KLEOPATRA’s MACHINA EP creates a brilliantly realised cyberpunk world, with its futuristic DIY synth pop songs filled with personal storytelling filtered through an innovative android gaze. In ‘MACHINA’ and ‘Pretty Bones’ it features two of the strongest tracks we’ve heard from a Scottish artist in 2020. We caught up with KLEOPATRA to talk about the EP, the decreasingly perceptible gap between the real and the synthetic, and producing her most hands-on work to date.
Can you tell us about the KLEOPATRA project?
It’s very difficult to start explaining it. It’s not abstract, but I guess it’s more of an abstract concept than most musicians have. I’m inspired by technology and how science and art can come together. I grew up watching films like Ghost in the Shell, Bladerunner and things like that. That [idea of a] dystopian cyberpunk future has seeped its way into everything I do – I just love it so much.
What is it about that theme and genre that you love?
I find everything to do with AI, robotics, Deep Learning, so fascinating because it makes me think about what it really means to be human. Especially when AI is getting so advanced that you could be talking to a chatbot and not realise it.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of Sophia, the robot; she’s phenomenal. She obviously looks like a robot from the outside, but when she’s talking she’s having these very intellectual three-dimensional conversations, and it’s just fascinating. So I wanted to make art that was themed around these things, around AI, advances in technology and human enhancement – it’s a kind of Black Mirror vibe. If I’m learning about a new cyberpunk thing or about androids or robots that develop consciousness because their programming evolved, I love that, and I wanted to come from a similar angle with the KLEOPATRA project.
Would you say that you’ve put yourself in the android’s shoes?
Exactly, I want to create a world around the music: sonics, but also visual elements and narrative. I wanted the KLEOPATRA project to be this android who developed human consciousness and expresses her emotions through music and visual art.
For me, it’s got a very personal element as well – I have always struggled with my emotions. I’ve had quite poor mental health, and feel very deep emotions that are so hard to navigate sometimes. I feel sorrow and anxiety and things deeply, but I also feel happiness and love deeply too. I suppose I’m learning every day how to express my emotions and how to live side-by-side with them.
So the narrative around the character’s story comes from that place, learning to express my emotions in a good way and develop into the artist that I want to be.
Do you see the concept and character evolving beyond where it is now?
I think that the idea is pretty much there, but I don’t think any artist ever stops developing. If you look at Charli XCX recently for example, her work is completely different from the ‘Boom Clap’ era. And for me that’s fantastic. I love seeing artists reinvent themselves and develop.
But I think that my persona and the things I want to express through my music, the things I want to talk about, are pretty much there. I’m looking forward to making more music. Even after this EP was finished, I was making new music for the next EP or album. I’m continually looking to upgrade.
Would you say that it’s easier to talk about certain things while you’re in character?
I wouldn’t say so, because I think that at this point, the character and I are one and the same. I didn’t want the character to be something that I had to gear up to or change myself to do – I just wanted it to be an extension of myself.
In a way your song ‘Generic’ talks about this.
With ‘Generic’ I’m talking about what’s real and what’s synthetic. I wrote the song about a need for individuality in a world that’s obsessed with trends – everybody is obsessed with TikTok at the moment, for example – things are always like that. There’s always mass appeal, but the song’s about my own need for individuality.
It’s also about our failing ability to be able to tell what is real and what is not in an age when so many of the images we see are doctored or even completely false. It’s about how much of what we’re consuming is real or synthetic… the things we see or even the food we eat. How many artificial chemicals are in that, how much is synthesised in a lab?
The visual element of the project is very interesting.
I quite recently got into 3D modelling and design, making 3D characters and putting them into locations that I’ve never been to, or couldn’t go to because I couldn’t afford to. That element of it is about escapism and exploring how far art can go.
The one thing that I never do is doctor images of myself in terms of my body or my face – I don’t airbrush my skin or remove blemishes. The images of me are all real and unchanged, but I’ll take the background out and experiment with putting my character or myself in new locations.
A lot of people message me or comment on how ‘I’ look. I then explain to them that it isn’t real, and that has a powerful effect every time. I want people to investigate the things they see and hear more.
Do you think that the story and world building you’ve done on Instagram has benefited from the distance brought about by lockdown?
I never really thought about it like that. I thought that perhaps I would struggle more during lockdown as I’m not able to communicate well in real world settings. I thought that KLEOPATRA might suffer, because I feel that the best way – it doesn’t matter how big your Instagram following is – the best way is always in person.
I’ve struggled in lots of ways during lockdown, in personal and music ways, and I was worried that if I wasn’t doing live shows I would just fade away into the background. But I feel very lucky, very thankful to the people that do follow my music and do support me – they’ve kept with me and kept championing me, and I feel so grateful.
That must be a comfort for you.
Definitely. Things seemed very bleak at the start, but I feel more hopeful now.
You’ll be looking forward to your work being out in the world, people experiencing the music and that being the focus. That change of focus from the visual side of your work to the music, that must be an exciting shift.
Yeah, absolutely. I feel that the visual content is the primer for the musical content because when the music is out there I can connect with people on a new level. When lockdown starts to lift more, and we can start doing live shows, I can further connect in an even better way. So, yes, I am excited about this, but I know that it’s going to take a while to get there.
I love this EP from the bottom of my heart. It was around a year in the making and so much time, care, and attention has gone into it. It’s the most hands-on piece of work that I’ve ever done.
I was directly responsible for the production, the mixing, mastering, and recording, which is amazing for me because I have been learning to produce for years, but never had the confidence to fully commit to producing on a project. This project has really changed me as an artist and it’s helped me to define my sound. It perfectly encapsulates all the sounds and themes that I love.