Fibs Are Not Lies

Liza Premiyak talks to Anna Meredith about her latest album, the frenetic, fantastic Fibs 

The triumphant opening track on Anna Meredith’s second album Fibs arrives so suddenly, you can’t help but hold your breath for the first 60 seconds as the synths swell to a point of utter cataclysm. As an image, it’s a confetti balloon slowly edging towards a chainsaw — sinister and somewhat comedic. Still, that doesn’t quite capture the magnitude and fervour of Sawbones, which changes direction so frequently, it makes the rest of the album near impossible to put into words. 

Razor-sharp in details and brilliantly impulsive in range, Fibs builds a wondrous mixture of excitement, tension, and fury that simultaneously lifts you up and shakes you to your core. So it’s a relief to hear Meredith, a classically trained MBE-awarded composer and musician, put it so simply: “it’s just really joyful music to play — I love it.” We meet as she embarks on her first tour since releasing Fibs last September. “It feels like a victory lap,” she beams. “I’ve done a lot of writing over the last few years, so I’m really excited about touring.”

Fibs is the follow-up to her 2016 critically acclaimed debut, Varmints. Beginning with classical music, the former BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence, has written for international orchestras, operas, and cultural institutions. She says she was tempted into electronic music as an exercise in self-sufficiency: “Until that point my music had to involve other people. As a composer, there’s no performance until it’s in someone else’s hands. With electronic music, you can do the whole thing in your bedroom with your laptop.” Compared to other bedroom producers, she says she’s not consumed by the editing process, though she does enjoy the freedom she has to chop and change her tracks: “I like sounds a lot. I’m not fussed about production. I don’t spend ages tweaking tracks. If anything, I actually spend much more time at the writing stage.”

As with her own music, the commissions she takes on are impressive for their variety: from writing music for elevators, to opening Proms and Edinburgh festival, to scoring her first film [Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age film Eighth Grade] and Netflix comedy [Living With Yourself starring Paul Rudd]. Whether it’s an orchestra composition or remix, Meredith draws on an unpredictable sound palette that includes big builds, sudden mood-changes, and off-kilter rhythms. 

“Somehow when I write music, I create this badass version of myself,” she laughs. In person she is gracious and funny — exactly the kind of person who makes you feel at ease when you first meet them. Her music, on the other hand, doesn’t hold anything back. “I’m totally confident with writing. I don’t know how this happened. My music probably reflects all the courage and confidence I have in me. Even the parts that are wired, panicky or anxious, make it into my records in a phonetic sense.” The resulting sound is engrossing, free-wheeling, and raucous: the kind of music you can lose yourself in without fully understanding why. “I am looking for stuff that overwhelms me, that takes me outside of myself. Because of this I am trying to write music that has a high energy, when so much is happening that you have to just go with it.” It’s a tricky thing to pull off: you have to be careful to avoid making music that is too dense “so much so it becomes a wall of sound”. 

It’s tempting to draw parallels between the shape-shifting nature of Fibs and the chaotic times we are living through. It wouldn’t be the first time Meredith made music that responds to a time of seismic upheaval. Five Telegrams, her major Proms commission happened in 2018, the year that the BBC were commemorating the centenary of the First World War. Initially she was asked to write a big orchestral piece to open the event. She soon realised she needed an ‘in’ into the topic. She recalls the experience as daunting: “I thought I don’t know what to do with this. It’s too big, it’s too sensitive. I don’t know enough about war. I knew I wanted to split the work into smaller movements that were distinct and separate.” For the 24 minute work, she took inspiration from the correspondences from the trenches: postcards that soldiers on the front sent back home. “The whole time I tried not to put pressure on myself by seeing this as a big response to something historic. In the end it’s a record of how one person processed that tiny aspect of one war — whether you notice it or not.” 

Photography Gem Harris

With that in mind, Fibs might be taken as a quiet attack on our post-truth era. “Fibs are not lies,” she tells me and goes on to explain how they are spontaneous inventions rather than deliberate untruths. “I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and read when I can, and I jot down a lot of words that I like. Fibs is a unique word to English. It is neither good nor bad.” If anything, she was drawn to the idea that fibs could be positive. “I told myself a lot of fibs while I was making the album: about how great writing was going and how I’m nearly done. These weren’t true but they were motivational.”

Fibs conjures a world of spontaneity and play, but even so, what makes Meredith’s sound so compelling is her ability to express big ideas in a visceral way. Then, before you know it, the musician is off on her next challenge. “We are working on a line dance routine. It’s been a lot of fun,” she teases of her next video, before speeding off to rehearsals.    

Anna Meredith’s UK tour runs between 4th – 10th February, more information here

The Real Thing

Ahead of Anastasiia Fedorova’s latest show, Liza Premiyak spoke to the curator about the radical power of fake fashion

When Burberry’s nova check print started appearing on hair scrunchies, phone covers, and strollers, the brand made a bold decision to phase out the iconic pattern. This was during the height of early 2000’s maximalism, when designer clothes and accessories were dripping in monograms, matched with an onslaught of counterfeit and bootleg products. By the end of the decade logomania was wiped by a new era of subtlety in luxury fashion. That was until a few years ago, when Gucci surprised everyone with its 2018 cruise collection that featured sweatshirts with the brand name intentionally misspelled as “Guccy”. 

