Suzi Analogue Is Reshaping Electronic Music For Good
The multi-hyphenate beatmaker discusses her time in the electronic music world and her groundbreaking record label.
The multi-hyphenate beatmaker discusses her time in the electronic music world and her groundbreaking record label.
Photography: Zoey Grossman
Styling: Anna Trevelyan
Text: Bailey Bujnosek
Miami-based beatmaker Suzi Analogue does a little bit of everything. The femme-identifying artist, producer, and label owner has made a name for herself in the electronic music world over the past decade, producing singular sonic experiences like the energy-infused SU CASA EP she released last year. When she began touring, she witnessed firsthand the lack of diversity in the electronic music scene. The realization prompted her to start her own label, Never Normal Records, which has since played a significant role in platforming members of underrepresented communities. She encourages experimentation for artists signed to Never Normal—and her own genre-defying work proves she’s no stranger to that kind of experimentation herself. Analogue, who has synesthesia, crafts unique visuals in the form of music videos and artwork to enhance her audience’s listening experience.
Below, Analogue discusses her origins in music, joining the scene in Miami, and what’s next for her and her label.
V Magazine: What have you been up to lately? I know you were working in the Bay Area recently, if you can tell me anything about that—or just generally what you’ve been up to.
Suzi Analogue: Lately, I’ve been working on my Never Normal Records label and our collective, Never Normal Soundsystem. There are members from all over the country, and we’re working on some international projects as well. Right now, we’re working on projects that highlight Afrofuturism and Afrofuturistic music composers and creators. We’re also collaborating with collectives on the continent of Africa—music collectives, producer collectives. We’re working on a compilation.
This month, we’re releasing our very first collection set, which is a long time in the making. After everything happened with COVID, no touring, [and] Black Lives Matter, everything really came to my doorstep. I had to get really intentional about how to sustain myself as a Black queer artist, a femme-identifying artist, how to help sustain my community—especially in releasing creative work. So our Never Normal collection set, #001, is a collection of four emerging composers and artists that will be featured in a collectible set with art in a capsule. There’s also merchandise and different ways to interact with that project. With that, I’ve been working on creating and launching new products that are playing supporting roles to sustaining our community.
While I was just in the Bay Area, I was working with one of our collective members, Queens D.Light. We started working on a project together. It’s really super important for me to continue to work on projects where I am pushing how artists can work together who don’t always have capital then and there. We can work together virtually, we can work together sustainably, and work together in a way where the originators and cultural leaders in many different communities can come together and amplify each other, and empower our vision going into the future.
That’s a little bit of a mouthful, but that’s what I’ve been working on in addition to my own work. I’ve been recording new audio projects for myself as well.
V: You mentioned collaborating virtually. I noticed that you’ve recently done a few stream shows—EVERYWOMAN, the Black Futures Symposium, and a Minecraft concert—and I’m curious if you were doing streams before the pandemic, or if it’s something the pandemic has made necessary?
SA: I was a part of a collective called Klipmode at the beginning of my career, with Knxwledge and Mndsgn and Devonwho, and we used to actually use an early streaming site. It was right before Boiler Room even started—Boiler Room started a few months later. So, I’ve done a Boiler Room stream, and we used to get on those streams and just play beats. But in more recent years, I’d actually been physically touring more than anything, and streaming really wasn’t a priority. These recent streams, especially the Minecraft one, are super-curated streams. Like, the Black Futures Symposium is a celebration of a new book that’s out. Super-curated streams which I was not doing before the pandemic. Not in those ways.
V: Backtracking a bit, how did you first become interested in music and discover your passion for it?
SA: My born middle name is Simone. My mom named me after Nina Simone. So, I was raised with a lot of creative inspiration. My mother was a writer and worked in media. My father loved jazz music. I was always raised with a very deep knowledge of the culture that inspired my parents, especially seeing as they both went through the Civil Rights Movement. I think music played a really key component in them shaping the future, and using lyrics and sounds to express themselves.
I was raised in a household where I wasn’t raised by musicians, but I was raised with a deep love for music. My mom eventually was working from home, and she would play the radio all day long. She would even call into the radio stations, sometimes, when the DJs would do a contest and give away tickets. So, I was raised knowing that the radio is cool, records are cool, tapes are cool. For myself, when I started listening to the radio, I started choosing my favorite songs and my favorite stations and making tapes. I started recording myself at nine years old.
