She’s been compared to the likes of Erykah Badu and Kimbra, but Wellington-based singer/songwriter and beat-maker Estere Dalton is proving to be a one-of-a-kind performer and is quickly making her mark on New Zealand’s underground music scene. She is one of the ‘must sees’ at the Mullum Music Festival this weekend.
She and her MPC 1000 Sampling Station, dubbed ‘Lola’, have proved to be a partnership like no other.
‘I would never have expected myself to be doing this when I was playing acoustic guitar,’ says Estere.
‘I have always had very clear musical inclinations toward drums and rhythmic music – and gravitate toward that sort of thing when I listen to music.
‘Then I started getting exposed to production by friends using MPCs and making beats, so I started thinking of my live setup playing acoustic, and nothing was really happening. I never had an affinity with the guitar; I always felt like I was going back to square one every time I picked it up.
‘I did a course called Sonic Arts and that introduced me to the principles of production. I had to produce assignments and I found the process so natural and easy and had heaps of fun doing it, and I had ideas about mixing from the get go!’
‘LOLA is what I call my MPC – they are like a flat black oblong box, and have been around since the 80s. It’s like when you buy a car or something and you immediately have an affectionate connection with this object that you are constantly around. The same thing happened with Lola because she has a sizeable body and I hang out with her all the time. She took on a personality right from the get go I decided she might as well be my friend. So I called her Lola!’
Estere’s live shows are very different from the usual acoustic singer/songwriter’s. While much of her music has been recorded earlier, it has been recorded and composed by Estere who triggers beats and sounds live onstage.
‘When I am onstage I tell her what to do; and I have an electronic drum kit and synthesiser and I am singing and dancing at the same time. It’s five things all comprising a show; it’s quite a lot to do! At the same time I like to think of it as a show and it’s important to have dynamics; sometimes I am bringing in elements from song to song so there is always variation.
It’s like a different form of live performance – in a conventional performance you have a band and an instrument – but for me I am triggering and conducting the sound that is already pre-programmed but I am doing it in a live setting, which is something that I really am into exploring as an artist – what it means for me to be performing and playing my music at the same time.’
The collection process is part of the creative discovery for Estere.
‘It’s so much fun. I love going out and looking for samples. I am like the person who hears a baby crying because they are tired, or a glass smashing, and I think, damn I wish I’d sampled that! When it comes to sound recording, it’s a world of opportunity, and with a digital sound recording you can take that recorded sound and manipulate another 20 sounds from it!’
Estere’s musical themes are powerful and grand. She’s not drawn to the usual themes of personal love and heartbreak. Her stories are bigger, broader and more encompassing.
‘I am all for storytelling on end concept – I like to write songs that are strong conceptually. For example, I just wrote a song called Ambition which is about a high-class prostitute who wants to become the president of the US – like a French courtesan who mixes as the highest of the high!
‘I like to develop the song ideas into something that is new. I like to make songs I haven’t heard the theme of before. When you see my show you should be expecting new concepts – new songs concepts you haven’t heard before!’ And of course, lots and lots of dancing!
Estere plays Mullum Music Festival this weekend.