Words by Tanya Akinola
London based newcomer Lauren Duffus’ debut EP SULK is a sonic expression of a raw and honest look inwards.
After downloading the music software Logic Pro during lockdown last year, Duffus found comfort in exploring the program’s synth patches, contorting these sounds into new shapes and examining the emotions they evoked within her. She turned this dabbling into something more substantial, dedicating time to wrapping her head around the program and creating fully formed musical works.
Beneath the surface, Duffus was dealing with a tremendous amount of grief brought on by the passing of her father. Channeling these tender emotions into music provided Lauren with a new and different way to express herself and process what she had been suppressing. The result of this exploration eventually led to her debut EP SULK, released through the newly-formed label from NTS hosts Body Motion.
Across the EPs three tracks, twisted chopped and screwed vocals, laidback beats and melancholic pads morph together in alluring ways and act as a portal into Duffus’ singular vision. Despite having only started producing in 2020 and being so new to music, SULK has resonated with its audience, finding support from DJs like Shannen SP, Martha and Andrew Lyster. An exciting new world is opening up for Duffus, so B.A.D. had a chat with the artist to find out more.
Hey Lauren! How are you and how have you been spending your time following the release of SULK?
Hey! I’m doing well! Aside from desperately trying not to melt in this awful heat, I’ve just been taking a bit of a break and planning upcoming projects! I’ve been watching a lot of Love Island, job hunting, eating lots of lemon sorbet and watching a lot of true crime.
Given SULK is such a personal project, how are you feeling now that it’s out there in the world?
During the process of creating the EP I wasn’t really thinking about the feelings that would go along with sharing it at all. Upon release however, this really changed – I initially felt quite embarrassed about it. When I lost my dad I grieved very publicly and loudly on instagram and social media. He took his life – bereavement from suicide is so charged and chaotic – I was so broken and angry. Looking back now, I feel quite embarrassed about how much I’d overshare – it was destructive.
I don’t blame myself though. Despite this, it led me to develop a weird complex around my grief where I now feel very attention seeking when addressing it and I’ve slowly become more and more self conscious about exploring it in any kind of public way. This feeling reared its head in a big way after the release and it initially caused me quite a bit of anxiety. On the other hand I also feel really proud because I made a lot of mistakes during the last few years – I became a bit of a mess and it kind of feels like I’m showing that I’m living a more positive life.
Can you talk us through how you came to music as your art form of choice to explore the grieving process?
I really came across it by chance, I wasn’t looking around and thinking “oh I need to find a way to channel these emotions…” . I’ve always wanted to make music but when I’ve been around producers in the past I’ve felt quite intimidated and worried I wouldn’t be good enough. During the first lockdown, my partner at the time gave me his old laptop and encouraged me to download Logic’s free trial. I fell in love with it straight away and realised how therapeutic it could be because it always involves tears which then become a catalyst for thinking about the past in depth and really reaching mental spaces I used to (and still do) mask through other forms of escapism that aren’t healthy.
How has music helped you process your emotions?
For me the way it works is through the process of listening and allowing myself to be triggered. It’s a domino affect – certain chords and sounds will make me cry and then I’ll start to think about the healing that I’ve neglected.
Can you walk us through each track and how they came about and what they mean to you?
Soho Road (crying song) was born from me chopping up an audio of a woman crying and experimenting over it. It’s named after a church on Soho Road, Handsworth, where my dad’s funeral took place. The start of the song pairs the fragmented crying sound with solemn church organs. It kind of represents the start of the whole process for me – rapid but slow, disarrayed but dissociative. The very real and cemented sounds of a church service juxtaposed with unbelieving, chaotic and unprocessed human cries. In the second part the music descends into a break of madness matching the sample, representing the tumultuous nature of life when walking through grief with your eyes closed/without really addressing any of it – constantly escaping. Everything is so fast paced and there’s a mad rush to move from distraction to distraction. The last part returns to the organ however this time the crying sample is played in full, not fragmented – it shows progress and acceptance. It feels healthier, calmer and less stressful which is closer to where I feel now..
Braeburn was the first song I made using a midi keyboard and the process of making it felt so free. I was able to experiment so much more with velocity, swing and being slightly out of time. Playing the virtual instruments with any sense of individual expression was previously not really an option for me as I was (and still am really) not very good at the technical side of editing instruments. I can never concentrate on tutorials, so when I do edit sound using plugins I’m more just going in blind and messing around in the hope of finding something I like the sound of as opposed to expressing what I’m feeling in real time. All three tracks were mixed by Harry Murdoch and we had so much fun working together that day. It was really cool learning a bit more of the technical stuff from him and it inspired me to get better at that. I’d say this song represents a lot of progress and shows how I’m evolving! It’s weird the equipment glow up is almost a metaphor for my growth in general and my ability to express myself more freely!
