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Image via Joshua Parks


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Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”


When Janise Robinson was a child, they’d drive around with their older brother near the Texas border, filling the air with the sounds of chopped and screwed music. This wasn’t merely a way of finding new records: This was an escape. Robinson grew up in a strict religious household in Oklahoma, singing in their church’s praise team and listening to their pastors rip into secular music. They were strictly barred from listening to secular music, but they found ways through anyways, smuggling contraband in via movies, television, and car rides. They watched as much science fiction as they could, using ideas of far-flung civilisations and timelines as a way out of Oklahoma, if only briefly. Art can suggest entire worlds, and Robinson spent their childhood exploring them as deeply as they could: vats of cough syrup, long stretches of highway, chrome-coated spaceships, Hell.

Robinson no longer lives in Oklahoma. They’ve since moved 1,200 miles east, to the town of Charleston, South Carolina. They’ve been recording original work, as Niecy Blues, for a few years. Their work sits between all sorts of musical traditions—ambient and ancient religious music, dream-pop and gospel—but it is beholden to none of them. Their work is closer to Grouper than it is to, say, Kirk Franklin; in its slow, miasmic blur, it recalls the work of keiyaA and early FKA twigs. Their debut album, Exit Simulation, came out in November, and it is perhaps their boldest statement yet. Throughout, Robinson takes the transportive power of religious music and renders it a bit uncanny, singing in murmurs and blurs rather than the kind of soul-baring belting you might expect. Robinson’s religious baggage seems to weigh heavy, and Exit Simulation could only have come from someone steeped in the church. It’s the sound of light, and lives, refracting through stained glass.

One of the greatest joys of chopped and screwed music is among its simplest: It takes familiar idioms and instills them with a grand kind of unease, making every hurt sting just a little more and every emotion linger just a little longer. Exit Simulation does something similar with an entire sonic tradition, amplifying the sorrow that lies in the underbelly of so many gospel standards. Robinson’s relationship to music, in one way or another, has always been about other spaces and planes. It’s about dreaming up alternative worlds out of necessity; it’s about the long history of Christian worship in America; it’s about facilitating passage to Heaven. Exit Simulation is the sound of Robinson carving yet another escape hatch, bundling up centuries of history, and disappearing.

In the weeks following the release of Exit Simulation, we got a chance to catch up with Robinson, digging into the importance of escapism, how gospel informs their current work, the restorative power of collaboration, and lots more.

(Content Warning: this interview contains discussions about suicide and depression.)

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)



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