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:
Inara George shares tips for raising music-literate kids during quarantine
Chris Cohen shares Algerian synth funk, avant jazz, and more far-out sounds
Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy offers an earthy soundtrack for the homebound
Mia Doi Todd recommends space-age sounds and Brazilian tunes
Neon Indian shares music for your inner monologue
Thundercat on the importance of albums as a journey
Dorian Wood is walking a tightrope and trying not to look down
Jeff Parker is busy studying music in hibernation mode
TOKiMONSTA is rediscovering her love for the guitar
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on finding solace in Gil Scott-Heron
Aimee Mann looks past the snark to appreciate Steely Dan’s craft
Madame Gandhi on Fela, feminism, and the bravery of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell
Alice Bag is doing the live music withdrawal dance
M. Ward is listening to music by his influences’ influencers
San Cha believes we can create, no matter our circumstances
Bob Mould seeks artful inspiration from Janelle Monáe, Elliott Smith, and the Byrds
La Santa Cecilia's La Marisoul finds hope for the future in music
Pete Tong is comfortable with musical melancholy
Go Betty Go’s Nicolette Vilar shares music that’s honey to her ears
Mary Lattimore is communing with musical kindred spirits
Ndidi O selects music for a melancholy autumn
Julianna Barwick recommends music with emotion and experimentation
DUCKWRTH brews a perfect blend of classic and contemporary
Maral shares music that creates its own unique world
Lyric Jones is all about music that makes you hit rewind
Open Mike Eagle on dark purple jams and musical velvet paintings
Machinedrum keeps it chill with music for self-reflection
Channel Tres shares the classic songs that created his world
Qur’an Shaheed is revealing her inner truth through music
Karriem Riggins embraces the infinite possibilities in creating
Xinxin’s Janize Ablaza spins a soundtrack for space travel
Lady Blackbird honors fearless and transcendent artistry
Gabe Goodman longs for the sound of live musicians in a room
Genevieve Artadi is learning Bach and living moment by moment
Frankie Reyes marries technology with tradition
The Koreatown Oddity is raising his daughter on a colorful musical diet
Dante Elephante is slowing down his life with sides of vinyl
Sasami explores the wholesome world of animal songs
Vinyl Williams collects opalescent musical jewels from mysterious beaches
jez.who shares music for empathy and affirmation
Ana Roxanne fills your head with a selection of her favorite vocalists
Topaz Faerie traces her journey from sublime jazz to futuristic pop
Ah Mer Ah Su makes the case for danceable melancholy
Rosie Tucker recommends songs of hope, humor, and resiliency
Bedouine swoons to her favorite songs that evoke a mood
Edith Crash shares music that opens doors to other worlds
V.C.R’s seeds of musical growth, from Minnie Riperton to Erykah Badu
Wallice extols the virtues of teenage mixtapes and moody sleepover soundtracks
Bachelor shares their soundtrack to suit the many moods of friendship
The Growth Eternal drops into his favorite musical landscapes and environments
Pianist Paul Cornish unpacks 5 crucial records from boundary-stretching musicians
kezia reps their favorite lyrical heavy-hitters
Nick Waterhouse crate digs for his most transformative tunes
Lionel Boy conjures a soundtrack for his island-bound adolescence