Suzi Analogue on Electronic Roots and Afrofuturism | Sonic Futures

All photos courtesy of the artist, used with permission.

Suzi Analogue has been shaking up the electronic music scene for over a decade. Delivering on her name, the Miami-based musician, songwriter, and composer is an analog synthesizer enthusiast who uses a variety of standalone gear in her songwriting process and in performance. Suzi's beats are readily identifiable, blending thumping 808s with dancehall-style polyrhythms over sparkling psychedelic synth patches.

While the rest of the electronic music world is only recently catching up to her stratosphere, she's now expanding her talents to include a range of disciplines, including teaching music production internationally and executive-producing artists on her record label, Never Normal. There, Suzi breaks away from the current EDM paradigm by highlighting female and non-binary individuals of color.

Suzi Analogue
Suzi Analogue. Used with permission.

Because of her experience of synesthesia—a phenomenon that allows a person to perceive color associations with sound—Suzi has a gift for visually conveying her music in ways that other musicians can't. She describes it as: "I can see sound and I can see the direction of sound. I see it in my head. It's like counting."

She adds, "Sound in itself—aside from music—has always been a part of my living experience and just how I relate to the world. A lot of times in trying to understand what I'm processing, it is through sound."

She does it so well that one doesn't need to have synesthesia to be able to experience her luminous work. Her Billboard-charting songs can be heard throughout a multitude of TV networks, fashion show runways, and radio stations.

For this Sonic Futures feature, we wanted to talk to Suzi about the Black artists that have inspired her musical journey—and how she brings those sonic inspirations into the future. In doing so, we learned more about her personal history of electronic music, how she perceives sound, and what Afrofuturism means to her.

In the following weeks, watch out for more interviews in our Sonic Futures series. Keep up to date with Suzi's work at her website.

Where does your musical journey begin? Did it start as a child or does it go from day one, out of the womb?

A little bit of both. My middle name is Simone, of my given birth name, which is different from Suzi Analogue. I'm named after Nina Simone. My parents love jazz music and that whole era, and kind of came up in the Black power, Black excellence, Black Arts Movement era. So, it's a lot going on there.

I was raised on just knowing who the important Black musical, arts, and cultural figures were—and from that, I have my middle name of Simone. So I knew that my whole life; my mom always told me, "You're named after Nina Simone." And now that I'm an adult and especially seeing her documentaries, I'm like, "Wow, that was cool. Thank you. Thanks mom."

But aside from my mom playing records a lot growing up and just always having the radio on, I experience synesthesia, so I can see sound and I can see the direction of sound. I see it in my head. It's like counting. So sound in itself—aside from music—has always been a part of my living experience and just how I relate to the world. A lot of times, in trying to understand what I'm processing, it's through sound.

From there, of course, naturally I gravitated toward extracurricular activities, church. I grew up in church choir and then choirs in school, musical theater. I started making beats when I was 15. And then when I got to university, I started developing the project of Suzi Analogue, being in Philadelphia and being around The Roots' studio. I mean, we called it The Roots' studio, but it's really Larry Gold's studio, who was a very well known record creator.

[My journey] just continues to do this upward spiral from there, but it all started with my natural inclination into a sound, hence the experience of just synesthesia—how it guided me to be into different things.

Hit me back to that moment, when you started seeing sounds. What was going on?

I think I always saw sounds. I have this one photo—now that I think about it, it's a school picture. I have to be in preschool, and everybody's looking forward. And I just looked the other way. For some reason I'm looking the other way. I must have heard something, and I saw it and I went with it in the photo. I'm telling you, everybody's looking forward. It's about 30, 40 kids. And I'm looking... I just turned like I just saw something, but I really had most likely heard something.

Growing up, I could tell who was coming up the stairs based on their footsteps and knowing how they walked or how they dragged their feet or what kind of shoes they wore and things like that. And I would predict it. I would do things like stick my head outside the door and see if that's the person, [and] it'd be the person.

So it's gotten to this point where just for me, even if I drop something, like something's falling, I'm able to catch it by hearing the direction it's falling in—because that's how I experienced my synesthesia. I could see the mass, the waveform of what I'm hearing, and then I could see the direction it's coming from. It's just turned into this thing.

Hearing music and playing music was therapeutic for me, because—imagine having a sensory experience like that be a part of how you process day-to-day and then even in silence, I'm processing. I'm like, "OK, the AC is on; it's over there. OK, the car is over there." It's just a constant thing.

