Three Women to Know on Buffalo's Electronic Music Scene
Spirituality brings out the creative, and sometimes weird, side of Space Cubs
Photo by Jeanette Chwan
Space Cubs, which is the musical project of local singer-songwriter and musician-producer Suzanne Bonifacio, comes to us on a lofty bed of electro-organic textures. Vocals that echo, birdcalls float in and out of hymn-like songs full of hypnotic repetition with occasional percussive breakdowns—it certainly seems to come from another world. And some of it does.
“Growing up, there was a lot of Contemporary Christian music around me,” Bonifacio said during a recent chat. “A lot of it was really awful—overproduced. When I was in high school I started going off the beaten path, hanging with hippies, and I started listening to Radiohead, which opened me up to more experimentation. I went from Contemporary Christian to Air with very little in between. Bjork was also a huge influence on me.”
Raised in Amherst before heading off to college at Fredonia, Bonifacio may not have wanted much to do with perpetuating the Christian pop that soundtracked her childhood, but the connection between music and spirituality remains. It’s at the core of Space Cubs, which she named after her Sunday school youth curriculum.
“Coming of age in an environment of music that was so emotionally charged, riding this wave of euphoria and singing with this group of people that just raises that euphoria even higher—the result is that the music I make now is emotionally based,” she said.
And you can hear it, rattling around like a mischievous ghost through many of the tracks on her 2015 release, The Fire and Things Forgotten. By writing most of her material acoustically, then decorating with electronica afterward, she brings a palpable level of human emotion to what sounds, in the end, like a largely synthetic medium. There’s so much electronically composed music circulating that fails to connect on an emotional level, what Space Cubs does is no small feat. And yet, she says it comes about naturally.
“Writing a song by sitting and playing an instrument comes from a more emotional place, and usually it comes when I’m not in the best mood,” she said. “When I mess with electronics, I’m in craft mode, putting in the extra flourishes that don’t usually happen until later. You want to have a goal in a song, wherever the inspiration may be coming from, it needs to have a point—whether that be not having a point, or being something entirely experimental, at the end of the day it still has to have a concept.”
“I feel like I have to write music,” she continued. “It’s my way of releasing what’s going on inside, and I might go crazy if I didn’t have that outlet. Keeping your motivation pure is paramount in whatever art you’re making, even if you’re using a synthetic means to create. It’s important to remember that it’s not just for you, but for the listener as well. For a long time, I was unable to write a love song for another person. Ultimately, I was focused on spirituality and the things that are unseen, and I truly believe music exists in that realm. It really caters to that. It was actually harder to write about something more tangible.”
Space Cubs releases her music through Unspeakable Records, a Los Angeles based label that specializes in showcasing the work of women that make music at the intersection of songwriting, electronica, production, and DJ’ing. The label is backed up with new material, (not a bad thing when you think about it), so the forthcoming Space Cubs collection, a more pop-toned set called Something for Us, is on hold for a bit while a new single/teaser drops this month. Additionally, a split cassette—Summer Jamz ‘16—with good pal Shawn Lewis (a.k.a. Lesionread) is set for imminent release with a gig at Mohawk Place on Friday, June 3.
Bonifacio and Lewis toured together last year and enjoy a certain degree of creative reciprocity, assisting one another in their respective production processes.
“Shawn and I sit in on each other’s stuff a lot, we bounce ideas back and forth. He’ll listen to something and say it was rad, but maybe I should fix this compressor or bring something forward, and I’ll say fine, but only if I can make a change on something of his. We’ll bargain for it and shake on it.”
Found sounds and cheap gear are musical building blocks
for Angela Conte a.k.a. Sparklebomb
With a petite frame, long blonde hair, and doe eyes, Syracuse native Angela Conte looks to be the reigning manic-pixie dream girl of the Buffalo music scene. Conte’s bright and quirky personality came out a bit after she first moved to the Queen City, once she’d escaped what she playfully refers to as “boyfriend island.” After the breakup, Conte’s light came through and the persona of Sparklebomb was born.
“I actually used to be a bitter and miserable person back in Syracuse, but living in Buffalo has reversed that demeanor almost entirely,” she says. “I really started putting myself out there and playing shows, and soon strangers were yelling my name from moving cars, or approaching me at bars saying they loved my music. I’d never experienced any sort of recognition or praise like that from strangers in my hometown, so I really gotta hand it to the people in this city for accepting me in the community and supporting what I do.”
