With a career spanning 17 years, seven albums, and six top 10 singles—Sister Bliss has cemented her place in the upper echelons of dance music.
Her journey as a renowned DJ, record producer, composer and songwriter has been longer than most. She is a founding member of Faithless, the electronic dance act that formed in 1995 and, which went onto to sell over 15 million records worldwide. Fast-forward to today and Sister Bliss— who was born Ayalah Bentovim—is more relevant than ever, inspiring a new generation of musicians and producers. She recently teamed up with Mixmag to launch Fame Music’s World Electronic Music Contest to provide an emerging artist with the opportunity to release their music on her own record label Junkdog Records. We recently spoke with Sister Bliss and reflected on her legendary trajectory, the success behind one of Faithless’ biggest club anthems: ‘Insomnia’, and what, in her opinion, makes a really great dance track.
All right, let’s go back to the beginning. To people who are unfamiliar, how do you explain Faithless’ importance to music history?
I think that’s really for the music historians to decide. I hope that our ‘ importance’ as such, was from making music that crossed boundaries and also placed lyrics in the centre of a genre that wasn’t known for its lyrical content.
You were behind a lot of them whilst you were with Faithless. What, in your opinion, makes a really great dance track?
So many different elements – but I guess a good groove, and interesting sonic palette, a vocal that speaks to you, a mood and emotion to it, whatever that may be. And an interesting structure- the sense of tension and release, was a key element of Faithless’ records.
Do you feel like being a musician today was any different from 20 years ago?
The growth of the internet makes a huge difference to being a musician especially from a marketing perspective — you can gain a following online and disseminate your music without the traditional structures of the music industry around you. But there is also a deluge of music out there so it’s harder to get noticed and actually make a living from it. Apparently 250,000 tracks will be released this year alone by producer, DJ’s — and that’s not including artists in other genres at all. The accessible price of music, making equipment has meant a huge democratisation in being a musician, you can make music for the price of a laptop these days, or even an iPad. Twenty five years ago, to get really great sound you generally had to pay for an expensive studio room — even in electronic music you could tell the difference between music made on a great mixing desk, or a lo- fi set up. All the big electronic artists — from Prodigy to Chemical Brothers worked in ‘proper’ studios as their careers burgeoned, hence their sound was a cut above the average dance record. Now it’s harder to tell where recordings are produced. In the same way that the invention of samplers fuelled dance music in the late ’80’s, and the fact that you could have great musical ideas without being a trained musician was a similar revolution.
Do you remember the first record you ever owned?
Think it was “Deutcher Girls” by Adam and the Ants.
“Insomnia”—can we talk about that?
It was made as a track to compliment ‘Salva mea’ on our first album ‘Reverence’ as the B- side if you like, as the album needed a counterpoint for the second half. It then went on to explode globally a year and half after its release, and opened the doors for us to tour the album as a live band, without any tour support. Most people wait a lifetime to have a hit as big as that was so we were very lucky indeed to capitalise on the love it received globally, and it helped to open people’s eyes to the breadth of Faithless’ music beyond the dance floor, showcase the album through the live shows and have a platform for all our subsequent album releases.
Is it weird to play that song now, all these years later?
It’s not weird at all. It seems to make people very happy, and was a defining moment in so many people’s lives, so I’m happy to play it if people still want to hear it — whether as a DJ or in its live incarnation. It has been bootlegged and mashed up many times over the years by DJ’s which keeps it fresh, and sounding current. It has a certain timeless element to it anyway, as the original sounds in it were never crass and harsh, and therefore less likely to date.
Music nowadays has become increasingly about luxury. But you don’t seem to have taken that road. Why?
I still prefer music to have some kind of meaning, which speaks about my life and my interior world, and is also a place of connection and exploration. So that’s the music I’ve generally tried to make, within my own limitations. It’s never going to be about bling, or private jets because what would be the point? It wouldn’t ring true, and I think a line that L.S.K wrote on our 4th album sums up my attitude, “Shame your mind don’t shine like your possessions do.” To engage properly to get the most out of it when music and lyrics are somewhat in ‘code’ or dealing with complex subjects, is harder on the average listener maybe, but I think it’s a risk worth taking every time. We were very lucky to find a lyricist in Maxi who made poetry out of exploring what it means to be human. He wasn’t just a jump up party MC. A lot of music is aural ‘wallpaper’ — a background to our lives where we don’t have time to make the effort to really listen to it, or its made to appeal to the lowest common denominator, so it may be commercially successful, or novelty but for me, despite sounding like obvious hits, this is not edifying in a deep way. I grew up feeling music could change the world, and my perspective on the world, and was my companion in my loneliest hours. It’s amazing when people say that’s what Faithless’ music has meant to them, and has sustained us over 20 years.
You now run your own record label, working with up-and-coming artists, including a role in Fame Music’s World Electronic Music Contest. What keeps you at it?
It’s the world I’ve become — contained in the hum between voice and drum. That pretty much sums it up! And there’s nothing like the feeling of discovering talented artists and helping them into the world. It’s a good feeling to encourage people and enjoy their enthusiasm after 25 years in the game.
You can follow Sister Bliss on Twitter.
Words: Noel Phillips.