Stir fry was made really quickly! I made a skeleton of it last spring and revisited it for the EP. I really don’t remember much from the initial process of making the draft as it was so early on, but I’ve been in love with those chords ever since – it’s my favourite. I’ve always loved choir sounds – both artificial and real ones- choral music is just so emotive. I love the juxtaposition of the moving/melancholic chords and the almost cheesy nature of the choir synth. I updated the skeleton by adding depth and making it really boom. I love the impact of the whirring sounds and the bass lines – weirdly once again it unintentionally represents growth. Im realising lots while answering these!
You’ve said that the process of making music for you often involves a lot of tears and sadness that can be triggered by sporadic chord compositions or sounds. What does your music making process look like and how do your compositions tend to come about?
My process is really impulsive and really short. I will go for long periods of not having any motivation to make music, suddenly become overwhelmed by emotion/drive, and finish a song in a day (usually a night and a morning). I have ADHD and a mood disorder – I have a very stubborn brain that is impulsive and only really gets creative and productive when I’m full of adrenaline. This made SULK quite difficult for me because planning a project in advance and completing it within a set timeframe is something I’ve continuously failed at growing up (shout out to Josh and Elliot at Body Motion for being so patient with me!). It will usually start with me freestyling on the keyboard and making a long recording, listening to it back, picking out melodies that stand out, running to show my mum and creating a skeleton from there! I think I get so emotional when I find certain melodies due to a mixture of being a bit manic at the time and the feeling of overwhelming enthusiasm after long periods of nothing.
Have you always been drawn to more melancholic sounds?
Yes always! I hate saying this because it sounds like I’m trying to be super moody and edgy lol but I tend to really enjoy music that either makes me sad or scared. I grew up loving SALEM so much and listening to lots of songs extremely slowed down (after I’ve had a drink the first thing I do is go onto Logic and put all my favourite songs in and slow them down and down and down lol). I love classical music and gabber, I love drill, Chief Keef…I love funeral doom metal – there’s so much I love. It’s all about the emotional instrumentals for me. I never pay attention to lyrics though which is quite sad because I feel like I’m missing out on a whole other side to music that other people experience.
What role did music play in your life growing up and who are some of your past and current influences?
My primary school was super multicultural and interestingly really world music focused, it was so lovely. I started piano lessons in year four. We were always exposed to classical music but I think I only really developed a love for certain pieces after my dad bought me a Yamaha keyboard lol. I loved the automated tutorials on it and fell in love with a lot of the famous pieces that were loaded on there – I used to love Slavonic dance, Rachmaninoff Prelude in C Sharp Minor and Debussey’s Arabesque 1. Ultimately I’d love to score films and documentaries and I’ve been particularly inspired by Danny L Harle’s scoring of CHEMSEX, Johan Johansson’s scoring of MANDY, Mica Levy on Monos and Clint Mansell on Requiem.
How did your dad influence your musical taste and what role did music play in your family?
My dad loved dancehall. My house was always shaking on the weekends because he’d be blasting old Stone Love recordings through the house. I never inherited his intense devotion to the genre but I have really noticed those rhythms seem to often make their way into my songs without me realising so he must have planted something there :). It’s quite funny, he would often shake his head at a lot of the music I used to listen to, as if to say “who on earth are you???” haha.
Are you working on any new music at the moment?
I am going to be working on a release with a label over the next few months and an exciting collaboration with a really talented female artist very soon! I can’t say much more about those two things but I plan to continue self releasing music in the way I have over the past year whenever I feel like it.
Has your way of working or the tools you use changed?
For the majority of last year I was making music using my laptop with no external midi equipment – I’d just write the notes in using my mouse. Every song I’ve made so far minus Braeburn and Soho Road were made this way as I only got a midi keyboard around Christmas time. When I finally got a midi keyboard the difference was so amazing. I really started to experiment with velocity and playing notes out of time – it was so freeing. I was recently gifted a voice to midi microphone and I’m so excited to experiment – once I get used to using it I can start to think (potentially) more about live creating/ performing things.
It must be exciting having discovered this new way to express yourself that people are responding so well to. What are you most looking forward to on this new journey with music?
Yes its so exciting its really great. Its been so cool to enter a space full of such amazing and enthusiastic artists who all support each other – we are all discussing ideas and there will definitely be lots of collaboration in future. Sitting with Harry whilst he mixed the EP got me really excited about collaborating because the feeling when making music with another person who feels so passionately too is so electric and its so fun to open space for different ideas. I’ve also managed to get onto a really amazing (but top secret for now) mentorship scheme which I’m unbelievably excited about. Oh and I think I said before but I would like to develop a way of performing music live.