Lupa J – To Breathe Underwater

Lupa J

We’re all having to learn to live in a new world right now. In many ways, 2020 has certainly felt like breathing underwater with its suffocating isolation and lockdowns.

Lupa J’s second album tackles this head on.

At the start of the year, it was originally meant to be a techno EP. But then came the first lockdown and, as they tweeted recently, it “got all long and introspective”.

It’s a real blessing that it did.

Two of the album’s eight tracks were written just before their native Australia went into lockdown in the spring. The majority were born in the lonely months of lockdown itself.

Lupa J tried to focus on one track each week for the album. Some weeks, they had the headspace to channel emotions into lyrics; others, it was easier to focus on techno tracks.

The result is full of dark and intricate pop songs laced with techno and industrial beats. It merges the worlds of dark club night dance floors and up-tempo pop, and – unsurprisingly given the album came out of lockdown – there’s a claustrophobic isolation at its heart. It’s the sound of an artist getting to grips with a strange new world, of learning to breathe underwater.

The songs are made grittier and darker by the metallic sounds of industrial techno. Like ‘Obliterate’, with its machine-gun flurries of techno percussion against light synth rhythms’. ‘This Suburb’ explodes with techno beats and dark synths, but not before its broken your heart with its exploration of being trapped somewhere but learning to love it. Likewise ‘Supermarket Riots’, with its cry of “Just stay on the phone, I need you”.

It’s when the lyrics and songs give way to pure techno that the album reaches even greater heights. Lupa J is an artist obsessed by sound, in thrall to its possibilities, and it’s on these tracks that this is most thrillingly evident.

‘Call Me Up’ has an alarm clock synth stutter and unrelenting techno beat, with waves of metallic crashes, robotic voices and samples. It’s the sound of sparks flying that would grace any dark, twisted sci-fi epic. ‘To Become’ manages to be even more menacing, with snatches of disembodied voices and synths wailing like alarms.

Lupa J skilfully weaves an intoxicating mix of lyrical introspection, pop melody and industrial techno. ‘To Breathe Underwater’ kicks like a mule. But it soothes, too, like a dive into a warm pool at the end of a hot day. Like Lupa J, we’re all learning to breathe underwater now.

Jamie Summerfield