Comprised of Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo, experimental pop-rock outfit Xiu Xiu have released 15 7-inches, five EPs, six collaboration albums and 10 full-length LPs throughout the past two decades. Citing an eclectic mix of sonic influences from British post-punk and industrial to modern Western classical, Xiu Xiu first began in “isolation” in San Jose, Calif., circa 2002.
Now signed to Polyvinyl, the group got their start on the riot grrrl and queer-friendly Portland, Ore., imprint Kill Rock Stars and have remained committed to tackling complex sociopolitical issues in their music -- from gender dysphoria, suicide, loneliness and insanity to abortion, queer life and much more. Their latest LP -- the more experimental Girl With a Basket of Fruit -- was released in February.
To celebrate Billboard’s Summer of Pride -- as well as Xiu Xiu's upcoming European fall tour, which includes a stop at Quebec's Pop Montreal Festival in September -- Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart crafted a Pride-themed playlist that speaks to his eclectic sonic influences. "This is PRIDE music of contemplation, solitude and insular experience. It does not mean that parties are dumb nor is dancing dumb nor are ‘4 on the floor boogie beats’ dumb,” he says. “But being alone, staring at the ceiling deep in reflection and listening to no discernible square beats at all is not dumb either.”
The playlist is meant “not in any way to be an anti fun contrarian for the sake of being an anti fun contrarian,” he jokes, “but to try and represent those of us who are, while celebratory of queerness -- are also by design introverted and unsocial.”
For the set, Stewart hand-picked a list of queer musicians who might called experimental or “noise or mussed punk or modern classical or minimalist,” he says. “Every one of whom has shaped and guided and taught and touched my own feeble musical life as a devoted fan and as a player hoping to be a gram as devoted as them. Thank you all so much for being yourselves and for helping me to try and be myself. For that is what PRIDE is and that is what queerness is and that is what a life truly lived is. Therein be ye olde point of this list.”
Below, Stewart put together a track-by-track guide to his Pride mix, which features songs by John Cage, Alice Bag, David Bowie and more.
Julius Eastman - "Gay Guerrilla"
"This is to me is the pinnacle of alone music. It takes total concentration to absorb and total concentration to feel. Giving into the effort blows to pieces any hesitation about whether or not it was worth the time. For once you let Julius Eastman’s 4 part piano dynamos take control, it is all over. AND holy fuck, calling a classical piece Gay Guerrilla in 1980?! A notable and early touchstone for out and transgressive serious artistes of forever!"
Pauline Oliveros - "Horse Sings from Cloud Part 1"
"Oh baby I love it when almost nothing is happening in music. It is so freeing to listen to a note slowly build upon itself and then end. An accordion and a voice, in space, letting us know that in simplicity there is all we would ever need. Look into your pink mirror, breathe and grin. That too could be all you would ever need."
William Basinski – "Melancholia"
"Hearing something sad is not always sad, but sometimes it is. Being unafraid to feel a feeling that is supposed to be avoided is wonderful. Diving into most things that are supposed to be avoided is wonderful. Slow, decayed and repeating…"
John Cage - "Amplified Cacti with a Feather"
"Thor Harris and I were walking through the desert during a break on a tour and I started plucking on a cactus spine. He came over and asked if it might make a good musical sound. I said, “yeah John Cage already did it.” He just sighed and said, “John Cage already did everything cool.” He is such an inspiration so take the time to listen to EVERYTHING."
January Hunt - Live At Ende Tymes X
"Most people doing noise and drone put forth a single emotion upon a single palate. January goes from a quiet and beautiful but bad dream to ear disappearing and heart obliterating shredded apoplexy. It is a joy to hear both within the same 2 or 25 minutes. Fullness a scope is a sign of a truly creative mind."
Sara Davachi - "Perfumes III"
"It can be such a relief sometimes to hear something pretty. I almost forget that anything pretty exists sometimes. (fay hand draped across fay forehead) Sara Davachi is able to do this without being cloying or obvious. Her work is patient and glacial and unobtrusive. (flower petal draped across flowered vines)."
