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Austra

New album "Future Politics" out now!

Austra

Luz Elena Mendoza

Thu, July 20

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

Doug Fir Lounge

Portland, OR

$23.00

This event is 21 and over

Austra
Austra
"People have always been good at imagining the end of the world," wrote Rebecca Solnit, "which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end."

The future won't look like the past: dystopian dread takes this for granted, but utopian imagination is just as valid. Future Politics, Austra's third, and most ambitious album to date, calls for radical hope: "a commitment to replace the approaching dystopia," says Katie Stelmanis, who leads Austra with the support of Maya Postepski (Princess Century, TR/ST), Dorian Wolf, and Ryan Wonsiak. "Not just hope in the future, but the idea that everyone is required to help write it, and the boundaries of what it can look like are both fascinating and endless. It's not about 'being political,' it's about reaching beyond boundaries, in every single field."

Future Politics, a collection of urgent, but disciplined anthems for dancefloor and headphones, asks each of us to remember that apocalypse is not an inevitability, but the product of human decision-making. It aims for a world without borders, where human compassion and curiosity drive technological innovation rather than profit, where the necessity of labor is replaced with time for creativity and personal growth, and the terror and destruction wrought by colonialism and white supremacy is recognized as a dark age in human history. The album is radicalism distilled: to galvanic beats, gorgeous, kinetic melodies, and the vulnerable majesty of Stelmanis's voice. "Future Politics," with its steady, propulsive beat and siren-like synth hook, is both anthem and ultimatum: we have a duty to imagine better, and to imagine big.

Stelmanis, wrote, produced and engineered the album, with Maya Postepski adding production on half the tracks. It was mixed by Alice Wilder, the band's live engineer, and mastered by Heba Kadry in New York. But its haunting first single, "Utopia," is heart-filling, irresistible pop that feels pulled from the air. "Freepower" deals with the paradox of a physical world in peril while our collective consciousness evolves -- there is no denying our reliance on each other and the systems we invent. "To solve the problems of global capitalism," Stelmanis says, "you need to think on the level that global capitalists are thinking."

Making Future Politics was a process of starting from zero. Austra's debut, 2011's Feel It Break, and 2013's critically celebrated Olympia, were followed with five years of non-stop touring, and half a decade without a fixed address. Katie settled in Montreal, where she found herself alone, facing both a language barrier and the dissolution of a few faith-sustaining relationships, romantically and within the band. "I knew writing this record would have nothing to do with music at first," Stelmanis says. "It needed to have a purpose other than just my own ego." The album's center suite, "I'm a Monster" through "Angel in Your Eye," is about the intersection of personal depression and collective despair.

Despair can be paralyzing, but it can act as a compass -- the less you can ignore, the more you have to act. "I had a process of overcoming my own cynicism," Stelmanis says. "I came to a whole bunch of philosophers and economists who were writing about real possibilities for reinventing society." Texts that took a realistic approach to climate change and economic disaster, while offering real alternatives: Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams; Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything; David Harvey's Rebel Cities. The album's opener, "We Were Alive," is about "overcoming apathy -- becoming more political, and more earnest."

In 2015, Stelmanis moved to Mexico City, where the album was completed. (The cover art was photographed at the Cuadra San Cristóbal, Mexican architect Luis Barragán's famous equestrian estate.) "It was an invigorating, and creatively liberating time -- I was entirely immersed in the culture, and in the magic realism of Mexico's rich and violent history," Stelmanis says. "Economic disparity is a huge topic of conversation every day in Mexico, as is colonialism and neoliberalism, and how NAFTA fucked over Latin America. Reading about this history and contrasting it with the white capitalist theory I had learned in school made the issues I was reading about in Montreal feel more global, and feel bigger." The album's final track, "43," is about the 43 students disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero in 2014, written from the perspective of a mother who is searching for her son.

In Mexico, Stelmanis was introduced "to a whole generation of Latin American producers who are mixing traditional folk music with techno beats. It's an underground revolution rooted in the preservation and celebration of Latin American indigenous cultures, and also Latin American independence from the USA -- very similar to what A Tribe Called Red is doing in Canada." Inspiration also came from European club culture -- Objekt, Peter Van Hoesen, Lena Willikens, and '90s legends like Massive Attack; in all, artists who understand the dancefloor as a source of radical ideas and radical joy.

