Electric Fields label themselves ‘feminine brothers’ and ‘girly boys.’ They proudly defy binaries: their music is ancient/modern, soulful/electronic. “Think dark punk meets Nina Simone with a dash of Deep Forest,” says producer Michael Ross.
Ross is responsible for assembling the duo’s ebullient, dreamy soundscape. He weaves together a bit of house, a bit of disco, a touch of the blues. Singer/songwriter Zaacharia Fielding then infuses the music with his tender verse and striking voice. He sings at times gently before pivoting to higher and more powerful notes.
“The music and the combination of our similarities and differences is a beautiful blend,” explains Ross. The pair were introduced through a mutual friend six years ago. They initially crafted a few songs together, drifted apart, and rekindled their music collaboration last year. “We finally got together and created some truthful music that we had a hunch people were going to eat up.”
One example of their raw talent is the song Nina Simone, dedicated to the bold songstress and her particular brand of freedom. The lyrics repeat: “We’re Nina Simone-ing it, Simone-ing it.” Ross explains the sentiment behind the words: “Nina Simone was a lioness. She was fierce and tough and gorgeous. She wouldn’t take no for an answer, she was determined to stake a claim in creative culture. And she did it with fearlessness, even though there was so much to be fearful of.”
This theme of fearlessness, and bold defiance, is something both Ross and Fielding hold dear. Growing up, they eschewed traditionally masculine modes of behaviour. “When I was a lot younger, I had to learn to master my body language,” Fielding recalls. “Walking around school, the kids knew there was something different about me. The way I talk and the type of tone I have in my voice, they’d automatically think, ‘Oh, this one’s a bit weird.’ I had to struggle to blend in. But I came from a very good family, my mother and father always accepted me.”
Ross didn’t find such acceptance until much later on. “For me, growing up as a ‘girly boy’ was one of the worst things in the entire community around me—in my school, in my church, and also in my own home. I was taught an intense lie: that being a feminine man was not only absolutely terrible, but also evil. The point at which I decided I’d be myself without shame or fear was about six years ago, when I came to Adelaide. There was a geographical change, and also a philosophical change. I had to go to the edge of dogma in order to come back to myself.
“Now I’ve realised the truth. I’m comfortable with who I am and I’m comfortable not being butch. It’s exactly the way I was meant to be, so it’s nothing but a source of strength now. If anyone wants to take an issue with me, I will absolutely debate you down. I will inform you very clearly why close-minded opinions and views are the evil. They are the terrible, evil things.”
A thread of history and strong, ancient culture flows through the duo’s debut EP, Inma. Fielding was raised in the APY lands and speaks three languages—Pitjantjatjara, Yankuntatjara and English. On tracks such as PUKULPA (‘Happy’), Fielding sings in Pitjantjatjara, telling the listener— in lush and mesmerising tones—to be happy and be strong. He says the tight-knit community in APY has given him love, culture, and language. “Home has given me the ability to enter western society and stand my ground on who I am and where I come from, and to share this with people through music,” says Fielding.
“When I go back to memory lane as a child, I remember so many beautiful things, beautiful teachings. I hope to make people understand where I come from and what the people in my community are really like, instead of how they’re portrayed through other channels. I feel very fortunate to be part of this process.”
The duo say they derive inspiration in disparate places. Ross describes how the Drag Queen culture of New York in the 60s-80s sparks his imagination. “Their ballroom scene and lexicon, their way of being and talking, is so influential,” says Ross. “It teaches you to have a really fucking tough skin. You gotta be true enough to yourself to be able to be kind and honest and beautiful.”
Fielding says he learns much from just observing people—even as they go about their mundane, everyday tasks. “I get a lot of inspiration from watching what people do, their body language, the way they walk, the way they talk,” he says. “Back in my community, you get to know how body language works. It’s a separate, distinct language out there. So I observe and I create characters from that.”
When they perform, Electric Fields bristle with energy. Ross is behind the synth, his body convulsing almost involuntarily to the rhythm. Fielding sings while moving his arms kinetically, gracefully. The duo are thrilled to be performing for the first time on the WOMADelaide stage. Their message to the audience is quite simple: acceptance and humility in the face of the unknown. “People cause hurt in the name of God or in the name of mother nature, when in actually reality, they know nothing,” Ross states with finality. “If you don’t realise how much you don’t know, then you’re delusional.”
WOMADelaide, Botanic Park
Friday, March 10 to Monday, March 13