Interview with Papaphilia

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Papaphilia is coming to WA for the first time next month, and we here at Cool Perth Nights are very excited about it. Melbourne based producer, Fjorn Butler, brings to her craft an atmosphere of focused musical experimentation and intellectual exploration; it is a stimulating and inspiring electronic expression with beautifully layered sonic conjurations of fragments of society and culture and experience, with a sort of dystopian sci-fi bent that has no words to it other than the song titles, which in themselves speak worlds about the attitude behind the creations... I jumped at the opportunity to interview Fjorn before her upcoming Perth shows; I knew I could get to some satisfying depths with this human and I am completely taken (and certainly not surprised) by the consideration she gave to these answers. THE MUSIC IS GREAT. HAVE A LISTEN HERE AND HERE.


Firstly, you're about to come to Perth, have you been here before? What do you know about the city? What are you expecting? What have you heard?

I’ve never been to WA! So I have absolutely no idea or expectations for what I am up for, or what Perth is like. I’m excited to meet people who are putting their time and resources into music communities there. I’m seriously interested in how people can manage the balance of trying to survive while trying to maintain a practice that is not just a hobby, but something that is part of making that survival possible and worthwhile. I’m of the impression that in Perth it is probably more difficult to make music/work that is personal or reflects a more marginal representational intention, and to then have that work receive exposure and be appreciated widely. That is, I assume there are more challenges one faces, especially if you want to stay in Perth and also not compromise your politics or quality of your work.

Where does the name “Papaphilia” come from?

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Funnily enough no one has asked me this question. It’s not an easy one to answer to be honest! So traditionally the word is used in Christian religious institutions for a love of the pope, but in a broader sense the word “papa” generally refers to a patriarch, or father, and “philia” is a suffix that indicates a fraternal love for the subject.

I guess I was thinking about my obsession with daddies, specifically Greek daddies because I was going to a Greek social club called House of Hercules to dance with 50+ year old men.

But also I was forced to study Plato, mainly Plato’s allegory of the Cave, repetitively at university – I mean I’ve written around 3 or 4 essays on the bloody story, and of course there are so many interpretations of that allegory that take aim at how the political structure it espouses is tied to a particular societal structure, one that distinctly stratifies the domestic, and all infra-political structures tied to society (including slavery), from civic participation.

Anyway, so amongst all that I was thinking about the figure of the “daddy” in representations of desire, how they are structured and permeate deeply into personal libidinal urges. And I guess mainly I was interested in how this intersects with creative practice – how all these forces and urges and social institutions shape you so so deeply; questioning how foundational this structure is, can it actually be recognized? And if so, how do you challenge foundational structures in personal and interpersonal spaces?

I suppose ultimately it came from a fascination with the longevity of patriarchal societal and political structures and trying to recognize how they fit in my life and how I can make them work for me in a pleasurable way. Especially given that I tend to think of myself as a bit of a daddy lol.

What stuff is going on for you for this season? Current projects? Life movements?

I’m in the middle of trying to record music I’ve been developing and playing live for the last two years. It’s been an intense process so far because I’ve been trying to teach myself production techniques, so that everything sounds exactly how I want it to. You know, I want my kick drums to sound hard and bassy but still have bounce, and I want my hi hats to hit like hairspray! It’s a work in progress when you just don’t have the technical knowledge or the money to get someone to help you out.

Then I have to figure out how to conceptualise it all – there’s sets of narratives that are there in the music for me, inscribed in a way. A lot of the tracks were developed at pretty intense times in my life and are a response to, or reflect me simultaneously working through emotional as well as technical challenges. This I feel needs to be honoured in the end result of the work – but I’m not quite there right now, I’m still dwelling on it.

I also have a split cassette with Lisa Lerkenfeldt called Deep Blue that’s coming out soon, and will hopefully have a full length LP ready in the second half of the year.

Aside from that I’m in the midst of tremendous life shifts so I’m kind of just holding on and trying to move through mass transitions without completely falling apart.

Poster artwork credit of  Molly Dogson

Poster artwork credit of Molly Dogson

In your interview with IdenticalRecords in Jan this year, you talked about how experimentation with repetition and rhythmic patterns has been your main focus since you first started making music.... what do you think sparked this interest, and what kind of ideas do you channel through this process? 

My work, whether visual or sonic, has always been foundationally about collage. The thing about collage as a technique is that its fairly loose and expansive; it traverses form and style, it can be evident as a motif, or it can be more elusive whilst still present – I mean in my opinion when you create you are pretty much producing a variation on form. There’s always a reference evident, always a dialogue or conversation to be had from an aspect of the work. So I suppose the interest in repetition and patterns draws from a place of acknowledging that creation isn’t necessarily concerned with a production of newness, but about challenging the ways that listening and conversing and visually engaging can take place. And given that a lot of the time when I am grappling with an idea or relaying a message – the message is never formed in the beginning, but develops overtime via the conduits I employ – I suppose the interest thus comes from the relationship between the conduit and the message.

In the same interview, you mentioned some of your musical influences at certain important points (which by the way, introduced me to Ghédalia Tazartès, thank you so much for that)--- can you describe your biggest musical influences, how they've influenced your work, why, and what you're currently listening to?

My music influences range fairly far – I mean Janet Jackson has had a huge influence on my life in terms of sexuality and sensuality in music. Learning flamenco and jazz styles on the guitar in my teens altered how I thought about melody and compositional form beyond pop and rock standard structures. I listened to Robert Ashley’s Automatic Writing a lot when I was making the first tape I ever put out – his stuff was influential in terms of considering how incidental weird sonic elements can actually be music. And psychedelic stuff like J A Seazer’s tracks for theatre and film, psych rock in general.

