The world is a portrait, painted in black and white…
…At least in the eyes of Mariuca García-Lomas and Ignacio Simón, the innovative minds behind Northwest, an experimental music duo hailing all the way from London.
Operating under their own DIY record label, Tempel Arts, Northwest is among the many Bandcamp acts making waves in the platform and have raised a community of dedicated listeners outside their local music circuit, thanks to its generous name-your-price model opening doors to artists and music fans alike.
But much like the oceans of artists who have garnered a share of collective interest among listeners on the internet by similar means, Northwest struggles to not be a face in the crowd. However, their unique sensibilities as songwriters make them truly stand out in the eyes of their fans — and for good reasons.
Northwest has a lot to offer, many of which artists can get inspiration from — from their beautiful poetry, soul-captivating music, to stories of their creative hurdles, persevering passion, and ingenuity that far surpasses any trials the band has faced.
And through it all, they have proven that they are not just the run-of-the-mill internet artist one can pass on.
Inspirations… and overcoming its dangers
Inspirations are easy to come by but are hard to manage. However, they are part of the bigger creative process.
To some listeners, the success of thriving local acts can be attributed to the success of artists they’re (likely) inspired by.
And while this notion might be true to some artists still rising to fame, especially those who proudly wear their influences on their sleeves, this can be a dangerous feat to possess if not used sparingly.
This, too, is a common struggle faced by many artists, up-and-coming and seasoned ones alike, and one that even someone as talented as Northwest cannot stray from.
But Mariuca and Ignacio both prove to be a formidable duo, and the many musicians and bands who have influenced them in different ways all have their places in their music.
During my exclusive interview with Mariuca, she said that as far as musical influences go, it does not boil down to a set amount of artists that make up Northwest’s signature sound, but rather a sound that culminated from their years of experience as music fans.
“It’s very difficult to point, like, one or two artists. I think it’s a whole of everything we have listened to in our entire lives,” Mariuca said. “Actually, our favorite artists, they have one thing in common — we tend to be inspired by artists that are very eclectic and make music that are very atemporal.
Northwest’s take on their sound is more than just harkening to notable avant-garde pop artists with aesthetic similarities. The music is dense and structured but is free-flowing at the same time. To say that their entire genre revolves around the term ‘experimental’ would be a huge understatement.
For instance, the song Pyramid (from their 2018 album, I) is a heavy and microtonal ambient piece with a dystopian veil, akin to Bjork’s experimental works from Biophilia (2012) and Vulnicura (2015), as well as Radiohead’s Amnesiac (2001).
Interestingly enough, Mariuca mentioned Radiohead as one of her biggest influences in music, apart from Portishead, Broadcast, and most notably, The Beatles.
Meanwhile, All of a Sudden (from their 2019 album, II) shows Mariuca’s singing prowess. The song is a dreary piano ballad, a far cry from the deadpan and steadily paced indietronic Pyramid. The swelling string embellishments that complement Mariuca’s powerful vocals make for one of Northwest’s most emotional tracks to date.
As a singer alone, Mariuca is on par with many great chamber-pop artists of present, including the likes of St. Vincent, Regina Spektor, and Enya. Ignacio’s experimental background and penchant for dark and avant-garde elements, on the other hand, put Northwest in league with similar acts like Anna von Hausswolff and Zola Jesus in terms of production.
Honestly, we could talk all day about artistic similarities and inspirations, but what matters more to Mariuca is the longevity of their music, which is why authenticity for them is such an important thing to keep.
One thing that we are trying to do with Northwest is making music that is not very trendy — we just want to make songs that will survive over time,” Mariuca said. “And so, artists like The Beatles, for example, or Radiohead, I think they have accomplished that.”
“They’re an inspiration for us because of that, and because they are willing and brave to step into the next step of their career, whatever that is. They’re not afraid of experimenting. They’re not afraid to fully explore.”
“I think life is too short and I just want to explore the best art we can possibly make.”
Adapting to the times: Live performances in a pandemic
It goes without saying that 2020 was not the year for everyone, especially for those in the events sector. Thus, in order to maintain the integrity of art as a means of entertainment, it was imperative for artists to reinvent how live performances would go in the new normal.
Luckily for those who have the means to afford a decent studio and all the equipment they need to perform and broadcast their show had fewer problems in adapting to the times. But for some acts like Northwest, they had to go the extra mile.
