Q+A: Five minutes with Vera Grace
Hailing from the Netherlands, Vera Grace is one of the Amsterdam electronic scene’s viscerally impactful DJ and producers. Her signature hard techno sound – a gritty blend of industrial and entrancing soundscapes – commands attention. Her debut album – landing on the record label of storied Berlin club night Deestricted – is inspired by Dante’s Inferno, the first part of his epic poem, The Divine Comedy. The poem follows Dante as he journeys through Hell, guided by the ancient poet Virgil. Hell is depicted as nine concentric circles of torment located within the Earth, each circle representing a specific sin and its punishment. The sinners encounter increasingly severe sufferings, from the unbaptised and the lustful in the lighter outer circles to traitors in the icy innermost pit.
This allegorical work explores themes of morality, the soul’s journey after death, and the poet’s critique of contemporary Italian politics. Dante’s vivid and imaginative depiction of infernal punishment emphasises the poem’s moral and ethical message; themes that Vera explores on her stunning debut album. INFERNVM is a relentless techno odyssey, sculpted with dark, driving beats that mirror Dante’s descent into Hell, with each track representing one of the nine circles. The album weaves haunting samples and dissonant synths, creating a landscape of existential dread and reflection. We caught up with Grace to find out more about the album, and her journey in music so far.
Set the tone. Where did your journey into techno begin?
I discovered my love for techno when I attended Awakenings for the first time back in 2018. I immediately fell in love with the continuous hypnotizing flow of the music. My
second event was Reaktor Katharsis, this night literally changed my life. It was cutting-edge, so different from all the other stuff I ever heard before. It got me obsessed and made me search for more and more, which eventually led into the desire to do something with it myself.
What would you say are the creative signatures of the Vera Grace sound?
A fundamental element I consistently hold on to is the atmosphere; recreating a feeling as if you’re in a vast factory with sounds reverberating all around you. In my
productions I always have a group of sounds with lots of reverb and echo. Also in my dj sets I often use one deck where I only play ambient tracks to create an extra layer of ambience within the set. Furthermore I love to play with polyrhythms and the raw sound of 909, which together with harmonious, dystopian melodies really define my sound.
You’re gearing up to release your debut album. Tell us a bit about the experience of creating this project, and how it has grown you as an artist?
The time in which I created the album feels like a haze. I was in the final months of Conservatorium; doing exams, working on my hybrid set, and ofcourse working on
my album. Next to that, I was also touring and sometimes even clubbing myself. I didn’t attend hard techno events when I did that; I frequented clubs and events like De School, Radion, Bret, and 909 Festival. The music being played in these places closely aligns with the fundamental essence of techno – it’s not as fast-paced, but more focused on groove and loopiness. It inspired me, made me even doubt about who I want to be as an artist, but eventually found myself back in trying to convert this sound in my own industrial way. The album was like a canvas to try this out and experiment. Looking back at this hectic time I can say it really opened me up; it challenged me, made me think outside of the box, made me doubt but also inspired me, and pushed me to my limits. Now I feel more and more confident and determined about my identity as an artist.
INFERNVM is a bit of a concept album, drawing inspiration for its nine tracks from Dante’s Inferno. Could you walk us through how Dante Alighieri’s nine circles of the underworld have shaped the direction of these tracks?
The deeper you’re descending into the circles, the darker and more mind-bending it gets. I tried to convert the feeling of each circle into a musical piece. I wanted to create this feeling as if you were Dante; traveling into the descent. The First Circle is an ambient track that sets the tone with a melancholic atmosphere. By using my own vocal pads, I aimed to infuse a glimpse of light in the darkness, welcoming you into the album. The Second and the Third Circle are introducing the techno sound of the album, it’s characterised by dystopian polyrhythms and harmonies. Despite an overall dark ambience, the higher tones provide a contrast compared to the forthcoming tracks. As we progress deeper into the album, The Fourth Circle pushes me out of my comfort zone by incorporating subtle elements of Drum&Bass; fast paced broken beats with harmonious content to take my listeners on a varied and surprising Journey. The Fifth Circle dives back into techno, with twisted sounds as we’re descending deeper into the underworld. The pace quickens and darkens in the Sixth Circle, and the Seventh Circle takes that a step further; it’s an experimental four to the floor track, but more meant as an experimental listening experience rather than a
dancefloor track. The Eighth Circle emerges as the darkest techno track on the album, setting the stage for the Ninth Circle; reverting to the ambient atmosphere reminiscent of the album’s beginning, only this final track is steeped in darkness, without any glimpse of llight. It signifies the arrival in the void of the deepest circle.
Is there a track on the album that you are particularly proud of, and why?
I think I’m most proud of The Seventh Circle. I tried something different here; I aimed to create a unique listening experience, something more experimental. The dark
synths build tension, and when the fast-paced drums kick in, it feels like you’re on a train headed to the deepest circles. I’ve made the general idea of this album on a flight, I already had the idea to make something fast meant as something to build tension towards the end of the album, so I challenged myself to sketch that idea within the duration of my flight. This is something I’ve learned to apply at Conservatorium. In our Creativity class, we had assignments that required creating something within a certain amount of time. It pushes you to generate an idea without overthinking it. The technical aspects and elaboration on the idea come later, and it’s easier if you already have a starting point that inspires you.
What inspires you creatively? You seem to be the sort of artist to draw inspiration from interesting places.
I like to draw inspiration from art and stories, as well as from life and the current world we live in. I really like to start thinking of ideas, making music based on an existing
story or make up a story myself. I write something and then translate that fantasy into music. It is both fun and challenging, and it allows me to infuse meaning into the music I create.
How do you use music as a medium, in the same way an artist might use paint and a paintbrush?
I use music as a medium by creating harmonies that mirror my emotions. Usually I start with drums or a bassline as a foundation. From there, I layer polyrhythms, melodies and harmonise them to create unexpected and touching moments. I really love to see how far I can go with different notes on top of each other. When I’m fully in my feelings I just add notes on top of each other and do the sound design later.
Going into 2024, what does the next year look like for Vera Grace?
2024 is looking very exciting, I’m kicking off with an all nighter in club BASIS, my debut at Awakenings, my first gig in Los Angeles for a Sacred Court label night, and hopefully more and more gigs with my hybrid set up. I will host my own club nights in Amsterdam together with a good friend, and I’m already thinking about the next
concept for my album or EP. 2024 will be creative and adventurous, I can’t wait!
Follow Vera Grace