interviewed | Estère: beat maker extraordinaire

Estère is currently a Wellington girl, although born on Waiheke, with oodles of eclectic vibe and funk in her stride. As we walked into her live gig in Golden Dawn, the crowd was hanging on each word. She tapped one foot, twisted buttons and harmonised with her self-made melodies – wearing a stylish grey two piece crop-top and skirt, Estère owned the stage with style and ease. Jackson and Kim, her new percussionists, joined her and her machines, holding down rhythms following Lola, Estère’s MPC (music production controller). This girl had everything under control and looked like she was having a great time. The crowd sang along, requested encores and cheered for more. Estère has evidently collected a solid fan base, youngsters and older listeners alike. And yet she remains modest, thanking her audience for their support, and greeting fans that came to her afterwards with a generous smile.

Estère’s sound could be considered a mix of electro-pop with elements of soulful jazz. But it’s difficult to put it in a box, which she doesn’t want to be anyway, referring to her music as ‘Electric blue witchhop’. Her songs vary in feeling, tone and beat – the result of her creative, and laborious, dedication to production. Her close relationship with various electronic bits of kit, an NPC and SPD drum machine included, have helped her craft out a unique sound.

As we sat in a bustling cafe on K-road, philosophising about the different ways people learn rhythm, Estère explained “I have very strong feelings for timing…” Although not from a family of musicians, Estère reckons some of her rhythm may have come from her upbringing,

“My mum loves dancing, she doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She used to embarrass me hardcore when I was quite young coz we’d be at festivals and she’d be the only lady up the front going like this [raises her arms and moshes] and I’d be like….oh my god…”

Despite youth embarrassment, Estère is evidently grateful for her family’s enthusiasm for dancing, and the sounds her mum introduced her to, singing “Moooving on up” as she paid homage to the “amazingly deep voice” of Heather Smalls from M people and blind guitarist, José Feliciano. After the obligatory infatuation with Britney Spears and 90’s boy-bands, Estère listened to the likes of Prince and Grace Jones, both artists with a similarly impressive vocal range to herself. Although Estère doesn’t consider herself a singer first and foremost, more a beatmaker, her voice has the elasticity of a professional, effortlessly hitting lows and highs as she accompanies the hard-graft of her instrumentals,

“I head hunt samples that I think will be good for a track. It can be quite laborious. Once I have found something I like, I manipulate it in Logic, put it into my NPC and then drum it out with my fingers.”

Her description of recording random things she hears out on the streets makes me want to take my Zoom recorder for a walk after our interview. Instead, I watch a Youtube of her discussing the gendered nature of the Beats industry.  Aside from her interesting sound, and great stage presence, there are a couple of things that personally drew me to Estère. Like me, she is a student of anthropology, and also of mixed heritage. This quest to think through difference, and understand the place culture does and does not have in our being is something that Estère uses music and electronic instruments to process. She sometimes addresses life’s intimate feelings and experiences through her song-writing too. Grandmother, a slow melodic song with subtle tones, is a tribute to her Cameroonian grandmother who sadly passed away three months before they were due to meet for the first time.

“I really wanted to meet her. I’d heard a lot of stories about her, and people said we were really similar. So this song is kind of about the experience I have, and don’t have, of her at the same time.

Appeller de la terre, l’esprit de ma grandmere  – Call forth, from the Earth, the spirit of my grandmother…”

She wistfully repeats the line from her song in with a fluent French accent. Estère’s sound has travelled the length of Aotearoa, Australia, France, England, Denmark, South Korea and Southern Africa. She performed in Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland on festival circuit in 2017, putting her feet down on African soil for the first time. She admits some prior misconceptions,

“I think I had a somewhat exoticised idea of Africa…and when I got there I thought…well, it’s just not that different from anywhere else really. People love listening to live music, they travel from other countries to come to festivals, and some of the festivals were massive! They were amazing!”

Estère plans to continue her connection across continents, in awe of West African singers such as Simphiwe Dana. Estere’s singles are diverse in sound, as you can hear in her new album soon to be released – My Design, On Others’ Lives – and include songs such as the catchy Pro Bono Techno Zone, a comment on youth infatuation with technology. Much of Estère’s songs offer a thoughtful comment on the world we live in, part of her bigger concern with trying to imagine what it would be like to live in the world as someone else. Her latest single Rent reflects on the concept of property ownership, something people are so beholden to in Aotearoa that the fact many people cannot even afford to rent, let alone own a home, is diminished in the face of the ‘Real Estate’ industry. Her music is another version of anthropology, a way of questioning what is taken for granted, and offering another experience of the world that might shift dominant perceptions.

With her sensitivity, intelligence and humble charm, combined with infectious bounce-y dances moves, it is likely Estère will be loved wherever she performs. Catch her opening for her teenage heroine, Grace Jones in Christchurch on March 2nd, 2018 (tickets available here). And download her upcoming EP out in April 2018 – until then download all her currently released singles here.