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Sister Bliss - Sister's Doing It For Herself

Author: Cyclone
Friday, 23 November 2007
Sister Bliss, aka Ayalah Bentovim, may be the first superstar DJ mum. Since giving birth to Nate in September last year, she has not only delivered an album with Faithless, but also toured widely. Now, a year on from to All New Arrivals, the unstoppable Brit is heading to Australia for a series of DJ dates – her son in tow. 3D’s Cyclone caught up with her to talk motherhood and music.

Nate has energised Bliss. Once she sounded doubtful about the future of Faithless. No longer. Bliss is all positivity.

How does she balance motherhood and the madness of the music industry-

“I have help,” she confesses. “I just make sure that I don’t overdo it. The great thing is we live a kind of life which is not a traditional nine-to-five. I’ve been able to take my boy with me on tour and to spend a lot of time with him. Really, it’s only when I’m on stage [that I’m not with him] – he’s gone to bed, anyway – and I’ve been with him all day, every day.”

Bliss’ impending parenthood inspired the theme of To All New Arrivals, and mobilised the band. Nevertheless, she wishes that she’d handled things differently with the actual release.

“We did make an album while I was pregnant, ’cause I said ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to concentrate again – if we’re gonna make some music, we better do it now.’ It was luck that we got to put that out just before [Nate] came along.

“I have to say the timing wasn’t perfect. I think perhaps we could have waited a little bit longer. It was very hard doing loads of interviews and trying to breastfeed at the same time and just being exhausted and [dealing with] all the stuff that goes along with being a new mum. But every day got easier – every month got easier.”

Still, Bliss has cut back on DJing, spinning on average once a week. “Something had to give.”

Drained from constant touring, Faithless hinted at a break-up – or, at very least, an extended hiatus – after 2004’s No Roots. The group even assembled a symbolic ‘greatest hits’, Forever Faithless. It was a surprise when, with no lead-up, To All New Arrivals, featuring The Cure’s Robert Smith as guest, surfaced.

Bliss was already active in the underground when in the mid-’90s she joined Roland “Rollo” Armstrong, with whom she had a rumoured romantic attachment, Maxi Jazz and Jamie Catto to form Faithless. At the time, Bliss was an emerging DJ/producer with a label.

Faithless’ debut album, Reverence, was a classic sleeper. The powerful tastemaker Pete Tong belatedly championed the epic house Insomnia. Faithless became an electronica supergroup by default: Reverence was intended to be a one-off. They consolidated their profile with rocking live shows. The rest is history.

Bliss has always been the ‘musician’ in Faithless, considering that she is a formally trained pianist, and a multi-instrumentalist, with Rollo, who declined to tour early, the producer.

In recent years, Bliss has worked on prestigious extracurricular projects. She composed music for the television program Life Begins. Lately, Bliss was commissioned to write for a bold production of Eugene O’Neill’s 1920 play The Emperor Jones at London’s National Theatre. It charts the fall of an African-American convict who, having fled to the West Indies, models himself as an autocratic leader. His subjects revolt. “It’s about one man and his wrongdoings and how they catch up with him,” Bliss says pithily.

The staging generated a sense of entrapment in the audience. Bliss observes, “It’s a bit Blair Witch Project.”

Her contribution was appropriately ominous “tribal” music. Bliss was buoyed by the response – and The Emperor Jones proved a welcome diversion. “It just gives me the opportunity to make music away from pressure.” That said, she laughs, her timing was again off. “It was quite intense, ’cause we were right in the middle of a full-on tour!”

Bliss claims that such endeavours, though external to Faithless, feed into – and revitalise – the band. And, at that, while Faithless have split from Sony BMG, she’s more upbeat than ever.

“I really feel that Faithless particularly has still got something to say,” she says. “The more I can try doing different things, the more I can bring next time we go into the studio to make the next record.”

Indeed, Faithless is another reason Bliss continues to DJ. She needs to stay rooted in the clubs. “Your records can sound dated if you don’t keep abreast of what’s going on.”

Bliss remains passionate about dance and is ecstatic that the scene has rejuvenated itself. At the beginning of the decade she was compelled to defend the culture in the press as pundits proclaimed ‘dance is dead’.

Bliss is often classified as a progressive house DJ, but she stresses her scope. She’s partial to deep house, electro, techno and prog – just not power-trance. She analyses new music, too, being “nerdy”.

“There’s definitely a real freshness to what’s going on,” she says. “It’s almost like people are breaking the rules and trying new sounds and making records in a totally new way.”

Most DJs are hard-pressed to distinguish producers, let alone tracks, they’re into. Bliss has no difficulty, rattling off the names Kissy Sell Out, Dave Spoon, Agoria and Axwell plus labels like Dubsided and Kompakt. She’s keen on a James Zabiela EP that has just arrived in her mail (“It’s like he’s updated Underworld!”) Beyond dance, she’s impressed with Australia’s Teenager. In fact, Bliss is shocked to learn that other DJs are less than forthcoming in interviews. “But we’re trainspotters!”

Above all, Bliss feels duty bound to play a cross-spectrum – as a ‘real’ DJ should. “The spirit of acid house lives on in me, I tell you!”

Yet Bliss is unsure about the nu-rave phenomenon. “I don’t think nu-rave sounds anything like old rave,” she says. “To me, it’s totally different.

“I can see why people would be excited by it. They probably had mixtapes of Grooverider off their brothers and sisters. They knew about the rave back in the day, but they had no idea what a special feeling there was and, again, how people just broke the rules with music. The way records were flung together then – it was really exciting.

“People just want a slice of something that they probably heard a lot about.

“All the fluorescent clothing, and that kind of slightly psychedelic fluorescent vibe which comes through in the music, you could identify that as a trend or a movement. It’s not my thing. I’m a bit old. I was there the first time around!

“I said to someone the other day: Faithless are ‘old rave’ and we’re showing them how it’s done. Old rave lives on and nu-rave can only stand around and imitate!”

WHO: Sister Bliss
WHAT: Plays Harbour Party at Luna Park
WHEN: Monday 31 December