Zoë Mc Pherson is a Berlin based multimedia artist, performer, researcher and a curator. Mc Pherson incorporates elements of performance, sound design, installation art and DJing. They curate Founder of SFX hybrid label, they curate it together with longtime partner Alessandra Leone.
SFX organizes and curates online and AFK projects and events, as well as presents and releases objects and experiences across a variety of media. Since its founding in 2020, SFX has published a continuous collaborative audiovisual composition with 43 artists, including Aho Ssan, Katie Gately, ZULI, KMRU, and a vinyl 12″ from Klahrk, among others.
Early jazz love ignited the French-Northern Irish musician Mc Pherson’s interest in experimental music. Their interest eventually turned to electronic sounds, and as they experimented with computer software and DIY recordings methods. Mc Pherson is a musician that blurs the lines between various forms of artistic expression by telling stories that incorporate dynamic live performances and spectacular interactive experiences.
2018 debut album “String Figures” on the SVS imprint, is a multimedia production that explores the intersection of the digital and organic using field recordings of Inuit throat singing. A 7-chapter transmedia work that combines sound, cinema, choreography, 3D, and macro photography. String Figures is an audiovisual album, a live performance, and vinyl+digital releases SF01 & SF01RMX.
Mc Pherson has created a number of sound installations for Berlin’s Silent Green and Alhambra, performed at festivals and venues around the world like Inkonst in Malmö, LEV in Madrid, Fiber in Amsterdam, and CTM in Berlin and collaborated with sound artist Jessica Ekomane. The duo’s debut live set took place at Berghain Halle and broadcast by ARTE TV. In 2021, their first recording was released on Ostgut Ton’s “Fünfzehn + 1” compilation.
I come from a quite creative family and I’ve been involved in the arts from an early age both music and visual art. My grandmother was a painter and engraver and was a teacher of arts in Harlem, New York. My mother is a singer-songwriter so I was on tour with her from an early age. I got interested in organizational processes, I worked for eight years as a manager, organizing art fairs, and electronic music festivals working for theater and dance biennials. I got a lot of experience and it gave me a pretty good idea on how things are working behind the scenes until the moment when I felt like I want to start my own project. So I started learning how to produce and it was probably at the same time when I was managing tours over Europe.
I started to play at very small shows and underground venues here and there and it was a good experience. I started playing live from the very start as I felt that electronic music was somewhat boring as a performance form. So I’ve set myself the challenge to play live straight away. For me, the composition and the live performance are two separate projects.
At some point, I decided to go for an audiovisual album and I applied for funding in Belgium where I used to live and I got small funding. It was already something to pay for some productions and I set up a team and met Alessandra Leone and together we made this 37 minutes audiovisual album which involved 3d art, dance, cinematography macro, and photography.
We made this narration and filmed in Berlin and realized that a lot of people are more supportive here of smaller projects. So I decided to relocate to Berlin and I have been living here for five years. Since then I have been working with Alessandra on multimedia projects. We always collaborate with other people from different disciplines and always get excited about this part of the process of exploring different facets that we’re interested in.
Do you think that city as an artistic environment helps you and guides you on how to do things?
I’m not sure actually. I’m almost never in Berlin. I’m touring a lot I’m traveling so much you know. I’m going to Uganda in two days, I just came back from France and Switzerland. I was touring all year actually and the last three years. The longest I have been in Berlin was during the pandemic lockdown. So it’s very difficult to say what Berlin brought me. I travel and perform, that’s how I make a living by moving my body somewhere (laughs) and making sounds and dancing or whatever you know. However, it is definitely a question I asked myself as well, especially how conditioned we are and this idea of club culture which I don’t always like.
I feel less comfortable with the consumerist side of it. But I like the nostalgic part of it and the freedom that it brings. At some parties, you will reveal this freedom and this harmony. You can feel that sometimes. It’s rare but when it happens, it’s amazing. It’s better than drugs. You can feel this harmony of dancing together. But sometimes I feel aggression, very much linked to consumerism and that’s something that I don’t like so much.
