Anika: Noir-Pop Dynamo Trades Journalistic Wonkery for Avant-Pop Thrills
"I thought I would have more influence [making music] than if I had gone into policy development."
Who: Annika Henderson, a German-born, Welsh-raised freelance journalist with a background in club promotion and marketing who has collaborated with Geoff Barrow’s queasy post-punk trio Beak>, and has been cited by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner as a major influence on the group’s latest album, Mosquito. The singer admits she “never really intended on being a musician,” and describes the act of making music and writing as a personal “process of unwinding [her] head and getting [her] issues out.” (She removes an “n” from her name to not give everything over to her musical persona). Ultimately, that aloof, enigmatic approach on last year’s self-titled album and new self-titled EP (both produced by Barrow); buzzing, droning singer-songwriter records; nod to Henderson’s political impulses, as well: “I thought I would have more influence [making music] than if I had gone into policy development.”
Twisted Roots: Anika’s restrained, deadpan vocals; comparisons to Nico pop up frequently; are the result of singing in what she jokingly calls, her “BBC Voice,” enhanced by a bit of “a Welsh twang.” Backed by Beak>, the music pulses and throbs, with hints of no-wave noisemaking, the firm simplicity of ’60s girl-group pop, and dub reggae’s echo-chamber creepiness. Though with the latter, it’s more like dub by way of krautrock; closer to say, Faust’s “The Sad Skinhead” than say, a Lee “Scratch” Perry single. On the Anika EP, covers of the Kinks, the Crystals, and the Chromatics are hammered into industrial death-disco grooves. The goal of the EP was simple: “To do those songs in a twisted way.”
Sick of the Scene: Henderson worked as a show organizer for three different venues in the Welsh capital of Cardiff, which brought her in close contact with business matters and actually made her sick of music. “I was booking bands in the indie scene,” she explains, “and I found that [they] were too concerned with their online presence or their outfits.” She moved on to journalism and continued to privately pursue both music and poetry. Still, that “frustrating” brush with the industry made Henderson’s meeting with Barrow so much more “reassuring.” She celebrates the Portishead co-founder’s ability to “take a backseat” to other musicians, and speaks highly of Beak>’s ability to “go with their own part[s]” yet come together and make something both controlled and chaotic. The result is music that she modestly but proudly calls, her “mini-statement.”
No Unicorns: Henderson’s pre-Beak> experiences with public artistic expression were frustrating and alienating. She recalls reading a piece of writing; “a poem-thing,” she calls it now; to a friend, who just laughed. It was “Officer, Officer,” a pissed-off punk-dub track that ended up on her debut album. “Everyone was like, ‘It’s too political. What is this weird stuff?'” she explains, bemused. And what were her peers doing? “It was people talking about rainbows and fairies and unicorns or something,” she says. “Which is fine, if you want to do that. I might write a fairy unicorn record next. But at the time, that wasn’t really helping my mind.”