LP Walkthru: Lupa J - A New Kind Of Magic
Enigmatic & exciting purveyor of experimental electronic pop talks us through their boundary pushing new album
Since bursting onto the Australian scene as a teenager in the mid-00s, going on to become a Triple J Unearthed High Finalist and booking tours with the likes of Sarah Blasko, Tegan & Sara and Alice Glass, Lupa J has gone from strength to strength with their unique blend of accessible pop and uncompromising electronic production proving to be an addictive aural formula.
Following the release of two acclaimed albums, 2019’s award-nominated Swallow Me Whole and 2020’s international attention attracting To Breathe Underwater, Lupa J found themselves relocating from Sydney to Melbourne, where they quickly found themselves DJing at underground parties all around town.
Largely inspired by this move and becoming embedded in the Naarm queer DJ scene, Lupa’s third album A New Kind of Magic sees them building upon their exploratory yet accessible sound and taking things up a notch, with tracks ranging from more mellow, ambient affairs to blistering hyperpop and relentless, pounding techno all sitting perfectly alongside each other.
Lupa J was kind enough to give us the lowdown on each track on A New Kind of Magic - give the LP a spin and get to know below!
Saviour was the first track I wrote for the record, and it definitely set the tone for a lot of what would come after. It was January 2021, I’d just moved to Melbourne - for the second time - after getting stuck in my hometown, Sydney, on what was meant to be a temporary refuge with my loved ones at the beginning of the pandemic. I’d not been able to come back for the majority of 2020 due to the epic Melbourne lockdown and state border closures. Just after arriving I went to a rave on New Year's Eve 2021, which was the first time I’d been free to go out dancing with all my friends in a whole year - and I remember my friends who were DJing playing a bunch of tracks with jungle breaks in them. I’d never worked with breakbeat samples before but I wanted to capture the feeling of this pent up, ecstatic release that I felt at that rave - so I tried chucking breaks into a pop song format. That decision ended up informing the album’s production style - I use breaks in some way in pretty much every track.
I actually set out to make this record at least 30-50% techno - because naturally, in settling back into the Melbourne dance music scene after being locked down for a year, all I wanted to do was make high energy music. But alas, as we all know, that period of freedom in 2021 was short lived. This was the only techno track that made it onto the album because during the 2021 lockdown I found myself with no desire to make anything but sad pop songs. With this one, I remember being keen to make a techno track but I felt like I had to be in a certain headspace to do it - I wanted to be angry. And then naturally, after some time, it happened: a wave of what I like to think of as healthy anger about a situation I’d had to repress my emotions over for far too long.‘I’m everything you cannot control’ and ‘I deserve my desire back’ are some of my favourite lyrics on the album.
What Do I Do with the Missing
I’m sure it wouldn’t take many listens to discern that this album derives from some fairly heavy subject matter & emotion. It’s predominantly very vulnerable, but I wanted to open the album on a high energy, fun note with Saviour & Control to show that we’re dealing with dark stuff through cathartic, danceable music. But it was through writing What Do I Do with the Missing that I first allowed myself to delve into the sadness at the core of it. It was really difficult for me to write - I made a crappy demo of it in March 2021, and then couldn’t touch it until really recently. It’s probably not something you could easily listen to every day, but it felt necessary to contextualise the album.
I’m not sure how important it is for a listener to know, because of course people will always relate their own experiences and stories to songs - but there are kind of two separate ‘narratives’ on the album that run parallel to each other and are occasionally referenced simultaneously in some songs. After getting to a super dark place on What Do I Do with the Missing, I loved this song coming out of it and completely shaking up the mood with a new narrative; it’s what a new, out of the blue crush can feel like. This song is sonically super different for me, it’s so bright and almost gratingly, annoyingly pretty - but it felt like the only right way to capture this feeling of fantastical, idealistic infatuation.
Funeral was one of the final tracks I added to the album - I’d made a lot of pop songs and felt they needed to be broken up by a significant shift in mood & pace. I was feeling super inspired by some of the tracks on Arca’s recent albums, as well as Shygirl, and wanted to try out making a hard, distorted spoken word based track. It was really fun to make, a real change up for me.
