Inspiring More Young Females To Make Beats

6 February 2018 | 11:44 am | Cyclone Wehner

"I actually came across their first record, 'Since I Left You', when I was about 15, because I bought it by accident."

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Alice Ivy (aka Annika Schmarsel) is one of the breakout acts in Australia's post-EDM scene. She's now launching her first album, I'm Dreaming, behind cult singles like Touch, Almost Here and Get Me A Drink. But the Melbourne musician, producer and vocalist has a secret past as a teen star. Kinda. 

Schmarsel's story begins in Geelong, the Victorian port city historically associated with (hard) rock. "It was a pretty dope place to grow up in," she recalls, fresh from Falls Festival dates. 

Strumming the guitar by 12, Schmarsel joined an exceptional high school band, Sweethearts - extant since 1989 at Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College. "It was all-girls, which is fucking rad," Schmarsel enthuses, dropping her trademark expression. "Everyone was under 18. We did Motown and soul covers. We got to tour Europe and played really dope festivals around Australia all the time. During that time, I played at Montreux Jazz Festival and [Italy's] Porretta Soul Festival." Indeed, in 2012 Schmarsel was interviewed for an article in The Age on the international phenom. All that formative experience proved invaluable later.

On graduation, Schmarsel departed Geelong for Melbourne to "start afresh". ("I'm fully like a Brunswick girl now," she quips.) Enrolling in a music industry course at RMIT, Schmarsel was exposed to electronic technology and, specifically, beatmaking. One assignment required her to remix Queen. "I guess, at first, I was really shy about it, because I'm coming from a guitar background. I've never produced before; I've never used music software. [But] I sort of gave it a crack and I really enjoyed it."

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In fact, Schmarsel had already been vibing to sample-based music in The Avalanches. "I actually came across their first record, Since I Left You, when I was about 15, because I bought it by accident," she laughs. Schmarsel had popped into JB Hi-Fi to purchase The Antlers' broody Hospice, but scooped up the wrong CD from the 'A' section. "I was like, 'Oh, shhh - this isn't The Antlers! What is this?'" Today she invariably cites the Aussie plunderphonics masters as an influence, together with soulful beatmakers J Dilla and Onra. 

Newly confident, Schmarsel started cutting solo music on Ableton Live. "That's when I realised that I wanted to do that: I wanted to go down the more electronic path." In 2016 she generated buzz with Touch and Almost Here, both singles featuring the Jamie Cullum-endorsed blues diva Georgia van Etten - another ex-Sweetheart. Last year, Schmarsel aired Get Me A Drink with rising singer E^ST plus Melbourne rapper Charlie Threads. The triple j fave has also gigged solidly here and abroad. She played 2017's Splendour In The Grass and supported Billie Eilish.

Schmarsel's Dew Process debut album, I'm Dreaming, is the culmination of a massive musical expansion. The beatmaker describes the Alice Ivy sound as "a collage" and, with her album, she introduces the glitchy, atmospheric and euphoric qualities of contemporary Antipodean electronica to groovy soul, funk, disco, hip hop and breaks. "The best part of making my kind of music, and working by myself, is that it's all me. If I wanna go down a different path, I can just do that with my music."

Although Schmarsel herself sings on I'm Dreaming, she's curated a credible roster of local guest vocalists including the aforementioned van Etten, MC Cazeaux OSLO and electro-popster Bertie Blackman (leading the latest single Chasing Stars). Constantly writing, Schmarsel collaborates with fellow artists while touring. "I always make sure that I have a mini little recording rig on the road."

Schmarsel's ambitious plans for 2018 will probably necessitate that she finally abandons her day job as a barista. Aside from touring nationally from February, she'll return to the US - showcasing at SXSW in Austin, Texas. And Schmarsel has a bolder mission. There has long been disquiet about the absence of female producers and Schmarsel wants to change that. Even with her other commitments, she conducts all-female production classes at Melbourne's Arts Centre. "I feel really, really strongly about this issue in the music industry," Schmarsel says. "I've kind of realised that I am a bit of a role model to a lot of young females. And I feel like the only way to change this [lack of] diversity is by actually putting back into the community, instead of just talking about it."