If you've been hitting underground rock and electronic shows over the last two years, you've probably heard and seen Monika Khot playing her reflective chrome guitar for both the cerebral noise-rock group Zen Mother and her artfully apocalyptic, drone-based solo project Nordra. In both contexts, she has a sound that makes a permanent impression.
At this year's Corridor Fest at the Georgetown Steam Plant, Nordra played music of calamitous grandeur and grotesque beauty, fueled by thanatoptic-sounding drones, doomy, Demdike Stare–like atmospheres, and beats that hit like deathblows. Last October, she recorded a postindustrial electronic score for the Pylon II dance performance at King Street Station, conjuring overwhelming dystopian sensations. Passages of disturbing tranquility alternated between moments of crushing claustrophobia, as Nordra masterfully contoured the music's dynamics and textures to fit Pylon II's surveillance-paranoia theme. Adding synthesizers and foundation-shuddering techno beats to her palette, Nordra forged an unforgettable, visceral soundtrack that overshadowed the excellent dancers.
This year will also see the release of Nordra's debut album proper (out July 28 on SIGE Records) and Zen Mother's first full-length, I Was Made to Be Like Her (out this summer on Illuminasty). The latter stands as one of the most distinctively tenebrous and beautiful rock records likely to come out of Seattle in 2017. The former allows free rein to Khot's impulse to conjure avant-garde-imaginary-horror-film soundtrackage and solemn atmosphere-mongering. It seems certain that Nordra's approach will go over well on her European tour in May and June.
Khot began making unignorable waves in Seattle after relocating from a Virginia suburb of Washington, DC, in 2014, two weeks after meeting her Zen Mother bandmate and partner Wolcott Smith (they're also in the lower-profile psych-pop unit Invisible Hand). Rather than just move cross-country in one fell swoop, they decided to tour across America, even though they'd released only one song, "Perfect." It was a really good song, you see.
A main motivation to move to Seattle was the scenery. In an interview conducted at her and Smith's loft/studio space, Khot says, "I love the fog and the way it sits on the mountains and the evergreens, and the general color palette and feeling of this area. I was heavily into the Microphones when I started thinking about this area. I heard those soundscapes in my head and wanted to check it out."
Khot and Smith initially bonded over a shared love of diabolical French composer Igor Wakhévitch—an indicator of true love. "What's cool about [Wakhévitch] is the whole 1970s rock and new-music influence," Khot says. "We were so all about that. I was doing a lot of computer music/new music stuff at the time. [Smith] was doing lots of rock stuff. We thought, let's fuse this."
Zen Mother parlayed their chemistry and creativity to win Northwest Film Forum and Brick Lane Records' Puget Soundtrack Residency to score Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain for an August 25 performance at NWFF. The group's eerie and stark approach should enhance that visually arresting cult classic.
SIGE Records' Faith Coloccia has become one of Khot's most ardent champions. "What drew us to Nordra was seeing her perform at Debacle [in 2016]. Her show added so much additional energy to the room; she has the ability to transform listening. Her music and presence are also hard to fit into categories or trends."
Coloccia says that she and SIGE partner Aaron Turner (also of SUMAC) possess "a simple, intuitive attraction to what is different, honest, and new." On a recent tour with SUMAC, Nordra, against the odds, wowed the heavy-metal crowd. She says that some fans told her they didn't realize electronic music could be so fierce. "They would say, 'It's so weird, I don't normally like that instrumentation and drum machines, but I like what you do because it's doomy and brutal.'"
Another thing that distinguishes Khot: She's a woman of color in a white-male-dominated scene. If you're expecting to hear tales of bias and oppression, though, you'll be surprised.
"If anything, I feel like a unicorn in the room," she says. "I get a positive impact from it. I know other people don't feel that way. I don't feel that white cis men in the music industry have ever wronged me in a musical way." In fact, Khot says that toiling in this milieu has helped her to elevate her art. "I feel empowered by it. It makes me work really hard."
With both Nordra and Zen Mother (the latter of which played KEXP's Audioasis last year), Khot is poised to bring uncompromising electronic music and avant-rock into wider acceptance, a remarkable feat in a city that's feeling less open-minded to underground culture with each new influx of tech workers.