Permanent: Hunger or Nausea | Modern Tapes; Dec. 9

Mimi Luse was a teenage Deadhead. Many a weekend in her native Connecticut would find her camping at festivals—she didn’t play music, but she was a fan, to put it mildly. It was the early 2000s, and she was heavily into the jam band and classic rock tape-trading scene. She read every book on sixties counterculture the library had and began sewing her own clothes on her sewing machine, all corduroy patchwork and embroidery.

“I was a hippie!” says Luse, now 38, sitting next to the secondhand machines she started using much more recently to stitch samples onto bass and drums. “I was really trying to create my own culture.”

Arriving home from her job as the events manager at the Nasher Museum of Art, Luse was wearing a bright lime-green sweater and a dark skirt, and their sharp contrast was somehow like the one between her polished, easy manner and the tarnished, intense music that she makes.

But many scarlet begonias fell between the Dead and D.A.F., the pioneering German new-wave band that stands tall (clad in black patent leather) among the influences that turned Luse from the post-punk of her first band, Cochonne, to the industrial techno of her solo project, Permanent—which, after sprouting late, is blooming quickly.

Luse discovered punk near the end of high school, at an art camp in Boston where she encountered the scorn of New York kids who liked Minor Threat. It was a musical Big Bang that sped up at McGill University, where she went to study English and art history with the intention of becoming an arts writer. She plunged into Montreal’s vibrant scene as the culture editor of The McGill Daily, a storied student newspaper. She was going to DIY spaces and warehouse shows, getting into genres like electroclash, no-wave, and noise.

Still, making music “seemed like a thing only cool people did, and I didn’t feel that cool,” she says. “I was a writer, a cultural commentator. I saw myself more as an observer.”

After college, she spent a few years in New York, working for an art auction house while writing for magazines like Art in America and Frieze. Then she took a year to apply to graduate schools while living with her French grandmother in Paris and working at a mattress store. In 2011, she got into Duke for an art history PhD. Her focus was a moment in early 20th-century France when art historians and journalists rejected modernism, a key principle that, in the scope of her music now, emphasizes the interplay of art, culture, and lived experience.

But then, she was becoming a chronicler of chroniclers, and music was fading into the background.

The years between 2015, when Luse was leaning into her dissertation, and 2019, when she defended it, were a blur. She moved to Paris, then Durham, then Paris, then Durham, then Amsterdam, then Paris, then Durham.

Somewhere in the middle, in Paris, something woke up.

“That’s when I really started living again, I think, being embodied, going to clubs and meeting musicians and artists,” she says.

She had taken a Girls Rock class on bass before leaving Durham, which was “mind-blowing,” and felt inspired by all the women she knew who were starting bands, like Fitness Womxn and Silent Lunch. She auditioned to play in a Parisian post-punk band, using her limited experience to laboriously learn the songs, and was crushed when she didn’t get in.

“But that’s how I learned to play music,” she says. “I was like, ‘Now I know how to play. I’m not good enough to be in this band that’s going on tour, but I can start my own band.’”

In 2017, Luse and Patricia Bass, a drummer in her cohort, started writing demos; Luse sang in French, finding poetic interest in her uneven command of the language. They were first called ODV, a Duchampian pun that’s as hard to explain as the band’s final name, Cochonne, which gives a horrible term a feminist flip.

“Like, I can’t tell my French family the band name, because it’s deeply offensive,” Luse says with a breezy laugh.

Back in Durham, Marielle Dutoit joined on guitar and Carla Hung on keyboards; Hannah Spector (who played in Silent Lunch) and Geoff Schilling successively drummed; later, Dave Rodriguez played bass and synths. Steeped in No New York and Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Cochonne’s music could suggest a lost Rough Trade demo from 1982.

They dropped spoons like The Slits and sprayed aerosols like Joy Division. “But it was never pastiche,” Luse says. “It always came from sincere appreciation of contemporary bands I listened to and female-led post-punk bands I read old Maximum Rocknroll reviews about.”

Cochonne played a few shows, but it was primarily a songwriting and recording project, producing a self-titled pink tape in 2019 and a 12-inch record, Emergency, in 2021. Meanwhile, Luse found herself thinking more and more about people and places.

“To me, electronic music and the spaces it creates are like a continuation of the project of modernity, in the sense that you’re dissolving art into life,” she says. “You’re not a passive viewer, and that was the whole point of Dada and Futurism and Surrealism. You’re making reality weirder, but the audience is participating.”

She got some gear (effects pedals, a Roland Groovebox sequencer) from a musician friend at Duke, Yair Rubinstein, who also gave her a crash course in approximating her industrial idols: Esplendor Geométrico, Chris & Cosey, D.A.F.

She was learning kit drums and layering bass and synths on top. After one tape of sonic collage as Manhole, she started Permanent early in the pandemic, beginning to amass a magpie’s empire of eclectic samples—pitched-down wineglass tones, ASMR and horror movies, Seneca and the Real Housewives.

The first Permanent tape, Social Disease, was more synth-pop, but the ensuing releases go hard on industrial techno. “Because it sounds terrifying!” Luse explains. “I like intensity. I want it to be scary and danceable.”

That intensity is evident in the exploding bass machines of Museum A0—named for a pedal effect, with a wink at Luse’s day job—which came out in October on the widely connected experimental North Carolina label Hot Releases. It’s the Permanent sound stripped down to one box for travel purposes, such as the brief European tour Luse and Ryan Martin, who runs Hot Releases and performs as Secret Boyfriend, went on last summer.

Luse says the generosity of people like Rubinstein, Martin, and the crowd at the Chapel Hill club Nightlight were all instrumental in creating a sense of musical permission.

“It’s the same as with Girls Rock,” she says. “It’s so important to create institutional structures to teach people.”

Hunger or Nausea, a torrent of inky, pounding techno, comes out online December 9 on Modern Tapes. The vinyl record, a first for the Brooklyn tape label, follows a week later.

There’s also a Permanent song on Women Invented Noise Vol II, a new compilation from the UK label Industrial Coast; Luse samples Stevie Nicks and one of Fritz Lang’s “Dr. Mabuse” films.

She’s performing at the Fruit on December 9 and 17, as part of the Permission and Unnamed parties, respectively. She doesn’t use a laptop; the sets are pure hardware, though that’s more about the learning curve than classicist ideology.

As layered with cultural contexts as Luse’s music is, there is something excitingly free-floating about them, something open to investigation, something she observes as it swirls around her, from the center of music-making instead of the side.

“I don’t think of myself as a character,” she says. “I think of myself as a technician.” And yet in sharp contrast to that neutral role—that academic vestige—there’s something more, something shadowy yet whole.

“I have always felt deeply moved by music,” Luse says. “But when I finally started making it myself, it brought about a sense of cohesion I had never experienced before. I developed a stronger inner world, and I could access my shadow side through it.” 

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