NERO is an international publishing house devoted to art, criticism and contemporary culture. Founded in Rome in 2004, it publishes artists’ books, catalogs, editions and essays.

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James K. Ph: Sam Clarke.

On a Trip Lick

A peek into the layered sonic universe of James K

In anticipation of James K’s first Italian appearance at the fourth edition of LOST Festival, held at Franco Maria Ricci’s Labirinto della Masone from July 5th to 7th, 2024, we connected with the New York-based experimental musician and visual artist to talk about her work, influences, and upcoming projects.

“A version of James K was born. Comprised of bones, reactive metals and a larynx with freckled eyes that catalyze that mix, she can now see through all the schemes. This is the truth. When she chews gum, it’s not clear which one of her personas does it. Since their first release in 2013, describing them separately is grunt work as they switch places, cosplay each other and would most likely lull you into a lonesome dream. Together, they know how to produce, sound, film and edit. Thus, they are brought to the table, performing and DJing in clubs and theatres, along with composers and musicians alike. She produces music that makes a temporary haven for indomitable lyrics – and these are in constant flux. You can check what they are here: [917 908-1173]. It’s only a part of her fairly detailed world. A world that she abandons and then builds upon. Take a sip of water before your memory error blinks. Dial to K. Listen to the defragmented territory and the cast of it she’s making. It might not be what you will have thought tomorrow.”


Experimentation is key when it comes to James K’s practice. The New York based artist blends organic, long-drawn progressions and then breaks them through sharp turns and bursts of pop. Her music has carved out a space in a niche that has been aptly described as “a clubby corner of the ambient music scene,” a niche that has enlarged and evolved throughout the last decade, gaining stronger and stronger footing within the wider electronic music sphere. In between music for clubs and music for deep listening sessions, this dub infused trip-hop subgenre seems to be always looking for new locations for its performances. Churches, public parks, non-urban spaces, or labyrinths, in the case of LOST—the perfect backdrop for K’s meandering sounds.  

James K. Ph: Sam Clarke.

Having experimented with her voice and with different musical instruments since the age of five—starting with the violin, then the drums, and later picking up the guitar—K began producing electronic music around 2007, when she moved to Providence to study Printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design. Back in New York, she released Rum EP in 2013 and the singles Luv Me Too and SOKIT To Me Baby in 2014, on UNO. Her first LP, PET, came out in 2016, released in collaboration with 1080p on Dial and her own label She Rocks! Describing the record, K said that “PET is about trying to escape but, ultimately, being owned,” and in these words we can sense the influence of Judith Butler, among the theoretical references she cultivated during her university years, together with Donna Haraway and others. 

Akin to this research into ideas of femininity and the fragmentation of identity is also the conception of ELEKTRA (Scream Through the Eyes of a Statue), a multimedia performance, inspired by Anne Carson’s translation and interpretation of Sophocles’s Electra and by her essay The Gender of Sound, which took place on April 26th, 2018. Involving Eve Essex, Dylan Shir, and Leila Bordreuil, together with K herself, ELEKTRA is a score for four players which mostly came out of improvisation, starting from prompts based on Electra’s screams in Sophocles’ tragedy. The recording of the composition, which came out in January of this year on iDEAL recordings, is much different from other K’s musical productions but, as she tells us, it came from a place close to that Random Girl originated from. The 2022 album, released on Incienso, is also built on soundscapes and, with reference to the previous PET, it is, in fact, more “experimental, a bit industrial, with lots of noise elements.” “It was a bit of a different place I wanted to explore,” she tells us, “so it kinda came around full circle.” 

James K, ELEKTRA (Scream Through the Eyes of a Statue), iDEAL Recordings 2024. Cover design by Nicola Tirabasso and James K. 

Her next album, coming out in 2025, will have “more structured songs” instead—“It’s probably my most accomplished work,” K anticipates—and it will be closer to PET. “I think it’s what I’ve been trying to make for a while now. It’s really experimental at the same time, and it sounds sick. I love it,” she says. And we can’t wait to hear that. 