Logos were back — loud, erroneously spelled, some even stitched back to front — only this time the designer brands were bootlegging themselves. Burberry’s nova check resurfaced too as part of the brand’s 2017 collaboration with streetwear designer Gosha Rubchinskiy. The collection took its design cues from football fans — exactly the clients with whom the brand desperately wanted to shake-off its association with fifteen years prior. This tongue-in-cheek throwback to luxury fashion’s worst counterfeit nightmares filled a serendipitous gap between hypebeast streetwear and meme culture. 

Subversive shameless fakery has been catnip for artists and creative collectives, as a new London exhibition The Real Thing makes abundantly clear. Opening on 7th February at Fashion Space Gallery and curated Anastasiia Fedorova, the show contextualises the recent faux fake trend by uncovering its connections to class, geopolitics and sustainability. The show pays homage to famous pioneers of bootlegging, such as Dapper Dan, the Harlem designer who rose to fame in the 1980s by dressing rappers like LL Cool J in custom-outfits fashioned from rolls of fake Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi. Among the show’s contemporary examples are Sportbanger, Citizens of Nowhere, and Hypepeace: politically-driven streetwear labels that bridge the world of fashion and activism. 

Ahead of the private view, I spoke to curator about her memories of knock-offs in 90s Russia, the radical power of fakes, and Louis Vuitton face filters.

Citizens of Nowhere

What interested you about bootlegs?

Bootleg is essentially taking an existing brand and making it look like something else. On the runway, this often takes the form of a subversive and ironic joke. I really wasn’t interested in humour alone. Instead I wanted to explore how bootleg can dismantle political, social, or economic hierarchies. It’s far more interesting to look at artists, creative collectives, and smaller designers, who often have personal relationships with bootleg (as opposed to big brands who are doing it to cash-in on a trend). Many people would have seen the viral Nike NHS t-shirts by Sportbanger, who we feature in the show. Jonny Banger, behind the London-based label, produced the t-shirts to support junior doctors during budget cuts, in part because his own mother was a mental health nurse for the NHS. 

We live in a hyper-referential time, everything is a reference to something. It’s important to ask and why we consider something as real. And what is real about fashion? In a way, nothing is real about fashion. It’s an artificially created desire. Of course, some would argue they buy designer items because they know they are getting high-quality. However, we all know the allure of the real has nothing to do with durability — we buy into the myth, the symbol, and its promise of making us feel a part of something. 

While it does make us feel a part of something, your show considers those groups of people who luxury fashion overlooks. How can bootlegging be used to reclaim power? 

In his memoir Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem, the bootleg pioneer writes about his experience of visiting a Gucci shop in the 80s, which was only a short drive from Harlem, and feeling so alien there as a black man. No luxury brands were ever interested in the black consumer. This was the reason none of his peers ever went, even though they had money to spend. Dapper Dan is an interesting case because he doesn’t refer to his designs as bootleg. We have his quote as part of the wall-text where he describes his designs as “knock-ups” rather than “knock-offs”. For him bootlegging was always about community representation. Designers always want their clients to look good but he really wanted to empower his community and imagine how they would like to see themselves. 

Logomania by Hassan Kurbanbaev, 2019

Even with the recent craze for counterfeits on the runways, there has been little written about the hidden economy of bootleg, especially its geographical reach. The artists in your show reveals the legacy of bootleg fashion in countries like Albania, Palestein, Romania, and Nigeria. Did you deliberately want to challenge the Western gaze in fashion by looking specifically at bootleg?

Talking about geography and belonging seemed an obvious approach. My first memory of fashion was my mum’s fake Versace trousers, and other bootleg items I’d encountered growing up 90s St Petersburg in Russia. After the Soviet Union collapsed, suddenly we went from having no branding to an over-saturation of brands. As a teenager I couldn’t make the distinction between the real and the fake. Then moving to the UK and seeing the difference in taste and design among bootlegs got me thinking a lot about how it exists in different contexts. For this exhibition I tried to engage as much as possible with artists who use the language of bootlegging to talk about their identity and where they are from.

One artist who tackles geopolitics in her works is Anna Ehrenstein, who is of German and Albanian origin. She asks why bootleg ends up in the same place space as folk and traditional garments in cities, and explores the ways bootlegs get interwoven with the hyper-local, precisely nationality. Beyond questions of national identity, her photo project Tales of Lipstick and Virtue demonstrates how bootleg items in Albania carry notions of femininity. The exhibition also features a new video by the artist on back door bootleg tours in China, which are popular with visitors from the United States and Europe who want to buy fakes and see where they are made. She refers to them as “neo-safaris”. 

Scooter x Lacoste, Morocco 2019 by Julien Boudet

I hear you are going to feature fake Louis Vuitton face filters on the show’s private view on 6th February. What’s your take on the rise of logomania in this digital form? 

Almost everything around us is branded these days. We are wearing Nikes, we listen to Spotify, we share our lives on Instagram. They probably appear in our dreams because we see them so much. To a degree, face filters are a reflection of that. Years ago there was a big trend in the beauty industry to have Chanel on your nails. How much more branded can you get other than have it on your face? They are free, you can just take them, and use them without having to own the original designer items. So there is a bootleg element to these filters, too.  

Piece of Cake by Anna Ehrenstein

The Real Thing runs from 7th February–2nd May 2020 at Fashion Space Gallery. You can RSVP for the private view on 6 February here