Greem Jellyfish’s Guide to Her Electronic Music Gear
Michelle Lhooq: Greem Jellyfish has been an eccentric staple of the Brooklyn underground for many years, bringing her fiery energy, howling vocals, and raw musical talent to various punk bands and electronic groups over the years, including one of my favorite Bushwick acts of all time, the (now-defunct) techno trio DUST.
I often feel like a Brooklyn rave isn’t really a rave until you see Greem floating through the crowd, wrapped in tendrils of lights and fabrics, tearing up the dance floor. Greem, who is a Korean immigrant artist, wrote on her website: “I adopted the surname ‘Jellyfish,’ because I come from a mixed family of many names, often feeling as an outsider and a misfit. I find freedom in the symbol of a deep sea creature that roams about, fluidly, transient, its very form made from the same water in which it lives.”
Ahead of her Boom BK set at Bunker Vietnamese on November 17, along with Eartheater, Abdu Ali, and NK Batdz Maru, Greem takes us through the collection of gear in her Bushwick studio, going into detail in her typically charming way about the stories behind each beloved piece.
Greem Jellyfish: Music is a universal language that anyone can understand. You don’t need money or a fancy studio to express yourself. Come up with an idea. Make a sound. Focus on the sound. Experiment with multiple different sounds—this creates harmony and dissonance. Sound is vibration, there is much depth to it. With melody we can tell stories. We call this music.
Elements I identify as central to the process of making electronic music are color, emotions, minor chords, and repetition. Producing electronic music affords freedom through planning and repetition. The artist must be willing to move, to travel with the sound. Music and emotion share a profound relationship. The way Yoko Ono’s communicates her thoughts through experimental sound is inspiring to me. Her songs, always unstructured and raw, are rich with feelings.
I’ve learned most of my skills by observing other artists perform live. I made friends with other recording artists and asked them lots of dumb questions. They usually explained things in depth.
If you don’t have a friend who makes music, start going to live shows and ask the musician questions about what they do. You can also search online and watch a tutorial video, or go to a music instrument store where you can try everything. Music stores also have lots of good books. I’ve found books on music software like Logic, vocal techniques, DJing, and the history of dance culture. Educate yourself if you want it.
Since 2011, I’ve slowly been collecting music gear. I’m still a novice when it comes to technical know-how and I only have a few pieces compared to many of the artists I know. Here are some personal reflections on musical gear I have collected over the years and how I use it.
Pioneer or Behringer Mixer
I actually don’t have this in my studio, but when I DJ, I get to use one for a few hours—how exciting! I am so fascinated by all the knobs. When I first started to DJ, I didn’t have any gear, so I played on my laptop using programs like Traktor or Ableton, which work with your keyboard and the touch pad. It was painful for my fingers trying to add effects or drag a song.
Before I’d had a chance to try out CDJs and a mixer, I assumed they were difficult to use. Even though the machines didn’t intimidate me, people wouldn’t let me use them before I as properly trained. I went to my school radio station at WNYU when there were no one there so I could practice and feel comfortable with just turning any knobs and seeing what happened. I realized how much easier it is to use the hardware mixer than my laptop. It makes so much more sense to just turn the knob left or right, rather than using my thumb and index finger to control everything!
Connecting a CDJ, laptop or any output into the mixer allows you to control the volume like a conductor, creating a high, mid, or low sound. You can also blend two or more songs at the same time, depending on your channel preference, and add effects like echoes, delays or filters. You can fade in and out, and otherwise manipulate the sound to use the mixer like an instrument.
Novation X-Station 25 Synthesizer
I got this synthesizer from Terekke, AKA Matt Gardner. He was leaving Brooklyn to Europe in 2014 and needed to sell his gear. I had been wanting to get a synthesizer so I was extremely happy when he messaged me about it. I remember him using it to make really pretty, spacious sounds while I was doing yoga at Body Actualized Center, a Brooklyn venue that is sadly gone now. He really didn’t want to give it up but kept telling me that he had no choice.
I love the controller on the left side. When I move it slowly while I’m playing a C note, it sounds so heavenly. I feel transported to a spaceship garden. This synth also makes all kinds of other sounds, including a bell, organ, raindrop, and bass.
In general, you can use a synthesizer as a keyboard or a MIDI if you connect it to the computer. You want to use the full range of sounds that the synthesizer offers. Come up with melody and try things out until you find the perfect sound that you like.
Zoom RT-123 drum machine
Around 2011, I was intensely playing drums with my band, Beef/Meth, when I suddenly broke my right arm. When I switched to the drum machine by necessity, it was the first electronic instrument I purchased with my own money. I remember it was only about $40. The drum machine was cheaper than a snare, and it had options such as tom, floor tom, snare, kick, ride, crash, high hat and a drum pattern—giving me a greater range than what I was able to do with just own arms and legs. I love all drum machines. I wish I had more!
AKAI XR20 drum machine
I got this one off Craigslist. I arranged to meet the drum machine owner at a bar in Bushwick. I haggled for a discount, but the guy, who was studying to be a physicist, wouldn’t budge. It came in the box, almost like brand new. I tried it at the bar and it worked fine. A few days later, I realized that it had some glitches. When the drum machine gets turned off, all the drum and bass tracks disappear, which wouldn’t normally happen with other drum machines. But what can I do? Craigslist doesn’t have a customer service. I couldn’t return it. It was cheaper than the market price so I just kept it.
