Cover Story: rRoxymore
Cover Story: rRoxymoreJuly 17, 2023
Hermione Frank — better known as the French artist rRoxymore — is shy. Like, painfully shy. We were warned as much before calling her up. She laughs and says “good luck” when we tell her that, but it still comes as a surprise that anyone who can perform on stage in front of thousands of wide eyes might be truly reticent in conversation.
She answers anything asked of her, often only briefly, but always politely. What do you do outside of music, we ask.
She plays to her reputation and giggles. “Talk to journalists.”
We take a different path in search of some empathy for our cause. Was a young Hermione never interested in the backgrounds of the artists she loved growing up?
“Not really,” she says. “I guess it’s interesting to know some facts but I’m not a super nerd who wanted to know why an artist was into a certain style or whatever.” Given the technical depths of her unique brand of techno, that is something of a surprise.
As a shy person, being an artist is surely one of the worst things Hermione could have become. Finally, she opens up a little and speaks as articulately with words as she does with sound. “Well, it’s funny because yes and no,” she muses. “I’ve been doing this a long time, so I actually love it. It’s not a question of being in the middle of the stage in the spotlight, it’s a question of transmitting something and connecting with people.”
When we call rRoxymore on Zoom — no video of course, at her request — she is back with family in Montpellier in the South of France, where she spent some of her childhood. “It’s hot,” she says before briefly explaining why she is there and not in Mexico, where she moved at the end of last year with the intention of staying for a while. “It got a bit complicated,” she says. “A separation.”
In the past, she has retreated to Mexico in winter to hole up and focus on writing music. Before retreating home sooner than expected this time, she did manage to make some music at the end of last year and the start of this. It arrives this July in the form of her At Dawn EP on Aus Music — a second for the long-running UK label — and mirrors the first in that it features two club-ready cuts and a more laidback b-side. “I guess it echoes back in the day,” she reckons. “When there was always one track you would listen to at home as well as in the club.”
The EP cut “Blissed Memories” has a hefty, dub-inspired low and earth-shaking sub-bass overlaid with flailing percussion and chopped-up vocals. It’s a dense sound, a collage of texture and tiny details that all coalesce into a punchy rhythm backlit by a hopeful synth glow. “Beyond The Sun” is a more expansive track built on dusty jungle breaks that speak to Hermione’s enduring love of UK club sounds. The forlorn and melancholic title track “At Dawn” rounds out the EP with introspective chords and slow, downbeat drums that are best heard alone, on headphones, lost in thought.
Like most of Hermione’s music, the EP is artfully realised techno that reveals more with each listen. It’s freeform in nature rather than stuck rigidly to a grid or any sort of predictable linear arrangement. She admits that her sense of freedom comes from her background studying musique concrète in Paris, though falls short of comparing her techniques to those used by early pioneers of that genre who used recorded sounds as raw material.
“I try to not do 100% functional music. I try to make something a bit special, I hope. I like to do more listening music that isn’t just for DJing.”
Hermione “[doesn’t] know exactly” how she ended up studying music in Paris. She was already doing some basic production and was living in the city having taken a job with a music platform start-up. She was also touring with a band, playing the electronic parts — keys, synths, sequencer effects, working with the beats. Working solo was a “logical evolution” after that, and so she was curious to learn more and began her studies while DJing more and more and playing trip-hop, funk, disco and jazz on the underground Parisian circuit.
“It was a big new world,” she says of music school. “It was refreshing and it helped me to think about music differently — about melodies, arrangements, and being more free. It was interesting to approach things differently to the classic way that you learn in a music school with the whole harmony and melody thing, it was working more with noise. In electronic music, we have the heritage of that even though we also use melodies.”
Having been “totally swallowed by the music itself and not working or talking about music, but definitely doing music” Hermione continued her explorations by moving to Berlin around 11 years ago. It was there that she fomented a friendly and musical relationship with Jam Roston (aka Planningtorock) and went on to put out her first music as rRoxymore. The ensuing decade saw her release a steady stream of EPs and two long players — Face To Phase on Don’t Be Afraid in 2019, then Perpetual Now late last year on Smalltown Supersound.
While in Berlin in 2014, Hermione joined Room 4 Resistance, an intersectional queer party collective for “misfits, nerds and neuroqueers” that has “led a divergent club counter-culture that has sought to examine the political dimensions of the dancefloor, creating intentional spaces and advocating for adventurous under-represented artists.” Over the years, it has focussed on safety and awareness with queer feminist club nights and radio shows, workshops, and panel discussions that look to breed togetherness while continuing to interrogate the norm.
The collective’s activities rather predate the wider awakening towards marginalised communities that has swept across the scene in the last few years. Hermione takes no credit for that, insisting “there was literally no question of setting an example” and instead that R4R was just “a place to have a space for ourselves,” but she does recognise that representation in the scene for all genders, sexualities and races is important.
“Back then, there was no one ,” she says. “I explored on my own. These days it’s much easier for younger people. I never saw anyone that looked like me. That had the same style or taste. I was conscious of it on some level and it took me many years to get a label, to get a booker, all these kinds of things. Even the ones I did have weren’t always supportive.”
Only time will tell us if the conversations around these topics have engendered actual change. Hermione thinks line-ups might look a little different nowadays but wonders about what is going on behind the scenes. “I don’t know if I have the capacity myself to have a platform on these issues. I don’t know if I can do it. But if people ask directly for my advice, I will always try to help.”