I’ve always been concerned with making music that would compel people to physically engage and respond my whole life, however I always framed it in terms of shock. Nowadays I want people to feel compelled to dance, or just move. In terms of what I am making right now, Detroit techno, Chicago house and Chicago Footwork have been super influential to how I’ve been integrating beats and drum machine in to the mix. But also Kwaito, Gqom and sghubhu styles, oh and shangaan electro – all that stuff has been absolutely dominating my playlists.

Most things require equipment, what is your favourite equipment? Music, research, garden or not garden, health, well-being, bureaucracy, any kind of equipment, physical or otherwise, what do you like using and what do you use most? Why?

I’m mostly attached to my ’94 Twin Cab Toyota Hilux. She’s been with me for a few years now and she’s developing a pretty big profile in the communities I’m in. She’s moved so many houses, been in a video clip (Various Asses ‘Down, Down’), caught fire and still bounced back, traveled interstate numerous times. She’s fairly versatile and I couldn’t imagine life without her.

What are your thoughts on the most recent federal budget?

Where do I even begin! It’s hard to have a critique of something that is so shrouded in secrecy with regards to the intentions of how it is structured.

And it is hard to critique just one budget – I see this budget as a point of reference in a longer timeline of conservative governments implementing neoliberal ideology and further trying to re-cement colonial forms of governance, especially at the federal level.

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You can try to take a positive outlook on some of the seemingly social-based funding allocations – say the supposed increased spending on mental health services, aged care, education – but there’s a real marked difference between the policy in abstract and the policy in reality. Eligibility to access care and social services is so policed, it’s unreal. The questions of legitimacy to access social service is always up for debate, and many sections of society that aren’t struggling seem to have no idea how extreme living can be on a day to day basis in this place. The deterioration of funding to services has been so extreme since the early 90s to now, that a small increase is really not enough to alleviate the stress from frontline services. And the constant shift in service structures and models has meant no consistency for struggling folk. This budget is light going for a conservative liberal government in many ways – however it’s only possible to view it in such a passive manner if you are aligned with its founding ideology. For one, so called Australia is a colonial occupation. Secondly the colonial form of governance that is very prevalent at the federal level makes possible the rapid implementation of political-economic structures that are hostile to any form of culture or lifestyle that deviates from a white hetero-normative entrepreneurial way of existing. There’s an expectation of citizens to obediently toe the line, whilst the very political ideologies that are supposed to support equal distributions of rights and resources are used against them to justify maldistribution.

We are very much in a place now where poverty is viewed as a consequence of bad economic decision making. So yeah, it’s impossible for me to give an analysis without taking this all in to account.

From what I can gather, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger describes anxiety to be where the free and authentic self first comes in to existence, and is experienced in the face of something indefinite. What are your thoughts on this?

Oh man, I have such a hard time dealing with ever thinking about Heidegger haha. Authenticity is a real weird concept, and although I understand he’s referring to it in terms of praxis and constant shift and renewal, it’s still a concept of subjectification that ultimately followed a linear and future oriented progression, thus it insists humans are one dimensional, not complex or fluid, to me anyway. The fixation on anxiety also infers that it is a generative process that takes a particular path and form – anxiety takes many forms, and yes we can learn from it, but I am not certain that it’s a purely individuated experience that reveals a truth that is so specifically fragmented from other people, society and its social institutions. Nor is enduring long term anxiety, some of which can be debilitating and come from sources of experience that are not always generative – like trauma for one – they are not experiences in life to be overcome, just managed as best one can.

I guess I just take issue with the idea of authenticity being thought of as this isolatable unique and knowable aspect that means humans are entities that should be thought of as containing pure positive individuality, because I also hold that society and social institutions are fundamental shapers of people, and they also shape how we experience anxiety.

Can you please describe your interpretation of cultural awareness, especially in an Australian context?

It’s kind of a joke that cultural awareness is the stage of engaging with difference that the so called Australian social context is at, especially given that non Indigenous folk, occupants of stolen land, have always been culturally diverse. And especially given the diversity of Indigenous peoples and culture! The myth of white purity that dominates the narrative of occupation since the declaration of terra nullius is just that, a myth. I guess what I am trying to say is that, it baffles me that a country that has been occupied by such a huge range of cultures, and that continues to expand this diversity, is still thinking about the reality of how to imagine the existence of so many cultures, how they intermingle and enmesh and what value they hold. It bugs me that people still conceptualise diversity in terms of how cultures and social worlds sit in reference to, and as a deviation from Anglo and English speaking ‘culture’. The way I see it, we exist amongst so much diversity – in terms of how people live culturally, in terms of sexuality and gender, physical and mental abilities and dispositions. So yes we should prioritise constantly developing and maintaining a strong awareness of the diversity that is the reality of social worlds, but awareness is barely the first step.


The Bird | Thursday May 31 w/ Baby Kool, Bahasa Malay, House of BOK | Info

The Moon Cafe | Sunday June 3 w/ Lana Rothnie | Info

Mojo's Bar | Wednesday June 6 w/ Hi. Okay, Sorry, Furchick, Erasers | Info

Images courtesy of Papaphilia (Fjorn Butler) and Poster artwork by Poster artwork credit of Molly Dogson


Tahlia Palmer