The album will also feature many collaborations: among the people involved in the project, she mentions Priori, with whom she also released the single Wake this year, and Shy, half of hoodie, with whom K released the two-song EP 065 (Scorpio) last year. 

She worked on the new album mostly during the past winter, and now that’s almost finished she’s in the process of building its image. “The sound is always the starting point; the visuals come afterwards,” but they are definitely not an afterthought. Every musical production of K’s, in fact, is also a visual world of its own, populated by her different personas, layered manifestations of different concepts and mental states, which somehow become individual characters with their own backstories, but are much more than that. Her album covers’ collages are a peek into K’s visual inspirations, or a manifestation of the work’s feeling and atmosphere—the artwork of 036, released on AD 93 in 2021, is a personal favorite.

K’s work is universe building. Her music invites the listener to engage in an otherworldly experience. Her deconstructed melodies are surreal, distorted, glitched, blended in a rhythmical re-composition which proves to be fertile ground for futuristic imaginations of music. If you’ve ever had the chance to attend one of her sets, you’d know how these sounds come alive through her performance. At once they invite an introspective experience akin to a listening set, but they also move you to move, to engage the body in collectivity and presence with the audience, bopping your head until you can’t help but dance. Highs and lows of her records translate well in the dreamlike space of her performance, where she uses her voice as an instrument, mixing pre-recorded sounds, synths, and occasionally guitar.

“My current live set and my way of making music are really constructed in the studio. For my live set I incorporate the elements I use to generate sound, like my modular synth for the transitional ambient moments. It’s quite expressive in creating the music live, sort of jammed and improvised. And then they turn into the constructed songs. That’s when it transitions from the instrumental being the expressive, performative element to the voice becoming that. My voice ties everything together, transitioning from synth to voice. My voice is what I focus on mostly in the live set. I try to move between voice and synth, creating a back and forth between ambient and vocal spaces. I’ve been playing with guitar recently, incorporating it into my set for an intimate moment with just guitar and voice. I aim for a lot of dynamics, moving through different spaces in one hour, from ambient listening to familiar pop melodies to intimate guitar and voice moments.”

K’s lyrics, like diary entries, translate her experience from a specific time period, conveying feelings without crystallizing them into concepts. “When I realize it’s all turning into a record, there are references in my brain, like books or movies, that fit into that world,” and these enter the process of creation in different ways. K tells us she hasn’t been reading much theory these days: “those inspirations are always there, but lately I’ve been more into science fiction.” She also mentions reading Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama and loving its “seething satire.” “My influences are all over the place,” she says, “not always current, sometimes from books or movies from years ago. It’s a big cloud, not linear.”

James K. Ph: Sam Clarke.

Of course we had to talk about the internet. Almost no contemporary conversation about music is left untouched by this question, which feels especially relevant to K’s practice, as her sonic and visual language is filled with references to digital subcultural objects. In December 2023, German imprint Die Orakel asked her to share “a selection of her favorite internet obscurities” for their Orakel Cast program. The resulting playlist, featuring a variety of incredible findings like Frank Budgen’s Mountain and David Lynch’s Bambi PlayStation commercials and a “Slow Motion Lithium Combustion” video, together with videoclips from Mariah Carey’s Against All Odds to Lush’s De-Luxe and Anna Domino’s Land of My Dreams, just to mention a few, is an internet treasure trove, and a great way to see what’s on K’s mind.

“I think, no matter what, I’m inspired by the internet. I’m a sample artist, putting disparate references together to create something new. Even if influenced by the internet, I make it my own through my perspective.” And even if the internet is part of James K’s life as much as it is of anyone, she doesn’t feel constrained by it. Other and older forms of media too inspire her practice. Similarly, her music influence is not tethered to a single point in time or geographical location. Sometimes inspiration comes from shoegaze, sometimes from hip hop, sometimes from a Gwen Stefani’s song. K’s artistry comes in tying these fragments altogether. 