When she was seven years old, Conte was given her first Casio keyboard. Her musical endeavors—which can best be described as an Alice in Wonderland acid trip set in a flawed reality—took a more serious tack when she was attending college. Her sound incorporates the darkness of witch house (a la Salem) and some of the more carefree exploration of Ex Mañana—taking advantage of seemingly minuscule things such as the grainy noises of an answering machine and the recorded dialogue of a middle-aged man on a sex hotline on beautifully composed songs like “Funeral Tunes,” “Moldavite,” her most recent single “I’m Always Very Careful,” and even her haunting rendition of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”
She explains that she learned most of her craft by working with cheap machines that no one would have thought useful for music-making. “I’ve never wanted to sing too much so I began incorporating samples from answering machine tapes I’d stolen from thrift stores or garage sales. It wasn’t long before my friends and I started taking various battery operated things apart to experiment with circuit-bending. It was so exciting that I could turn a cheap toy into some type of glitchy beast just by touching things inside. This was right around the time I discovered 1970s and 80s electronic bands like Suicide, Throbbing Gristle, and Kraftwerk. I didn’t imitate their music, but they were super important to me in formulating my dedication to producing analog electronic sounds.”
Conte expresses indifference to becoming a rock star, preferring the normal nine-to-five to the lives of excess lived by her mainstream DJ counterparts. “I like taking the train and talking to all the randos about their lives as I commute to my monotonous day job,” she explains. “I like that kind of thing because I know that I have something to look forward to when I come home, you know? The idea of life as a full-time musician just doesn’t seem very good or fun for me, personally. I don’t want it to ever feel like work.”
Though she generally has released music one song at a time on her Soundcloud page at a fairly even pace, Conte says she is currently working on a new tape entitled Private Rooms, which she first announced last winter. “Something felt different this past winter and I decided that I’d take more time to work instead of rushing myself just to keep up with the annual tradition,” she says. ”So I’m still composing and recording for Private Rooms as we speak and finally I can say that it’ll be out sooner than later.”
22-year-old Katherine Locke is new to the scene, but settling in quickly
What started you down your musical path and how would you describe the music that you make?
I say I make electropop, generally, because that’s the word I see that best fits. I started writing in college, and I really used the resources that were available to me. Back in high school I was really into art. Around age 16, music became really fun for me, and I hit a turning point when I started associating with different people. But really, feeling left out is what pushed me to where I am now. In high school the guys at the lockers next to me had their tiny independent rock band and it seemed fun and I wanted to be a part of that, but I played piano and sang, and guys don’t generally bring in a piano player. So I learned guitar, and that made things easier in terms of writing. That was the beginning of my creative kick.
Who are some of your influences?
I mean, I grew up with all the angsty hard rock bands in high school, but later on I discovered Lights. Since I didn’t really have internet growing up, it was harder for me to discover new things, and listening to pop radio told me most female singers did whiny heartbreak pop songs. But Lights was energetic and happy, and I loved it. That’s what made me want to make those kinds of sounds. I had bought a digital workstation and after that I really started playing with that more. Lyrically, Brand New was certainly formative for me. When I write now, my lyrics generally come from conversations and certain phrases and how they sound.
What’s your creative process like? What steps do you take in creating a song?
It’s different for every song. A lot of it starts with me sitting down on my laptop and playing piano, and I’ll pick out certain melodies I like or a beat I like and start to build. Then I look through my ridiculously large amount of files of half-conversations, thoughts and rants, and think of something that fits the mood of the instrumental I made. Sometimes I think of a title first.
It seems like a lot of your songs are based on food.
There’s kind of an interesting story for each of them. I associate a lot of tastes with and experiences in my life, which is where the food titles come in. I feel that certain foods correlate with my own feelings. For example, the song “Lemon Flavored Things” I associate with luxury and being stuffed, because I wrote that song about being happy with what I had and being content. Even though I didn’t have a whole lot, I felt like I did.
As time has passed since you moved to Buffalo, what have you discovered about the local scene?
The biggest challenge of it is that I am somewhat socially anxious, shy and quiet. It was pretty recently that I attended a local musician meet up, and I think that’s going to be great for others who want to get into the scene. I would love to see more female musicians out here. I was the only female musician at the meet up, and a lot of people assumed I wasn’t even there for the same purpose. I’m not sure I know why there’s not a whole lot of women in the scene here, but I hope it’s something that changes and I hope I can set a precedent with what I’m doing. On the flip side, one thing I love about Buffalo is that everyone is so willing to help one another. Sometimes I wouldn’t have equipment and people would jump to let me borrow what they had. That’s been awesome. -Kris Kielich