Music Feature: Magnolia and Memphis’ Electronic Music Scene
Ed. Note: Want to dig deeper with an up-and-coming Memphis artist? Today, contributor Wesley Paraham does just that with Danielle Sklar, aka Magnolia. I’m now obsessed with her entrancing music and can’t stop listening. Also, the video is gorgeous in its simplicity. Definitely give her a listen, then read Wesley’s take on her music and a quick look at the electronic music scene in Memphis.
Magnolia is 24-year-old Danielle Sklar, and she is not here for your labels.
Her music has already found loyal fans locally due to its slick production and exploration of race, womanhood, and society’s stereotypes. Her debut album perspicacity over paradox, which she released in December, is exactly the kind of music I look for to write about, so I was pretty hype when a link to her SoundCloud landed in my inbox.
It’s an album that foregoes metaphor, innuendo, and otherwise flowery language in favor of a direct, digestible message: I am a person, no matter how hard you try to say otherwise. Recently, I was able to talk to her about her music, her life, and the the current electronic music scene in Memphis.
The album was recorded in a home studio and produced by Daniel Horton, who used elements from trap, ambient, and trip-hop to create tracks that grow and blossom, with soft synths climaxing into playful samples and dance beats.
Sklar has an Erykah Badu-like coolness to her voice, which turns the instrumentals into an abstract neo-soul experiment that would sit well in a playlist between Solange Knowles and Sampha. “You just close your eyes and feel it,” Sklar said. “It takes you so many places.”
I caught one of her shows in the small room at the Hi-Tone on April 1st, and it was nearly packed out. It was a refreshingly intimate performance. Her music is wavy enough to get people moving, and sultry enough to get people moving together.
She closed the set with “watch out”, which is actually my favorite track on the album. It felt like the fan favorite, too, seeing as the crowd went nuts everytime the beat dropped. There was a particularly energetic group at the front of the crowd that knew every word, which can be a bit overwhelming for a local musician less than four months out the gate, especially considering how unprocessed and personal Sklar’s lyrics are. I asked her about it after the show, and she was shocked. “I had no idea who they were,”she said.
On “watch out”, Sklar recognizes the trappings of labels and how useless they are. But, “It’s not a political album,” Sklar said. “It should be something everyone understands.” When you’re an artist of color, anything that you make that brings awareness to race is immediately labeled as political, but Sklar aims to shed that label as well.
Because for her, and many other artists like her, race isn’t political — race is everyday life. “These are my observations. It’s my experience,” she added. “I want to be seen as a human being, instead of a being stripped down.”
It’s here that the album’s title, perspicacity over paradox, reveals its strength: Sklar’s experience with racism affords her insight into why achieving a “post-racial society” by ignoring race is, well, a paradox. Listening to her music, I really appreciated how her songs speak so bluntly about these issues. “There’s no love in this place / if you can’t accept my race,” Sklar sings on “um, no thanks” over lullabye synth washes, as if these concepts are simple enough to rock a baby to sleep. Which, you know, they are.
perspicacity over paradox was released on Rare Nnudes (not a typo!), a music label founded in 2013 by Memphians Michael Wheeler, Charles Gray, and Clifton Anthony — all of whom are also artists on the label. In the five years since its creation, it’s become home to electronic music artists locally and nationally and 104 releases.
Memphis’ Electronic Music Scene
Rare Nnudes is positioning itself to be the next chapter of Memphis’s cavernous and criminally under-recognized electronic music scene, which cropped up in the late 80s with industrial and club music. It changed hands from the underground to DJs like Lorin Vincent in the club scene and Dave Silver at warehouse raves in the 90s.
Then, Congress passed the Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act in 2003, a bill which essentially made it illegal for the owners of warehouses to knowingly rent them to ravers. In other words, the entire country was turning up so hard that the United States government was like, “Come on y’all, calm down.”
From there it was forced to move into actual venues and club spaces, where it largely remains. Today, you can hear Ben Bauermeister spin records pretty much weekly at Bar DKDC as DJ Damp Velour. If you’re lucky, you could catch Parks Perdue at a show or a house party creating “intelligent freak music” as Intimacy.
This is a family of Memphis artists and producers who are thinking big. People who realize genre is becoming more myth than tradition. People for which diversity, inclusivity, and intersectionality is paramount. Danielle Sklar was right for adoption.
“Things are looking good here. It’s unfolding, she said.” She loves this city and the sense of urgency with which Memphis artists create. But sadly, she doesn’t belong to us. “I love Memphis, it’s home. But, of course I want to go to L.A. I want to go to Atlanta. I want to grow,” she said.
This should not only be expected, but applauded. One, because she didn’t say New York (take that, yankees!), and two, because you want the good ones to leave. You want them to get out there and spread the gospel so more people will come to the church.
How To Listen/Support/Go To A Show
Here’s the link to perspicacity over paradox for purchase and download on Bandcamp. From there, you can also check out other Rare Nnudes releases on their Soundcloud and upcoming show dates on their Facebook page.
Be warned; this is music for adults, unless…you want your kids to be woke.
Magnolia has three upcoming shows:
About The Author
Wesley Morgan Paraham loves the 901 so much that his cat is named Belvedere. If playing RPGs were a full time job, he’d be a rich man. He’s currently seeking a degree in public relations at the University of Memphis, and does freelance writing for I Love Memphis and graphic design in the meantime.