Local electronic producer Christina Chatfield is known for bringing her Chicago house-meets-Detroit techno style of dance music to San Francisco as a resident of the As You Like It series. She recently debuted an immersive 30-minute, 40-person capacity ambient set at Envelop SF, a “next-generation 3D sound venue” located inside the Midway, as part of MUTEK.SF’s “Experience” event on the last day of the festival. While this was her first public performance at Envelop, she had previously participated in an instructional session there after contributing toward its Kickstarter campaign. I had a chance to meet with Christina a few days earlier at Heron Arts to discuss her journey through the Bay Area club scene. Read excerpts from our 30-minute interview below.

The Bay Bridged: So you grew up in Ohio?

Christina Chatfield: In Dayton, Ohio, which had a surprisingly good music scene at the time. The underground electronic techno scene there was pretty healthy in the 90s and early 2000s. People think of Dayton and they may not think it's the most exciting place, and in many ways it may not be. But, at that time, it really had a lot of underground music happening and a lot of good venues like warehouses and things like that. Well located for great music at the time.

TBB: What inspired you to pursue music?

CC: I've always been a big fan of Nine Inch Nails and New Order, synth-driven music [like] Depeche Mode, that kind of stuff, even before I got into the rave scene...That's really what got me into synthesizers and wanting to study sound design, early on. I actually studied music synthesis at Berklee College of Music in Boston. I always had a passion for that. One of the things I liked about it is when I had ideas for music in my head, using software or even hardware synths, you can actually execute on those ideas without having to hire an entire band...I always kind of liked the idea of being able to do it all myself. I also like to collaborate, but it's nice to be able to have an idea and execute on it.

TBB: Tell me about your family’s musical history. Did you start by playing traditional instruments?

CC: It's actually kind of wild. My parents are both classical musicians, as well as my brother. He's an orchestral player. My dad actually plays the pipe organ and my mom is an opera singer, so they're way more in the classical zone. Growing up, I played a whole bunch of instruments like piano, violin, flute, [and] guitar...Maybe playing all those different instruments is sort of like — the early stages of me just liking lots of different sounds and wanting to dabble in different things. I wouldn't say that I really stuck with any of the instruments. Maybe keyboards. That's most closely associated with synths.

TBB: When did you move out to the West Coast?

CC: About 10 years ago, in October 2009, I believe. I came out here with the person I used to collaborate with, under the name Monocle. That was a techno live act that I had in the mid-2000s to 2010. After living on the East Coast, I really wanted to be out west, away from winter. I came out here and started working for the Logic team at Apple as a sound designer. That's kind of what got me on the West Coast in the first place.

TBB: Then you linked up with As You Like It?

CC: Yeah, I am a resident for them. I've been super lucky to have really supportive people, for my music. Jeremy Bispo is one of them, with As You Like It. I've been a resident with them for — almost since the beginning. Since I play live, I only play for them quarterly as opposed to every month. When you play live and you're playing in San Francisco a lot, you don't want to have a lot of the same kind of sets, or the same music. So the fact that I do it at once every three months gives me a lot of time to prepare new material and keep things different.

"When I had ideas for music in my head, using software or even hardware synths, you can actually execute on those ideas without having to hire an entire band...I always kind of liked the idea of being able to do it all myself."

TBB: You're known for your house-meets-techno sound, but playing ambient music now.

CC: It's been fun to kind of shift gears. I was always making ambient or downtempo at home, just by myself, for myself. Last year I got asked to play on Stanford's radio station...Usually when I'm booked to play, I'm playing in a club or at an As You Like It party or something where it's more of a dance event. So when I got this radio station booking, I was like, 'This is a rare opportunity [where] I don't feel pressured to make dance floor music'...I was like, 'You know what, I'm not going to play techno this time. I'm going to actually bring out some of the ambient stuff I've been making.'

After that, I posted the set to SoundCloud and kept getting more requests to play ambient. I played at Gray Area’s UNSEEN Series a few months back. And then [for] the MUTEK booking, when I submitted a proposal to play, I said I would be happy to play either ambient or techno. Since I’m in the Envelop room and it's all surround, it seemed like a good time to play more ambient stuff...The way that songs flow, it’s a pretty different way of thinking. I feel like you can really take a step back when you're playing an ambient set and let things breathe.

TBB: Do you you feel like the gender imbalance has improved over the years?

CC: It has definitely gotten way better, like lightyears better. When I first started playing or learning about synthesizers, especially at Berklee, I was the only woman in most of my classes. And then once I graduated from college and kinda started gigging and going out into the world with music, I found that ratio to be kind of the same...But now, I'm in lots of different Facebook groups with women who do music production. I feel like there's a lot more events. For example, they do something called Daphne in Chicago where it's kind of a forum to teach women how to DJ [and] do production. And then at night they have these showcases where it's all women talent. I feel like we're seeing a lot more of that at festivals who are putting way more effort into not having their lineup just be like, all white guys from Berlin. But yeah, it's definitely way better...

Back when I used to do the collaboration that I mentioned called Monocle, I remember at the time I was really worried that people were gonna make the assumption that the male part of the duo was doing all the real heavy production parts. So that was just an anxiety that I always carried with me. And I remember I was like, "I don't ever want us to make a track with vocals because don't want everyone to think I'm just the singer and you're the producer." Nowadays, I probably wouldn't have those types of thoughts anymore. I feel like it's not so rare to see women making music and playing live sets with gear and stuff.

What advice would you give to younger women who are interested in pursuing music and technology?

CC: I would say...don't let yourself get intimidated. I definitely did, which is I would want to share that knowledge...I would say to any woman that wants to start learning this stuff, don't ever be afraid to ask questions. There are no dumb questions.

TBB: How do you feel about the intersecting worlds of tech vs. art in the Bay Area?

CC: I feel like this MUTEK event is a great example of those worlds intersecting. The Bay Area has changed immensely during my time here because of all the tech stuff. And so, I get where a lot of the frustration comes from. But I do think it's possible for those two things to collide. Another great example would be the Envelop space. The free software that those guys have developed, and the free plugins for that, that's all open source. I feel that there is a way for tech to not be something so negative, and it's really cool to see people [putting] more of a positive spin on it. It's super awesome to have a MUTEK at SF finally...Right on my doorstep. I don't have to get on the plane. It's happening right in my own city.

TBB: Anyone else you’d like to shout out?

CC: Samantha Kern, who runs the God Particle label is another person who's just been incredibly supportive over the years, and also patient because I can take a long time to finish music.

Christina Chatfield’s The Circle is out now on God Particle. If you missed her performance at Envelop SF, she plans to continue performing ambient sets in the future. She’ll return to The Midway to perform her next techno set at As You Like It “Open Air” with Omar S. She’s also looking for visual artists to collaborate with.

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