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Swimming Upstream With Dot [Interview]

photo cred: Tingting Wu

Dot (Kate Ellwanger) is renown for her music, as well as her label, Unspeakable Records. The combination of her honed musical skills and an unwavering passion for electronic music has synthesized a uniquely ethereal, psychedelic, nostalgic, and captivating sound.

Kate’s anticipated performance at the inaugural Upstream Music Festival, as well as her new album Retrofuture, proclaim a future full of forward-thinking music from her and the Unspeakable crew. We met up with Dot before her awaited night-ending show and got up to date with her latest.

Dot: Artist, Mentor, and Feminist

Dot’s impact on electronic music is similar to the way in which Patti Smith channeled and rewrote the conventions of rock. Dot’s music and movement evidences the expanding boundaries, appreciation, influence, and affect of art. Her efforts have established a major milestone for female artists and performers, through meaningful expression. The vital power of art is fully realized by Dot both in her own music and in the releases from her all-female label, Unspeakable Records.

Unspeakable recently celebrated their three year anniversary on April 1st this year. It’s clear-cut Unspeakable is here to stay. Kate also proudly told to us that Unspeakable will have a tour in the fall of this year, and many memorable releases to come, we’re sure.

Dot has taught music in a variety of forms and places, from The Los Angeles Recording School to Point Blank, Dubspot, and lately, through Unspeakable. Unspeakable Records is one of the few female-oriented electronic music labels. In addition to releasing music, Unspeakable works with artists to broaden their reach and develop their talents.

Dot and the Unspeakable crew, including the likes of Kelleia and Southpaw, are firmly carving out and establishing a place for female singers, producers, writers, and performers.

Say So

The aptly titled third track from Dot’s new album, is a musical journey on its own of epic proportions. The groove is sentimental, with touches of 90s hip hop and R&B nostalgia. A classic electronic music vocal pitching effect is applied with musical sensibility and foresight, in the form of a solo.

Kate’s voice soars effortlessly over controlled silence, rolling drums, swells of sound and energy throughout the 11 tracks of her album. Kate expressed to us that she has a sincere “respect of [the] longer format”. This appreciation is channeled into her record. Within thirty two minutes there is an incredible exploration of range. Dot orchestrates melancholy calls from beyond to grandiose ballads of incredible energy and feeling. Each track flows into the other while gripping themes of memory, loss, love, and hope are echoed.

The Sounds of Retrofuture

Dot’s set at Upstream (photo cred: Tingting Wu)

JNTHN STEIN, a friend and fellow Team Supreme crew member, also collaborated with Dot on Say So. He is also credited for songs 2, 6, and 9 on the album. The two artists pleasantly fuse their styles and talents, as Stein’s live bass grounds us beneath Dot’s entrancing voice. Dot is the proud sole female Team Supreme member. Her experiences, production prowess, and musical capabilities put her at the forefront of this intimidatingly impactful group.

Here’s what Kate had to say about her Retrofuture:

“I think of the album as a dream of the future from the perspective of the past, so I played with this concept using blends of musical styles from different eras, as well as in the meaning of the lyrics. Even though Retrofuture is somewhat disguised as romantic love songs, the music addresses larger social issues underneath the surface — particularly how patterns of the past continue to repeat themselves in the future.”

Impressively, Retrofuture was (exhaustingly) written, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered completely by Dot in the LA Unspeakable studio. She shared with us that she initially started on Reason, but grew to like Ableton for being more of “a blank slate” and customization abilities. She also told us that she uses an Ableton Push and a Nord Electro keyboard. This keyboard can be heard silkily dispersed throughout her productions.

A main theme from our conversation was accessing vulnerability and lifting one’s guard. It’s clear that Kate truly cares about self-expression and working through her discomfort as an artist. Her flowy attitude and ability to make-do with what’s available is very apparent in the sounds of Retrofuture. For Kate, it’s not about what gear she has; it’s about what she does with her developed facility for art.

She left the future generation of music-oriented peoples with this positive note.

“To the next generation: take full advantage of the incredible access to information and education that is currently at our fingertips! I learned the majority of my production and engineering knowledge for free on the internet, which is what enabled me to create music independently, start a record label, and even teach college-level music courses. Who knows if it will continue to be this way for much longer, so please don’t take it for granted.”

Retrofuture is out now and free to stream. It’s also available on most major digital retailers. Dot told us to expect the vinyl soon, for all you fans, collectors, and DJs.

Keep it locked with Dot and Unspeakable.

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