During the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mariuca and Ignacio took the stage in a derelict warehouse (with a leaking roof) where they performed songs from their double album, I & II, in an effort to keep live music thriving in the new normal.
The songs performed were proper live renditions of the original recordings, as if they were specifically arranged for a concert with limited seat capacity. These range from acoustic versions to extended ones, on top of the visual elements of the stage performance.
Northwest did not shy away from using theatrics to their advantage and turned the rundown space into a beautiful venue fitting for their ethereal and despondent music for a stage performance reflective of modern interpretative dance.
Everything from the wardrobe and stage design to the use of interior lighting and other visual touch-ups gelled perfectly, making it seem like the rain was staged — something the team did not anticipate but somehow worked out in the end.
“We didn’t plan it ahead…We didn’t even have electricity,” Mariuca laughingly said. “We had to take the electricity from another building, it was crazy! And in the middle of everything, it started raining.”
“There was a point where we had to stop recording and say, ‘Okay, should we continue? Because maybe our guitars and our computers get ruined by the rain.’ Luckily, there was no damage to the gear and we just said, ‘Let’s keep ’em going.’”
All’s well that ends well; Northwest’s warehouse concert was a success. However, the situation remained the same: touring was not the way as profitable as it used to be, and, at most, it is sustained by artists’ drive for performing.
“Touring was never our main source of income, but it was a huge loss for us. In a monetary sense, it was a loss of connection and also promotion, because in this stage of our career, touring is also a way to promote our music and get our music out there. So it was a loss of that, and also a loss of connection to the people. I mean, I love hearing music in solitude, but live music is a whole different experience.”
“We just wanted to give our listeners something special in this time,” Mariuca said. “We were frustrated as artists not being able to go to cultural events, which has been a great loss. I myself not only miss doing concerts but going to concerts.”
But their determination does not end there. Even before the pandemic, Northwest already had the intuition to go against the grain and come out on top.
The Bandcamp Paradox: Music Promotion in the Digital Age
Competition is innate in any medium of art. Even a scene as obscure as the experimental scene is, it is not without those who steal the spotlight. It is the internet, after all; attention can be something very fickle, especially amongst music fans who are almost constantly bombarded with new, exciting stuff to listen to.
In 2018, they tried to combat this with a little experiment to see how many of their listeners would go beyond streaming Northwest’s music and following them on the internet.
“We don’t shout, we sing.”
- Northwest, 2018
In an attempt to break modern conventions in music promotion, the band released a manifesto to go along with the release of their first record, stating how they have become “tired of shouting” trying to make people listen to their music.
Although granted, in the digital age, such an approach to promoting music has always been the norm, if not the sine qua non to any aspiring artist looking for their big break. But even before the dawn of the information superhighway, artists have already been sharing their mixtapes in public.
“We hid the digital album on the internet and it was only accessible via a form we left on our website where people put their postal address and we sent a hand-written postcard with a unique individual code to each and every one of our listeners who wanted to truly listen to our album,” Mariuca said.
“They didn’t have to pay anything. It was just our present to them for caring — as a way to thank them and being part of our reflection.”
Indeed, their fans did care for them. In a post-manifesto released the following year, Northwest revealed that 460 people from all over the world had requested a postcard from the band. It was also the first time they made their first record public on the internet, which the lucky 460 fans had the privilege of gaining access to a year earlier than others.
Their successful experiment marked another victory for Northwest, proving that the traditional means of promoting music will not slide into obscurity so long as there are people who share the same passion as Mariuca and Ignacio.
The Art of Survival
Northwest is one of many niche bands today clinging to art as a way of life. But even that has its repercussions. Be it for the Bandcamp scene that has seen an uptick of artists gaining reach from the platform — thus contributing to its saturation — or the live music scene having had to overhaul its entire structure come the pandemic, or any other reasons for that matter, artists like Mariuca and Ignacio are an example of how creatives are seen in a state of perpetual struggle.
A struggle to keep an image of stoicism in an overcrowded room whilst maintaining their individuality; a struggle to become shining examples to other artists trying to survive in an industry where ‘putting yourselves out there’ is a neverending ordeal; the struggle of always having a chip on one’s shoulder.
The world is painted in black and white, and Northwest has long acknowledged that even before it all went awry. But amidst the lifelessness of it all, they know that there is beauty to be found in it — such is art and its bond with people.