Making sense of these floating pieces of media and music isn’t done through careful archiving, but through a digitally organic way of messily hoarding bits and pieces. The ones that matter stay, emerging from the pile of computer rubble. “I’m disorganized,” she tells us: “I make folders, but they get confused with subfolders. I often can’t find things, but the right things remain, and I remember what I need.” 

We ask her if she has a favorite corner of her laptop. She answers: “I have Tumblr, and I save photos from it to my desktop. I like that folder, with curated favorite photos. Tumblr is a great source for images, more so than Instagram. I’ve used it for a long time and still I find it rich in content, without a heavy algorithm.”

“The YouTube algorithm has changed, and it’s not great now,” she comments. “You get fed the same videos repeatedly. I do go on YouTube holes sometimes, but YouTube’s ads make it hard to stay on for long. Back in the day, you found unviewed, rare videos. I loved that era of the internet, discovering random, obscure content. It’s a bit nostalgic,” she says, and so we continue discussing the general reviving and looking back to the ‘80s and ‘90s etc., looking to the past for comfort and, paradoxically, to find something new. 

“I’ve never really been hyped in the way where I’m getting people who are into some kind of personality that I’m offering,” K tells us. “I’m just a musician. I create art and a world around it, but I wouldn’t say I’m a personality-based artist. People who reach out to me, people who come to my shows are really listening, they’re there for the music, and I think that’s really nice. That’s what I’m aiming for, and I’m really grateful for that. It’s what I hope for, as a musician, honestly: to have an attentive audience. 

I have a great thing going on right now where I’m just getting to play more and more in different places. I went to Asia and Australia, and I was just completely floored. In the first place, because I had the opportunity to play in these places, but then also because I had a community of people who really listened and knew what I was doing. People who have been following my music for a long time coming to see me play. It’s really just crazy. It’s really exciting for me to get to do that, to see it firsthand. Sometimes you’re just making music in your studio, or you’re in your home, and you’re in your small community of friends, and then you forget that you’re putting this out there and it’s for anyone to hear. You don’t remember that people are actually listening—you’re just like, oh yeah, I guess someone heard it. But then you go to a show and see people actually showing up.”

Lost Festival 2023. Ph: Giacomo Alberico. 

James K will play at LOST (Labyrinth Original Sound Track) on Saturday, July 6th, where she will also preview some unreleased music from her upcoming album. 

What is exciting about bringing music to such new locations is the chance to materialize invisible dispersed crowds in spaces that might not be on the radar neither for artists nor for listeners, as well as creating new possible audiences through the random encounter. It allows for embodied experiences which are not possible in the confines of the classic club space or live gig location. The built environment affects the music in manifold ways, and we can only imagine how the mystical aura of the Labirinto della Masone will imbue James K’s performance with yet another layer of meaning.

Labirinto della Masone, Fontanellato (Parma). Ph: Mauro Davoli. 


While we wait for her new album to come out, we recommend listening to Trip Lick, K’s bimonthly program on NTS, where she curates (and invites friends to curate) mixes from ambient to techno, from Cocteau Twins to Front De Cadeaux.  


Out Of Season Vol. 3, featuring K’s opening track 7 equals five, has just been released on Theory Therapy, which will donate all profits to Medical Aid for Palestinians. Support the initiative if you can. 

Michele Angiletta (1998) is an editor for NERO Editions, currently based in Rome.
Marta Ceccarelli (1999) is an independent writer, blogger and researcher living between Italy and the Netherlands. She loves the web, internet (sub)cultures, memes, music and club scenes. She has published with INC on Dark Forests, with Open Source on Nightscenes, and her Substack, blogreform, is the place where her interests culminate through cultural analysis, experimental auto-fiction, and more. She currently lives in Rome where she works for NERO.