Portrait of the Artist as a Young Fan: Den-Mate

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Fan examines who and what inspired D.C. artists as they formed their craft.  

Julia Hale calls from Jekyll Island. “Sorry if you can’t hear me,” she says. “The wind’s kinda strong.”

Hale, who records hazy electronic tracks under the moniker Den-Mate, takes a trip down to the Georgia island every year. The water is an inspiration for her music. “There is a beauty and a little bit of danger to it,” she says. On her forthcoming album, dark undercurrents swirl and repeat under her vocals.

The 20-year-old Fairfax resident started making music as Den-Mate about two years ago and gained a following on Tumblr. She recently signed with Chimes Records and is currently working on her first album with the local label.

Hale spent her childhood dancing around her bedroom to Fleetwood Mac and listening to the Beatles and Nirvana with her parents. “My parents were very influential in everything I listened to,” she says. “They spoon-fed me good music.”

When she hit her teenage years and started developing her own taste in music, Hale gravitated toward artists like Karen O and Gwen Stefani. “I wanted to be her. But I think a lot of little girls want to be Gwen Stefani,” she says. “I think a lot of grown-up girls want to be Gwen Stefani.”

There are certainly parallels between Den-Mate and the woman vocalists she admires: a clear voice that shifts from flat sing-speaking to sliding the range of an entire octave; vocals that weave in and out of electronic backgrounds. Hale’s love of ’80s post-punk bands like Bauhaus, Joy Division, and the Cure comes through in her haunting, recursive melodies and fuzzy, synthesized beats. “Betterr,” a track from the upcoming album, was inspired by a dream about transitioning from adolescence to adulthood.

Hale worked to understand the dream by writing the song, and found a message about self-love. Stella Mozgawa, the drummer for L.A. indie-rock bandWarpaint, influenced the track’s sonic structure, which opens with a methodic snare beat and builds to syncopated rhythms. “I really like how complex yet tasteful [Mozgawa’s] drum beats are,” Hale says. “Warpaint inspired a lot of my work.” The vocals from “Demon Days,” too—the title track from the 2005Gorillaz album—influenced Hale’s ethereal electronic sound.

This week, Hale is back in the District. Since signing with Chimes, she’s been playing more shows, including the label’s Young Rapids release party at the Rock & Roll Hotel last month. Den-Mate plays tonight with Bellows, Sharpless, and Ballad Roulette at 453 Florida Ave. NW. 7 p.m., $5.

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