The Director's Cut: Camea - Dystopian Love

The techno veteran takes us behind the scene for how she made her new album 'Dystopian Love.'
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Camea

Camea

Seattle-born DJ and producer Camea has released her new album Dystopian Love. The title fits the times a little too well with a virus ravaging the world. The album was written over a period of six months, which you can sense given how cohesive the LP sounds. Camea got her start in the 90’s rave scene on the West Coast and in Brooklyn. For the past 12 years she has lived in Berlin, soaking up the culture and love for electronic music, running her own imprint and podcast called Neverwhere and being a mainstay on Bpitch Control.

Her new album Dystopian Love blends together house, techno, some soaring ambient melodies and her own voice to provide another element to the record. It moves between glacial compositions and skittering percussion for a unique and varied listen.

For a new Director’s Cut feature, Camea takes us behind the scenes to explain the creative process making this album. There are moments inspired by Berlin and some recent major events in her life, like becoming a mother. 

Get your copy of the album on Bandcamp and elsewhere. Listen below.

The Album

Dystopian Love is my first album. Most of the tracks are products of many versions that I canvased, until I found an atmosphere that I felt communicated what’s in my heart completely. The original sketches started out as contemplations of my coming-of-age life experiences, but over time it evolved into a Dystopian Love story, following a woman wandering alone on a post-human earth, experiencing feelings of hope, sadness, frustration, love, and beauty. I worked with both her story and mine symbiotically and eventually, in an unexpected way, they started to reflect each other. Sharing this work has been deeply personal and feels like letting listeners read my diary. My only hope was that people would enjoy the music, and perhaps find a reflection of themselves in it. The production gear I used for this was my Analog RYTM MKI drum machine, Dave Smith Prophet 6 Synth, Ableton Push 2, a mic, and a lot of sound design with plug-ins.

Camea Studio

1. Signs Of Life

This was the first piece of the album that I wrote. It started out as a processed field recording of me singing Amazing Grace to my newborn son, but eventually I replaced that part with other elements. I guess you could say this was my mood board for the album. It helped me set the stage for the whole story. During the composition process I experimented with time signatures to get a waltzing feel, as triplets and hemiolas are very powerful, romantic rhythms and I felt they would work well to create mystique in a prologue piece. I also recorded soundscapes from my favorite video game, Fallout, and reprocessed them with effects to get a futuristic and dystopian atmosphere. I referenced landscapes from this game frequently throughout this album for inspiration.

2. Missing You

Many parts of Dystopian Love are also a homage to my childhood and 90s rave experiences in Seattle and Vancouver. My friends and I used to travel around the region, going to raves and driving home during the sunrise, often stopping off in beautiful outdoor locations while listening to mixtapes on our car stereos and dancing in parking lots.

This particular track is a memoir of a special morning I had with my friends while crossing back over the Canadian border after a long night, observing the beautiful Pacific Northwestern landscape together. The vocal in the track is my own voice manipulated with Autotune to get a more “clairvoyant” sound, reminiscent of deep trance records from that era that were very popular on the West Coast. For the atmospherics, I layered in my vocals along with four layers of recordings of my breath, reshaped with effects, and a field recording that I made of my son playing in our Kiez Park in Berlin. I also composed four different synth parts from my Prophet that I reprocessed with plug-ins, mostly Soundtoys, and then glued the ideas together with orchestral strings.

Camea Prophet 6 Synth

3. Together

I have a hard time listening to this piece without getting emotional, as I wrote this one for my husband and my son. I wanted to put something into the universe so they will always know how much I love them. In the background, you can hear field recordings of our street in Berlin from the window of our apartment, and again I layered many different analog melodies in. To get a bigger sound, I put an identically progressive sine sub-bass line underneath the lead elements, a simple but powerful technique I used frequently in this album with Operator in Ableton. The epic, trumpet-like sounds are three layers of the exact same synth recording from my Prophet, each edited and processed differently with effects to get a futuristic and majestic sound.

4. Dystopian Love

When I wrote this song I was feeling inspired by early gospel music and wanted to create a dystopian, blues-influenced poem of post-human life on Earth. This is something that I worry a lot about, as most of us seem to live here on borrowed time while abusing the planet and its resources beyond repair. So I wondered, if things continue this way, what would the last person on Earth sing about? What would she feel, see, taste or smell? Would she give up or keep going, have hope or fear? Does she miss someone? I asked myself these questions a lot during the course of writing this album, and used them as imagery for moods and sound ideas.