My Ribs Are Tired
This one actually took quite a while to make - it started out almost like a ‘poem’ that worked spoken aloud, but it was a real process to cut down and shape to melodies - only fragments of a few lines made it in. It also took ages to figure out the right approach for the chorus - I probably tried out like 6 different chord progressions and melodies, continually getting stuck. I think it was one of those ones where I had to actually go through a few experiences and reach a new place emotionally to figure out the right mood and lyrical approach for the chorus. Once I’d done that I had a real breakthrough, I made the chorus, second verse and ending all in a day or two, and had so much fun doing it - I think the instrumental + ending section is one of my favourite moments on the album.
This was the very final addition to the album - while finalising the track list I was going through all my unfinished project files and trying to figure out if any of them would make the album work better as a whole. I’d nearly forgotten about this one, it was kind of a throw away song I wrote just after we went back into lockdown in 2021. I was choosing between this and another dark techno track and I ended up choosing this one, because I thought more than any other track it helped make the story of the album make a bit more sense, and have a little more context. I think being so lo-fi it also serves as a really necessary break between all the heavily produced, high energy songs around it.
Going into the 2021 lockdown was really hard for me - harder than in 2020 - because I was blissfully, totally unaware of how dependent I’d become on my social life to avoid processing a really heavy experience. I’d literally built my new life in Melbourne around learning to DJ, friends, club nights and raves, and then suddenly that was all gone again. Shut in with my own head 24/7, memories and emotions I’d been avoiding truly hit me like a tonne of bricks. There was a lot of grief and anger to work through, & few outlets for release - you can probably tell because I’ve never sworn so much in a song before! One of my friends says it reminds them of The Veronicas, which I find hilarious but also love.
This was another song I started mid 2021 and then wasn’t able to finish till the final month making the album - July 2022. I’m glad I waited to finish it because my production skills & ideas had diversified and improved a lot by the time I did. When SOPHIE passed away in early 2021, I was deeply rattled knowing that this artist that had such a monumental impact on electronic pop was no longer going to be existing & creating work that was moving that genre forward. I was overcome with this need to know as much as possible about how exactly she made the sounds she did, what was behind her musical choices - I trawled through the internet reading every interview, watching every video, and found a few where she talked about making all of her sounds from scratch with the program Serum. She’s quoted saying “You have the possibility with electronic music to generate any texture, in theory, and any sound – so why would any musician want to limit themselves? …the power of software synthesisers is something that all musicians – I would think – would want to harness.”
So I made it my mission with this album to make as many synth & drum sounds from scratch as possible - it felt important to me after her death to contribute to this movement she was at the forefront of; creating pop with such experimental, original sounds. Aside from the break samples, every kick/percussion sound on the album was made from scratch, and all of the synths are. I particularly love all the strange sounds and textures I made in Guardian Angel with it.
A New Kind of Magic
The lyric ‘I moved away from you and found a new kind of magic / they flew me back for how I hold a room of moving bodies ’ was written initially referring to me moving to Melbourne and learning how to DJ. I felt like DJing was this whole other way of interacting with music to writing, producing and performing my OWN music - it connects you to a crowd and creates this communal energy in a room in quite a different way. Calling it a kind of ‘magic’ doesn’t feel like an overstatement.
But then in the broader context of this song, as I continued writing it, the idea of discovering a new passion or skill & that feeling like ‘magic’ took on a greater level of meaning. It became about all these different aspects of experiences I was having and discoveries I’d made about myself in the aftermath of a really intense relationship; of who I actually am when I’m not heavily bound to somebody else. I was in two back to back long term relationships for the first five years of my adult life - I came out of it not knowing who was when I was alone; I didn’t know HOW to be alone. Saying that something I was discovering about myself felt like ‘magic’ came to represent learning how to love and honour who I am. ‘I sleep alone and know my magic’ felt monumental to write at the time because in the 6 years I’ve been writing music, I’d never previously written anything that refers to any kind of self-love.
This song probably wins the award for soppiest song I’ve ever written, but it was fun to indulge in writing like that - & the situation deserved it tbh (shoutout to my friend who through thick & thin avidly sat and listened to every new song I wrote about them with all the compassion and tenderness in the world)
So Much To Consume
I knew as soon as I wrote the opening synth bass part + verse for this song that it had to be the album closer. I’ve often finished my albums and EPs on slow, sweet songs - and you’d probably think listening to ‘The Feeling’ that it’s a suitable closer - but I love how this one slowly creeps in after it serves as a bit of a twist. The emotional content of this album deserves a menacing, unsettling open-ended finale rather than a neatly wrapped up fade out.