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Mysterious Pop Music for Realistic Escapists

Sasha Perera isn’t completely sure whether music should offer a retreat from the outside world, or if it should be a tool for provoking social change. “A lot of musicians either want to make really politicized art,” she tells me via Skype in early May, “or they just make ambient music because they can’t talk about all the bad things that are happening.” On All of This, her roiling new album as Perera Elsewhere, she splits the difference with low-lit electronic pop songs that are structured but experimental, atmospheric but laced with languid vocal hooks, strange but approachable.

“In some ways, reality is so harsh that we should confront it and attempt to change things, but on the other side reality is so sick that if I don’t find a corner for me and the people I love to protect ourselves from the evil, it’ll be awful,” she continues. “So I’m in between both of these things. I’m creating an ‘elsewhere’ musically, for me and like-minded people to hide, but it also has to be a place to reflect on what’s going on in the world—we don’t want to live in a bubble, where we paint pretty pictures while everyone is dying outside the castle.”

“Something’s Up”

Perera Elsewhere

Via SoundCloud

Perera first found a musical refuge of her own within the world ofclub music during her days as a raver in late-1990s London, as she dove headfirst into the breakbeat and jungle scenes in her teens and early twenties. The hybrid nature of those early experiences drew her in completely; the social aspect of it, the confluence of different people, technologies, and genres. “All these people would come together for this music, like some kind of ritual,” recalls the 39-year-old, sitting on the floor of her living room. “I was really touched by it.”

Perera is still a club kid at heart, but her proximity to sound system culture these days comes via her work as a DJ and general partygoer—she’s not keen on producing for it herself. Instead she loves to dabble in the jazz, hip-hop, electronic, and outré influences that converge in Perera Elsewhere.

This rampant curiosity stretches back to her childhood in London, where Perera was born and raised, aside from a two-year stint in Singapore. At home with her parents, who are both originally from Sri Lanka, artists like Ravi Shankar, Boney M, ABBA, and Boy George provided some of the ambiance. Her mother had a penchant for classical music, and also encouraged a young Sasha to pursue her love of instruments, supporting her as she cycled in and out of piano, guitar, and violin lessons, before gravitating towards the trumpet. “I was probably the most ignorant person about the trumpet at first,” Perera admits, in her no-nonsense South London cadence, “but it was loud.”

Today, the trumpet is a staple of her live performances, and Perera handles almost all of the instrumentation on her songs, as evidenced by the brooding melodic textures of All of This; she took care of the production too. As a child she spent her free time learning the rudiments of recording by creating her own take on low-fi audiobooks, filled with narration and improvised sound effects captured on old tape decks lying around the house. Since then, of course, she has leveled up both in terms of skill and quality of equipment. Her current studio has an open-door policy, and Perera relishes having a workshop where other artists can come to work, a corrective of sorts to the lack of such a space when she was a teenager.

The lab is in Berlin, her home for the past 16 years and the place where her most important musical evolution took place. Not long after moving to Germany, Perera became the frontwoman for Jahcoozi, an experimental electronic trio that put out three studio albums throughout the 2000s. In Jahcoozi she was the MC, who would rap, sing and hype up the crowd with a band behind her. With Perera Elsewhere, she can focus more of her attention on the instruments, playing as many as she wants while keeping dance music on the cards—as an option rather than an obligation.

In the years between her debut album, 2013’s Everlast, and All of This, Perera took time to master instrumentation, songwriting, new facets of her singing voice, and the possibilities that minimalism leaves for them to flourish. The interlude also involved a good amount of travel, through India, Turkey, Africa, and beyond, as a means to see the world and broaden the space that Perera Elsewhere inhabits within it.

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