When I started going to school, my teachers put me in advanced choir, and I started receiving classical vocal training, and singing opera and different world music very young. Like, nine or ten years old. And I was singing gospel choir at church, growing up in the Black church. It was just music every week. Then I would come home to my tape player and start to record my own cassettes and write my own songs, which I thought was normal because I was around music all the time. I’ve been recording myself on cassettes since I was nine years old, and that was the format that was accessible to me, in front of me. I had a microphone and a karaoke machine, so I was dubbing tapes.
As we got into the Internet age, I started to meet more people and get access to programs to produce. I’ve been writing songs since I was nine, but I’ve been producing since I was fifteen. It wasn’t something that I said I wanted to be growing up. I never said I wanted to grow up and be a singer. I thought I was going to go to college and get a job. In the back of my mind, something I had always told myself was, ‘Once you get out of college, you can get a job, and then you’re going to start off making forty or fifty thousand dollars a year.’ This is what the American dream was. But when I graduated college, the Great Recession had just hit, so there were no jobs. Then, TOKiMONSTA asked me to join her on tour, ‘cause we had just started working on a collaborative project called “Analogue Monsta,” and we toured with BONOBO. We toured sixteen, seventeen cities, just drove across the country. And this was a decade ago, but that opened my eyes to what the possibilities were, and it really jumpstarted me into touring life.
Ever since then, I’ve just been pushing, pushing, pushing, trying to figure it out—because, throughout my experiences, I realized a lot of other things that had nothing to do with making music. I started to notice, there’s me, there’s TOKi, but where are the other femme-identifying people? Where are the nonbinary, where are the queer people? And playing in different cities like New York, I would meet more people that were queer, or nonbinary, and I honestly just kept realizing that I needed to advocate more because I had that jumpstart, that headstart, with my touring and my experiences. I also was independently touring in Europe—and this is basically right after my teens. This is so early and so independent. I’m booking my own tours and everything.
So, I was using my experiences and my knowledge to try to make lineups that have been diverse. And it led me to start my Never Normal label because I knew I wanted to make a home and a space for people who felt like they didn’t want to be defined by societal norms, and to give them creative freedom and creative control. Create systems where creative freedom and creative control were retained by the artist versus a label entity. It’s been a journey over the last few years, from the start of me writing music as a kid ‘til now. I feel like I’ve had a very consistent experience with music, even though I never thought I’d be doing it as my job. I always knew I was talented, but I didn’t want to be in the spotlight. I'm a fifty-fifty introvert and extrovert, so I will be [in the spotlight], but I love to also operate my label, too. It’s been really cool to be a producer and a songwriter and do all that, but to perform as well.
V: Totally. It’s interesting to hear how you ended up, without even planning it, having the platform you do today. I’m curious if starting the label has changed your relationship to music, now that you’re on the other side of things.
SA: It has changed my perspective in the sense of knowing the processes, the industry-standard processes—not that I abide by them. I honestly try not to. I try to innovate the industry standards. But because of that—like, I was very much an early on SoundCloud person, early on Bandcamp person, especially coming from the beatmaker culture that I was coming from. It was very much, ‘Oh, we need to pay our Internet or our phone bill, so let’s make an EP real quick and throw it up on Bandcamp, try to make some cash.’ It’s to the point where everyone was coming out with something every week. We weren’t thinking about release campaigns, all of these other steps that could amplify what we do so we wouldn’t have to put something out every week. We were like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing this, and we’re doing it for our friends.’ Having a label, I actually ended up taking things way more seriously. I’m also a visual artist, so I started taking my visual art more seriously and funneling that into artist campaigns and art for projects, art for the label. I think I just started taking myself seriously, more and more each year. It was at the point where I’d been writing songs since I was nine, but I didn’t call myself a producer. There was a point [when I did], but it wasn’t that long ago. It was recently. With what I learned, I deepened my relationship with music and my ownership of the process and the experience I’ve had with it. It became more a part of who I am.
V: Speaking of visual art, just looking through your work, a lot of your music has a strong visual component—I’m thinking of the music video for “Way Outta” from your SU CASA EP—and I also read in another interview that you have synesthesia. Does that help you tie in your visual components and your music? Or, in other words, do you find yourself making your visuals and music at the same time? Making them in response to each other?
SA: Yes. They’re completely mutual. It’s not often that I can think of a track, even when I’m just building a beat, without already thinking, ‘Oh, if I made a visual for this, it would look like this.’ When I’m building the sounds loop by loop and piece by piece, I can see the energy. Like, ‘Okay, this would be at nighttime.’ So I’m already building the visual framework when I’m composing, and then if I get to a stage of making a video, an image, or a visual, I’m already like, ‘This goes with that.’ But it’s all informed by the sounds that I hear. They’re connected like this.
