Threads of hardcore music abound in contemporary club forms, ranging from the disembodied hardstyle kicks found throughout the work of artists like Kablam and coucou chloe to more traditional (in a relative sense) stabs at hardcore genres like hardstyle and doomcore by Kilbourne and Nkisi respectively. It could be argued that all fast club musics fit under a hardcore rubric, but there’s no doubt that more common signifiers of hardcore — in both the term’s dance/electronic and rock/punk/noise contexts — abound. We initially caught onto Estoc’s work through a tip from Alex Compton and after diving into a few swirling blends (Arca, Brandy and Monica, Rabit and The Knife), we were floored by collaborations with Kilbourne and Swan Meat respectively. Residing in Olympia, Washington at the southern tip of Puget Sound, a town known for its leftist student body and ant-fascist activism, Estoc’s music takes in contemporary club music, hardcore forms and a range of vocal inspirations and spits out something powerful and angry, a scalding final product that is at once approachable and deeply desensitized. Gabber, the hyper-aggressive, Rotterdam-born genre, finds a particularly large space in Estoc’s aesthetic and the explanation of her name functions dually as a potential explanation for what has drawn so many to the genre in recent years: “This idea of creating a tool to defeat those with more power and protection than you is really appealing to me as it fits into the narrative of anti-fascist and anti-imperialist ideology, being able to look at what seem like insurmountable odds and coming out ahead with the right tools.”
That spirit abounds in Estoc’s original music, much of which can be found on her Soundcloud page. There are the aforementioned blends and collaborations, as well as a series of harrowing pieces under the d e s o l a t i o n moniker that are more space/texture-oriented than Estoc’s other work, but that she doesn’t necessarily see as being separate from the Estoc project. Her mixes often feature the work of artists like Pharmakon and The Body, acts that are seemingly finding more relevance in electronic music circles as scenes trend darker and denser, while contemporary hardcore producers like Sei2ure and Mad Dog often punctuate especially intense passages. In Estoc’s own words, her Astral Plane mix is a “best attempt at creating a narrative around what I experience in terms of mental illness,” describing the gabber passages as emulating “moments of sheer panic.” But there are also glimpses of richly hued brilliance, fascinating leaps from four-on-the-floor insanity to almost-soothing breakbeats and more than enough blends and edits of contemporary favorites to draw in even the most timid listener. The mix’s conceptual value is imbued from its opening passage, but its individual components, many created specifically for the occasion, are all worth revisiting and meditating on. Estoc’s music is rife with major themes — subversion of power structures and personal mental health in particular — but it’s worth noting that it also exists on a purely visceral/corporeal plane. And whichever way you choose to approach her Astral Plane mix, that visceral spirit will undoubtedly hit you. Click below for our full chat with Estoc and a must-read track list.
Hi Amber, how are you? Where are you answering these questions from?
I’m doing alright! I’m currently in my apartment in Olympia,Wa
Introduce us to the Estoc project. What is its sonic scope and what do you draw inspiration from?
Estoc is the newest incarnation of my artistic process, something that has been in flux for the 10+ years I’ve been working on music. The name Estoc refers to an old style of sword that had no edge, just a point, and was used for puncturing heavier armors. This idea of creating a tool to defeat those with more power and protection than you is really appealing to me as it fits into the narrative of anti-fascist and anti-imperialist ideology, being able to look at what seem like insurmountable odds and coming out ahead with the right tools.
What was your introduction to hardcore dance music in general and gabber in particular? And what first drew you into it?
Gabber was something I just kind of happened upon while it started to gain popularity in the past few years. I think the first gabber track I heard was S-Type Benz by Angerfist and Predator and it totally blew me away. There was just such a palpable amount of energy and rage that I had never heard in any other kind of track before.
You’ve very quickly become one of our favorite “blend” producers for lack of a better word and while your artistic repertoire is obviously much wider I think a lot of new listeners grab onto that side of your work first. Tell us a bit about that process and what draws you to the form.
I really love being able to explore and juxtapose different genres and create something completely new. My process is never the same between tracks but usually I’ll make playlists for mixes or DJ sets and within those will find myself feeling drawn to certain tracks and to start to be able to hear ways they’ll fit together. Other times, it feels like a total shot in the dark and I’ll just kind of happen upon two tracks that end up working really well together.
Who are some of your favorite DJs/producers?