Who inspired you as an artist and who were/are your influencers?
Björk, obviously I think everyone is probably influenced by Björk (laughs). She is a very sensitive person and focuses on every detail. People like this know how to collaborate well and I find that very beautiful.
Another big influence was discovering Fluxus and art total for the first time and being like : YES. This is it that’s why I can’t pick music or art!! In terms of music I was strongly influenced by Black music, Jazz and blues. From Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday which I drew so many times, Clifford Brown, Art Blakey to name a few.
Do you collaborate a lot?
I think this is something we like doing with Alessandra. We like the idea of collaboration. It does not mean that we want to collaborate with everyone that’s for sure. It’s a beautiful thing that we can do and especially as a woman, a non-binary person, it’s an interesting thing to look at in terms of power dynamics of how things are happening. Different genders and different positions, people who have different money, a different background that comes from different places in the world, different cultural heritage, and how you’re able to collaborate with all that. I think this is something that is an ongoing motivation at the core of creating things.
What are the dynamics on the dancefloor during your performances?
Depends on the venue. I think usually it works very well so that’s cool. Based on my experience it might change. It might be different in Armenia, it might be different in Uganda. People are usually surprised by themselves. They approach after the show and go like “oh wow, I didn’t understand it, but I really felt the urge to move”. I’m happy if they’re experiencing it when they let go.
You’re constantly working on some things on your hybrid label “SFX” and there are many collaborations. What are the criteria and how do you choose artists?
I think musically, we have a certain style even though we’re still developing it. But we like taking it slowly with the projects. The release of Klahrk took two years. I had been following him for some time and was wowed by his collaboration with Roxas in 2019. I was like, wow, this is the shit, this is amazing. It’s such a good exploration of all these vibes and mixing all different genres but in a way that is not annoying, in a way that flows. This is what I like, this challenge that feels nice.
For the audiovisual projects, there are a lot of people we had under our radar in general and also people who applied to the label. We like to have people that are both known and unknown, from different places. This idea of trying little by little. It’s nice to travel and get to know more people and it’s always surprising what they will do. It’s more like bringing a lot of people together rather than just a record label.
What are your thought on the industry ecosystem and the never-ending challenge of artists who are struggling to be heard?
I’m a bit pessimistic. I have to say it’s quite depressing and I have big nostalgia with some friends about our first posts on Facebook, forums and myspace. This excitement of like oh cool we can connect and you’re somewhere else in the world, wow. It was fun…
How experimental artists should be heard is always the question. Nothing has changed. Some people get lucky, some people spend their free time dedicated to their work, work a lot and then play a lot, etc, and then eventually something comes up. And that’s I think how it happened with me you know at some point. Yeah, it’s a small community. How can we value each other again, expand, use platforms to enhance each other and present ourselves as we wish and how can we find alternatives to using only one platform that frames us in a specific way and embrace the more creative aspect of the World Wide Web again?
And decentralization of Web3 is not going to change that?
Catch me on a day when I’m tired (of being in capitalistic world), and I’ll tell you that I haven’t seen in my life yet a place where the richest are not the only people with power. Catch me on a day when I will have rested and we can discuss many potentials and concrete self organised horizontal projects we can focus on and change.
What projects and collabs are on the horizon?
There are a few names we are working on and there is a new album of mine coming out next year called “Pitch Blender” so we are focused on doing that stuff. We definitely plan to continue exquisite corpses and have them in setup. But for now, we want to see if we can get some money and continue in different shapes and I think that it’s a really exciting ongoing thread. We also like to work with more women and queer to get involved as well. I feel like there is a different way of doing things with how people are brought up depending on their gender. As we usually notice women or non-binary who are more usually shyer and approach labels less. So for us, it’s also important to know different people. We are always happy to get emails from people that are introducing their works because we always have different things going on, we are curating show and events. So it’s always good to know new people and connect.