Disruption and interference aren’t words you ordinarily associate with pop or dance music, but Planningtorock is on a mission to unseat all norms. On her new album All Love’s Legal, she leaves you in no doubt as to the seriousness of her vision of transnational gender equality. Surprisingly, given that Western dance music is born out of black, queer music, it rarely touches upon these themes, but All Love’s Legal is a refreshingly direct statement of political intent.
For Jam Rostron, the Bolton-born, Berlin-based artist behind the multimedia recording and performance project Planningtorock, All Love’s Legal is both an extension of her previous work and a refinement and of its ideas and sonics. Planningtorock has always incorporated politics into her music, but this is by far her most explicitly political record yet. It follows W, which was released on DFA in 2011, and her 2006 debut album Have It All, as well as Tomorrow, In A Year, her acclaimed collaboration with Mt. Sims and The Knife. With a refined sonic palette, focused political intent, and a new name – having changed it from Janine to Jam – Planningtorock embarks on an exciting new phase.
After the W tour came to a close, Planningtorock had something of a creative crisis. She realised she wanted to create music that made her feel inspired and liberated. The outcome of this was Patriarchy Over and Out, the A-side of the first release on her Human Level label. In line with her goal of creating liberating music, Planningtorock’s lyrics on All Love’s Legal don’t instruct or patronise, but open up a space for the discussion of gender and identity. On Human Drama, she sings, “Gender’s just a lie.” It’s a feminist lyric, but hardly a typical communication of equality or declaration of solidarity. Instead it invites people to form their own opinions. The lyrics of songs like Human Drama, Let’s Talk About Gender Baby and Beyond Binary Binds similarly inspire thought rather than asserting one point of view. Crucially, All Love’s Legal speaks to people of all genders, and Planningtorock addresses not specific individuals or groups, but humanity as a whole.
To discuss the very real oppression of people, Planningtorock treats concepts as entities, tackling whole oppressive systems from top to bottom. She has no intention of attacking individuals in order to bring down patriarchy. Instead, she “goes for the jugular of the idea itself,” as she puts it, literally telling patriarchy to “get out of the way.” But for all the importance of her subject matter, Planningtorock’s sense of humour shines throughout this record. Who would have thought the deconstruction of calcified thought systems could be such fun? But fun it is, and dance music is the perfect vehicle for Planningtorock’s themes. Her perspective is an intersectional one, with the spirit of enquiry extended to feminism itself. By framing challenging topics within dance music, she ensures anyone can access her messages. And the music itself? It’s as thrilling, direct and forward thinking as the intent behind it, yet subtle and intricate, too. For every sensuous groove there’s a beat that threatens to slip out of the confines of the grid, a sliding tempo or a shift in a whole song’s tone. There are musical precedents, but All Love’s Legal marches firmly to the beat of its own drum.
Where on W, Planningtorock mapped her political intent onto a canvas of bubbling electronics and instrumentation, on All Love’s Legal her themes are embedded in the very fabric of the album, woven into every beat, synth line and string passage. The musical and lyrical aspects of All Love’s Legal are equally important, and Planningtorock works towards queering sonics. Her technique of pitching down and processing her magnetic voice into de-genderized tones enables her to confront received ideas of femininity head-on, and that she composed, recorded, played and produced All Love’s Legal in its entirety also lays waste to what she describes as a “sickness within society, the genderization of intellect and skill in almost any profession.” She is also directing the series of videos that will accompany the album.
Though Planningtorock’s voice is an extraordinary instrument, it’s part of a wider network of disruptive sound. Misogyny Drop Dead may be a house track, but its off-kilter timings mean it’s far from straightforward four-to-the-floor music, though its opening chaos settles into a deep groove you can get lost in. The synthesised horns of Public Love may be confrontational, but the riff they’re shaped into an earworming riff. When Planningtorock’s voice enters it feels visceral and potent even though it’s processed Beyond Binary Binds is a wonderfully disorienting, disco-influenced instrumental that opens with a slinky synth melody but tumbles into a woozy noodling of synth squiggles. The contrast with ‘Purple Love’ couldn’t be greater. Although both are interludes, Purple Love consists almost entirely of Planningtorock’s a cappella singing - both lyrics and pre-linguistic vocal stabs.
On songs that are less obviously geared to the dancefloor, Planningtorock takes an emotionally affecting approach to her core theme. The high drama of Answerland recalls Ennio Morricone, with abstracted vocals, chord stabs and minimal drums that stir suspense rather than providing any answers. The album closes with Patriarchy Over and Out, one of All Love’s Legal’s most musically intriguing moments, and the track that began Planningtorock’s journey. Her voice is so finely manipulated that she seems to inhabit multiple characters. Initially Patriarchy Over and Out seems like an ecstatic dance track with an irresistible groove, but halfway through the tempo slows, and though the beats and strings re-emerge, they do so under an entirely different guise. The half-euphoric yet almost lamenting tone of the song’s conclusion is a fitting end to an album that’s both deeply affecting and emotionally elusive. The lasting impression is of music that never sits still, as fluid as the gender it describes.
As with the Patriarchy Over and Out / Wheel Of Fortune single and Misogyny Drop Dead EP, All Love’s Legal will be released on Planningtorock’s label, Human Level Records. Translating her words into concrete actions, Planningtorock founded Human Level not only to release her own music but also to provide a wider platform for female talent, such Holly Herndon, who remixed Misogyny Drop Dead, and Berlin artist rROXYMORE. Human Level Records exists to redress an imbalance in the industry, aiming to address people’s unawareness – and implicit support - of entrenched patriarchal systems.
Planningtorock explains that at the time of her creative crisis, she realised that her purpose in making art was “to create music that is useful.” On All Love’s Legal, she’s fulfilled that ambition. It is both a beautiful and intriguing record, but it’s useful as well, giving people an access point into complex discourse about gender. All Love’s Legal is no evangelical treatise, but a unique and vivid work of self-expression that will delight and empower you.