Private Playlist: Art-pop chanteuse Gel Set shares perfect picks for hot parties and cool winters

Gel Set. Photo courtesy the artist

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.

If the name Gel Set conjures an involuntary cascade of ‘80s-derived pop culture signifiers, you’ve already fallen into Laura Callier’s trap. The LA-based multimedia artist created Gel Set as a kind of anti-pop statement, using some of its tropes (percolating synths, primitive video effects, day-glo makeup) for her own darkly ironic ends. 

Callier arrived at electronic music through many of the usual byways. She spent years in Chicago-area indie-rock bands until the promise of greater creative autonomy beckoned her to the synthesizer. Her first Gel Set cassette, “Cell Jets,” landed in 2012, but Callier’s breakthrough came in 2015 with the project’s full-length debut, “Human Salad.” Since then, the artist has refined her sound and sensibility over two further Gel Set albums, as well as collaborations with Whitney Johnson (as Simulation) and Nicole Ginelli (God Vol 1).

For KCRW’s “Private Playlist,” Callier selected her most satisfying electronic sounds for hot dancefloors and cold winter nights, from Tangerine Dream to Machine Girl.

“I've always loved straightforward pop. And it's really hard to make stuff that speaks to your emotions, is fun to listen to, and doesn't get tired.” — Gel Set


I love Molly Nilsson's deep vocals, I love her simple, solid synth-pop production, and the way she blends a bit of humor in her lyrics with emotionality. I love simplicity in music, so I don't say that like [it's] a negative thing, but there's something about the simplicity of her writing style and compositions. And you know, I went to art school and became a musician in Chicago. And I have a lot of friends who make more avant-garde stuff, more ambient, complicated electronic music. But I've always loved straightforward pop. And it's really hard to make stuff that speaks to your emotions and is fun to listen to and doesn't get tired. I feel that in many circles there's a lack of respect for pop, and I assume it's because there's an uncoolness to tapping into emotionality. Maybe there's this uncoolness [because] it's got this less masculine vibe sometimes. [But] I really liked her album, "2020."


Having lived in Chicago for 11 years, I was really influenced by a lot of Chicago house. And I love Cajmere's "Percolator." I didn't really grow up listening to house or electronic music. I grew up listening to punk and rock … so I heard it sometime within the past 10 years. And I remember being so blown away by how simple it was, and how weird the lyrical choices were. I mean, there could be a deeper meaning, but I don't know. I love that era of music, because a lot of it does have this flippant silliness to it. They were using whatever music gear they had access to. Before the 808 or the 606 were cool, it was just like, "Oh, no one really wants these right now. They're kind of cheap." And that's how they created their sound. 


I've been listening to a lot of Machine Girl over the past year. What I love about Machine Girl is how it's got this chaotic, frenetic energy. It has footwork/jungle-style beats mixed with a digital computer-music sound: really fast BPMs, fun and interesting creative choices, always high-energy. I love how some of the songs have slightly out-of-tune sounds that feel like time is wobbling.


I instantly fell in love with Der Plan as soon as I heard them. I love the weird analog sounds they use, but they [also] have a really silly vibe that appeals to me. Growing up, my dad was really into that comedic musical artist, Spike Jones, and my mom was really into Monty Python. So I grew up engaging with a lot of humorous stuff musically. I feel like because of that, I instantly fell in love with Der Plan. 


I first started listening to Tangerine Dream when I lived in Chicago. The album "Zeit," especially, I associate with listening on an overcast or dark day, or in the evening when it's cold outside and I'm hunkered down. And maybe it works in those conditions because when you're in outer space, you're [also] hunkered, encapsulated in this tiny space when it's dark outside. I've never thought about it like that before this moment. But it doesn't lend itself to a day at the beach or driving around the city with friends. It really feels like it should be listened to when it's cold and dark outside.

Check out KCRW’s other Private Playlists:

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Open Mike Eagle on dark purple jams and musical velvet paintings
Machinedrum keeps it chill with music for self-reflection
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Karriem Riggins embraces the infinite possibilities in creating
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The Koreatown Oddity is raising his daughter on a colorful musical diet
Dante Elephante is slowing down his life with sides of vinyl
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