The only way I can relate is just when certain songs or key changes give me chills, which happens often. But that's the only way I could even relate to that experience.

It's kind of like that, but it's like... When I lived in Brooklyn—not so much now because, luckily, and I've been able to take my lifestyle and make it the way I needed to be for my synesthesia. I don't live near a road. So I can't hear car sounds, and it's really helpful for me. But when I lived in New York, I'm like, "I can tell... OK, cool. They're playing DJ Clue in this track. And, oh, that's the fourth track, and—whoa, who's that?" I'm just like, "Who's playing this?" And I could tell from the basslines coming out, the car that's down the street, what's happening. It's really helpful to not always be around sound for me. Silence is super helpful.

Suzi's Reverb Gig From Home performance from May 2020.

Are you always visually inspired to create beats?

Yeah. It goes hand to hand. When I make it, I can see it. And now with my experiences of touring and traveling to different cities around the world, I can see it and I could hear it. And I could pinpoint where it would go off. I'm like, "Oh, they love this in Beijing or they would love this in…" I live in Miami and Miami actually, it's important to me. I decided to move here after living in Philly and New York because I wanted to be in a place where, just global, polyrhythmic club music, and a lot of higher-tempo music is just so the norm. Just the vibe and the flavor here is a part of my visualization process even. And it slips into my music as well at this point.

What’s in the studio currently? What type of gear are you working with these days?

I just got the HC-TT from Landscape. It's a really cool... I guess it's a synth. I would say it's a synth effect. But it's basically like, you put in a cassette [tape], and then you are able to play around with the spools.

And so that's really cool because of my analog vibes, but also I've been making tapes. I've been making cassettes since I was nine years old. So it's just a perfect kind of little thing for me. That's something cool and I'm excited about. I'm also always using the Organelle from Critter & Guitari.

How do you use that? I've seen you use that in your sets.

Many ways. Typically, in my set, I process my vocals through it and I use a delay that goes four times over—you can delay up to a minute or the inverse of it, like milliseconds, four times over. It's in itself a looper, but instead of... I was using traditional loopers or loopers that people use typically in shows, and I was finding so many restrictions for the feel that I was trying to give.

I found that this patch—this single patch in the Organelle—was so much more helpful for how I wanted to throw my voice around. I love the Organelle, but I also use it for everything. I use it to play synth, I use it to re-sample. It's everything you need in one device, which is really dope. So I really love that.

Suzi Analogue Live on Adult Swim's Bloodfeast Show

It's so many different ways to use it, right?

Yeah. It's so many ways and they're always making new patches. I actually love the company. It's very independent, made here in the States and very DIY. But they have a great dedication to building their patches and adding to their [presets], which is something that a lot of synth companies don't do. With a lot of synths, you get what you get. And if you know how to do some coding, maybe you can innovate your own patch, but with [Critter & Guitari], you can do that too with Pure Data.

I really love Critter & Guitari because they're always making something super cool. I also have a SubPac in my studio, are you familiar?

No, actually I'm not familiar with that one. Please share.

It transmits the bass. It's on my studio chair. So, whatever I'm making, I can feel it. That adds to my synesthesia too, because it's like, I can already see it, but then I can feel it. When the studio is on, the SubPac stays plugged in. It stays on. And when I'm making things, I could tell if it's hitting or what it's doing. They also have a wearable one too.

I'm sure it is great for simulating how it's going to bang in the club too right?

Exactly. When something is really going in, I can feel it. Just whenever I'm in the studio, even if I'm playing other people's tracks, even if I'm playing something from a record, I can feel it. I can feel what the engineer did as well, which is super important, because I don't consider myself an engineer. I do all my pre-mixing and all that. But when I get my edits and my masters back, I'm like, "Yeah, let's tweak this, let's do this." I'm always searching for that perfect feel that represents how I want people to experience it.

Can you share with me a little bit about your musical inspirations?

I'm inspired by everything. I would definitely say growing up, I was very inspired by the radio and it was at a time where radio was so much less syndicated than now. We heard the top hits, but then you heard a lot of other stuff. I actually went to grade school and middle school and stuff in Virginia. So I actually came up in the whole Neptunes era, when they were played on the radio in Virginia. Between that and the Timbaland era and the Timbaland and Missy [Elliot] era, that definitely inspired me for sure.

