photography Josh Silver
words Zarah Cheng
An artist of multiple disciplines, Alexandra Mackenzie has a powerful voice both literally and ideologically as she performs under her pseudonym, Petra Glynt. Taking her experience as a visual artist, Petra Glynt’s shows are known to be an unforgettable sensory escape. With lyrics that reflect her dedication to social justice topics surrounding indigenous issues, community, and the land, Mackenzie creates electronic music that not only makes you want to dance, but also to think deeper about the things you take for granted every day. Looking forward to tour dates in October with Austra, Petra Glynt chats with us about her days in Toronto’s DIY punk scene and how she feels about being compared to Grimes.
Your EP is titled "Of This Land." What's the meaning behind it?
It’s about paying respect to where your roots are, and the importance of having a relationship between oneself and the land/history of the land where you come from.
The “Sour Paradise” video is hypnotic. What was the inspiration behind the art direction?
Blake Macfarlane and I deliberated over all sorts of ideas. Maybe the one that curated the aesthetic the most was inspired by anarchist, writer, and poet Hakim Bey's T.A.Z.: Temporary Autonomous Zone. It is an essay that undogmatically states that the best way to elude conventional systems of control and to create non-hierarchical spaces is to create temporary uprisings of short duration that can reappear and disappear before they can be discovered and penalized by the powers that be.
You have said in a past interview that you consider your various art practices to be distinct from each other. Do you ever express any common themes/subjects between your media though?
I have expressed this in the past, but my feelings have taken a different shape – I feel that my visual and music practices are becoming more interdependent. I intend to have an exhibition with the release of my new album, one that works deliberately with the vibe of the music.
People are often quick to visually compare you to Grimes. Does that ever bother you?
Not a whole lot, but I suppose any artist would want to be recognized for his or her own voice and not for another's.
Katie Stelmanis (of Austra) is also from an operatic background. Do you think that there's a strong connection between classical music and electronic music?
Not necessarily, but electronic music does allow for any sort of instrumentation. It is a very open world, so classical music can hypothetically find a home in it pretty easily.
Social justice issues come up a lot in your lyrics. Which topics are most important to you?
All of the issues intertwine. To me they are obvious issues that are slowly getting more attention, but it's still not enough – number one being environmental defence. In Canada we have an abundance of land and natural resources but unfortunately, it is appreciated for its potential to be profitable and not for its sacred qualities, ones that need to be respected and left alone. As the economy and our systems of control are becoming less and less transparent, our land mass (and each other) is the only thing we can trust. It needs to be protected and it's terrifying to know that the oil sands are only getting bigger, that more and more remote areas are getting fracked and that Canadian fresh water is increasingly under threat. It is all getting closer to home. As the resources become scarce, the health of the land will no longer support us and we will have screwed ourselves.
Number two is indigenous sovereignty. Respecting unceded indigenous land and responding to their calls for resistance against the extermination of their culture/peoples need to be on the forefront of the agenda. If it were, much of the land mass would still be thriving and the indigenous populations would not be on the decline. And seeing as they lived well without our intervention for thousands of years, we could be learning a thing or two from them. There is something to say about our quick decline.
Last is all about community and building strength in numbers. We've all felt screwed over by the system, but instead of continuing to support the capitalist mentality of competition – which divides us and makes rivals out of our friends, neighbours, and future collaborators – I want to see more of us banding together because I feel that our futures rely on our ability to realize our common interests and to work together with love and support of our differences.
What sort of experience are you trying to create for spectators when you put together visuals for your live shows, and how does it tie in to your music?
I try and make it a full experience. I am on my own up there so I like to fill the space. I tend to build worlds within my visual and musical work, places to be explored, and my combining the two makes it more of an extra-sensory/virtual experience. I also make art projects out of all the projects I do, ever since I was a kid in grade school. I'd neglect the research or writing portion of the project in order to make the most elaborate visual object out of it. It got me into some trouble but at least I've always known where my priorities were, which have gotten me to this point in my life.
You sometimes have other artists joining you on stage. How do you approach these collaborations - would you plan out the performance or is it more spontaneous?
Petra Glynt has so far been entirely solo when it comes to the stage and live performance but I am open to different collaborations, whether they be inviting dancers or different percussionists to join in. I am only at the starting blocks of figuring out how this might be incorporated into live performances. There are other projects besides Petra Glynt that have incorporated friends and their different talents. High World, curated by Lido Pimienta and Blake Macfarlane, is one that aspires to invite people from varying scenes, backgrounds, and orientations. We see the segregation in Toronto and want to challenge it. I love when I can be a part of it. Pachamama, a duo with my ex-partner, has also made a point to invite dancers, singers, and percussionists and we improvise together within the structure of our songs. But the era of Pachamama has likely come to pass.
Most of your previous projects have been part of the Toronto DIY punk scene. Why did you decide to delve into electronic music?
It came out of necessity. I have a soft spot for playing high-energy drums in punk bands but with Petra Glynt, using the electronic tools has allowed me to collage my own compositions and to perform them on my own. It is an infinite world for delving deep, where sound can be arranged and manipulated with as much or as little artful intention. I am in love.
Who would you like to collaborate with the most?
I would love to tour with a group of percussionists one day, preferably all female, but that's all I have in mind these days...a girl can dream.
Do you have any tour plans coming up?
I'm in the process of writing a full-length album, so I'm staying put for most of the summer, but I have plans to do a few dates in Montreal, Quebec City, Fredericton, and Halifax with Austra in October which I'm super stoked about. I want to eventually cover all of Canada. It is my home and I know very little about the landscape.
Who are your favourite bands/artists right now?
Right now, like this week, I have been listening to Spooky Black on repeat, a 15-year old kid out of Minnesota. His music is way too sexy for his years. And everyday I catch a listen of my friend Vic Cheong's (half of Healing Power Records) reggae covers mix tape: volume 2. It's the bomb.