Right now, Hermione is working on translating the Perpetual Now album into a live show. No mean feat given the complexity of its design and that she never thought about how she might do this when first making the music. It’s a record that pulls apart what we know about techno and rebuilds it from a leftfield perspective. Across four long pieces, she smudges together the acoustic and the electronic with candle-lit melodies and Villalobos-style minimalism. It’s perfectly reduced to a mysteriously empty sound world that, although abstract, is warm and always conveys a wealth of human emotion.
The deftness of the designs is a thing to behold, and many of them are sprinkled in “like spices” often taken from a sound bank Hermione has built up over years of playing with gear and recording what comes out. She’s modest and says other artists no doubt have “much bigger” sonic pantries to reach into, but to our ears, she always manages to find exactly the right ingredients, from well-crafted percussive clangs to glassy synth curlicues, hefty low-end subs via watery droplets you could reach out and touch.
“I want to transpose the sound of the record,” she explains of the live show. “But I’m also working with a friend who works with lasers and video mapping so it will be, I’m hoping, a really nice light show with the music that creates a whole world. I don’t like too many videos that can vaporise the whole experience, but I want to give a visual aspect to this abstract album to bring it to life.”
This is the first time Hermione has thought of the visual aspect in this way. Alongside purging her record collection of over 1000 vinyl when she moved last year, and being “less and less precious” than she once was about the gear she uses, it’s another way she likes to challenge herself, to keep evolving what she does and avoid repeating herself. These are lessons she has learned after a decade in the scene.
“I always try to find a way to reinvent myself. It’s such a big, competitive industry it’s very easy to get caught in a formula and keep working around the same thing. So I am fighting against this — just to be aware of it is a good start — and I think it’s true for a lot of creative work, I guess. You don’t want to fall into boredom for yourself, which can be so easy. So there’s always a kind of competition with yourself.”
One disruptor was the pandemic. Many artists took the enforced time at home to polish their production skills and explore new musical territory. Hermione thinks there is great value in this and that these days “people aim to be popular first before developing themselves as an artist. It’s depressing, to be honest. My ambition was always to do music. Not to be a top-tier DJ. I had lots of time to get there, which I don’t think people have these days. It happens so often now that DJs who were so special reach a level and then play some kind of soup music. Why have they lost their edge? When you reach a certain level, it is so conformable, and it becomes difficult to take a risk. I understand that.”
To guard against that, Hermione likes to switch it up and always play differently, pay harder sometimes, different styles on occasion, but “always in my own way. It’s not self-sabotage, but it’s nice to keep it surprising. Techno is futuristic music, but we need to always challenge that. Why must it sound like it was in the ’90s? Why don’t we try to do it more like it would sound in 2023? I always felt that for years it was safe and retro. But it is more interesting now. Fresh strands are coming through, and the levels of production are very rich now. ”
We probe further into her early years in Montpellier, a culturally rich city 10 km from the Mediterranean coast. It’s known for its big student population, France’s second-largest film festival after Cannes, and a noted annual jazz and classical music festival. “Good to know,” she says. “With my friends from high school, we see it as a small and boring city, but it’s interesting to hear how outsiders perceive it.”
Frank also spent her younger years in La Rochelle, a smaller town on the Eastern coast of France not known for its music. Her father, though, was an avid record collector and jazz lover who shared his love of music with Hermione during long afternoons playing vinyl. She remembers listening to, and still loves, albums by John Coltrane and Duke Ellington as well as Sun Ra, whom her father rather unusually managed to befriend. “I have absolutely no idea [how],” says Hermione. “I think they met at one point and got more connection on the spiritual level than music. It was a very strong friendship on that level.”
She says that because she was exposed to jazz so young, it always made sense, but back then, she had no dreams of getting into the music industry. “It never crossed my mind. Even later, when I started producing. I was either thinking of maybe being a lawyer for a minute, or maybe a history teacher or whatever. Something very formal.” She enjoyed the academic side of school “but not the social side. Some years it was fun. Some years it was horrible.”
She apologises for a “corny” answer when we ask what drew her to electronic music. “Going to raves was a way to get to know about yourself and your community. I guess it’s like a really deep and long relationship I have with the music.” Beyond that specific memories of who she saw around the South of Frances in those days are limited to late Belgian hardcore DJ Liza Néliaz, icons like Jeff Mills and Laurent Garnier and Daft Punk before they became Daft Punk.
We suggest the reason techno maybe resonated, in particular, is because it is abstract. It allows artists to project their emotions without words and leaves interpretation up to the listeners – perfect for anyone who prefers not to overshare.
“Yes, people can really read what they want into the music,” she says. “It’s very personal, but at the same time, it doesn’t belong to me anymore [once I release it]. I guess I think we all have this duality, as artists, like sharing things and not sharing things. I’m shy about talking about my personal life but the work is different, there’s not so much shyness around that and I’m always surprised by how people interpret the music I make. I get messages saying how it helped them go through difficult moments in their life and it’s amazing and beautiful to see how it enriches people somehow.”
Even without words in her music, the emotion is always there, which is what makes rRoxymore so special.
rRoxymore’s At Dawn EP drops on July 28th via Aus Music. Buy it on Beatport.