I grew up in a church with gospel music. Gospel really inspires me, but then I was able to, in later years, translate that to gospel house, because on the weekends where I lived, they would broadcast from the club. That really inspired me, because that's the first time I'm hearing "The Percolator" and everything. And I'm little, single digits, like, "What is this song? What is this sound? This is so crazy." Just some of the repetition and just how raw the vocal sounded, because it sounded so much different than the perfect R&B songs I was hearing at the time with the glossy music videos.

So I was able to notice, like, "OK, there's some really raw-sounding music out there that makes you feel something."

I grew up with club music. I was born in Baltimore and I've always had family between Baltimore and Jersey. So I grew up with regional dance music as well. As a youth, I also danced. I performed a lot between theater, community dance, summer camp dances, and we were doing [performances] to club music.

I would just say that—between that and my older sister, who's a huge hip-hop head, who honestly went to high school with Slick Rick in New York—I have so many influences that were just right next to me. I've always been feeding this kind of hunger. And then at a certain point, I started to learn about pirate radio. I had a family friend who put me on to BBC and stuff, and then I just started learning about different acts in the UK, and I started downloading a lot of stuff from Napster. So I have a lot of influences.

That's what's up. I grew up in Chicago. So, "The Percolator" was on after-hours radio all of the time.

That's amazing. For the longest time I thought "The Percolator" was from Baltimore. I didn't know, growing up, I was like, "This is our song. This is what we do." [Laughs] I grew up with B-More Club and Go-Go from DC. I was just like, "This is our stuff, we dance over here." I'm really an East Coast girl. I really didn't know anyone from the Midwest. So then when I actually started listening to different DJs, different mixes, I'm like, "OK, well I know juke music," and then I was like, "OK, but they have the same versions of B-More Club songs, but they're juke songs," and I hadn't even [discovered] Miami yet. And later in my career, I'm just like, "OK, this is all connected."

With all the genres you just mentioned, they’re all connected in terms of electronic music.

Yes, Black electronic music.

Could you talk about some of the challenges that you've been facing as a Black woman in a male-dominated and primarily white male-dominated space?

I would say, oftentimes I've just experienced a certain type of bliss in doing it because I do it for myself and I do it because it's a part of my identity. Whereas I feel like, especially the white male-centric perspective is like, "I can buy it. I can be a part of it. I can dominate it." And it's like, that's not what it is for me, because I never thought I could buy these things. And I really appreciate that, over the years, companies have just seen my skill and my creativity and they said, "Hey, you need this. We're going to give this to you. We want you to have that." Half of my studio is sponsored, because companies believe in what I do.

So the backlash to that, especially that I've experienced is... I've done a live-stream for a very well-known synth brand and had [experienced] so much hate. It's the same thing that happens on Boiler Room [streams] too, where anyone who's of color, especially if you’re Black, especially if you're a femme, you're a target for all of this, "Oh, what are they even doing?" Or "They don't even know, they should go back and keep practicing." This is my self-expression. I'm not here to make some kind of—whatever you think is a perfect patch—demo. [Laughs] That's not what I'm here to do. I'm not here to be super technical, because I find that's outside of my culture.

"Are you going to sit here and argue with me about techno, when I've been dancing to techno since I was in the single digits?"

Trying to be super technical and pitch-perfect with anything is outside of the culture of natural Black expression. And we've always just expressed ourselves to free ourselves and liberate ourselves. It's not about perfection. So I just feel that there is a dissonance with that. And I don't think it's a challenge for me. I think it's dissonance for others who might not understand where we're coming from. Like, "OK, you're not going to tell me anything about electronic music. Because you don't even know 'The Percolator.' You didn't dance to it when you were eight years old, like I did. What, are you going to sit here and argue with me about techno, when I've been dancing to techno since I was in the single digits?"

My lived experience has been so validating to experience Black electronic music, but yet the pervasive media attitude is that it belongs to non-Black people and specifically white males, because they're the highest-grossing. Because they have the connections in the infrastructure of the industry. And what the industry conveys and what the culture does is two different things, and they are not often intersecting at all, on purpose. Because if the industry came in and once they realize, Hey, like these people got it from birth. What is it going to do? What is it going to make them feel like? That they're not going to feel like they own it as much as they do.

That's just my experience. I would say it's not such a challenge for me, of course. I love all the visibility that I can get when it comes to telling the real stories and that's also why I founded Never Normal Soundsystem, our collective, which is the Afro-diasporic collective of audio, visual, multimedia artists—who all make electronic arts, all make electronic music, all use electronics to make visuals. And so we're all technologists and we're all Black from around the country and around the world at this point. It's a rotating community and collective, and we just try to support one another in our endeavors of experimentation and releasing and just try to create more space.

