A musical diva of an alternative realm
For some artists, moving to another location can be an insignificant part of their life, but for the English-born musician Jam Rostron, this decision was more than just switching her address. Rostron, more commonly known by her stage name PLANNINGTOROCK, is a Germany-based musician and producer who moved from UK’s Bolton to Berlin at a young age and rediscovered herself. As an established persona in the alternative and underground scene, Rostron has been delivering some of the most unique and unusual music for the past few years. Last month, we took the opportunity to chat with her about her upcoming album All Love’s Legal, her musical roots and the direction of her career.
Unlike many of the electronic producers today, Rostron brings in a flavor of classical music, which stems from her musical training when she was young. Her songs and albums often cross genres, ranging from dance and pop to glam-rock and orchestral. “My first interest in music was more classical. I studied and learned violin, flute and a bit of clarinet. I didn’t really have that much interest or access to popular music in the beginning”, says Rostron. This changed when she enrolled in an art school. “I started to form friendships and discover music through them that just completely blew my mind. I discovered other ways of making music.”
Rostron’s new friendships became a crucial aspect of her life. At the suggestion of a friend, Rostron visited Berlin to work on a project, and the trip changed her relationship with her music. “I fell in love with Berlin, I rapidly made friendships, and I knew I had to be there. It was the first time I lived outside of England, and I felt like a foreigner, and this was revolutionary — it really liberated me.” She adds, “I was put away from any ideas of myself, or my past or who I was culturally, and it really gave me a lot of space to take my music seriously and make it into something.”
The big decision resulted in her debut album Have It All, which was released in 2006. An audacious mixture of string-driven songs, personal lyrics and otherworldly compositions, Have It All was an underground mastery. Many of the songs, such as “Local Foreigner,” “Bolton Wanderer,” and “Never Going Back” defined this album both as a musical and thematic masterpiece. Five years later, Rostron returned with her sophomore album W that brought different kind of music and stage personality. Armed with androgynous facemasks and songs full of vocal distortions, Rostron started playing with the idea of gender, which was reflected in her new songs. But the gender-ambiguous vocals were a prelude to something more important – something that defined PLANNINGTOROCK not just as a story-driven musical act, but as a musical act with a message.
“With the last record W, I took a certain approach with dealing with certain issues that didn’t work with me personally. And, it’s because I wasn’t really that direct about them — I was more ambiguous or more poetic about them. After that record, I had to really sit down and rethink my whole way of approaching lyrics and topics, and what I really wanted to achieve with music. There’s so much great music out there, and I really had to think — what is making music to me?” She said, “In the beginning, I set myself a task of writing a song that deals with these topics and is more direct. And then I wrote ‘Patriarchy Over & Out’ [in 2012], and that was really the catalyst for All Love’s Legal.”
Besides “Patriarchy Over & Out”, the new album includes songs that have already been circulating the web, such as “Misogyny Drop Dead”, “Human Drama” and “Let’s Talk About Gender Baby”. Unlike W, All Love’s Legal is going to be a pure dance record. “It was a very clear decision that I’ve made”, says Rostron about this “I started DJ-ing a lot since W, and I really got to know through DJ-ing the interesting power of dance music, the way it makes you feel and how you receive information when you are dancing. [The new record] may be heavy because the topics are heavy and challenging. They are heavy words for some people, but if you coat that into dance music with fun sonic — I just thought that it would be a perfect mixture.”
Just as the personality of the new album differs from Have It All and W, so does the creation process. “For W, I was very interested in percussion, creating rhythm and sounds through acoustic recordings. With this record, it was very different – I was very excited, I wanted every part of the record to be political. So it’s a self-finance record, which meant that the economic side was quite limited. But I quite liked that feeling of working on a track and not getting too precious about it.”
It should come as no surprise that Rostron is releasing this album on her own label “Human Level Recordings,” and that she wants to leave a message by working with women instead of men. She agrees that the music industry and the media often try to turn women against each other, which is rarely the case with men. “The media is poison”, she adds “It’s very hard for people, including myself, to separate that and remember that it isn’t reality, but a construct that bombards you, and it’s propaganda that you have to protect yourself from.”
Though Rostron might lack the publicity of a large record label, she appreciates her close-knit team much more. “It’s really satisfying to have control of everything. I’m really happy to do something that’s smaller, but that’s very clear where it’s coming from and what it’s about.”
And while PLANNINGTOROCK is a musical act with strong messages behind it, Rostron does not provide instantaneous solutions to these issues. “This is not a concrete record – these are questions as much as they are messages. So, for me, making music actually has to serve a purpose – that defines what the outcome is.”
Fans of PLANNINGTOROCK can be assured that Rostron plans to continue mixing audio shows with powerful visual elements. “I love video so much! My favorite language is when music and imagery come together. I find it a very inspiring vehicle.” She adds laughingly, “We did a small test show in Brighton UK, and it was so much fun and people got on the stage at the end of the show!”
All Love’s Legal is out next week on February 10. Just as with any PLANNINGTOROCK record, the new album is not for the faint-hearted. But if you are a fan of good old dance music and appreciate being challenged by ideas, PLANNINGTOROCK might be just what you need to spark the beginning of 2014.