“Hi! Really like your work! Okay, bye!” Like us, Henrietta Smith-Rolla aka Afrodeutsche has a little obsession with Marie Davidson. Unlike their first interaction, whereby Smith-Rolla blurted out a compliment and promptly walked away (been there, done that), the next encounter saw Davidson letting loose on the dance floor during an Afrodeutsche DJ set. The two later met for a drink, which led to a first remix (the sentimental and otherworldly ‘Day Dreaming – Afrodeutsche Remix’), and a serendipitous connection of two women who share similar values, similar ideas, and similar ways of thinking about melody. As we speak over the phone just hours before her debut show at Tresor, Berlin, a shared love of Marie Davidson is just one in many examples of Afrodeutsche’s captivating and down-to-earth nature.
With a moniker inspired by Underground Resistance’s ‘Afrogermaniac’, a childhood soundtracked by Friday nights with her mum listening to Soul II Soul and Sade on Top of the Pops, and formative memories that involve running around the house as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1900 composition ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ blared through the living room stereo, the Afrodeutsche sound is unique. Blending Drexciyan electro with hip hop grooves and an appreciation for pattern and melody that harks as far back as the arpeggios in The Sound Of Music, Smith-Rolla makes compassionate and playful machine music that’s both dark and bright, hyperactive and fluid. “Filmic electronica electro stuff, I guess”, she says in her own words, explaining how she likes to tell stories with her music.
Afrodeutsche’s debut album, 2018’s Break Before Make, tells a story of heartbreak. “This wouldn’t be the end of me,” she says, “I had to be broken before I could make sense of everything. It’s a very personal album.” Released on Skam Records, the legacy UK rave label specialising in industrial-leaning electro, Break Before Make exemplifies Afrodeutsche’s ability to awaken feeling in the mechanical, finding a space that bridges loss, optimism, and wit. Showing her playful side, album cut ‘HIAEA’ hilariously, if slightly heart-wrenchingly, stands for Habitat, IKEA, Argos, eBay, ASOS. So, we picture Smith-Rolla sitting heartbroken in an empty flat with nothing but her music gear and a hefty shopping list for company. Rather than matters of the heart, Afrodeutsche’s new material revisits feelings of identity, deeply personal once again as she continues an ongoing search for her father. Having grown up in the south west of England, never having met her father, she’s now tracing her Ghanaian, Russian and German heritage in a bid to learn more about him.
2019 marks another year of debuts for Afrodeutsche. This summer will see the Manchester-based producer, composer and DJ play her first shows at Dekmantel in Amsterdam and Sónar Barcelona, two festivals right at the forefront of electronic music. Afrodeutsche might be making waves, impressing further still with the adventurous sonic of her recent 90 minute Dekmantel Podcast, but she still gets those pre-show butterflies. “Don’t say that!” she squeaks nervously as I highlight the importance of both brands. “Honestly, I’m still in shock that they’ve even asked me to do it,” she says of her Dekmantel performance. “I’m going to bring all sorts of wonky stuff with me; lots of hardcore, gabber, jungle, rave”, she says, and I can hear her smiling through the phone, “I’m going to have a really, really nice time.”
Later, Afrodeutsche mimics the shriek of excitement her mum let out in the moment she learned her daughter had been booked to play Sónar. “It’s a kind of cosmic situation,” Smith-Rolla says, telling me how she recently unearthed her Sónar tote from her first visit as a punter in 2003. “Can you believe it?” said a friend on Facebook, “we went all those years ago, and now you’re playing!”
“I just fucking love music…music is innate.”
Afrodeutsche has been busy touring of late, with recent shows taking her across Germany, Portugal and the UK. “I always miss it when I’m away,” she says of her beloved hometown Manchester. Fittingly, it’s a flurry of local names that spring to mind when I ask her about the music she’s feeling at the moment. Space Afrika’s live show gets a shout out, as does Anz and her brilliant recent EP Invitation 2 Dance, and then Croww, whose hybrid live/DJ sets that blend noise with gabber and 90s vocal samples, Smith-Rolla affectionately calls, on more than one occasion, “magical”.
What’s clear is that Henrietta Smith-Rolla is appreciating every moment. Her peers are “magical”, the promoters she works with are “so sound”, the sound system at a recent show in Leipzig was “audible heaven”. There’s more than one occasion in which I get the feeling that she genuinely can’t believe her luck. But it’s not luck, it’s Afrodeutsche. “I just fucking love music”, she says, “music is innate.”