IIn April 2021, Simona Castricum thought she would never be able to write another song. The death of a friend had left her in a desperate place. For Castricum, her own body guided the way back.

“One day I just sat at the drum machine and slowed down,” says the electro-post-punk. NME. “I was like, ‘I don’t think I could write a song at 120 or 140 BPM. I really want to slow this down and really tune into what my body is trying to tell me.’

So the singer-songwriter located her own heartbeat and channeled its rhythm into ‘Grateful for the Heartache’ – the sinewy swan song for her new album, ‘SINK’. As the first track written after the death of her friend and SaD bandmate Daphne Campf, the lyrics are raw: “Now I will always love your ghost.

“I just wanted to write something at the speed of my heart instead of the speed of techno or the speed of Belgian new beat, which is what I usually do,” she says. “It was 96 BPM for my heart.”

Another heartbeat opens and closes the track ‘Womst?’, this time like a heart rate monitor that softly pulsates at 62 beats per minute (BPM). “It’s a base resting heart rate,” says Castricum. “A scream from the abyss where everything stops.”

‘SINK’, out now, is a devastating record peaking in anthemic, techno-goth; and dives into instrumental abysses of silence, reverberation and longing. It’s a gentle flutter of life in a skeleton of calcified techno.

Life also materializes in other parts of the album. It comes through with Castricum’s burning lyrical question: “Can we lean into belonging? / Can we lean into our love?”, “How can we keep up? / How can we stand?” and “So what was my life? / So how was my love?”. Each question, paired with a steady drum hit or infectious synth riff, articulates a turbulent time for Castricum.

Castricum says that making music in 2021, flanked by lockdowns, losses and relationship breakdowns, allowed her to explore a “stream of consciousness that is about multiple truths.”

Simona Castricum
Simona Castricum. Credit: Kayzar

Castricum’s presence has rippled around inner city Naarm/Melbourne for years. A seasoned broadcaster on cult community radio station 3RRR, she began her DJ career in the 90s, quickly gaining a reputation for her deft mixing at much-loved haunts such as The Gasometer and Hugs & Kisses. And she is a research fellow at the University of Melbourne, where she explores queer and trans futures in architecture, music, the public realm and community life.

When she DJs or performs live, Castricum often takes to the stage wearing her signature dark lipstick, black elastic headbands and a leather skirt – armor that foreshadows her war cry. Amidst an unapologetically faithful look at Golden Plains 2022, she told the audience with defiant fury: “This is a track for all you trans and non-binary people out there who have ever been bothered by a TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminist].” (Castricum is herself a transwoman).

Castricum speaks for NME over Zoom from her Naarm apartment with a makeup-free face and wearing a faded black Nike hoodie. It’s drizzling and she just ordered a burger as she watches. “Collingwood beat Fremantle by 100 points.” A cigarette headache is an unfortunate reminder to celebrate ‘SINK’s release with a live performance at 3RRR the night before.

“I just wanted to write something at the speed of my heart”

‘SINK’ was originally written as a live performance. Castricum and multidisciplinary artist Carla Zimbler were commissioned by Contemporary Performance Space Arts House to create an interdisciplinary show that would “construct a percussive and visual exploration of queer spatial production in hostile urban environments,” according to the organization’s website.

The pair toured the work, which included an ornate chandelier and seductive lyricless instrumentals, across Australia from 2021-2023. The lyrics came later: “I was able to write the lyrics for ‘SINK’ over the course of a year,” she says. “It was an abstract place to bear witness to two relationships I had both lost under very different circumstances. When the words came, it helped me break a cycle to find a better place.”

When it came to immortalizing the work on record, the two-piece musical group m8riarchy provided backing vocals. Sound engineer and producer Nao Anzai (who has worked with Mildlife and Missy Higgins) produced it.

“Through the process of [making] this record, when I found the music really difficult to write, I started to experience that my relationship with the music changed,” she says. “I stopped DJing and I stopped broadcasting on 3RRR because I just had a hard time coming up with lists of music. I got really exhausted and really tired.”

But she wanted to double her ability to write. “I’ve always been a songwriter and I get tired of walking into places and people saying ‘this is Simona, she’s a DJ’ and I’m like ‘I’m a musician!’,” she stammers. “I have released four albums and three more albums on top of that under different labels over 20 years. I want to be seen as a songwriter and a musician and a drummer and an average singer.”

Simona Castricum
Simona Castricum. Credit: Jacinta Owen

‘SINK’ is divided into two halves. The first features solemn tracks that plumb the depths of despair: ‘Lean into Belonging’, ‘TBC’, ‘Catacombs’ and ‘Womst’. Think ’80s post-punk crawling with raucous basslines and devastating visuals.

The second side of the record is suitable for the dance floor: ‘Chaise’, ‘Limited Edition’, ‘Sky’ and ‘Grateful for the Heartache’. NME mentions to Castricum that this site offers moments best described by rave theory writer McKenzie Wark: “Having worn yourself down to the bare core, it’s time to go home.” She agrees and laughs. While gloomy, the songs buzz with energy reminiscent of the dopamine rush experienced after a huge club session.

Castricum says that honesty has been key in making the record, pointing to diatribe track ‘Sky’ as an example. It darts lyrically between vignettes of beloved evening scenes: “lipstick love drawn on the mirror” and “substances that once carried such a connection.

“I was able to write the lyrics to ‘SINK’ over the course of a year…when the words came, it helped me break a cycle of finding a better place”

Being so transparent about her innermost thoughts and fears has been “terrifying”. “It’s a very difficult album to talk about,” says Castricum. Just as she’s about to reveal another part of the story, she rewinds and says, “I don’t know if I can talk about that.”

Asked if she has found the answers to the questions on ‘SINK’, Castricum shakes her head. “No, no, no, no, I haven’t,” she says, before referencing the lyrics from ‘TCB’, the album’s third track: “‘How do we know of a way to move on / from ways in your life that have hurt you for so long?’.”

‘SINK’ is not just about survival, but about the resilience required to live with life’s unknowable mysteries.

“[‘SINK’] tells a story. But it’s also about self-reflection and introspection, going to places within yourself that are very scary and revealing the manifold truths of life. Sometimes it’s hard to get through it, but then suddenly you find something,” explains Castricum. “[I found] a perspective, my truth.”

If this story raises problems for you, you can contact LifeLine 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 13 11 14. Beyond Blue and headspace offer comprehensive mental health support services nationwide.

Simona Castricum’sSINK‘ is out now via Dinosaur City and Trans-Brunswick Express. She plays Howler on Friday, August 11. Tickets here.

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