[She crosses two fingers.]
It’s definitely a crazy experience, because it causes me to have to prioritize what I’m doing and when. But I am growing more comfortable with it after each release, so it’s been interesting to be more proactive. I used to honestly let it take over, and I would hoard a lot of music that I felt wasn’t ready because I didn’t have the visual to show the world. A lot of my music is also very kinetic, so deep in my mind with my artistic process, I actually want people to see something visual with it. Not just a classic album cover. I want you to see the colors I see, the shapes and the mood. I want you to see it all.
V: For sure. And, thinking about your music, how would you describe your sound?
SA: My sound is all electronic. It’s all powered sounds, so everything I make is powered, amplified by electronic means. Style-wise, I have a fluid shift from many different genres and cultures I grew up around, especially dance cultures—from club music like Bmore Club to house and techno, soul and R&B, and even notions of jazz. Because of that, I usually tie it in and say hip-hop, but it’s actually a lot of different cultures I grew up with. Black culture, too. It’s inspired by family gatherings, cookouts, growing up doing dance team and dance routines together with different girls. All of my music nods to what excited me growing up. But I'd also say it's very punk. That's the real edge of all of it. While it's all of those feel-good things—I want people to feel good when they listen to my music, but I don't mind for them to feel uncomfortable if I'm yelling or screaming, or I put in a very intense synth sound. I do aim for [my music] to be disruptive, because sometimes I really want to wake people up and have them be in the moment with the sound. So, there is a punk edge to everything I do.
V: That definitely came through with the tracks I listened to. Thinking about influences, I know you moved from New York City to Miami a few years back. I imagine it’s a different scene in Miami, so has that changed your creative process? How does living in Miami versus New York inform your work differently, if it does?
SA: Well, interestingly, I moved to Miami after I had made my first visit to a country in Africa, which was Uganda. Specifically the city of Kampala, Uganda. I had done a beatmaking workshop there on behalf of the US State Department. I got back to New York and I was like, ‘Okay, it’s been enough of this. I’ve lived in Philly, my family’s from the Bronx. It’s been enough of this architecture, enough of this weather.’ I love the nightlife and the subversive things that happen in New York, but that’s also in Miami. I just had to find it. So, Miami, for me, was me saying, ‘I want to live in an environment closer to the environment of Africa.’ It really reminded me more of that vibe [because of] the many cultures here in Miami. It has more connective roots, to me, to the continent of Africa and Indigenous culture—like, I have Indigenous ancestry as well—so there’s a lot of that vibe here that’s pervasive and built into the culture. At that time, it was something I felt I needed to be closer to.
As far as it affecting my music, it actually opened me up. The weather of course made me feel better. I didn’t get seasonal depression or things like that that I was experiencing in New York. Before COVID, there were raves, there were all-night techno spots, DJs from all around the world coming here. It inspired me to continue to parse out my music experience for DJ culture as well. I took the time to get more intentional about making our music for Never Normal Records packaged for DJs, because it’s a really easy way to connect with DJs who travel here and then take our music worldwide. It’s been positive for me. I actually just had a residency at a Miami hotel and art organization called Faena, and I’ve had several shows; WMC happens in the same building where I had my shows, and I got to partner with them exclusively for Miami Music Week. So, to be an independent artist negotiating things on my own level, Miami has really embraced me. There are many local record shops, and all of them have shown me love. The music community here and the creative community have shown me love. It’s made me feel like I’m a part of a community, whereas, while I did feel that way in New York, it was crazy to navigate. I knew I wanted to build something like a label that takes a lot of energy, so I had to live in a place where I could better manage my energy.
V: Rounding out our conversation, I want to know what’s next for you. Are you working on another EP, or any other projects that you can share?
SA: What’s next is the release of quite a few collectible music items that Never Normal will be sharing, both from me/Suzi Analogue and from the label’s upcoming artists. There are some international collaborations in the works. I’m collaborating with a collective called ANTI-MASS in Uganda, and we are working on some real heat right now. There’s going to be a lot coming from that. And then, I’m also working on new Suzi Analogue music. I’ve actually never made an album, so I can’t say that I’m making an album right now. I’m going to continue to share ideas, but I just want to continue releasing to the point where I get excited and feel encouraged to make the album I’ve always dreamt of. Each project I release gets me closer to that. There are going to be collaborations with all types of artists coming up, from other producers, DJs, rappers. I’m also working on a lot of new visual work, more directing, and hopefully more scriptwriting coming up soon as well.