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How Astronautica Is Paving the Way for Women in LA's Beat Scene

How Astronautica Is Paving the Way for Women in LA's Beat Scene

By Anna Dorn

Last Thursday I fulfilled my dream of having someone pull out an astrology book during an interview. LA beat musician Edrina Martinez, aka Astronautica, and I are chatting on her living room couch (on which her cat Selena is happily perched) when I ask whether her recent album, Gemini, was inspired by her own astrological sign.

“Yes!” She answers excitedly. But to be fair, she answers every question excitedly. Edrina has a lively energy, a classic Gemini trait.

“Gemini is all about duality,” she says, explaining that her father’s side calls her Edrina, her first name, while her mother’s side calls her Kayla, her middle name. During high school in the LA suburb of San Dimas, she went by Kayla; in college, she went by her Edrina so as to not confuse professors. She says the names represent two sides of her personality. Kayla is the party-girl, while Edrina is more mature and professional. “That’s kind of my superficial example of my Gemini... ness.”

As soon as I admit that I’m an astrology nerd, Edrina runs to pull a massive book off her shelf.

“What are you?” she asks.

“Virgo,” I say. I love astrology, but my sign embarasses me. Virgos embarrass easily.

“Oh, I love Virgos!” Edrina practically shouts (maybe this is Kayla), gesturing eagerly. “My boyfriend is a Virgo! My granddad and my step-granddad are Virgos!”

“I think our signs are compatible,” I say. “Geminis bring an energy that reserved Virgos lack.”

She nods, smiling.

“I don’t really know how to describe my sign without feeling self-absorbed,” she says, opening the book on her lap. She begins reading the adjectives to describe her sun sign: “creative, lively, energetic, versatile, intellectual, lives in the mind rather than emotions, adaptable.” She closes the book.

“Yeah, that’s all me,” she says. “I’m very adaptable. I can be thrown into any situation and navigate it.” I soon learn that this is exactly what she did with the LA beat scene.

“What about the living in the mind rather than emotions?” I ask. “That’s interesting.”

“Yeah,” she says. “I think a lot.”

It’s clear from our short conversation that Edrina has an active mind. She speaks quickly, perpetually editing herself and sometimes even making up words. But she speaks with a confidence and charm that allow her to pull it off. Her kinetic energy is not what I expected after listening to her music, which she describes as: “soothing, breezy, airy.” Yet her laid back, down-tempo tracks, which remind me of salty wind in my hair, make more sense when she tells me that making music, for her, is “meditative.”

“Do you think your Gemini-ness translates to the album’s sound?” I ask.

“Yeah!” She says, explaining that the album has its own duality. First, there is the electronic side, the down-tempo sound she says she’s known for. Then, there is the guitar-based, indie rock-influenced side. As the Wall Street Journal wrote in its 2015 review of the Low End Theory festival: “Astronautica spun warm, swaying electronica, then she picked up an electric guitar and added lush chords to the already-satisfying sound.” Impressively, Edrina writes, produces, sings, plays guitar, and mixes her music—all herself. (Perhaps this is her Gemini “versatility.”)

Duality exists in Edrina’s moniker, as well: Astronautica. When she was little, Edrina wanted to be an astronaut. She originally went by “astronaut,” but later decided to feminize the name. At the time, she didn’t know of any female producers aside from Tokimonsta. She recalls, “I wanted to make it known that I was a female to distinguish myself and stand out.” And Edrina prefers the new version of her name, because it touches on that Gemini duality. “There is astro, which is space,” she says, as she raises her hand towards the sky, “and nautica, which is the sea,” she explains, lowering her hand. “Now I’m an astronaut in a musical sense—exploring the universe.”

“I wanted to make it known that I was a female to distinguish myself and stand out.”

