The lure of unexplored terrain, whether it is geographical, historical or psychological, is irresistible to the artist and performer known as Abyss X. Originally from Crete and currently based in Berlin, Abyss X, AKA Evangelia VS, has built up a striking discography in a few short years. Her work draws from industrial, synth-pop, drone, ambient and more, but while early releases on Infinite Machine and Halcyon Veil had more in common with the club abstractions of artists like Rabit, on her 2018 EP, Pleasures Of The Bull, she has created what she calls an anthology of all her influences to date. The EP utilizes samples of live instruments and a traditional Cretan lyra to build enveloping collages of texture and voice, with the myths and legends of her native island becoming fertile material for mysterious, moody soundscapes. In a conversation with Chal Ravens on Red Bull Radio’s Top Flight, Evangelia delved deeper into the elements fueling her creative process.
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What is the story behind the title of Pleasures Of The Bull?
The title takes its name from a myth from the ancient times of Crete. The myth of the Minotaur, which is a man with a bull head, so the offspring from a woman and a bull. As you can imagine, this being, the Minotaur, is kind of doomed. Its fate is predetermined. It is a creature that came from an act that is not, let’s say, acceptable, and it is a monster. So this whole EP is about having to deal with one’s inner demons and fighting those inner demons or accepting them. It is about finding self-acceptance and trying to develop self-love, and it also has a cathartic essence. It’s all about inner confliction and the restraints that we put on ourselves. It might tap into all sorts of emotions, including anxiety and impatience and having to fulfill goals that you maybe are not sure about.
This is the second record that you’ve released that has explored your Cretan heritage, specifically the ancient Minoans who populated the island over 3,000 years ago. The Minoans remain a mysterious civilization. We still know very little about them. Why did you want to try to build that historical link?
It always sparked my curiosity as a theme and as a civilization, because there is not much that has remained of it, and whatever people found in the past century is not enough to have a clear idea. They haven’t even decoded Linear A, which is supposedly the first writing system of the Minoans. So I guess for me, as a child growing up within the greater area, which is Heraklion, I was always exposed to these artifacts and frescoes and this is something that we were taught in school, and I would go to the museum and I would see the collection. It is a large collection, but not as large as the collections that people have from other civilizations. So it is not enough, and only just recently have people been able to build a kind of timeline on how the civilization began, bloomed and then got destroyed from external natural causes.
It’s so enigmatic in that some frescoes show a very peaceful nature and a very peaceful side of the civilization, and some other artifacts show maybe even signs of cannibalism. All these different contradictory elements just spark my curiosity, and I wanted to create a sound that would include all of these elements and sides.
For this EP I moved away from trying to create, or give the essence of, the Minoan sound.
Your previous records were much more obviously electronic sounding. Echoes was more like a pop record in a way, and Nushu had a kind of industrial sound. But on this EP it sounds like you’re more influenced by ’80s punk or dream-pop. There’s maybe even some Sonic Youth in there. What kind of musical influences have you absorbed for this record?
Basically, this EP was initially going to be an LP with the character of an anthology, in the sense that I would bring all these different genres that I love and I care about and I haven’t explored yet, and bring them all into one body of work. So there are definitely elements of prog rock, which is a genre that I’m deeply in love with. You can hear some jazz elements, some trip-hop elements, and I definitely wanted to bring natural instruments into this work. For example, all the guitars that you hear in this EP are from various recordings that I have from around five or seven years ago when I directed my last actual theater piece. It was all the recordings that I had from live musicians who would work with me on performances and theater pieces that I used to do.
So yes, a lot of the recordings come from just me archiving a lot of the music that I used live for my theater pieces back then, and then I sampled a lot of these to create new melodies and tracks and new layers of music. I personally don’t play a musical instrument, so I had to use recordings of other people to create that.
How have you tried to incorporate your Cretan heritage, your Minoan heritage, into the music itself?
For Pleasures Of The Bull I had the opportunity and the great luck to work with Maria Skoula, who I recorded playing the Cretan lyra, which is a traditional instrument found in Crete, and she actually happens to be the only woman who plays the instrument in the whole region. So I guess for this EP I moved away from trying to create, or give the essence of, the Minoan sound. For my previous EP, Mouthed, it was purely an effort to create an idea of the kinds of sounds they used back then. We have no idea, so I guess I borrowed different sounds from different folk instruments from around the world and I created this EP with, of course, a touch of electronic music.
The inspiration for this EP came from the idea of the myth and more of the various darker aspects of the Minoan civilization, especially those surrounding the myth of the Minotaur. So this EP is more about the feel and more about the darker elements than trying to reimagine something ancient into contemporary form.