All of the drum sounds you could ever want are inside of this machine. It enables you to make fun drum beats and add the bassline. The sounds are super 70s and 90s. You can basically play melody and sing on top of this to create a complete song. It’s realllllllly cool.
It’s compact and has a battery, so I was performing on the street while on tour, traveling from New York to Seoul to Busan to Berlin to Amsterdam. While I was on a bus, train or an airplane, I would plug in my headphones and listen to it. It just felt like a really, really fun toy. When I was traveling with it, it didn’t have a case. So about a year after I’d been using it like an iPod, the machine wouldn’t turn on once in awhile. Then one day, it completely crashed and never turned back on. I know I can fix it but I just haven’t had time to get it up and running again 🙁
Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler Loop Pedal
I got this from my band mate’s friend in 2011—I had been using his pedal for a while, then he asked me to just buy it off him. It delays, repeats, tweaks, and mixes any sound that goes into the pedal. It’s heavy, noisy, and chaotic, but it can also be gentle. It can loop a 14-second segment and overdub it. It’s incredible! Perfect for a whole range of occasions.
Some musicians plug in their guitar or synth but I mainly use this with my vocals. It has 16 different vintage digital effects. I thought it was a analog pedal because when the sound gets altered through this pedal, it just sounds really smooth and good. Also, this green box is really heavy and doesn’t have LED lights or a screen but it turns out it was one of the first digital modeling effects units. It still sounds very rich. When I want my vocals to sound like an alien, I use “Multi-Head” or “Reverse” When I just want simple echo, I use either “Analog Echo” or “Auto-volume Echo” When I feel like giving some special echo effect, I use, “Tape Echo”, or “Sweep Echo”. “Reverse Delay” is a realllly cool effect because it plays backwards.
When I play a noisier sound, I would max out all the knobs including, delay time, repeats, tweaks, tweez and the mix. Then 14 seconds later, the sounds just gets too chaotic. It’s like when you paint, you use, red, yellow, blue, green; when you keep using all the colors your painting becomes this rich black color. It’s like that. So just keeping everything maxed out is not so fun if it’s gonna be like that for twenty minutes unless you are a super intellectual conceptual composer. So I keep moving those knobs left and right. One sound I really like is when I point the Tweek knob and Tweez knob at each other, they make this loud engine wind sound. I like that effect.
It can sound pretty psychedelic. When I use “Loop Sampler” with my vocals, it sounds heavenly and makes me feel like I’m at a tranquil garden.
Behringer Mixer Xenyx802 Premium 8-Input 2bus Mixer
I got this from Guitar Center on 14th Street in New York City. Basically when you play live, you want to control the volume of your vocals, drum machine, synthesizer, and all your channels. This machine does just that. It doesn’t make sounds, but any sound can go through it. Its compact design makes it highly functional for a live set.
I painted it in green because the dark grey color was boring and I was doing homework for my art class so I had a brush and acrylic paint on hand. You can see all the brush marks. I don’t regret it but it has this “I went to an art school” look. It’s a little embarrassing because it is not perfectly painted but oh well, it gives a character to the mixer. I also had a certain set up when I would rehearse but at the live set I would get extremely drunk and not remember it. I was also playing at many venues that didn’t even have monitors. So I would just mark the mixer with the perfect mixing volume and write which cable is connected to which instrument.
Logic Pro 9
Logic Pro is a mac software application that you can do anything relating to digital audio. You can compose an orchestra, produce techno tracks, record vocals, film soundtracks and any genre of music. It allows you to be meticulous with sound by giving lots of options and easy navigation. It has many incredible loops, which are royalty free and professionally recorded. I made a mellow house track using these loops at 6AM in Berlin after dancing all night so easily and it sounds so smooth! There are so many things in Logic. Amhara Rein AKA Xhosa, showed me how to build drum beats using the Drum Kit, which is like a drum machine in the computer. It also has all different kinds of instruments sounds in the software. Literally more instruments than I actually physically played in my life, such as a dozen types of guitar and bass guitar and synth, vocoder, guzheng, many symbols, and middle eastern instruments.
My friend Amhara was using it when we were just trying to jam. She would click a few thing, here and there then it was a song! I was so amazed. I was hanging out with Carlos from Ava Luna and just jamming once and he was like, let’s record a song. Then he brought out the software and moved a few things around, I made some noise with actual drum sets and bass then he mixed them which made the whole song sounds so much nicer. We added some bubble sounds and that became Crashing through Forest. I’d been wanting to have Logic in my laptop for a while when Mike from Dust told me that he had, so I got it from him. Mike is also another person who showed me a few tricks in Logic. Very talented!
It makes sounds of life! It’s like there’s nothing when you open it, then you add things and make some pattern, then add some detail then you gotta fix something. Then you realize you added too much so you edit some sounds out of it then realize you took too much out. Then it’s too loud. Then it’s too quiet. Then you fight with yourself then you come up with a compromise. It’s like having sex with Logic.