Now 24, she has been playing music her whole life. Growing up, she played piano and guitar, and in middle school, she was in a band with her best friend. When I ask whether she was a talented musician as a kid, she says she was good at piano (a talent she attributes to “long fingers”), but she wasn’t sufficiently invested in her lessons to get very advanced (“I never got to Beethoven”). Edrina recalls a middle school talent show where she and her best friend performed a song about unicorns, laughing that her grandfather who was visiting from the Philippines was likely confused by it. Her friend played the drums and Edrina (then Kayla) played guitar, and they would have band practice every Friday, which feels very 1993 to me. But it was 2005, and they were listening to Devendra Banhart. Her friend’s brother made a “killer record” that sounded similar to Banhart’s freak folk, and she was inspired by the fact that he produced the entire thing himself. She fantasized about doing something similar herself one day.

In high school, however, Kayla, the party girl took over. Taking a break from playing music, she began frequenting concerts with artists like Kaskade, Deadmau5, and David Guetta. But everything changed in 2009, when Edrina was first introduced to the LA Beat scene—which Pitchfork deems a halfway point between “leftfield electronic music and underground hip-hop”—oddly enough, not in Los Angeles. “I was in San Francisco from 2009-2010,” she tells me. “And that’s where I met Shlohmo.”

“You didn’t like SF?” I ask in reference to her short stint in the Bay.

“No, I liked it too much,” she laughs. Edrina began college at SF State, but as Kayla was still in full force, she didn’t go to class. “I took a hip-hop workshop class,” she continues, “which was amazing—but I failed it. That’s how much I didn’t care about school.” Frustrated with Kayla’s hard-partying ways, her parents made Edrina return to the sleepy suburb of San Dimas, California. She transferred to Cal State Fullerton, from which she graduated in 2014 with an emphasis in Broadcast Journalism. Her studies, she tells me, inspired her music indirectly. Of the courses she was required to complete, she enjoyed the radio classes the most. She interned at a radio station, which served as her introduction to the music industry, and rendered her even more excited about pursuing music as a career.

But her brief time up north and introduction to Shlohmo had a lasting impact on Edrina. LA beat music—which Shlohmo has come to represent—was different from anything she’d heard before. “I was immediately sucked in,” she recalls. When Edrina moved back to Southern California, she began frequenting a night called Low End Theory at the Airliner in Lincoln Heights, an event she tells me is a “rite of passage” for LA beat musicians. The name references A Tribe Called Quest’s second album, known for its seamless blend of jazz and rap. Similarly, Low End Theory “showcases the links between classic Los Angeles rap and the fractured jazz of Eric Dolphy,” according to the LA Times. Established by Daddy Kev in 2006, “Low End Theory would soon provide a public laboratory for pivotal artists to cultivate followings, experiment with their styles, and connect with other musicians,” wrote Pitchfork. And Edrina took advantage of it, diving in and navigating the scene like a true Gemini.

“Have you played there?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says, modestly, “a few times.” But when she first started attending, Edrina wasn’t even making music. She was just a fan of the genre, attending shows by LA Beat pioneers like Shlohmo, Gaslamp Killer, Flying Lotus, Daedelus, and Nosaj Thing. In addition to regular performances by these musicians, Low End Theory has attracted surprise guest-spots from big names ranging from Thom Yorke to Erykah Badu to the late, great Prince. By 2008, Pitchfork writes, it “became home to one of the scene’s most well-rounded rosters.”

In 2011, while attending Low End Theory “religiously,” Edrina began making her own music and putting it on Soundcloud under the name Astronautica. With her electronic music, Edrina is entirely self-taught. When she started out, she was equally interested in painting and photography. But she decided it was time to just pick one and zone in. Inspired partly by LA’s beat scene, she chose music. Edrina made her first few tracks on GarageBand, and a friend gave her a copy of the music sequencing program, Ableton. She would frequently stay up until 4am watching YouTube tutorials—“I was really obsessed, to be honest.”

