Petra Glynt: Revolution on the dancefloor

Petra Glynt: Revolution on the dancefloor

After years of community-building, artist drops first record

“My music is for the people,” said multimedia artist Alexandra Mackenzie: “Those that have been screwed by patriarchy [and] haven’t been given the space to flourish in this world because it’s been dominated by a white male capitalist colonial elite.”

Motivated by this injustice, Mackenzie, also known as Petra Glynt, worked to make the Toronto music scene more inclusive of women; “I was really alienated by it and frustrated, but I was determined to access it somehow.” Eventually, with the help of many in the community, she succeeded.

Photo Courtesy of Alexandra Mackenzie

“Voices within the music community [began] to shape and work together to [make it] more inclusive,” said Mackenzie.

In today’s society, Mackenzie believes artists play a vital role. “There’s more urgency for artists to use their voices,” said Mackenzie. “It doesn’t feel appropriate to make work that doesn’t help make [those] changes.”

Her work draws from a variety of causes dear to her, the Occupy movement being a major influence. “That’s when the voice really lets go. When you’re singing about things that you care about, your voice and your music is going to come across as its most honest,” Mackenzie said.

Her vibrato vocals, percussive melodies, and colourful aesthetic breathe new life into resistance movements.

“I think rhythm contributes to the protest, the movement, and the revolutionary – even if it’s on the dance floor,” Mackenzie added.

Drawing, drumming, and the revolution: talking to Petra Glynt

Multimedia artist Alexandra Mackenzie, aka Petra Glynt, drops her new record This Trip on Vibe Over Method — her first full-length in a career that spans over a decade. We asked Mackenzie about art and politics.

Brady Patterson: It’s clear from your videos that you’re not only a musician, but a talented visual artist as well. What mediums do you work with?

Alexandra Mackenzie: I’m kind of spread out. I like to draw and paint, screenprint. And video is a new addition. I like to try new things.

BP: Is there any particular medium that you’re especially drawn toward?

AM: I think drawing is my number one. Lately I’ve been trying to paint and translate my drawings into paintings. That’s kind of a new territory. I think my most comfortable place to go to make something would be drawing.

BP: So drawing was your introduction into the arts?

AM: I always drew always was a little scattered. My disability has been pretty ADD like, “Now I wanna try this! Now I’m going to go over here! Now I’m going to go over there!” and then I have to make some sort of cohesive whole out of it all. (Laughter) Drawing was this thing that started it, but I did printmaking in school.

Alex Simons

BP: You have this cultivated openness toward sounds from a variety of different sources. What sounds tend to be more salient than others?

AM: I like percussive sounds predominantly — percussive sounds that can be melodic. A lot of my sounds are found online. I don’t do a lot of field recording [except] in the Metro. Lately I’ve been collecting from freesound.org. I like metallic sounds, wood; things with a note in them.

BP: There’re some politically charged elements in some of your music. Given the state of the world as it is now, what role do you think artists have?

AM: I find there’s more urgency for artists to use their voices. I guess that when there’s such an urgency for change to happen, it doesn’t feel appropriate to make work that doesn’t help make the changes they want to see. I think I have less patience for work that is purely formal, although I do appreciate experimenting. Sometimes it does have a place. I personally feel like I have a responsibility as an artist. When you’re singing from a place of your heart, that’s when the voice really lets go. When you’re singing about things that you care about, your voice and your music is going to come across as its most honest. And I respect that honesty in other artists as well.

BP: What causes have resonated with you?

AM: Ones that affect my community directly, when I see marginalized people feeling that they’re not getting the space, or they’re having to create this space on their own and they’re not getting the support. A lot of this music I’m releasing now came out of the Occupy movement a reaction to that. Nowadays it’s feminism, queer communities, racialized [communities]… I don’t really write about that stuff specifically. It’s hard to talk about… I can often sing about what I’m feeling, but I suppose I want to make music or occupy spaces that celebrate and help encourage these movements that are already happening.

BP: Do you see percussion as a vital instrument in revolutionary effort?

AM: Oh yeah! It’s always at the protests for sure, there’s always people drumming — in the street there’s always that element. It helps make the whole thing feel alive.

I think rhythm contributes to the protest, the movement, and the revolution – even if it’s on the dancefloor.

BP: Do you think that artists in Toronto feel a duty toward the musical community in the same way that artists from smaller communities feel?

AM: My experience of the music community in Toronto is spread across a period of ten years. When I first started playing music there I was a really young woman and it was a very male-dominated scene. There wasn’t a lot of women [playing] in bands and at that time I was really alienated by it and frustrated, but I was determined to access it somehow. I think I’ve seen it change so much from it being a male-dominated scene to become a lot more inclusive and I’ve seen the voices within the music community begin to shape and work together to [make it] more inclusive. I think the problem with Toronto is that there’s not a lot of spaces for people to showcase their work. The core is getting so compressed with business, [it’s] getting more expensive and it’s pushing [musicians] out. So people with all these radical, awesome intentions have to come up with a lot of different ways to show it. I think that there’s people that feel like it’s their duty to uphold the community and maintain it. There is a lot of that, but I think it’s hard! I think it’s exhausting — in Toronto especially. It’s a full-time job. There’s no time! I think everyone’s a little tired.

Later Mackenzie reached out via Facebook to add to her answers.

AM: I was thinking it over, and I feel like I want to share more. Especially in regards to the question about who my music is for. My music is for the people — for those who don’t fit into the 1% elite (so the majority), for those that have been screwed by patriarchy, for those that haven’t been given the space to flourish in this world because it’s been dominated by a white male capitalist/colonial elite, which in turn affects the minorities and the marginalized, aka the most vulnerable. As a woman, I have felt this from my years in the music community — but I’ve also seen the community make noticeable changes by not tolerating oppressive behaviour. I think a show or a concert can be a place to feel connected in these issues and also celebrate something we love: music and each other.

My music is also for me, in a way. It’s where I process my feelings about the world, and where I get to let it all out — at least that’s where it’s going.

Petra Glynt plays the Ebar on Friday, Oct. 13.

Her debut album, This Trip, drops on Oct. 27 via Vibe Over Method.

Illustration by Alex Simons