INTERVIEW

“I think music should have some kind of sex appeal, but it doesn’t mean you need to talk about it openly.”

mariaminerva

Photography by Dan Kendall

ESTONIAN SLEEP MUSIC

“I think music should have some kind of sex appeal, but it doesn’t mean you need to talk about it openly.” We aren’t supposed to discuss Maria’s sexuality, not that she’s banned the subject, it’s more that she’s bored with it. “I don’t want to talk about it too much as I’m tired of people leaning on the feminine aspects of my music,” she explains. “Honestly though, I think I may have made a mistake in leading people on.” Maria Minerva – or Maria Juur to most – is acutely aware of her public persona. Lo-fi disco queen and a prolific purveyor of retro, she’s carved a unique space of her own. Channelling her astonishing knowledge of European dance music through a leftfield, fuzzy filter, her enigmatic music matches up beautifully with the seductive underground pop princess she’s created and so accurately portrays.

She’s certainly schooled enough to construct such an image. Having left her home country of Estonia just two years ago, the 23-year old flourished as a freelance art critic before taking on a Masters in Aural and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths. Leaving the Baltic behind, it’s music that’s become her most impassioned outlet. “I still feel brand new,” she says. “I feel like I don’t know how to do anything. The important stuff is definitely still to come – I don’t want to be one of those people who releases a couple of things and then disappears. London’s full of famous-for-a-year artists and I’d like a longer journey.”

For a career so young, Maria already has an impressive back catalogue. Four cassette and vinyl releases through Not Not Fun and its more dance-orientated offshoot 100% Silk have established her at the forefront of hypnagogic pop (experimental music that explores the feeling of being halfway between sleep and full consciousness), a movement courted by Ariel Pink and coined by Wire Magazine, a publication Maria interned for on her arrival to London. “Yes, that was when I was living in Camden,” she nods. “I just arrived and I thought is this it? I didn’t really get London at first – no money and no real work, it just didn’t make any sense. But now it’s a much better place to be.”

The alien environment was not the best of welcomes, but it did serve to inspire Maria. “It’s when I first started making music,” she says. “I wasn’t going out because I didn’t know anyone. I’d done zero music before this. Zero. I still can’t play any instruments,” she laughs. “I’m quite tech savvy though, so I taught myself everything – it’s the day-to-day stuff I have trouble with, like housekeeping.” She continues to laugh but it’s Maria’s technological prowess (and sharp intellect) that has shaped her individuality within the underground. “Yeah,” she half agrees, “maybe I can interview myself. No, no actually, there’s too much going on inside my head.”

It’s probably not a good idea because Maria’s biggest critic is herself and she still finds it tough admitting her day-job. “I find it really hard to call myself a musician. I was house hunting the other day and they asked what I did and what I played, I just shrugged, I don’t know really… stuff!”

Maria recently packed up her stuff and flew to Lisbon where she’s spent the last three months relaxing in the warmth, seeing friends and recording her new album, expected in September. “Imagine going to a foreign country and then spending three months recording your own voice,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to come back to a City and see other people.”

Her previous releases have been highly unpredictable self-contained works, the album ‘Cabaret Cixous’ unique with its playful take on lo-fi bedroom psychedelia.

“The next one is completely different,” she says. “‘Cabaret Cixous’ was very down tempo. There were some catchy songs on it but I wouldn’t know how to categorise it, which I quite enjoy – maybe psychedelic pop.” Her more recent EP for 100% Silk, ‘Sacred and Profane’, flirted with the dance-floor. “Hmm I don’t think people dance to my music, though,” she ponders. “For myself, I was mainly dealing with some serious dance music obsessions, the biggest being Euro Disco or Euro House, which is such a taboo genre, it’s most amusing. I’m obsessed with moving on, I don’t want to give away too much but everyone seems to have to do one thing in music and then disappear, I just want to evolve. I don’t know how to describe it; it’s just what I do.”

So hard to pin down, Maria moves effortlessly from release to release, but one thing remains consistent – her relationship with the music she grew up with. “In Estonia I was surrounded by the worst stuff imaginable, when you Google Haddaway, ‘What is Love’, there is an article that comes up telling you that the biggest success it had was in Estonia. I was 10 so this is OK, but you get the idea. Pop is a very safe place. I live abroad now and I’m cut off from everything I’ve ever known so I always return to this. People are mobile and in London everyone is from somewhere else, and in a world where everything is moving people take what they know with them, it finds its place in music.”

She’s a huge fan of Eurovision too, and a self-confessed Britney nut (she stole a line from ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ for her recent EP). In fact, the girl from Talinn can’t get enough of popular culture. “It’s true,” she nods. “Right now the entire city of London seems to be listening to Ashanti or whatever and so this finds a way into my music. There are some aspects of R&B, like the subtlety of the voice. OK, I can’t do that Mariah Carey thing, but the intimacy and the softness of it is something I can claim.

“The women in RnB are so specific about sex, though – the raunchiness of it. They always sing about it, so maybe that’s what is similar to me too. I could never be that explicit myself, but I appreciate it.”

By Ian Roebuck

Originally published in issue 36 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2012.

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