Also a visual artist (Edrina designed Gemini’s album art and related merchandise), she sees parallels between making music and painting, likening Ableton to her canvas. “Recording sounds and recording melodies and drum beats were kind of like the paints I was putting on the canvas. That’s what got me hooked.” Accordingly, Edrina cites painter Georgia O’Keefe as a major influence, recalling a recent visit to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe with her grandmother (her “biggest fan”) after performing in Albuquerque. “She’s just so fucking rad,” Edrina says of O’Keefe. “She lived in some house in the middle of the desert in New Mexico. I love that. I love the desert. I love her vision.” Edrina’s upcoming project is called Death Valley, inspired by another recept trip in which Edrina was blown away by the desert’s color palette.

Edrina happens to also share O’Keefe’s creative independence. “I would say 95% of what I know, I taught myself or learned online,” Edrina tells me. And her obsession paid off. Not long after she began putting her music online, she got an email from Daddy Kev—Low End Theory’s founder and the owner of Alpha Pup records—asking her to perform.

“Recording sounds and recording melodies and drum beats were kind of like the paints I was putting on the canvas.”

“I was so freaked,” she says. It was maybe her second time performing, but she believes it was a good place to start. “The music I make isn’t very club-y,” she says. “[At Low End Theory] people don’t expect to hear booty-shaking music. I played all my mellow shit and people were vibing out hardcore.” She says after her first performance, a guy came up to her afterwards and said he had taken mushrooms for the first time that night and the Astronautica set really affected him. “I love hearing that stuff,” she says. Perhaps more significantly, Daddy Kev approached her after that first performance and asked whether she was interested in putting out an album. They met again in a few months and before she knew it, Edrina was signing a contract with Alpha Pup and completing her debut album, Replay Last Night. She thereafter released her Waikiki EP and Gemini, all on Alpha Pup.

Given her bubbly, happy-go-lucky nature, Edrina has faced a few upsetting surprises as a rising musician. She didn’t realize until recently that she was entering a completely male-dominated scene—in her words, a “sausage fest.” Starting out, she was naive about her status as a woman working in music, often denying that her gender meant anything. But then she started noticing things. For example, when she prepares to play a show, often the sound guy will assume she has no idea what she’s doing. And when she recently guest-spoke at a local arts high school, a student approached her after class and told her that when she releases music, her friends always ask, “Who produced this?”

But Edrina is confident that things are changing, that there are more women on the scene now who are being taken seriously. “I think it’s so important for women to be supportive,” she tells me. “We’re all in this industry and all doing our own thing. So the point is to acknowledge this and be supportive instead of being catty.”

Edrina also understands the importance of celebrating her fellow female musicians. When I ask her to elaborate on an off-hand comment about industry-fostered competition among female musicians, she chooses not to. Instead, she tells me about all the amazing women she’s met, like Kate Ellwanger aka Dot, who founded Unspeakable Records, home to another good musician-friend, Suzie Strong. Edrina is also friends with the “Soulection girls,” including Kronika, SoSuperSam, Eden Hagos, and Sasha Marie. Finally, Edrina tells me about meeting Softest Hard last year while performing at Coachella; the two have kept in touch and done several shows together.

When I first reached out to Edrina, she excitedly invited me to her DJ set at 808s and Heartbreaks, Dot’s monthly night at the Ace Hotel that showcases female artists. It is at 808s and Heartbreaks that I first meet Astronautica, buoyant and upbeat as she awaits her set. Later she posts an Instagram photo from the Ace rooftop, announcing: “my favorite night of the month.” Watching her set, I notice something I also observed when I saw Tokimonsta DJ last year—while spinning, both girls appear euphoric, challenging the stone-faced DJ stereotype. Throughout her set, the Gemini beat musician never stops smiling.

***

Astronautica’s upcoming project, Death Valley, drops this summer. She’s currently on tour with Alpha Pup. Tour dates below.

Photography by Graham Walzer. Styling by Ashley Guerzon.

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