What's the common ground between FKA Twigs and doom metal? Let the Washington-based singer show you.
Photo via aeon-fux on Tumblr
Seated at a laptop in her dorm room, Aeon Fux is displaying how she makes the majority of her beats. She begins to swirl her fingernails against her Macbook’s aluminum casing, slowly making their way around in a small circle, then suddenly swooshing off the surface. She does it again in mid-conversation, making a grinding tsssschhh sound, like a cymbal crashing in slow-slow-slow-motion. “I like to make sounds that make people ask, ‘what is that?’” she explains a moment later. “Oh, it's me just making weird sounds!”
Aeon Fux (she prefers not to give a government name) is a 22-year-old Afrofuturism student at Olympia, Washington’s Evergreen State College. Originally from Bremerton, Washington, she is a lapsed metalhead with a constantly updated Tumblr full of videogame GIFs, goth fashion, and post-Ferguson updates on police brutality. Occasionally, she will make music with the barest minimum available—her voice, her fingernails, every now and then an Omnichord auto-harp. She’s also the woman responsible for some of the best slow jams of the year.
At 18, Aeon wanted to leave her choir and classical training background behind and sing in a symphonic metal band—Nightwish, Within Temptation, that kind of thing. Once she started going in that direction, however, she realized she could do something different from the frontwomen of those bands. Metal went on the backburner; Nina Simone and Billie Holliday entered rotation. Suddenly she was following in the footsteps of her father’s mother, a jazz vocalist who used to open for Ella Fitzgerald.
“There's a term that comes up a lot in my studies—Sankofa,” Aeon tells me. “It means to ‘go back’, and I like to think about that when I make music.”
On the Sunday evening that we talk, Aeon’s hair is in a large afro, and a chunky piercing hangs from her septum. She is a friendly presence, prone to sheepishness regarding her art, to the point that she breaks her strong gaze and smiles at the floor. She maintains a low key aura, even at her most impassioned, like when discussing Ferguson (“The people being hurt look like you and your family, and it hurts”) or POC representation in predominantly white spaces (“My whole family are Trekkies because Nichelle Nichols was the first black woman they saw in a sci-fi role… it doesn’t seem huge to other people, but that representation matters so much”).
With her mind on the past, Aeon tried to make doo-wop music under the Sailor Moon-inspired alias ‘Princess Neptune,’ but she grew tired of the limitations the genre presented. She was concentrating on playing her recently acquired auto-harp, but it stopped working. Lacking a genre focus or working instrument, Aeon grew impatient—there was still music to write, so why not use her voice? She opened GarageBand and began to record herself making sounds, “seeing which ones I liked, which ones were percussive or worked well with each other.” Like that, doo-wop became “doomsoul” and Princess Neptune morphed into Aeon Fux.
Aeon Fux has released only nine songs in 2014, but they are well worth your time. All her songs are “bursts of emotion” no longer than two-and-a-half minutes, suffused with as much high emotion, anxiety pangs and sensuality that the time will allow. On March’s “Reptilian,” she croons over the aforementioned fingernail-swirl percussion, multiple tracks layered atop one another until they sound like a shuffling waltz. Her voice is pitched low in the torch singer style, her lyrics delivered patiently and plainly, and she occupies the background with a small group of doo-wop style backing moans. Her lyrics give away enough to seduce (“this humidity feels so good to me / as you slide against my sensibilities”) but still maintain an air of melancholy and mystery. There’s a mention of a “reptile room” and the crushed devotion of the opening line, “I said I would wait for you.”
The name Aeon Fux succinctly captures the artist’s aesthetic: a mix of nostalgic appreciation for a relic of the 90s, an acknowledgement of that cartoon’s future-forward weirdness, and a dashing of “fuck” to drive the point home that this is sexual music. “Absolutely,” she laughs. “I wanted it to be very sexy, but kind of playful.” Donna Summer is a big inspiration, she says, and Aeon’s percussive panting on ‘Wet’ is very much a nod to Summer’s ‘Love to Love You Baby’. “That breathiness, that sexy quality that she brings—she could make music kind of sexy without being about sex.” Aeon’s discography is not all about sex: So far, she’s released an auto-harp cover of 80s hi-NRG hit “Two of Hearts,” a jaunty song about summoning the devil, and a snippet from a since-abandoned “big epic lesbian space opera.” The artist’s penchant for the weird is obvious throughout, but each song seduces in the way of the slow jam.
Aeon agrees, going as far to describe her music as “mournful” and “sultry” in the same breath. “I would like to think it’s something that resonates with other people,” she admits. When I ask her about the “doomsoul” label and what it means, she shrugs it off as just a catch-all term. She has an inability to define her music on a song-by-song basis despite the current of minimalism that runs through it, and she claims little interest in being placed among the new mold of oozing, slinky R&B. Perhaps it’s that metal terminology at play, as metal stays on her mind throughout our conversation—at one point, she jokes and compares the briefness of her material to Napalm Death’s “You Suffer,” which, at 1.316 seconds, is the world’s shortest song.
This past weekend, she dropped ‘4Get U’ on her Bandcamp. Like her other material, it’s short without sounding unfinished, weird but not gimmicky and sultry without being revealing—her brand of slow jam. She hopes to find some extra equipment on the Evergreen State campus and record full-length versions of the material she has released online. “I have a lot in mind that I’m unable to work with right now, some current limitations.” Until then, she continues to make the most of her limitations. Her audience, which exists mostly on Tumblr, is small but passionate. “People have told me they listen to my music if they need a minute to stop, breathe and escape,” she tells me, her voice relaxed, humbled. “They say in Olympia that you have to make your own fun, and it’s true. In a way, Aeon Fux has been an escape for me too.”
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