Photo by Simon Habegger
Welcome to our STRAND Showcase Spotlight series, where if you haven’t bought a ticket to our upcoming live music showcase yet, we show you why you should.
The first act on our lineup, revealed just today, is a familiar face to the STRAND — and it’s a face you don’t forget easily! Livia Rita makes an impact on you with more than just their music; back when we reviewed her latest album, Fuga Futura, in October 2022, her maximalist visual style made as much of an impression as the bold industrial undertones of her sonic project. My initial research led me to liken them to an avant-garde AURORA, but that would be a disservice to their striking individuality in their own right: dig a little deeper, and you realise that Livia Rita really is like no one else you’ve seen before.
So of course, I had to book her for our STRAND showcase. Their first email to me mentioned that they would be creating a “fungi creature outfit” for the occasion — would they be wearing it to our interview together, I wondered? Spoiler: they did not. I later wondered if I would have been more surprised if they had or they hadn’t.
Putting Schrödinger’s fungi creature aside (for now), my first port of call during our, well, call — is to ask Livia to define herself. “In my favourite moments in life," she tells me, "I feel like an alpine witch, or an earthy, cosmic creature…”. She then clarifies how she would describe herself the rest of the time: “I just make performances: I make music, I design, [and] I create sonic and visual worlds. I’m also an activist”. Which is more than most of us do the rest of the time, I say — I can’t say I’ve ever known someone who makes new worlds on their days off work.
Images of "Heart Tattoo Creature", "Sunscar Creature", "Magic Fish Creature" and "Fuga Futura Creature" courtesy of Livia Rita
On the topic of world-building and activism, I ask Livia what she thinks about the connection that other press has tended to draw when appraising their work: that between feminism, queerness, and ecology. “I think they’re all connected,” she says. “These are all voices which have not had as much of a part in creating the world as it is today, so you have to hope that we’ll start to listen to these underrepresented perspectives. These ideas are emotionally driven, [but they] don’t come from nowhere. They come from realities — things we’ve seen, or felt, or heard.
"But I’m not even really a fan of using these expressions [like “ecofeminist” or “queer feminist”] and putting everything into drawers. I think it’s sometimes important to do that, but I also think it’s really nice if we can find another language for it: the language of emotions, the language of dance, the language of music — and that is more my speciality. I think essentially I’m on a sensual, emotional quest; I first try to get my answers through there, which then becomes harder to put back into words.”
She touches on an interesting point. Amidst the doom and gloom of climate change, cost of living crises, political turmoil and public service strikes galore, I am curious to know where — or if — art can fit into activism anymore. Livia’s response makes it clear that when it comes to this combination, 2023 is really a year in which we have to go big or go home: “I do think that sometimes we need [direct] commenting on things, but I feel like now we’re at a place where we need more than just that — we need entire new visions, entire new worlds… That’s my inner hunger. I feel like our vision of a world which we could exist in beautifully has become more and more radical, and further and further apart from reality. I think now is really the time for that: to create a beautiful, meaningful counterculture for the sake of our futures.
“In my work, I try to make things that are multisensory, and immersive, that are not just an idea, but full-body experiences you can feel, smell, taste and touch, and ultimately surrender to. And we can go into them together. I think that’s what’s beautiful about creating concerts, shows and immersive spaces: you’re in them together with others. That's the powerful thing that art can offer.” I can’t help but be excited to see what Livia brings to the STRAND Magazine’s showcase stage, as passionate as she is about the importance of world-building and immersive, communal spaces — although I imagine turning the Old Blue Last into a full-blown fungi palace would not go down well with either the venue manager or the Food Standards Agency.
Top: Photo by Nina-Maria Glahé, Bottom: Photos by Johann Otten
Livia’s take on art as a communal project isn’t just limited to the audiences at their shows, however. I point out how her emails have been addressed to me not from ‘Livia Rita’, but from the ‘Avantgardeners’, to which she explains that this is the name for the team of people who collaborate with her on her projects, and that it felt wrong to simply put her name behind her work with no acknowledgement towards the community which came together to make it happen.
As for Livia and the Avantgardeners’ plans for 2023, it seems the sky is the limit — literally. Beyond touring in May and September, the team will be heading back up to the Alps. “I found this guardianship in the mountains,” Livia says. “It used to be a hotel-slash-restaurant, next to a ski lift. The ski lift closed down because there’s not enough snow for it anymore, which meant the hotel-restaurant also closed down because it was no longer economically [viable] to run. So then we took it over with the Avantgardeners! It’s really new for me, because I always had to hop around residences to have space to work in — and now we have this big atelier-house with nine bedrooms, so we can invite people to work and stay with us.”
To give back to the owners and the local community, Livia and the Avantgardeners also launched a pop-up café in the building to serve passing hikers. “I do think it’s a bit of a dream to have this castle in the sky… Sometimes when it’s misty up there, you don’t see anything of the world; you just see the house on the white snow, and mist around you. You could be anywhere. I love just being left alone in a quiet room, in nature, to sing and write and design new things. But I’ll also be serving a lot of coffees this year — probably over 3000 coffees, at least,” she concedes, laughing. “And we’ll still go on tour somewhere, so we’re not segregated for the whole year in the studio.”
