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The LiFTED 5: Mary Sue & psychedelic ensemble. defy eras & genres by carving out a new sound

A journey through the border-crossing duo’s minds on their incredible 15-track album

LiFTED | Sabiq Rafid | 1 Nov 2023

Singapore and London. Two fast cities. Two multicultural melting pots. Yet, they are two completely different worlds. It’s through these two cities that CACOPHONOUS DIGRESSIONS, A RECORD OF A MOMENT IN TIME was birthed. This is a collaborative project between the shining light of Singapore’s underground, Mary Sue, and London-based producer psychedelic ensemble.

A 15-tracker that isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, nor does it cower when it comes to redefining and rediscovering the confines of Hip Hop. It’s a profound record that hits the sweet spot for both listeners and rap heads who are yearning to hear something new.

What sets Mary Sue apart as an MC isn’t just down to his sheer lyrical prowess, and neither is it his never-ending journey of delving into new sound territories. While those are all ingredients to his artistry, it's the clarity of his voice when he spits that makes his sound so distinctive. Whether it’s asoulful instrumental, a sample-laden number, or a completely glitched-out cut, you’re bound to catch each and every bar that he drops because of his voice.

Merging Mary Sue’s abilities with the eclectic sounds of psychedelic ensemble., people are introduced to the remarkable product of two brilliant minds. The UK-based producer doesn’t only produce, be he’s also the founder of LIVE AT THE CLINIC – an artist-led platform that releases records as well as having its very own monthly NTS Radio show.

The album sonically paints a vivid picture that everyone has seen at some point. It’s the navigation through the haziness that comes with life's uncertainties, all while grasping onto anything that offers a semblance of clarity. The conflicting clashes of ideas, the contradictions in statements and thoughts, and the conviction found right before falling into another cloud of doubt.

On track 11, ‘Smoke Break Just to Run Longer’, Mary Sue showcases exactly that, “Guess I’ll act OK/I don’t got Oscars/The weights roleplay in the disorder/Just let my face say that I’ll get stronger/I don’t like to play play if we talk dollars/I don’t like to vacate from my own quarters/I don’t like to face fate, I’m a hope hoarder/I just hope that I’ll make it past these old borders.”

CACOPHONOUS DIGRESSIONS, A RECORD OF A MOMENT IN TIME is so honest and personal, it’s impossible not to relate to it in some form of fashion. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Singapore, London, or anywhere in between and beyond, it speaks to the shared human experience that comes in different flavors.

The duo leaves it all out on the floor on this offering, completely exhaling their catharsis and truths the way they know best. It's a special record that will stand the test of time, and LiFTED recently got the honor to pick at their brains on its whole creative process.

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Congratulations on the release of CACOPHONOUS DIGRESSIONS, A RECORD OF A MOMENT IN TIME. It's a glorious musical and lyrical journey spanning 15 tracks. Could you give us an inside look into your headspace when you wrote it?

Thank you so much for the kind words. It was very scattered. It was just a few months after my KISSES OF LIFE release. I was in this very middling space I felt artistically. I had this sudden subconscious pressure to grab the attention and momentum I had while I also wanted to do things in the most natural and authentic way.

Also, I went from having no musical peers and being a loner making music in my room alone to knowing more and more people in the scene in Singapore. I continually had that inner confusion of wanting to “make it” and try to be as true as I was. This album came amongst that. I would call it “mental artistic chiseling.”

The production work by psychedelic ensemble. on the record is immense. Being a producer yourself, what were the things that came to your mind when you first heard the instrumentals?

Bonkers. It is so wacky and off the wall. Like I could never produce like this and I don't think a single other person can. It was the first project I could think of fully rapping on because the production feels so out of my reach I can’t even really give feedback!

You mentioned that you've never heard psychedelic ensemble.'s voice, collaborating entirely through a digital space. What was it like working on such a profound record with someone who's halfway around the world from you?

I feel that psychedelic ensemble. has the better point of view on this.

psychedelic ensemble.: I actually didn't even realize Mary Sue and I never spoke face to face until we were close to completing the album. I think this is mainly because we are both people who are very open to new ideas and trying out new things so there was never really a need to communicate beyond the thoughts expressed via text messages. Every time a suggestion came up the reaction was, "Yes, let's try that and see what happens." This is my favorite environment to work in and I am extremely fortunate that all my collaborators share these characteristics.

On a more humorous note, one thing that I must leave on public record is that Sue never ever sleeps, so even the time difference did not pose a problem when working on this album. This man's hyperactiveness will never cease to amaze me. It leaves you speechless.

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The album’s sound is the very definition of genre-defying. It can't be boxed into a specific era, nor can it be grouped into a subgenre of Hip Hop. It does, however, sound and feel like a breath of fresh air especially in a sea of releases where everything tends to sound the same. Talk us through the process of carving out this "new" sound, and what went behind it all.

psychedelic ensemble.: Thank you so much for saying this! In fact, my main goal in creating music has always been to capture something singular while not paying too much attention as to whether people like it or not. A long while ago I realized that one way to achieve this is by injecting elements of my own personality into the production, as much as I possibly can.

In this instance, Sue's writing gave a lot of direction to the sound of the album. As Sue kept sending over his verses to me, I realized his thoughts at the time of the recording were very scattered. Listening to them felt like reading a notebook full of scribbles. This chaotic atmosphere reminded me of a few of my favorite short films that could be grouped under genres such as Arthouse Cinema or Video Art. Films such as "A U I E O NN" [1993] by Takahiko Iiumra and "Crossings and Meetings" [1974] by Edward Emshwiller are great examples of what I'm talking about.

At first, the Video Art inspiration triggered the idea to clash contrasting sounds together repeatedly throughout the whole album. This is how ‘Forces, Magnetic Pull’ and the transitions on ‘The Devil Dances the Cha Cha’ came to fruition.

As the album got closer to completion, I thought to myself, “Why stop there? Why not make the album feel like a proper Video Art film, only in audio form?” That is when we developed ideas to ask Sue's friends for various theatrical voice notes, which you can hear throughout the whole record. Gluing the tracks into a three-act structure started to come together around the same time as well. Once we had all these key elements sorted, making the final cut was very easy.

CACOPHONOUS DIGRESSIONS, A RECORD OF A MOMENT IN TIME marks the third full-length release you’ve put out this year, making for the perfect curtain call of your 2023. Dropping three incredible releases back-to-back-to-back is no easy feat, did you ever encounter spells of burning out? How did you manage them?

Definitely burnt out. They were all so different, I felt like there are three different Mary Sues. But this year was the year of “trying everything,” which helped me grow so much both in my music as well as my understanding of what I want to do with my creative pursuits.

The first release For Sure was my first release with a proper label and with that came its own constraints. I was seeking something similar and connected to what I have already done in my previous discography. The second release OK! with Cravism and ABANGSAPAU, was a whole other mindset. I worked with two different artists who come from very different sonic backgrounds, and the fact that the album was made to be more accessible to listeners past my niche.

For this release with psychedelic ensemble. it was untied to my past sounds, and not conforming to others. Chaotic and just devoid of the care of people “getting it.” Content-wise, it’s just so fitting that it wrapped up this three-album run.

Listen to Mary Sue and psychedelic ensemble.’s CACOPHONOUS DIGRESSIONS, A RECORD OF A MOMENT IN TIME below.