The Sardinian-born, London-based artist takes us inside the ethereal atmospheres of ‘nou’, her latest album, for Re-Edition’s music column
Looking for the soundtrack for your next adventure? Be wary of the algorithm and let yourself be guided by the entrancing vibrations of Up Next – Re-Edition’s long-awaited music column – where arts and culture writer Gilda Bruno sits down with some of the most inspiring names on the up-and-coming and established music scene to delve into the inspirations, sounds and dreams of a new avant-garde of musical talents.
Today Bruno speaks with Italian artist Chiara Floris, aka BLUEM, to tap into the otherworldly frequencies brought together in her latest album, nou, and unpack the manifold influences, experiences and mythologies unfolding through its 10 tracks.
Listening to BLUEM’s newest project, nou, feels like entering a parallel dimension where dreams of a utopian future explosively collide with the artist’s surreal reinterpretation of folkloristic tales and traditions from her native Sardinia. Launched on May 12, the album sees Oristano-born Chiara Floris unleash melodies which, skilfully crafted by the synthesisers of the music artist and producer, despite their largely electronic feel, sound like a song from within the bowels of the Earth.
Fusing the London-based creative’s long-term fascination with the ancestral energy of her beloved region with her urge to constantly reinvent herself across different music genres, instruments and vocals, nou offers a glimpse into the vibrant, imaginative universe providing the backdrop for BLUEM’s spellbinding musical practice. Here, violinist and composer Adele Madau and emerging music artists Yasmina and Milo Merah – featuring on Adele, moonlight and gold, respectively – contribute to the rich exploration of belonging, self-growth, identity, and femininity echoing in the creative’s latest release.
Landed two years after the success of her debut album, NOTTE (2021), nou confirms BLUEM’s unconditional dedication to her multi-layered craft while simultaneously serving as a reminder of her intention to create tracks that stem directly from her experiences as both a woman and a music artist. As stressed by its title, which translates to “new” in Sardinian language, this second project faces the audience with a more self-aware BLUEM intent on rewriting the mainstream understanding of pop music by taking the experimental sounds of the underground to the forefront in her work.
Below, we speak with the artist about how she grew to love her time in London, the reality of emerging as a female artist and producer in an industry traditionally ruled by men, and the fable-like Sardinian stories, costumes and traditions woven together in her newly released album, nou.
Re-Edition Magazine: When exactly, and how, did music come into the frame for you, and what led you to it?
BLUEM: It all started when I was around 7 or 8 years old. I tried a guitar course at elementary school and the teacher I was doing it with noticed that I had some sort of “talent”. From the first lesson, he told my parents that they had to keep me on the course because he could see something in me. I was exclusively a guitarist up until I turned 20. Still, ever since I was little, I had always loved creating songs in my head. I was a very shy child, so the idea of performing and singing in front of an audience felt a bit too much for how I was at the time I became involved in music. Hiding behind an instrument was the easiest thing to do, which is why it came so naturally to me. The positive side of that was that I learned how to play an instrument very well, which is something most artists don’t do right now as we have transitioned to computer music. While a large part of my practice centres around digital production, personally, I believe that having the knowledge of a particular instrument allows you to achieve a more organic relationship with music. Believe it or not, I only wrote my first songs towards my final year of university in London.
RE: Think of the way your music has evolved since you first started playing around with it, and even more so since the release of your first EP, Piccolina (2018). What drives your musical experimentation today and what is the vision behind it? What made this change possible?
B: I always find it quite hard to answer this question. When they ask me what genre my work falls under, I go with alternative pop, simply because while having a “poppy” sound to them, my tracks encapsulate quite a lot of different “alternative” influences. I am a very curious person, and that is reflected in the way I approach music; I am rarely influenced by something in particular or exclusively. Instead, I listen to a lot of stuff and gain inspiration from things that aren’t necessarily sound-based. The way I experience the world around me makes its way into my music, which is my way of channelling and reinterpreting my everyday life. Still, what holds the strongest influence on my work is probably my Sardinian upbringing and the fact that I lived there until I was 18 years old. My family has a very strong relationship to the countryside of our region and the many histories that have unfolded in it. Because my relatives and I are actively taking part in the traditions that characterise our town, I was always interested in the music, the costumes and the richness of stories that are captured and brought to life in Sardinian local festivities.