Top: Photo by Johann Otten, Bottom: Photo by Selva Maria Meyer (Venus Cyborg)
On the topic of studio work, I have to wonder how Livia adapts such ambitious projects to live performances, on stages measuring only a few square feet. They smile at this: “I always try to do the most possible. I like maximalism and fullness and intensity, so it’s really hard for me to be minimal and leave things out. I do always try to be ambitious, and do what’s possible with what space allows. At concerts especially, I really try to keep a lot of focus on visualising emotions, and don’t try to [replicate] exactly what we’ve done in recordings. And of course, I always bring along our fashion pieces.” I take this opportunity to ask Livia about the fungi creature costume. “I’m growing it just for the show!" I don't ask what she means by "growing"; some things are perhaps better kept a surprise. "I’m trying to develop a sort of ritual that we can do together with the fungi after a couple of songs. You can try new things, and that’s interesting, and something will always come out of it — and whether or not it'll be exactly what I intended is another question!” They laugh again, and I can only admire how their approach to risk-taking is as bold as their musical style. There’s no doubt that their opening set for our showcase will be as unforgettable as I imagine their outfit will be.
Nevertheless, the centrepiece of our STRAND live music showcase will of course be its music: and at this point, I’m sure that Fuga Futura will look and sound even more powerful on stage than it does over YouTube (which is a feat in itself). Livia describes the album as “my sonic process of transforming, failing, learning, growing… It’s this journey from feeling very lost, to going through different internal emotions as one searches for one’s own path, identity and community. It’s about giving voice to the different inner worlds that arise in the process of that”. If this was its intention, Fuga Futura is more than a success — although I also can’t help but ask whether the STRAND’s previous assessment of the album was equally as successful in interpreting Livia’s vision. “It was really nice to see someone listen through the album with this intent, and create their own associations," they say, smiling. "It’s not like I want to dictate a certain way of understanding it, but I definitely felt understood.”
It seems to me that artistic work like Livia's, as multifaceted and multisensory as it is, would lend itself to being challenging to interpret in a linear way. I ask them if they welcome these varied interpretations of their work. “I do try to put effort into reaching out to people who I know might not understand my art in the same way that I would, but who might still get something from it, and who will maybe flirt with some of the ideas that I put into their heads. For example, I go to [perform in] rural areas where I know there is none of our target audience, and I think this encounter is beautiful.
"On one hand, I think it’s really important that we create our own communities, and drive our own visions, and believe in and encourage each other — but on the other hand, I think art can be very much a selfish bubble where we just reaffirm each other, so I do think we need to reach out and try to include others. We just need to be careful to not lose our connection to the reality of many people, especially those outside our generation and our art, and to keep conscious of them. At the moment I’m running the pop-up café, where we have all sorts of people coming in, and I think that’s a nice thing to combine with the art, to stay on the ground and stay connected to different people’s problems and thoughts. I make them their coffee, and they give me [their thoughts] back, and it’s a really clean, nice exchange."
First three photos by Hannah Burton, fourth (rightmost) photo by Claudia Gschwend
She then brings up the adjacent concept of the “art world”: a world that, before I had gotten to know her, I might have deemed her part of by virtue of aesthetics alone. Not everyone is capable of staging a highly fantastical catwalk show on a ski-lift, after all (a cat-lift? A cat-fly?). In fact, quite unlike the model-creatures flying high at this show, Livia’s perspective is very down-to-earth: “The “art world” can be very superficial and materialistic. A lot of people feel excluded from it or “not cool enough” for it, and so we have to be careful to not create these little exclusive gangs, and [produce] a world where you don’t talk to others. I think it’s really about bringing love, and friendliness, and openness, and care into [one's work]. When we do organised nights, like concerts, I love to create a space that feels warm, where people talk to each other, and it doesn’t feel like there are these kinds of social boundaries. For example, we’re scared of rejection, so it feels embarrassing to go alone to a gig and talk to a stranger to try to become friends — I think there’s always that level of fear that we all have and know. [That’s why] I think art is about creating experiences where that can be overcome.”
Which reminds me that we have two other artists on the lineup for this concert, who create their own musical experiences in very different ways to Livia. How would she feel about performing next to two other artists whose art, while expressed through the same medium of music, manifests itself so differently to hers? She responds to my question with excitement, and no trace of apprehension at all: “I love it! I think even though we try to define ourselves by differentiating ourselves from others, I really love seeing other people do what they’re passionate about. I think it's really cool and super refreshing. I’m not interested in that kind of “incest” of booking your best friend who does nearly the same thing — there’s a lot of that [in the industry], so it’s really nice [to see something different]”.
That’s a good sign, but it would be an even better sign if she was looking forward to the STRAND concert generally: which, from her glowing expression after I ask, seems like it wasn’t something I even had to question. “It’s really nice to be invited to a format which is not in my control. In a way it’s more of an experience: I come with something [of my own], but I don’t know what you’re going to create of the evening and what it will feel like, so it’s quite an adventure. I also love when I feel people do things because they really want to do them, and they love doing them, and that’s obviously the case very often with these kinds of community projects, which is such a beautiful intention. You’re [the STRAND] part of the community that you want to create [the show] for.
"It's also really nice to be part of more grassroots showcases, or working with the STRAND for an interview like this, because there’s a certain level of trust between us. I do feel that when one puts one’s whole heart, and time, and energy, and vulnerability into their work, it’s really important to stay close to people that you know have a pure reason for engaging with you. I think the industry is really complex, and there are a lot of different motives and interests at hand, and that’s a different world. To a degree, we as artists do need to learn to network, because we at some point need to pay [bills], so we do need to interact with the system — but I just want to make sure I do that very consciously, and find the right people with the right intentions. And here, I have no doubt. And that’s really nice, and that’s the reason why I do my work: to do it with people like you.” I’m so touched that I forget to mention that the reason why we at the STRAND create these showcases, and the reason why everyone should come to them, is to show our own appreciation for artists like her.
Come and experience an immersive world with Livia Rita at our STRAND Magazine X Gotobeat Showcase on March 25 at the Old Blue Last, Shoreditch. Click here to buy tickets.
The artist’s responses have been minimally edited for the purposes of clarity and concision.