To anyone following the work of the DJ and producer Ultrademon, the last few years may have seemed like quiet ones. In the early part of the decade, she released a slew of albums, EPs, and DJ mixes—most notably, 2013’s Seapunk, a cult hit steeped in the Tumblr/Twitter “seapunk” aesthetic popularized by artists like Azealia Banks and Grimes. Her last full-length as Ultrademon, Durian Rider, appeared in 2015. But in truth, she never stopped recording—most of her work from the last three years has appeared under her Lily and Lilium Kobayashi monikers.
She also relocated to Kyoto. A tour of Japan back in 2012 led to another in 2016, until she eventually decided to make the country her home; she sold her possessions, booked a flight to Tokyo, and left Chicago, where she’d been living, behind. (She moved to Kyoto in April of this year.) Why and how she made the decision to move overseas is unclear—she’s sparing with the details—but her affection for the country is evident in her words. “It takes a certain type of person,” she says of living in Japan, “and I don’t know if I am that person, but I think I am. I like it here. I like that [Kyoto] provides me a lot of space to do my own thing. If I wanted to go into my own world—which I’m very much in all the time—I can.”
The interior realm is important to Ultrademon, and lately, it’s manifested itself in her use of medieval, gothic imagery, worlds away from the future-facing utopian aesthetics of seapunk. “Interiority is strange,” she says. “The external informs me, but it’s a matter of denying it, mostly—a matter of looking to what you are connected to. You are the castle, so to speak. I’m not a social person. I live locked away, and like it that way.”
That Ultrademon would bring up castles is appropriate, given the way medieval terminology and themes crop across her new album, Chamber Music. There are the song titles, for one—“In The Court Of Scorn,” “Armor,” “Trans Feudal.” But that Ren-Faire feel carries over into the music, as well; consider the “Brutal”, where a rowdy beat trades blows with high-pitched, stabbing vocals and a sliding synth melody; it’s less a song than a sonic jousting match. “For one person, they might think of a Renaissance composer,” Ultrademon explains, “but for someone else, they’re going to think of an RPG video game.”
“If you’re comparing it to the [other] Ultrademon work I put out,” she continues, “[Chamber Music] is stepping away from any sort of idea of it being club music. I would say was that why it’s so personal. It covers a period and time in my life where I felt like I was in the middle of a bunch of warring factions, and it invoked this sort of feudalism. It felt like I was in the middle of the battle, and it kind of evoked this neo-gothic, Baroque landscape.”
There’s a larger meaning to the medieval metaphors as well. “I think there’s this feeling at the moment that everyone is independent of each other, extremely mobile and willing to move on at a moment’s notice,” she says. “There’s not really any sort of devotion or depth of connection. It’s feudal in the way that people hyper-fragment and overly define their identities in the context of struggle.”
Her older works were day-glo hyperactive rave patchworks, released on labels like Aphex Twin’s Rephlex Records. There are a few hints of that sound on Chamber Music, but mostly, the music here is much more spacious, emotional, epic, and personal. “Far” marks the first time Ultrademon sings on one of her tracks, and its distorted, growling synths lean toward metal. Much of the album lands somewhere in the middle, with hectic percussion and glitches breaking through huge walls of noise.
While Ultrademon may choose to stay inside her castle, her work is clearly built to connect. For live performances of Chamber Music, she hints at an installation, perhaps in VR, but doesn’t want to give away any more than that. She’s emphatic that she doesn’t want to return to DJing, but refuses to rule it out either. Her next record, currently being written, will focus on live instrumentation specifically. “I’m actually moving away from using beats all together,” she clarifies later, over email. “This record is symbolic of a segue —departing from the bass & club oriented [sound] of my past.”