Scenes of garish violence, lurid sex, and other B-movie shenanigans from films like The Mad Butcher and Blast-Off Girls flicker on the screen at Re-bar during a recent edition of the Monster Planet monthly. Three dudes with PowerBooks and analog synthesizers, a male drummer, and visuals guru Leo Mayberry are creating an immersive, hallucinogenic improv jam that makes you feel as if you've washed down three hits of LSD with absinthe. Also contributing to the audio surrealism is Chloe Harris (aka Raica). The scene typifies Harris's career in electronic music—that of the (usually) lone exceptional woman in a tech-savvy boy's-club atmosphere. Harris takes a break from the action and says, "[Monster Planet honcho] Gel-Sol and I are working with analog gear [Doepfer Dark Energy + Dark Time, Korg Electribe ER1]. I love this."
Harris grew up in South Seattle and Kirkland, and she has lived in her childhood house in the latter place since her mother passed away in 2003. There, Harris runs the adventurous, eclectic Further Records label with her husband, Mark Cullen. The couple's son Jack was born seven months ago—during the same week Harris dropped her great experimental-electronic album, Lucent Glances. Her father, Kim Harris, founded Easy Street Records and comanaged the prog-metal band Queensrÿche to massive success. When he gifted his young daughter with a copy of Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine, it sparked her interest in electronic music. "All I wanted was to live in the future," Harris says in an interview at her home, while Cullen looks after Jack in the kitchen. "Robot music—I was really fascinated with that."
After a childhood dabbling with hiphop (and breakdancing), new wave, synth pop, and industrial music, Harris got into rave music at age 14 after stealing a friend's older brother's mixtapes. She started going to dance parties at 15, but she was no furry-bra'd candy raver.
"I didn't like happy dance music. Coming from a Skinny Puppy background, all this dark aggression and these beautiful sounds, it bothered me how everything was [animatedly sings and snaps fingers] 'WOO WOO! WOO WOO!'"
At 18, Harris decided she wanted to DJ, but didn't get her second turntable and mixer till she was 20. She's still using those same decks 17 years later. She scored her first residency at Mr. Spot's Chai House in 2001. "What I loved about it was, you didn't have to play dance music," she says. "You could play all sorts of music, which was fun, because I collect all sorts of music. I was learning about a lot of current styles of dance music then. When [defunct local internet radio station] Groovetech started, I had a residency there for the entire time it was on the radio."
Perhaps ironically, Harris made her name as a DJ who excelled at progressive house and techno. She mastered the difficult art of warming up the club for headliners. Harris was so good that revered British DJ John Digweed tapped her to tour with him in huge venues worldwide, including stints at London's Bedrock and Ministry of Sound. "One time in Tenerife, John was late and I DJed for almost five hours," Harris recalls. Clubbers were howling for Digweed, but Harris kept her wits about her.
Around 2005, though, Harris tired of that sound and hasn't really spun it out since then. These days, Harris is into artists like Steve Summers, Frak, Eprom, and Soom T. "The cyclical nature of dance music puts me off of it. It needs to be something new now. We can't keep going with the same formula in every genre. We have to push things further."
Speaking of Further, the tiny label is interested in "music that surprises us and is interesting," Harris says. Further is a haven for unconventional artists, including the late German electronic pioneer Conrad Schnitzler, Italian producer Dozzy, Decimus (Pat Murano of No-Neck Blues Band), and Belgium's Innercity. "Those [last two releases] are very disturbed, crunchy, weird records," Harris says. She and Cullen favor artists who are unpredictable and hard to classify. The duo's DIY ethos extends to manufacturing, as Cullen has figured out how to make his own covers to trim expenses, while Harris focuses on the art adorning said covers. "We try to make everything as good as we can with our limited budget," Cullen says. "Some labels don't care, and I notice that as a consumer."
Two of Raica's best releases came out in 2013: the Treh cassette on Digitalis and the Lucent Glances LP. The former emphasizes melancholy beatless beauty somewhere between Kompakt's Pop Ambient and Mille Plateaux's Clicks & Cuts series; the latter delves deeper into a frigid inferno of unsettling atmospheres and foreboding rhythms. It's some of the most chilling electronic music coming out of Seattle. Lucent Glances features no overdubbing; it's cut "just straight from the boxes to tape," Harris says.
Harris explains her predilection for sonic gloom with a chuckle: "I guess because I come from Skinny Puppy and the Cure. Generally the music I love is melancholy or dark. Autechre and Aphex Twin blew my mind in 1992. Their music is not happy. Once I found out there were people making electronic music that wasn't happy... I stopped making dance music because it was hard for me. A lot of people think dance music is easy because it's a pattern, but that's what's boring about it."
While motherhood has slowed her musical output, Harris had her most prolific creative spurt while she was pregnant; she recorded 20 of what she called Experiential Tapes, some of which ended up on Lucent Glances. "I was trying to learn how to be varied enough to adapt to situations with my boxes live. Good learning lesson!" Harris's entire musical career has been a good lesson—in how a woman can succeed in a male-dominated field without compromising at all.