I saw that you had posted up a picture of you in front of the great big TONTO synth. Did you get to patch it up and make anything with it?

I did record some audio from it. That was actually four years ago, at the Canadian National Music Center in Calgary. I was up there teaching a workshop, an Ableton workshop, and the workshop facilitator said, "You have to go." But I did not know that was going to be there. And the engineer who put it back together from Malcolm Cecil's garage was actually there. RIP, he's passed away since then.

I was so lucky for him to turn it on for me and for me to actually be able to play it, play some patches, and just hear it in person. Because I'm like, "Stevie Wonder used this thing! This is amazing." So I posted like, "I just want to meet her again, please." I love playing shows, but I would just love to just be in a room with this thing for a week and I'd be good.

I also understand you've been teaching music workshops in Ghana?

Not yet. That's supposed to happen this year, but the original workshop I taught in Africa was in Uganda, [in the capital] Kampala, and that was amazing. My students are amazing. They're still doing great. Some of them have won awards. Some of them are still holding out their own studios and they're still making records, still pursuing music.

And now I get to do it again in Ghana. We're set to go in May, June—keep your fingers crossed for me. So that, that still goes down at that time. But hopefully if not even that time, sometime in 2022. It's been an amazing experience to do that. It's on behalf of the US State Department. Have you ever seen a photo of Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet at the pyramids?


It's the same program, but it's evolved. Like back then it was jazz, now it's beats, it's hip-hop. Hip-hop is a great tool for diplomacy, understanding, and awareness, and just creating peace amongst people. The program that I do this with is centered in creating peace by just sharing skills and sharing creativity, inspiration through hip-hop. Since then I was able to also meet other artists in Uganda.

So now Never Normal, our Soundsystem collective, we're set to release a new compilation called Gukuba, which is Luganda for: it beats, it knocks, it slaps, it's the heartbeat. That's with a Ugandan collective called Anti-Mass and we've released two singles so far. So it's just been amazing over the quarantine. We've been holding virtual listening sessions and it's just been amazing to actually make something where we're really coming together. And it's about to be out in the world where people can go listen to it on their favorite platforms.

Can you speak a little more about the artists you have at Never Normal?

We work with a lot of various artists from rappers, like emerging trans rapper Khx05 (pronounced Chaos) from North Carolina. To artists in Atlanta like No Eyes, X.Nte, and Elevation, who are breakcore, glitch, and footwork artists. Also Queen Delight, who is a film director, songwriter, and rapper based in Oakland. Also we work with Rafia, who is an audio-visual artist in Brooklyn.

And we've released in the past with a lot of different artists. Even people like Count Bass D, who's produced for MF DOOM. And so, it's been a journey to just find dope people through my experiences. It's such a pleasure and joy to me.

What does Afrofuturism mean to you?

Afrofuturism is a container. It's a container for a set of experiences that we experience in general as Black people in this world. We have always been futuristic. The self-preservation of Black people has always been at the forefront of how we socialize. And so, we are futuristic by default in a way, but when I say it's a container, that's like, it's a way to say, "Oh, this is the style of something." It can be an adjective. It can be a descriptor, but it's really an experience. It's really the experience of being Black in this world and knowing your history and knowing from where different inspirations and the spirit of what Blackness is, knowing where it's derived from, and knowing where we can take it and where we can throw it—where we can insert it at any time.

That's why I say it's a container. Because it's like, once you have that Afrofuturism, once you have that grasp of that, say, it's just like a bowl—you literally can take the bowl, sit it anywhere, and people can look into it, peer into it, grab from it, and we can take it everywhere in our day-to-day life. Afrofuturism is really about self-preservation of Blackness and being able to see it thrive and being able to see it live on into the future, through joy, not just through the struggles and the unfortunate historic circumstances, the oppression has set out for Blackness to be contained by, before. Now we have more space and more room. That's why we dream of space. And that's why we share visuals with the cosmos.

We're always connected to the metaphysical through Afrofuturism. It's just such a deep experience. I hope that people don't think it's just an adjective or it's a style that you can put on. No, it's a whole 360 experience to me. And it's definitely the way I think about how we should move into the future with the industries as they are, whether it be music gear, music industry, music representation, there's a lot of room for us to innovate and be more Afrofuturistic about where things are going. But I see it every day. I see it more and more.

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