Montreal's techno queen, Misstress Barbara, is bracing herself for tough criticism from fans. She has strayed from the hard, driving beats her fans love most to mix electro funk with melodic and minimal tech-house. While still throwing in the occasional floor hitter, her new sound stems from maturing with music's natural evolution — and recently turning 30.
“In some places, some people just won't have it. They won't hear [my new style] with open ears just because it's not what I used to play,” Barbara says. “I'm sensitive to my fans, and when they're not happy, I'm very aware of that. Where I am now is because the people who love me made me. It's going to be a challenge to promote this style I've introduced in my career.”
The Italy-born, world-renowned purveyor of “funky, drummy techno” traded in drumsticks for vinyl and Technics SL-1200s in the mid-'90s. She garnered a buzz mixing techno compilations on Moonshine, Trust the DJ and her own techno label, Relentless. Under the pseudonym Barbara Brown, she explored her hidden house side on her revamped label Iturnem, impressing a watchful fan base with her Misstress Barbara Vs. Barbara Brown EP (Relentless, 2002). “When you play three to four times a week, you need to play new music; otherwise it's so boring,” she says.
When Koch agreed to go along with her idea for a minimal-electro mix CD, Barbara selected about 45 tracks for Come With Me… (2006), of which 17 were licensed, including songs by Lemon 8, Bad Pimps and Trentemoller. “In techno, you can mix superfast,” she says. “With this style, you can't go as fast.”
While Barbara's love for vinyl keeps her from burning to CD and spinning on digital decks, she uses Sony Sound Forge to edit glitches from worn vinyl. “I like to keep things clean and need an editor to do that,” she says. Mixing on decks and recording into her PC, Barbara says it can take a dozen attempts before she'll nail an entire set.
“It's hard when there's no crowd, and I'm in front of a wall in my studio, because I don't have the feedback from the people,” she says. “It's hard to see if I'm choosing the right tracks. When I play live, people let me know what I have to play next.”
Six years ago, Barbara had limited studio experience when she loaded up her lone virtual synth, a Novation SuperNova, and her beloved Roland TR-909 to create “Eleven O Seven,” which she's releasing only now on Come With Me…. “My music has never worked,” she admits with a laugh. “I've always released stuff that was not working, and then a few years later [it would, and] I'd be like, ‘I've done that, I've done that.’ Now, that minimal techy sound is what's going on right now. Something from years ago works better today — it's the story of my life.”
It also took years before Barbara was comfortable with digital gear. Software shy, she steered clear of recording software programs. “How do you want me to make music with a mouse? I need to tweak buttons,” she says. But like her taste in music, Barbara's studio today has evolved to include Steinberg Cubase SX and a mixed bag of virtual synthesizers (Arturia Minimoog V, Novation Bass Station and UltraMaster Juno-6 to name a few), as well as some classic analog gear. Last summer, she took the leap and produced “I Love You,” the other single she's releasing on Come With Me…, using Steinberg's HALion VST sampler, a Korg MS-20 synthesizer and her own voice.
“I always hated new technology,” admits Barbara, who's now never without a laptop and a keyboard while on the road to drum out bass melodies. “A year ago, I was still almost spitting on software. Now I'm using everything in the computer, and my sound and production is better.”