“I never dared to become an artist” says Annegret Fiedler over a phone call with the release of her debut album looming closer. “It was always kind of there, but I never really thought about it”, she explains – “I never thought I was good enough”. Annegret’s voice struggles a little under the consternation of a cold, but she is in good spirits; she always seems to be. Never taking herself too seriously, Annegret is always quick with the self-effacing jibe or joke; a humble, down-to-earth character at the heart of a very serious musical talent. Better known by her artistic moniker Perel, a Afrikaans/Greek transliteration of Pearl and her given name, she has become known for sets that plot a cosmic journey through House and Techno and productions with minimalists and micro- functional approach to those genres. Her proximity to Norwegian producer and DJ Vinny Villbass has seen her play Oslo a fair few times for his Badabing event series, but on the eve of her next appearance at Jæger and Badabing quite a lot has come to pass for Perel since we last spoke. Besides releasing Opal on About://Blank, a host of new remixes on the cards, the biggest news is that she’s also signed a three album deal with James Murphy’s DFA label. Die Dimension is the lead single of her debut album, Hermetica and was released late in 2017 to great critical reception, but it also hides a significant change in direction for Perel’s music.
“I returned to my roots”, explains Annegret by way of an answer when I question the differences I hear to her earlier productions. For the better part of four years, Perel’s musical designs have been focussed on the dance floor with stripped back House cuts and Tech-House arrangements dominating a reserved discography. It was a knee-jerk reaction to earlier projects; indie-pop-electro acts, with Annegret’s vocals in the foreground, projects where she always felt she was under-appreciated. “If there was a male on stage they (the audience) would just go straight to him and thank him for the music. I was just disgusted, so I thought I needed to do some rough House music with no vocals.” Chauvinism might have been the catalyst for Perel, but Annegret’s adept musical ability had always been there, and yet there was something about the “rougher, minimalist House” she was making at that time that nagged at her even from the beginning. “I didn’t like it and I didn’t play my own music”, she says about her relationship with her earlier releases. “It didn’t come out naturally” and after only a short while Annegret “needed to get some distance” from that sound. About two years ago, she returned to the music from before, forged in the reductive-pop ideology of electroclash, but with the slick production approach of modern the House music she had been making. “The stuff I’m doing now is indie, but still made for the dance floor”, she explains and although the electronic drums and synth sequences “keep it a bit trade” in Annegret’s opinion, she feels that the music she’s been making recently is more honest. “I did it just for myself” she says and the results show for themselves.
She took some of these tracks to a love radio show in New York in 2016, playing with Justin Strauss and when Juan Maclean happened to come by and hear some of this unreleased music he said: “that is some really cool stuff let me forward that to DFA.” Annegret sent those and a bundle of new tracks, “even the hidden tracks” to DFA and to her surprise DFA wanted all of them. Annegret came back with “yeah sure you can have them even though I think they’re crap.” They are not! Annegret’s humility and humour hangs on the end of that remark as she laughs through the statement and listening to the preview of the album a few days later after our conversation, I can confirm there’s no truth to any of it. Hermetica is a considered, acute body of work where Giorgio Moroder meets DAF meets New York. Bubbling staccato synth sequencers live audaciously alongside live percussion, guitars and of course the defining character of Perel’s new music, her voice.
Singing in German across songs like Alles, Perel’s voice charms in its alto whisper, as it progresses through the song in its distinctive synth-pop arrangement. There’s a seductive hue to the album with harmonic progressions and melodic expressions bouncing around the arrangements in good spirits with only two tracks, PMS and the ensuing Signum Verdi, favouring a more sombre disposition, and tying the whole album together. The allegorical PMS with its harsh, stoic metallic percussive march and saturate atmospheres, grinds the album almost to a halt in its bellicose mood, but only ever goes to enhance the narrative of the album as it springs back to form through Myalgia and ends up on its high note Die Dimension. It’s there where DFA leaves it’s largest impression on the record. Initially a track featuring very little of Annegret’s voice, it was under the direction of the label that Annegret added that idiosyncratic vocal in German that flips the entire song on its head and ends up defining the album.
“I didn’t even know I was working on an LP” muses Annegret, and yet she can see a congruity through the tracks. The album came together during a “certain time” and Annegret is sure the LP “reflects” that. “Inner fears, a relationship, doubts and struggles” all played a role in shaping the album with a fair of mount of insecurities put to rest through the work. Annegret’s fleeting encounter with Turbonegro-esque rock group during university, synth-pop projects and rough House seems to found a unique and personal voice in this latest phase of her career, quelling any inhibitions that have been ingrained in her as a kid.
Growing up in working-class east Germany it was a situation imbued by the surroundings that made a career in the arts the stuff of fantasy initially for Annegret. Even though Annegret grew up singing in the church choir and playing the piano, often writing little vignettes from her instruments, a career as a musician never dawned on her before she went off on her studies, joined her first band and eventually started DJing. She soon realised a career in sociology and communications was not for her. “I already felt like there’s something wrong, I can’t have a job working in an office. I needed to change my life. I went to a psychiatrist and I realised I should just follow my heart and give it a chance – that’s really me.” A move to Berlin followed where she really “got into this club thing” and her career as a DJ and producer started to pull into focus, leading up to this point today and her nascent debut album prepping for release. “I didn’t think the album would happen now”, she says, “I thought that would be much later in my career.”
Hermetica arrives soon and accompanying the album, Annegret is currently touring with a live show with designs on club audiences. An adept performer from her years playing in bands, the departure from a DJ set allows Annegret to bring “a lot more personality” to a Perel performance. There’s “something special with a live performance” for Annegret, which just “makes sense” in the context of the album and delivers “something personal” to the audience that a DJ set just can’t always relay. Something personal is indeed the only way to express what Annegret Fiedel has achieved through Hermetica and her most recent musical works. There’s something defining about her debut album, a sound that seems to have always been there in Perel’s music, but has only now found its most comfortable form. It’s something in Annegret’s voice that pulls it all together and it’s in the song structures that shy away from the traditional House and Techno forms for something more concrete rather than progressive, making a provocative statement rather than filling idle holes in DJ sets. It is indeed something personal and thus too, it engages at a personal level with the listener and as Annegret says, “it just makes sense”.
*Perel play Badabing this Saturday with Vinny Villbass and Daniel Vaz.