Rising: Alina Labour is aligning her sound with her soul
Alina Labour joins the line from a busy café in Santo Domingo.
The Dominican capital is the place the 25-year-old DJ and producer calls home. This buzzy setting, she tells me, is a quintessential Dominican scene – people eating, laughing, living loudly. Her artistic practice provides a refuge from the relentless bustle of her culture; a meditative headspace where ambient textures and gentle hums swallow the world around her. “Music allows me to exist inside of a protective bubble,” she admits. “It offers peace when all around me is chaos.”
Labour’s music is characterised by an extensive use of reverb and delay, a habit she picked up from years of closely listening to shoegaze giants My Bloody Valentine. Like that band’s immense wash of noise and heart-wrenching melodies, distorted until barely discernible, Labour chooses to communicate the meaning behind her songs through mood and composition. “The introspection of [My Bloody Valentine’s] music, and the noisy dissonance of the surrounding sound, resonates with my experience growing up in the [Dominican Republic].”
Throughout our conversation, Labour often lands on the term ‘ethereal’ to describe her music. It’s a fitting adjective; cascades of feedback push her ambient productions into the liminal space between fantasy and reality. This is best captured on her 2017 debut EP, Strange Sounds from the Moon, a four-track release that was the result of a self-inflicted, week-long bedroom lock-in. Mournful vocals stretch out over Grouper-like, reverb-laden guitars, while wheezing synths bring an eerie levity to the productions. Labour explains that these otherworldly sounds arrive in her mind telepathically; a gift from the guiding spirit of her mother, who tragically died when she was just two. “It was like some form of mystical inspiration,” she poignantly remembers.
The follow-up, 2020’s New Age, is characterised by a sense of warmth. Ciudad de Lágrimas, OCD and Attention Deficit are her most gorgeous compositions to date, breathing like the canopy of a rainforest; the spellbinding dream pop of Hear My Words and Boys and Girls call to mind Cocteau Twins in their uneasy shimmer.
This isn’t the kind of music one might immediately associate with the Dominican Republic – a vibrant, tropical country most famed for its upbeat bachata and merengue rhythms. Though she stresses her admiration for the musical styles native to her country, Labour recognises that her musical deviation is in part due to her art dealer father, who exposed her to the progressive rock and new wave of Yes, Kraftwerk and Gary Numan as a child. “My father raised me as a citizen of the universe, not a nation,” she says defiantly, noting that this worldview allowed her to overcome the pressures to conform to what might be expected of a Latin artist. “Here, we are all a mix. It has meant that I’ve been exposed to [musical] styles from all over the world, and can make the music that feels most aligned with my soul.”
Despite the precarious economic landscape making things difficult for her as a Dominican artist, Labour considers herself lucky to be able to create alternative music spaces with her close-knit community of “misfits”. “Recently, my friend played [drum‘n’bass producer] LTJ Bukem at a festival we held,” she beams, proudly reflecting on the scene she’s helped build. “Afterwards, people approached him desperate to know what kind of music it was. It’s a pleasure to introduce people to something different.”
Sounds like: Otherworldly ambient for a film score
Soundtrack for: Bedroom ruminating
File next to: Grouper, Almanacs
Our favourite song: Hear My Words
Where to find her: @alina.labour
New Age is out now via 221997 DK Records