It’s definitely hard to pare this down but some of the artists I’m really into right now are Kilbourne, Swan Meat, Guayaba, Nightspace, Cmov, Alex Compton, Emily Glass, King Woman, Pharmakon, False Witness, HIRS, Jaeng, Haxan Cloak, Arca, Doon Kanda, Kablam, Stud1nt, Bearcat, serpentwithfeet, Yuka Kitamura, Akira Yamaoka, Subrosa, The Body, Amnesia Scanner, City… I feel like this list could go on for a long time
There’s this assumption that hardcore music is intrinsically male, but almost of the producers making really interesting fast/hard music these days are female-identifying/non-binary. Nkisi, Kablam, Kilbourne, HAJ300, Swan Meat and yourself to name a few. That masculine narrative is obviously false from a historical perspective, but what do you think accounts for the current proliferation of female/non-binary artists?
I don’t think that there are more female or non-binary artists now but I do think that more communities have been formed and we have created more tools and ability to lift each other up and carve out space for people not in structurally dominant social groups. I do also see so much of this music as a conduit through which we can express our rage, trauma, and pain. This increased visibility however leads to an increase in tokenization, where instead of our inclusion being inherent it becomes a series of boxes to check in order to reach some myth of ‘inclusion’. It’s not that we are struggling to keep up with men, it’s that men control so many aspects of history and society and can paint themselves into leading roles whenever they want. Being a trans woman on top of this means not only struggling for recognition as a talented musician but also dealing with people turning anyone of us into a monolithic ideal which they see as representing the whole of trans women. My identity is constantly being called into question, criticized, or even entirely dismissed and even though I often talk about my experiences of being trans, I don’t want my transness to be my defining characteristic and I don’t want to always be forced to prove it or remind people of it.
All of your music has a palpable sense of drama to it, but the d e s o l a t i o n Movement pieces feel primed for narrative use. Are you interested in making music for non-club spaces? And if so, what would those spaces ideally look like?
I’ve always been interested in working on soundtracks for video games and movies and I’m hoping an opportunity of that sort presents itself to me in the near future! However, I don’t necessarily see my explorations into club music and more atmospheric music as being separate.
Tell us a bit about the mix you’ve recorded for us. There’s a ton of material packed into a quite dense 66 minutes. Is there a particular narrative arc to it or overriding concept?
This mix is my best attempt at creating a narrative around what I experience in terms of mental illness. Blends often function as an emulation of what my mania expresses itself as, a multitude of concurrent thoughts all weaving in and out of each other, with the lines between disparate pieces dissolving into a miasma as mania often dissolves into a depressive fog. The gabber parts of this mix emulate the moments of sheer panic that build out of nowhere and the constant hypervigilance that comes with cptsd and living as a trans woman.
This whole mix was created in ableton and approached much like I approach stand alone blends and all of the blends were created specifically for this mix with the whole mix almost being constructed like one long blend.
estoc blend (haxan claok x doon kanda x logos) – consumes the heart of menace
pharmakon – body betrays itself
estoc blend (dinablam x dawn) – paint it dinablam
dasychira – amitie (w dviance)
miss k8 – liquid8 (ophidian rmx)
rizzla – airlock (estoc bruiser)
angerfist and crucifier – broken chain (mad dog rmx)
sei2ure – informer
estoc – moonlight
estoc blend (dj heroin x doc scott) – conciliator swarm
arca – urchin (civil bootleg)
angerfist and hellsystem – immortal
dogfight – dj mad dog
kablam (adele x soda plains x kablam) – revolving hello
leonce and neana – flight risk
the knife – the captain
dasychira – sanctuary
estoc blend (guayaba x haxan cloak) – paloma dieu
estoc – eagles
swan meat and dj heroin – vespers
estoc blend (kelela x subrosa x evian christ) – borrowed idol, borrowed enemy
limit – limit#02
boothroyd – y5
massive attack – angel
emptyset – instant (estoc edit)
v1984 – crying beneath the surface of the ocean as the sunset’s rays flicker into the indefinite horizon
lone – backtail was heavy
city – organic
estoc blend/edit (na x fofuxo/pausas – area claim
kilbourne – witch hunter
bonaventure – riposte
miss k8 – icebreaker
estoc blend/panic (ghirasol vent trap (arca x witch x miss k8 x jaeng sample)
dawn richards – baptize (estoc warp edit)
elysia crampton – lake
doon kanda – feline