Simona Castricum’s ‘Triumph’ is a victory for gender queer artists

Simona Castricum is a Melbourne-based master of dark techno with penchant for the industrial slap of eighties electro pop.

A veteran of the underground club circuit, she has been making and releasing music for well over a decade, DJing fetish clubs and queer parties, and hosting her own events.

As a transwoman, Simona is at the heart of an emerging scene, a coalescence of gender queer artists that is increasingly visible thanks to some absolutely killer music — the likes of Habits, Brooke Powers, RVG and more.

Inspired by the success in her community, Simona has just released the Triumph EP, featuring a gothic club pop title track and remixes by talented collaborators from the queer music scene.

We spoke to Simona about her love of club and how Triumph came together.

What inspires you most about club music?

I guess what inspires me most is that it has a really rich history. I mean club music was almost the first music I discovered with electronic disco styles back in the late seventies, so
whether it be Sylvester or The Human League, I was just immediately captured by that. Then I discovered the relationship with the club scene, and the rave scene as techno started to emerge, and that really connected with my queer identity.

Clubs were a space where I felt like I could be myself, so I was drawn to clubs as a way to find both identity and community, and to find my creative self.

Photo: Supplied

What were you thinking about when you sat down to write ‘Triumph’?

Usually when I sit down to write a track, everything starts with drums and basslines. I’m trying to find something I can feel, something I can connect with. Thematically, my songs are real diaries of where I’m at and where I was at with ‘Triumph’ was that I just wanted to recognise that I’d come a long way since my last album, #TriggerWarning40.

That was a very difficult album to make. It was a very dark abyss that that record came from and I wanted to articulate the journey that I had made. On the track ‘Ennis House Pool’ on #TriggerWarning40 I sing ‘Help me off the bottom of my feet.’ I felt like that had happened, I had people around that had helped me do that, and I wanted to recognise that.

“Clubs were a space where I felt like I could be myself, so I was drawn to clubs as a way to find both identity and community, and to find my creative self.”

I wanted to sing about it. I also wanted to recognise that my community has pulled through some stuff as well. I wanted to recognise that a lot of artists and musicians around me had achieved some really great things.

Like watching Habits and Brooke Powers perform at Golden Plains Festival this year was really significant for me. The queer music community took over the front of the stage, took over the first night of that festival. I’ve been to that festival for years and it’s been a somewhat lonely place for me as a transwoman, so to go there and see that we occupied the stage and we occupied the festival amphitheatre, to see us waving our boots in the air to congratulate ourselves for being up there, that felt really significant.

I guess I just wanted to put all of those ideas into a song and that’s what ‘Triumph’ is.

The track has a strong eighties vibe, especially Sisters of Mercy/New Order vibe. What do you hear when you listen to it?

I’m hearing myself, first and foremost, but I guess I can’t escape the ’80s, no matter how hard I try. It’s embedded in my DNA. There is everything from Tears for Fears to INXS to My Bloody Valentine to Front 242 on that track.

“I am trying to open my eyes up and my ears up and evolve, and the best way to do that is to collaborate.”

I really connected with music in the late eighties and that drum sound, bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Nitzer Ebb or Front 242, and a heap of Belgian New Beat bands.

But even early ’80s electronic drumming informed the drum sound, like Pseudo Echo who had those really toms. I love how they stood in this space between techno and synth pop. That’s where I’m trying to go with my music. I think those sounds are still unfinished business. One day I’ll move on. Or I might not.

You’ve mentioned that the Triumph EP is a change of direction for you. In what way?

It’s a change of direction in terms of letting go. That’s a really important part of what I’m trying to do; trust other people. Working in a remix context allows me to do that, which
opens up my mind to how my music can sound otherwise. I am trying to open my eyes up and my ears up and evolve, and the best way to do that is to collaborate.

It’s hard to find the right relationships and let go of control, and this EP is an exercise in doing that, so I’ve learnt a lot in that sense.

One of your collaborators on the EP is Berlin-based producer and performer Aérea Negrot. How did you two connect?

I first meet Aérea in Melbourne when she was on tour, in 2013. I was only really just out as trans and she inspired me from the point of view that she was probably the first visibly trans DJ/producer/performer that I saw on stage and met. I found that experience so illuminating.

I had the opportunity to meet her and establish a friendship, and then last year I went over to Europe for a show and stopped over in Berlin, as you do, and hung out with her there. I really wanted to work with her, I play her stuff all the time when I’m DJing. I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin and the remix that Aérea did is a piece of that darker, brutal, industrial Berlin that I really love.

Melbourne’s Raquel Solier of Various Asses delivers a pretty killer remix for the EP as well. Why did you want to work with her?

I’ve known Raquel for years. Her drumming for Jens Lekman and Sally Seltmann was really amazing. I’ve always been really interested in how kit drummers get on the electronic tools, and I found it really fascinating to see how her work as Fatti Francis evolved in Various Asses. The production of Various Asses is really quite brilliant. The drums are so captivating.

It’s really good to have a friendship with someone and have such a huge respect for their music. This remix is significant because the song ‘Breakfast of Champions’ is incredibly dark – it was written just before I went into a psych ward – but the remix has a real sense of empathy, holding the sense of despair in it, but bringing out the haunting melody and texture.

To see it through that lens has been really rewarding.

Simona Castricum’s Triumph EP is out now via LISTEN Records. She’s currently touring the country in support of the EP, for all details head here

Simone Ubaldi is a ghostwriter, music journalist, film critic. 

Article image by Elliott Lauren