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Vera Grace

Vera Grace explores the nine circles of hell on her debut album – interview

Hailing from the Netherlands, Vera Grace is one of the Amsterdam electronic scene’s viscerally impactful DJ and producers. Her signature hard techno sound – a gritty blend of industrial and entrancing soundscapes – commands attention.

Her debut album – out now on the record label of storied Berlin club night Deestricted – is inspired by Dante’s “Inferno”, the first part of his epic poem, The Divine Comedy.

The poem follows Dante as he journeys through Hell, guided by the ancient poet Virgil. Hell is depicted as nine concentric circles of torment located within the Earth, each circle representing a specific sin and its punishment. The sinners encounter increasingly severe sufferings, from the unbaptized and the lustful in the lighter outer circles to traitors in the icy innermost pit.

We caught up with Vera to discuss how these dark inspirations informed the album, and what she has planned next.

Thanks for talking to us today – how has 2023 been for you?

2023 has been a hectic but great year for me. I graduated from Conservatorium while juggling tours and working on my hybrid set and album. I had some uncertainties about the kind of identity I wanted to express. There even was a point where I considered moving away from my heavier side, leaning more towards groovier, mental techno. I missed the continuous and hypnotic flow it brings, which isn’t as common as it used to be in the harder techno scene. However, after some experimenting and trying out my hybrid act, I found a way to blend this hypnotic feel with my heavy style. The album served as a good canvas for me to explore and try out these ideas.

First of all, we want to get to know you “from the beginning”. How did your history with music begin?

My journey with music began in my childhood, where I developed a love for playing the piano during visits to my grandparents. Growing up in a small town, I took piano lessons for a while and even had a gig in the local church. Unfortunately I had to quit the piano lessons at one point and never really pushed it through after that.

From a young age, I was always drawn to music, recording YouTube videos on my Nintendo DS to listen to in my bedroom. My musical taste varied, it went from Evanescence, Within Temptation, The Prodigy, to Pop music. In high school, my interests expanded to electronic genres like Dubsteb, Hardstyle and House, followed by a deep dive into Hip Hop.

Around the age of 17, I started exploring Techno through Spotify playlists. I attended Awakenings for the first time one year later, and that opened up a whole new world for me. I discovered that I could listen to the DJ sets on Soundcloud, resulting in discovering more and more techno. But it was Reaktor Katharsis in 2018 that refined my tastes even more. I had never heard music like that – so dark and intense – in my life before. I became absolutely obsessed, and this is still the kind of techno I love the most. Only a few months later, I bought my first DJ decks.

I strive to find a balance between doing what I love and making the crowds happy”

Your style is known for its hard techno with industrial textures and dark elements. How do you see your music evolving in the next few years, especially considering your recent experiments with more emotional and euphoric sounds?

I have a clear vision of the ideal style I aim to build upon. I’ve always aimed to stay true to industrial techno. I don’t really consider myself as a part of today’s hard techno scene, as there are so many influences from EDM, Hard/Rawstyle and Trance. I see myself as a part of the industrial techno scene which seemed to have disappeared a bit in the last couple of months. Nevertheless, I strive to find a balance between doing what I love and making the crowds happy. This year I started to apply more and more specific details and techniques to refine my style. Examples of that are layering 909 drums, adding ambient textures for the atmosphere, mixing rhythmic patterns and polyrhythms with harmonious melodies to create an emotional feel. I’m now developing this sound and aim to evolve in this in the coming years.

You took part in Rebekah’s 10×10 challenge early in your career, which involved producing ten tracks in ten days. What did you learn from this intense creative process, and how has it influenced your approach to music production since then?

The 10×10 challenge played a fundamental role in my learning process. It pushed me to complete tracks within a single day, a big contrast to the months before that which I spent on one single track. I felt like I wasn’t skilled enough yet to participate in the challenge, but I like to throw myself in the deep.

I remember we had challenges like ‘’’create a track from the break’’, ‘’explore a completely different genre’’, ‘’limit to texture and drums without musical content’’, ‘’craft a track of sounds only from one specific sample pack’’, and ‘’sound design something using Reaktor Blocks Base and incorporate it into a track’’ (I didn’t even know what an oscillator was back then, haha). By just doing it, I learned what I could do, and I realized that my lack of technical knowledge didn’t have to hinder my creative process, I’d learn all the technical stuff along the way.

