a graduate of the Russian Academy, but she’s also been active member of the Moscow Scratch Orchestra for the past three years. MSO are notorious for revisiting the work and ideas of avant-garde composer Cornelius Cardew, performing pieces composed by members of the collective, and 20th-century classical musicians.
“All of my work as part of the Moscow Scratch Orchestra is similar to an LSD trip. You become a different person. In fact, I can even say that my biggest revelation did not happen under the influence of LSD, but under the Scratch Orchestra. It’s greatly changed my perception of music in general, I’ve learned to listen, I think, finally.”
A lot of people describe your work as futuristic or future pop. Do you think about the future when you're writing it?
“[Laughs] To be honest, at the moment, I think I have a full misoneism. It's funny. In general, it seems to me, an understanding of whether the music is futuristic or not, can come only after the lapse of twenty years. Recently, when I was on a mini tour in Europe, I put on the track “Alternative 3” by Haruomi Hosono and it sounded as if it had been recorded recently. I doubt that in the 80s this track sounded super wild and futuristic at the same time, but now you get the feeling that it was ahead of its time. I don’t think that what I’m doing is futuristic music. I’m more concerned with trying to find a sound that truthfully projects my inner state.”
What will the future be like?
“We will all be tired of social media and the Internet and begin to deeply study the human mind, the subconscious, and its capabilities.”
Have you ever committed any small crimes that you’re prepared to confess?
[Laughs] Probably. I got fined in Cologne for not buying a ticket on the train. Instant karma.
You’re traveling to Athens to run a therapy workshop for refugees. That’s a pretty great thing to be doing!
I’m going with my mum and my sister. My sister’s a youth worker and my mum’s an artist and we’re going to this refugee camp to do some art workshops with the children there. They’re just normal people and we want to give them something creative to do and think about, and hopefully help them. I’ve never done anything like this, so I don’t really know what to expect. It seems more useful than just sending clothes.
You tweeted something deep the other day, “Everyone needs to take back control of their minds, stop letting them think for us”, what was that about?
I think I’d seen an advert on Facebook for some fitness thing and it said “take back control of your body” and I thought it was so stupid. You need to take control of your mind, you’re already in control of your body. It just seemed weird to say take back control of your body when someone else can be controlling what you’re thinking about yourself or your body.