Charlemagne Palestine - "Tritone Octave 3"
"And then on the other hand it can be such a relief to hear something menacing, unforgiving, relentless, atonal, driving, devoid of tenderness and insane. (balled fist pounding ones own ovaries and or balls!) God it is great to not be pandered to in any way. Charlemagne Palestine demands that he be let to fly into the abyss and you can come too if you want."
Alice Bag – "Gluttony"
"Although a little more “song-ish” than most of the pieces here, nonetheless Gluttony is no easier to listen to. It is profoundly provoking to hear her fury, intent, rage and shaded sense of humor blast 80s Los Angeles to bits and re-define who got to be punk."
"This is for when you have gotten some news you want to keep private, or maybe when you have realized something about yourself that you want to keep private. You cannot express it out loud, but you must-to express it. Put this song on and set your burden free."
Beast Nest - "A History of Sexual Violence"
"Despite the possible dejected heaviness of the title, this piece, to me feels like getting into a spaceship. After having loaded all of the pain of said title into its infinite cargo hold and one rockets it to another dimension where it has no meaning and cannot wound anyone every again."
David Bowie - "Weeping Wall"
"Bowie obviously wrote at least 30 of the best pop songs of all time but he also created some of the most forward looking and enchanting kosmische music and post ambient music as well. For a pop star he had the rarified guts to demand one pay attention and also let go while listening to what else existed beyond fame."
Joe Meek - "Telstar" (performed by The Tornadoes)
"Joe Meek sadly lived in a time when being gay was actually crime and could get you thrown in jail in England. It lead to a mental breakdown that ended in a murder suicide. Out of this pathos and before his horrible exit, the monumentally talented and crucial producer, songwriter and recording engineer, wrote one of the dearest and most heartfelt instrumentals in rock history. Knowing how much turmoil he felt and how much turmoil he would cause stupidly makes it more wondrous and poignant."
Henry Cowell - "The Tides of Manaunaun"
"This piano work, now amazingly more than 100 years old, is almost everything I want from music. Crushing and dense dissonance with a hurting and delicate melody. Henry Cowell’s destruction is covered in a field of tulips. It feels perfect."
Wendy Carlos - "Funeral of Queen Mary"
"I LOVE that queers were and are at the forefront of synths. Wendy Carlos used her virtuosity and open mindedness to take classical tropes, electrify them and have them represent violence,horror and mental and societal illness. She took time- honored harmonies and made new sounds for them to present to a changed and horrible world."
Harry Partch - "Chorus of Shadows"
"A creator of instruments and aesthetic systems, Harry Partch, when not riding the literal rails, created a new aural language using his newly crafted timbres. He innovated and remade what was possible. The feelings in this piece are ceremonial, baffling, inward looking and frighteningly stimulating. One cannot but want and need to try something new themselves upon hearing it."
Matmos - "Supreme Balloon"
"Matmos have been ahead of the curve since their inception. This 24 minute analog synth odyssey predated the current 2nd wave analog revolution we're just now fading out of by at least 3 years. It is such a joy to listen to this and be taken away on their vactrol balloon. Through to its depth and scope one is surprised every time it sails over a glitter mountain and sparkle beeping cloud. One could say that about all their pieces."
Lou Harrison - "Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra"
"Going from found and orchestral percussive complete mayhem to immaculately plaintive near silence, this masterpiece of Lou Harrison’s is the queerest of the queer. It innovates and challenges and comments on itself and then redefines itself within 20 minutes having just changed music forever. Musicians and serious music listeners are still grappling with what this piece means and how to live within it."
Hildegarde van Bingen - "Favius Distillans"
"This piece has on more than one occasion reminded me not to give up nor to give in. Although composed nearly 900 years ago, that it is still resonant and stirring and remarkable and dark and light is the prime testament to quality and most absolute example of musical/emotional superlative that I have ever heard or felt. May we strive to have such a long lasting impact on music, self, others and on being at all."