Estonian-born, London-based Maria Juur turns into Maria Minerva when she wants to create disco-inflected multi-layered electronic pop songs. An artist by trade, critically-minded, always forthright, and with a strong love for mainstream pop, these elements combine to make her music as fun (‘Disko Bliss’) as it is mind-bending (‘Soo High’).
As part of the hip labels Not Not Fun and 100% Silk’s rosters, she has released the album Cabaret Cixous, the tape Tallinn at Dawn and 12” Noble Savage, while her Sacred & Profane Love EP is due out on 15 November.
In her many videos, Juur experiments with New Age motifs (the acid-tacky ‘California Scheming’); bedroom dancing (see ‘Strange Things are Happening in My Room‘); and uncomfortable, grainy CCTV videos (‘Soo High’). Though the videos often attract as many baffled comments as they do positive ones, it’s all part of Juur’s love for the lo-fi side of life. Why be polished when you can be gritty?
On the eve of her first Irish live gig, State spoke to Maria Juur about feminism, London, and Not Not Fun.
Hi Maria, for people who aren’t familiar with your music, can you tell us a little about yourself, including when you started working as Maria Minerva?
I am 23 years old, originally from Tallinn, Estonia. I moved to London in August 2010, the move didn’t have anything to do with music – I came to do my Masters degree at Goldsmiths. I had been making music on the side since summer 2009 but I never thought it would lead anywhere. In London I realised that time management is everything and I was actually considering quitting making these lil tunes altogether because it seemed like a waste of time and I thought that maybe it is time to “grow up”. But then I sent my one demo to Not Not Fun, they liked it… so throughout 2011 they’ve put out everything I ever recorded and at the moment I am actually doing music and shows “ full-time” – life took its own course, didn’t grow up and become a serious person just yet.
How does Maria Minerva differ from Maria Juur?
It differs in minor ways – people who have heard my music before they’ve met me have said that it all makes sense when they see what I am like in person. Sometimes Minerva is my good self, or my “better” self, harmonious and sincere. Sometimes the neurotic side of me. And mostly just the whimsical, trickster character that I cannot be in real life.
You’re currently studying in London – how did you find the transition from Estonia to London?
Hard. I didn’t go out for like eight months. So confused, skint and exhausted all the time. The biggest difference is that living in London is so much more expensive, rent is FOUR times higher than what I used to pay in Tallinn and etc. You have to really want to be here otherwise it is nonsense. I started to find my way in London but now I am moving to Lisbon for the winter, plus I am travelling so much so I do not know when and if I am gonna settle in London again any time soon.
How have your experiences of the music scene(s) in London been so far?
So much going on, even too much. I go to lil shows around Hackney, just to see acts that I like, nowadays they are more like my peers. I used to go to Upset The Rhythm gigs quite a lot and now I am doing a show with them so that’s cool. I also love to go out dancing. At the moment I am in London just for a couple of days and I am going to a club night tonight and also to Plastic People to check out the new PA that everyone is talking about.
Do you approach music as both a listener, from the critical side of things, and a performer? And if so, how does this affect how you make your music?
I have stopped replying to questions like that that concern influences or the gap between theory and practice. There are no gaps, also you cannot draw the line where intelligence stops and intuition or inspiration begins.
What is the songwriting process for you?
It can start from anything, anytime. It is the easiest thing for me, to write songs.
Are you a digital or analogue lover – or do you use both?
So far mostly digital but it is changing. I made some money touring, money that I never had as a student in London or Tallinn. Buying some more gear now.
What’s the most important thing you try to put across with your music?
One should not be afraid of appearing silly or vulnerable.
One should not always follow all the trends yet it is important to be completely conscious of the culture of your time.
What attracted you to the labels Not Not Fun and 100% Silk?
100% Silk didn’t exist yet when I approached Not Not Fun but yeah I had been obsessed with NNF for a while. I like music that is dreamy, dancy, weird, psychedelic, cool, funny and self-conscious at the same time and for me NNF epitomised this tendency in contemporary underground music – NNF is all about a label and the artists on it inventing themselves, over and over again.
The name of your most recent album, Cabaret Cixous, references the feminist writer Hélène Cixous – how does feminism inform your music?
It does in many ways but people tend to forget that Cabaret Cixous is a collection of songs recorded over two years and the title was chosen in the end – I wasn’t trying to make a feminist “concept” album to begin with. But yeah, I am a chick from Eastern Europe getting my voice heard. And yeah I love my Cixous and Cosey Fanni Tutti.
You recently featured in an article in the New York Times on female musicians who make synth-based music. Do you think that article gave a good assessment of what attracts women to creating electronic music? Do you mind when female musicians are categorised into gender-specific groups like this?
The article has received a lot of attention but also criticism. I do not mind because it was meant for a more general public, for people who do not know anything about the underground, for people who open their NY Times on a Saturday morning and wanna know what’s happening in the world. And if the convenient way to get their attention is focusing on the gender-aspect then I do not mind. I do think there is an emerging tendency, women making more music solo than maybe ever before. The article wasn’t being condescending, it was just documenting the momentum. Simon Reynolds knows what he is talking about although I’ve met a few young musicians who tend to dismiss him as an old know-it-all-been-there-done-that type of guy who doesn’t get what’s hip anymore, haha. I disagree. Read his and Joy Press’book “Sex Revolds” about gender and rock music. And then the ones on electronic (dance) music where the question of gender rarely pops up – cos there were no women making electronic music. And now there are some.
Your music is multi-layered, with lots of texture and depth. Do you imagine your music visually, like a piece of art?
This is a very abstract question. I could say yeah but as you said – texture and depth – first and foremost I am concerned with the possibilities of sound.
At the same time, your music has a great sense of pop – what does pop mean to you?
Pop means everything to me. I just forced someone to buy Britney’s Blackout album. 13 pounds well spent.
What was the first album you owned; and the most recent one you bought?
Nowadays I get records for free which is really cool, the most recent one was a 7-inch single that came out on AMDISCS, need to check what it was exactly:) But the first one I think was Spice Girls “Wannabe” single CD that my dad gave me when I was eight.
Are you looking forward to playing here in Ireland? Have you ever been here before?
I haven’t been to Ireland and of course I wanna see what it is like, although my visit is going to be really brief, going to Paris the next day. All the Irish people I’ve met are really REAL.
What can people expect from a live Maria Minerva show?
Shitty sound, I am singing.
What have you planned for Maria Minerva for the future?
My EP “Sacred and Profane Love” is out on 100% Silk on November 15.
Recording my LP in Lisbon during the winter – cannot f-ing wait to move there and get to work.