In Hutspot Music, we ask talented creatives to create a music playlist. ‘Mens’, the latest project by Amsterdam based performer Wende, deals with the danger and wonder that comes with being human. We sat down with Wende to talk about performance, singing in different languages and the emotional response to ‘Mens’. Give her Spotify playlist a listen and follow us here to never miss another song featured in Hutspot Music.
Talking music with Wende: ‘I have tried to make myself vulnerable.’
Hi Wende! You studied at the kleinkunstacademie in Amsterdam. How can we recognize theatrical influences in your work today?
I focus a lot on text. I aim to tell a story through music and I use theatrical elements to strengthen its message. How does a visual influence the atmosphere in a room? What does a particular costume do to the story? All these elements are never used to simply ‘decorate’. Everything revolves around telling a story. Artists like Nick Cave, David Bowie or Stromae do this very well.
‘How can I be human in the midst of other human beings?’ seems like a leading question in your latest project ‘Mens’ (translated human). How did this idea start?
As a child, I traveled around a lot. I started wondering what being at home really means and where this would be for me. I also asked myself: ‘how do I position myself in this world?’ ‘How do I position myself against all this violence?’ ‘Or against the constant flow of news?’ A lot of my work is very personal and I have written a lot about my fears. As I grow as a person, it felt natural to just let these questions come. ‘Mens’ is about what it means to be human.
After seeing ‘Mens’ in Carré, someone said that she was inspired to stop hiding or controlling her emotions too much. Are there any responses to ‘Mens’ that have touched you or made you think?
I am mostly touched by the amount of emotional response I got to ‘Mens’. I have tried to translate my emotions to music and to make myself vulnerable. The result is a space where everyone can just be, including everything that might be different from how we ‘should’ feel. We live in a society where emotion and failure are seen as a sign of weakness. However, we are messy people and we do make mistakes. If someone is angry, let them be angry. Creating that sense of freedom for yourself is liberating. It has touched me to see how many people can relate to this.
Over the years, you have sung in many different languages including French, English and Dutch. In what kind of way does language influence the way you sing, write or perform?
Language can impact a lot of different things. I started out singing French chansons and was convinced that people would understand and listen to them the same way I did. How naive I was at 22 haha…
Depending on language and culture, the listener can shift into different listening modes. For example, we listen to German music differently than to Spanish or Italian music. When you’re not a native speaker, you tend to focus more on the atmosphere and emotion of a song. I consciously decided to write ‘Mens’ in Dutch, because I was talking about such personal ideas. However, speaking the language doesn’t mean that writing becomes easier. I’ve had many inspiring conversations with Typhoon about how he made the Dutch language his own.
You will start a clubtour in October to promote ‘Mens’. How did you translate music to performance?
I actually created ‘Mens’ the other way around! We first created the show with a more electronic and full sound and started in theaters and at festivals. After the show was created, we decided to strip down arrangements and brought my voice forward on the album. It is almost like I am sitting in a chair next to you and starting a one-on-one conversation.
We consciously thought about how the medium can change the way the story is told. Listening to an album is something you do most often alone, so we made the sound more intimate. In a theatre, you experience the story from beginning to end. There is no applause in between songs and people have fixed seats. It is the perfect environment to take the viewer on a journey and to experiment with making the atmosphere feel slightly uncomfortable at times. Festivals and clubs offer a more collective experience, so I make more eye contact and talk in between songs. Every space has their own energy and it is important for me to use its qualities.
Could you tell us a bit about your Spotify list? Why did you add certain songs?
This playlist contains artists that I admire because of their waywardness and unique character. Think Kate Tempest, PJ Harvey, Amy Winehouse… there are so many great names on here. I added my own song ‘Wat Is Mijn Plan Vandaag?’ (translated ‘What Is My Plan Today?’) because I like the question. The title gives a feeling of opportunity. Enjoy!