From Ballet To Techno: Talking With Malory Butler

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There was a time when Malory Butler wasn’t sure she wanted to be a ballet dancer. Then, she turned seven. The slight, blonde Floridian-turned Bushwick resident and currently rising techno producer, spent her early years dancing. She started at age four, and was singled out for advanced classes about as soon as motor skill development could even allow a kid to distinguish herself. Those classes became dedicated conservatories as she got older, a long path she only departed a couple years ago. “I moved here for my ballet career,” says Butler. “Most ballet companies do audition tours and make a stop in New York City. Even if you don’t make it into a company, New York City’s still the best place to get random work as a ballet dancer, and to take classes anywhere you want at any time of day. Shortly after I got here, I realized an old injury of mine, a back injury, was too painful for me to go on. So I could walk for the rest of my life, and quit the only thing that I know and appreciate and love.” she shrugs.

“It was like, oh, I guess I’ll see what happens if I don’t do ballet.”

Like many local musicians, but few techno producers, she initially passed through Bushwick’s Silent Barn, living there and tending bar for a while before moving to “the K2 synthetic weed epicenter at Myrtle & Broadway.” It was at Silent Barn that she first amassed gear and began testing its limits. Her preference, from early on, was for electronic music. “At some point I stopped listening to only classical music and opera,” she says. “I was homeschooled my whole life, so I was on the Internet all the time, doing schoolwork. I found Pitchfork and stuff like that early on, got into weirder music.”

Though she found the Miami club scene and suburban Florida raves of her youth thoroughly shitty, she recalls a few revelatory moments. An eye-opening set by dark local DJ Uchi led to fast friendship between the women. In Brooklyn, she credits friend and freelance-sunglasses-repair coworker Bryan Ujueta (a member of beloved local band Mr. Twin Sister) for providing a steady stream of YouTube’d house and techno classics that helped her hone in on sounds she’d soon try to equal. “Dah,” the first single released under her own name, is a coolly minimal yet totally engaging bit of build and release that’s earned praise from Pitchfork, among others.

“Dah” first appeared on this spring’s Godmode compilation American Music. Her signing to that great local label had its start at Silent Barn, too. “I’d been a fan since I saw Yvette play a show I was really hungover for,” says Butler. “They were like the only thing that made me jump out of my chair at the door, like, ‘Who are these people??’ They’re so incredible.” Instant enthusiasm didn’t lead her to reach out to the band, or label founder Nick Sylvester. (“No, never!” she says.) Eventually, the label found her. Godmode-affiliated techno artist “Alan Watts held a tape release party at my apartment, but I had strep throat so I definitely didn’t talk to Nick then. A few months later I played my first show, and I recorded it on my phone, put it up on Soundcloud. A week later, Nick emailed me like, ‘Oh my God’ with like 17 exclamation points, and a side note. ‘Sorry for all the exclamation points.’”

Butler describes the recording process for her self-titled five-track debut EP, out this week, as a “healthy mix of analog and digital.” It’s a continued slow-burn, her songs establishing a steady pulse, then building to stranger digressions without abandoning their initial momentum. (A second tranfixing EP preview, “Oomph, pt. II”, premiered on the UK site, Dummy, today.) “I think everything on this record was me just exploring the sounds, and seeing how messed up I could make things,” she says. “Making something that I think is cool, playing it five times in front of people, getting sick of it, changing it into something else. Months of that.”

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Live, those performance reps are adding up. The Brooklyn space most essential to her development has been Bushwick’s Bossa Nova Civic Club. “The most important thing about [Bossa Nova Civic Club] is that it created a place where dance music could be playing on Monday, Tuesdays,” she says. “It helped bring together the people that always go to the Bunker parties with the people that always go to [Sustain/Release] parties, who might only be hanging out in the same place once and a while.” But her world is expanding, too. She’s toured the UK for a string of dates with budding pop-star Shamir in May, and is increasingly found on hip mixed bills in DIY clubs, like Palisades’ upcoming Halloween show alongside noisy, dance-adjacent weirdos like Container and Guerilla Toss. It’s tempting to track her current club fixation back to her previous life as a ballerina, but Butler doesn’t see it as a straight line to her place in the city’s DIY dance music community. “If anything it’s held me back from figuring out how to dance in front of people at a club,” she says. “You’re just supposed to hold your body together and be really rigid.”

Last week, her set at Manhattan’s Elvis Guesthouse saw Butler relatively still behind her gear, while the small late-night crowd was compelled to motion by the shifting beats and repetitive synth hooks she built from simple, repetitive grooves to wild acid freakouts. She’d like to get back into dancing, eventually. Right now, she’s content to cause it.

Follow Malory Butler on Twitter.

Find tickets for the Palisades Halloween show here. 

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