Stelmanis's music has always had a political charge -- after high school she performed in the riot grrrl band Galaxy, with Postepski and Emma McKenna -- but this "has become more important as I've gotten older. I've experienced more sexism in my industry, I've witnessed the downfall of the middle class, I've lived through George W. Bush and Stephen Harper." (Her latest album credits only women as producers, mixing and mastering engineers.) This is a reversal of the cliché that radicals get more conservative with age. If you're old enough to have seen both the nightmarish and the fantastical become ordinary, but young enough to imagine the rest of your life, the more radicalism seems like common sense.

Change, Solnit writes, comes from "writers, scholars, public intellectuals, social activists, and participants in social media" -- also "artists, club scenes, parties, teenagers, ghettoes," says Stelmanis. "Every single person's idea about the future is valid and relevant, especially the freaks and the queers and the outsiders." This is DIY on a global scale: the ethos of a self-made, self-determining culture, but with global imperatives. "To change the cultural landscape -- which is what we do as artists -- is to essentially change the mainstream."
Luz Elena Mendoza
Luz Elena Mendoza
With Y LA BAMBA, Luz Elena Mendoza draws from both her strict Catholic upbringing as an only daughter of a Mexican immigrant and a debilitating illness that led her to fall away from her faith, to create what LA Weekly calls "Devendra Banhart-influenced art-folk with hazy femme vocals and traditional Mexican sounds."

Mendoza's father immigrated to the Bay Area from the Michoacan region of Mexico after meeting her mother who had received her US citizenship as a teenager. Her father got a job at a southern Oregon sawmill and Luzelena would spend her childhood summers on a farm in California's San Joaquin Valley among peach, almond, and fig orchards. It was in these strong Mexican communities that she would soak up the melodies and the stories that were being told while, as she remembers it, "the men with tassel hats" strummed their guitars and sang their traditional folk songs in three part harmonies. "I remember singing along, mimicking my father's voice and dancing like a little wild child," she recalls. For Mendoza, this music was the only way she could relate to her father, and was a bright spot in a rough childhood.

In 2003, Mendoza traveled to New Zealand and India, in a quest for a deeper understanding of her spiritual growth as an active Christian, hungry for the tools to create a shift on this planet. During her trip to India, she contracted amoebic dysentery and giardia, causing her to suffer from insomnia, lose 60 pounds and fear her loss of sanity. "It shook me in ways I was not expecting, leading me to struggle with my prayer life and search for a healthy relationship with God, the universe, and with myself," says Mendoza of her condition (which was only complicated with a misdiagnosis). "I gave up on Christianity and what religion was starting to mean to me due to a natural awareness that was knocking on my door."

Upon her return to the US, she took in a white six-toed cat to keep her company as she fought to regain her physical, emotional and spiritual health. She christened her new feline companion La Bamba, a name that she incorporated into a moniker for her home recordings and performances at open mic nights in her new home, Portland. Bassist and vocalist Ben Meyercord caught some of Mendoza's open mic performances and the two quickly found a musical connection. In a whirlwind week that she said happened magically, Mendoza recruited Mike Kitson on drums and David Kyle on guitar. Luzelena played in an Ashland band with Kitson when she wanted a more quiet alternative to her early punk roots and Kyle was a musician she met online that shared her spiritual and eccentric philosophies. Intuition told her that she was going to meet the final piece in her musical puzzle and, sure enough, she stumbled upon accordion player Eric Schrepel playing the squeezebox at a puppet show.

With a raw songbook of home recordings under her belt and a new group of musicians to help Mendoza with her musical vision, Y LA BAMBA began to captivate audiences in Portland and tour stops around the US. Eventually, the quintet would attract the attention of The Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk, who offered his production skills for the band's first studio recording. Funk worked tirelessly to capture Y LA BAMBA's rustic tones, songs inspired by the traditional tunes of Mendoza's childhood, and her signature vocals that resemble the sounds spilling out of a 1930's Victrola. Dubbing the confidently stunning body of songs Lupon (after a nickname that Mendoza's father despised), Y LA BAMBA has emerged from the studio, ready to wow listeners everywhere. Lupon will be available during the fall of 2010 on Tender Loving Empire.