“I like my pop music a little bit weird,” says FEMME. “I like it to challenge, to push the envelope a little bit — not just repeat what’s gone before.” Fans of the Midlands-born, London-based singer and producer will be well aware of her individual take on pop, from her retro-futuristic 2016 album Debutante , and her genre-bending collaboration with Radiohead super-producer Nigel Godrich as Ultraista. But her latest material is perhaps her most forward-thinking yet. As she puts it, “I love to just keep moving.”
Today, she’s preparing to release a string of self-produced new singles that land somewhere between the pop explosion of Debutante and the more intricate electronic experiments of Ultraísta. “Fire With Fire” is a brassy garage-inflected tune reminiscent of Sweet Female Attitude or T2, which Bettinson describes as being ” about picking a fight with somebody. It’s me saying to people, I’m fucking still here, making music!”
The newly released video for the track also fits that description, and has an unusual inspiration.”Like most of my best ideas they usually come to me in the middle of night deep in a cheese dream. With a habit of cooking up big ideas on DIY budgets, I knew we had to find a clever way of getting the heat into the video without setting everything on fire. With that in mind we arrived at this dystopian chili pepper eating competition. Director Ben Mahon took this initial idea and ran with it and together I think we’ve created one of my best videos to date. The lyrics of the song are about picking a fight and squaring up to a challenge, letting the world know you’re not about to be steamrolled – it’s cheeky and a little bit twisted. Just like the video.”
Growing up in Rugby, FEMME — real name Laura Bettinson — learned piano, and devoured the “massive female voices” passed on to her by her parents and grandparents: Doris Day, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, and Carole King. As a teenager, that love merged with an ear for indie bands and catchy melodies, including anything from Smashing Pumpkins to Sean Paul. By the time she was studying Popular Music at London’s Goldsmiths University, she discovered performance artists like Laurie Anderson and Klaus Nomi, and delved into the back catalogue of Bjork. From all this, she emerged as an artist with several sides: performer, producer, writer, voice.
Bettinson first decided to learn how to create electronic loops live when it became too much of a nuisance to drag her keyboard to the pub gigs she played while at university. From there, she learned how to produce her own songs in Logic, and it quickly became the backbone of her writing process. Her earliest music was released under the name Dimbleby & Capper, a moniker she conceived of as a way to remain enigmatic, but also to hint at the duality of her role as both producer and singer.
It was while performing these early south London gigs that Bettinson caught the attention of Godrich, who invited her to his studio to sing on some new material he was working on. Together with him and R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker, she ended up forming one third of the electronic pop group Ultraísta . The trio released their acclaimed self-titled album of afrobeat-infused electronica in 2012, receiving acclaim from Pitchfork, the Guardian, and Rolling Stone.
Working with Godrich gave Bettinson “a lot of confidence to produce my own music, because he was always very supportive. We have quite similar tastes — for the slightly weirder shit. I also learned to trust my instincts, because you can’t please everybody.”
With that newfound confidence, Bettinson began creating her own firebrand of “bold, ballsy pop music.” Her 2014 single “Fever Boy” cleanly blended influences from M.I.A., Santigold, and 1960s girl groups, and found a fan in Charli XCX — who invited FEMME to accompany her on a six-week US tour — and several major labels. But Bettinson found herself uninterested in the executives who wanted to mould her project, and stuck to her independent path. In 2016, she self-released the scrappy, sharp-edged alt-pop album Debutante , a tour-de-force of hooks and beats designed to make you bounce around your bedroom.
Today, she’s preparing to release a string of self-produced new singles that land somewhere between the pop explosion of Debutante and the more intricate electronic experiments of Ultraísta. “Fire With Fire” is a brassy garage-inflected tune reminiscent of Sweet Female Attitude or T2, which Bettinson describes as being “ about picking a fight with somebody. It’s me saying to people, I’m fucking still here, making music!”
“Angel” is a house tune truly made for driving in summer with the top down, while the shimmering “Little Bit” digs into the more introspective side of Bettinson’s production. For FEMME, it signals a popstar embracing all sides of her talent, and taking total control. “I keep pushing myself to go somewhere new,” she explains. “My writing process is to start with a beat, and programme a bassline…My production is so intertwined with my writing process, I wouldn’t be able to do it not in that driver’s seat. This is just me flexing my muscles in a different direction.”
Fire With Fire by FEMME. Out now
Video Directed by Ben Mahon