These challenges taught me that limits can actually help your creativity. Ableton and other music programs have so many options that sometimes it’s overwhelming. Working with limits helped me start and finish songs faster.

I also found out during this challenge that I work well under pressure. When the challenge ended, I felt like something was missing. That’s when I decided I wanted to take this to the next level and audition for the Conservatorium.

How has your study at the Conservatorium of Amsterdam’s Electronic Music Academy influenced your music, both in terms of technical skills and artistic vision?

Well, talking about taking it to the next level, at the Conservatorium, we even had classes where we had to finish a track in just 90 minutes. But that’s only a small part. They teach you a good balance between the technical stuff and being creative. You get the freedom to develop your sound, the teachers are honest and very professional. They give you good feedback and support your unique sound rather than following trends.

Learning basic knowledge about synthesis helped me to figure out a lot faster how a certain synthesizer works. Also playing hybrid was always a dream, I’m sure I wouldn’t have achieved that dream within just two years without Conservatorium. I was constantly immersed in discovering, discussing, listening to, and creating music, along with delving into every aspect and technical detail of it.

Being exposed to all this music, experimenting with different genres, and exploring my own musical boundaries has shaped the sound I love today and has definitely altered my artistic perspective. I believe I’ve grown both in my musical preferences and skills.

How long have you been working on your new album, and what was the theme you wanted to explore on it?

I worked on it for about 4 to 5 months, starting in February and completing it in June. Creatively, my goal was to challenge myself by creating 9 tracks with the same theme but distinct identities. The tracks needed to work together and share a sense of belonging with an overarching atmosphere inspired by the story of Dante’s Inferno, progressing from the First to the Ninth circle.

Additionally, I wanted to experiment with implementing inspiration from raw hypnotic techno and creating some ambient and experimental music, the album was the perfect occasion to try this out.

Don’t sell your soul if music is your passion. It’s better to grow slowly and gain respect”

Vera Grace

You’ve said your aim with the album was to take inspiration from raw hypnotic techno and transpose it into a heavier sound – were there any specific techniques, or bits of studio gear that helped you achieve this?

The whole album was made in the box, I recorded some samples but all sound design was created with either Serum and Ableton stock Operator or Wavetable. It was a nice challenge to see how much I could achieve with just these tools. What mostly helped me was getting inspired. For example, I went to 909 festival and listened to the music played, discovered many tracks and sets in this genre of techno and observed what I loved so much and what it was that I wanted to recreate.

How do you balance personal expression with the expectations of your audience in your music?

This can be challenging at times because the scene these days tends to favor high BPMs with many breaks. Personally, I think it doesn’t always have to be that fast, and techno should be a constant train where breaks serve to build the tension. Ideally, I want to take my listeners on a journey, building up to a certain climax rather than hitting hard right from the start. However, I usually adjust to the party and timeslot I’m playing. At larger events, I play hard industrial music with more melodic and euphoric parts. On club nights, I can usually go a bit darker, but I always try to feel the vibe of the crowd.

Can you describe a particularly memorable moment during a Vera Grace DJ set where you felt a strong connection with your audience?

There are definitely more than one gig where I’ve felt this, but my recent debut for Black Noir in Sydney was exceptionally special. The venue had a small boiler room setting and I was in a cage surrounded by the crowd. Everyone was so happy and immersed in the music, that I just couldn’t stop smiling. There’s such a precious scene growing there, they really value techno music. I remember the round of applause I received and it brought tears to my eyes – unforgettable.

What is the best advice you ever received as an artist?

Stay true to yourself and don’t sell your soul if music is your passion. It’s better to grow slowly and gain respect rather than growing super fast and doing what you don’t even like just for big numbers of followers. I could advise this to any other artist as well – it’s challenging sometimes but it will pay off in the long run.

Anything else you’d like to tell us…?

As it probably has become pretty clear that I have a very distinct taste for techno music, I’m excited to tell you that next year, I will host club nights together with my talented friend SEMMUS, who is also an industrial techno artist. We will do it in a very special club in Amsterdam. These club nights will be focused on bringing back proper industrial techno, raw nights with a constant flow of industrial grooves. I can’t reveal too much yet – but keep an eye on my socials in the coming weeks!

Vera Grace – INFERNVM is out now on Deestricted

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