Most people know Sardinia as a holiday place, yet what they don’t realise is that we are strongly attached to habits that date back thousands of years. We don’t even know the origins of many of the traditions that have been handed down to us but we keep transmitting them to each generation. This is something that has certainly been vital to the shaping of my project. On top of that comes my 10-year-long stay in London, which is radically different from where I grew up. At the beginning, the cultural shock was traumatic but I am happy to have given myself the time necessary to elaborate both realities inside of me, which now coexist in my creative work. London gave me the opportunity to discover a lot of stuff, whether music-related or not. Had I not moved here, I probably wouldn’t have found the courage to experiment with electronic music or alternative pop. Having spent most of my life in a unique place like Sardinia, where the connection to the land, local folklore and costumes still count, I felt the need to take some of its magic into the London scene and give it some representation.
RE: Your music blends electronic sounds with heartfelt lyrics and folkloristic undertones. What references can be found in your work?
B: Out of all artists I draw inspiration from, my main influence at the very beginning was Grimes, and that is because she was the first female producer I came across. I thought that Grimes was particularly in line with me as, besides producing, she also makes songs. When thinking of female producers, it is rare to associate them with pop music: instead, they are more frequently connected to music that has more of a niche feeling to it. I remember listening to Visions for the first time and reading about how Grimes had put it together in a college room over two weeks: to me, that experience was profoundly eye-opening. In my head and heart, I had always known that if I was going to make songs and find the courage to expose myself in that way, then I would do it on my own, curating and producing every single aspect of it. I guess Grimes gave me the push necessary to pursue music on my own terms.
RE: You have talked about your Sardinian roots as crucial to the unravelling of your artistic journey. Can you share any insights into your favourite Sardinian tradition?
B: There is one my family is particularly active in, which is called Sartiglia. It is the carnival of my hometown, Oristano, and it consists of a horse race during which Sardinian men and women wear traditional masks and costumes. Holding a sword while riding, they are called to catch a star that has a little hole in it as well as performing acrobatics on their horses. If this doesn’t sound easy, even less so is the preparation that makes the event possible every year. Because my cousin is one of the protagonists of this festivity, I have the luck to observe it up close every year. Out of the around 120 people that take part in the horse race, maybe five of them are women. Despite being a predominantly male pageant, women are usually behind the whole thing, whether prepping the costumes or making food for those participating in it. The whole town literally lives for this specific time of the year: I see it with my aunt as the mother of one of the brave cavalieri trying their luck during the race. From the very moment they get on the horse till the end of the festivity, those at the heart of Sartiglia are seen as semi-gods.
A tradition dating back nearly 500 years, Sartiglia sees the citizens of Oristano spend months working on the specially crafted garments, headpieces, masks and decorations serving as the trademark of this annual February ritual. Every year, joining the festivity feels like stepping into another dimension: people are so invested in it that their perception of the city and those inhabiting it is revolutionised by the arrival of Sartiglia. Needless to say, this feast is even more felt within my own family. What I found most striking about it is the fact that only few women directly participate in it. Seeing them in their traditional skirt, which stretches all the way to the back of the horse, feels like looking at real goddesses. The power this tradition has held on me ever since I was a young girl is unparalleled. I have always found it incredibly inspiring, especially as a symbol of women’s bravery and boldness in the face of a “men’s world”. Sartiglia is something that I am continuously trying to keep alive through my project as well: you might have noticed it in the artwork of my 2021 EP GIOVEDÌ, where I wore the same skirt women normally dress up in on that occasion.