In a busy London café, tucked behind the Tate, I meet Alien Jams founder, Chloe Frieda. Through her NTS radio show, and the eponymous record label, Frieda has become renowned for her ability to conjure dark, and caustic electronic soundscapes with her diverse selections. It feels like meeting an old friend, as apposed to an interviewee. She never dwells on her achievements, and instead brushes over them quickly and modestly, returning my questions with her some of her own.
Having grown up in Bellingham, Washington, Frieda struggles to pinpoint a specific moment where her interest in electronic music was sparked, although she believes the geometric, and emotive sounds of post-punk may have played a role. She also notes the influence her parents had upon her tastes. “When I was younger, I would listen to Pink Floyd and stuff like that. There were also lots of crazy sci-fi films that our dad would have us watch. Maybe that infiltrated my brain.”
One of her first experiences with radio DJing occurred during her time at university, where she hosted a two-hour slot on the university station, Kugs FM. The station’s archive of records provided the perfect space for Frieda to develop her experimental selection style. “I loved that feeling of knowing I had to fill two hours, and thinking, ‘shit what I’m going to play’,” she said. “I would then spend hours exploring the station’s library.”
The scarcity of electronic music in her hometown town only drove her to explore further, developing a taste for British dance music. She fostered this interest with key texts, such as the works of Simon Reynolds, and The Wire Magazine. In 2007, she made the move across the Atlantic.
“London has such a strong history, and I had been listening to a lot of British music. It was really nice to come here, and see where that music was made,” Frieda reminisces. “A lot of friends I have who are British, have different reference points from when they were growing up, but I feel in the States, for me at least, those reference points were not as strong.”
Frieda quickly established herself as one of the first regular DJs at NTS radio, under the ‘Alien Jams’ moniker. Constructed of primarily leftfield techno, EBM, industrial, and ambient works, her programs are characterised by their versatility, and synergised by a consistently dark sound palette. “When I first started doing the show, I wanted to research different styles of music,” she continues. “I wanted it to be about experimental music throughout history, so I would play a lot of soundtracks, and experimental soundscapes, and that kind of thing. But because I play out as well, dance music seeps into the show.”
The boarders of genre are crossed seamlessly; with emphasis placed upon Frieda’s historical, and explorative approach towards music. “I never plan a show. The latest one was like a blur. I got to the end, and thought, ‘Oh god, what have I just done?’ I improvise. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
In 2014, Frieda morphed Alien Jams into a label, and has since dropped a diverse range of releases, from the likes of Beatrice Dillon and Karen Dwyer, to Wilted Woman’s coarse and brutal Home Listener EP. Much like the radio show, the theme of the label is ultimately “subconscious,” but becomes increasingly realised with each progression made. “Before I started the label, I had never thought about doing it. But it just happened naturally. A friend of mine at NTS did a similar thing, and I thought, ‘if he can do it, then I can do it as well’. I have so many guests on the show, and a natural community just kind of builds up around what you’re doing.”
Exploring “feelings of unease and anxiety, anatomical complexities, signalling networks, and political uncertainty,” the latest release, Nervous System, is available on tape and digitally this month. It’s comprised of past-collaborators, and artists Frieda has featured on the show, with work from Rosen, Xname and Aclolytes, amongst others. “The first side is quite crazy, with lots of noisy experimental sounds,” she explains. “The second side is a little more dance-y, and electro-leaning. So it’s a bit of a culmination.”
For the approaching months, Frieda has a busy schedule, with several releases planned, and international dates booked. She is also set to DJ to her home crowd in Seattle, before playing at London’s XOYO for Ben UFO’s residency series. “It’s always hard playing in Seattle. It’s that weird thing of playing to your hometown, where it just feels different. It’s full of old friends, and you want to make it as good as possibly can.”
Recording an accompanying mix, Frieda also demonstrates the breadth of her repertoire. “The mix is made up of tracks I’ve been playing out recently, alongside some synthesiser stuff, and a bit of industrial. It’s more dance-orientated.”
Nervous System is out today on Alien Jams – buy it direct from the label.