To achieve the eccentric percussion sound on this track, I experimented with a MIDI drum pattern and one of my Analog RYTM percussion kits, and then ran it back through distortion effect plug ins and got that gritty sound for the recording. Then I played around with other influences and wrote an optimistic synthwave melody to contrast the darkness of the poem, and controlled it by assigning multiple Max for Live LFO Audio effects to the parameters of the Prophet, which created the crazy pulsing movement that I was able to automate. It was all kind of an accident but I loved the result. For Ableton users with outboard gear, there are great controllers created by users for free on maxforlive.com, which is how I was able to use the Prophet like this. The vocal is fairly raw with a doubler effect and some reverb to make it sound more grunge (my Seattle roots came through here).

5. Come Down

This was the moment that I realized that I was really going to make an album. As being predominantly known for being a techno DJ, I struggle with how to be myself as a producer and not feel like I have to live up to expectations from others. “Come Down” was the second track that I wrote, and also when I committed myself to this project. At this time, I was feeling inspired by the retro Synthwave music in the TV show Stranger Things, and I played around with ideas on my Prophet until this bass line came out. My vocals reflect sadness about the effect social influencing is having on our society, and that very smart, talented people are being pushed aside by those only concerned about virility and profit, and not true expression. The strings were meant to bring an element of hope and beauty into this contemplation, as I do believe that we can overcome this by being real and true to ourselves, our art, each other and the universe.

6. We Danced All Night

“WDAN” is a version of a track that I originally made with Martin Eyerer in 2018 during my maternity leave. We referenced some of our favorite old rave tracks and used a lot of vintage synths and strings from his studio, it was a lot of fun and I can feel that energy when I listen to the music. Martin gets credit on the original engineering here as he is a super talented producer. In this version, I replaced some 909 percussion for the 808 to make it warmer, added some sub-bass and reworked the arrangement into a beautiful techno piece that pieced together the album at just the right moment. For me this track cheerful and elegant, and is one of the brighter moments of the collection. I still might release the original as it’s a great track for DJs.

7. Insomnia

"Insomnia" was an experiment gone right, and a homage to my beloved 90s grunge scene in Seattle when I was a teenager. I wanted to capture a very free, West Coast, thrashing garage band vibe on this. The lyrics “Frequency, Fine, Shape, Pulse Width” are audio parameters, and during this time I was processing so much in my mind about the album that I had many sleepless nights, hence the title “Insomnia.” This track was sort of a fuck it moment and I had a lot of fun with it.

I made this piece in very similar fashion to “Dystopian Love,” running a MIDI percussion pattern into my drum machine with a lot of tweaking using Overbridge, and then sending it back through distortion effects with some heavy reverb (Bump Factor effect in Ableton is awesome for stuff like this, as well as Sound Toys Decapitator and Eventide Reverb). Then I edited the vocals with iZotope Nectar effects, this was before I bought an external voice processor, and then again I modulated parameters of the melody on my synth with Max For Live to get a nice movement.

8. Sunrise

This song is inspired by my early Berlin memories from the mid/late 00s. In regards to composition, it is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It came at a point when I had been working very hard on this project, was a bit tired and jamming ideas freely. While I was writing the melodies, I took inspiration from the view out of my studio window: the clouds, color of the sky, birds, building tops, sunsets, airplanes (I live very close to Tegel) and the beautiful summer days we were having in Berlin. In short, this is my “I Love You, Berlin” track. It brings together many of the sounds that have influenced me since I’ve lived here. The track has three distinct sections of ideas that I blended together to make a vibe that will always make me think of long, midsummer days and open air club nights; when everyone in the city is outside and preserving moments of togetherness. Spending summers here over the last 12 years, going to the lakes with friends and hanging out at clubs like Club Der Visionaere and Bar 25, is how I fell in love with the city and decided to plant my roots here.

9. There’s Always Tomorrow

As they say, you can never go back to the way things were, you can only move forward. No moments in life can be repeated or recreated. I tried to capture this in “There’s Always Tomorrow” -- a feeling of hope and freedom, that today has not existed before and will not exist again. So for this I wanted to make something completely unique to anything else heard earlier the album, and to bring positivity and light in through the music. A good friend of mine in Berlin always says to trust the process (of the universe), and this is what I did here and I let my musical instincts do the work. I hope that listeners felt a feeling of freedom when they heard this, and ended their experience with the album on a positive note, as even in my Dystopia there is always beauty, hope and a new day.

Camea Studio

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