Ambient punk and sexism in Manchester with CURRENTMOODGIRL

Last time I called Greta Carroll, the artist who makes music as CURRENTMOODGIRL, she was sitting in a bar in Brighton drinking an Aperol spritz. This time she’s in the middle of buying Iceboy Violet’s new EP — in the middle of listening to it too, judging from the sounds crackling down the line.

Carroll’s music is instrumental in the strictest sense of the word: she samples and produces all the sounds you hear herself. But while she plays multiple instruments, the flute is the only one she has had any formal training in. This was in school by jazz musician George Galway, brother of virtuoso flute player James Galway, known as ‘The Man with the Golden Flute’.

CURRENTMOODGIRL / Photo used with permission from the artist

“He helped me learn in a different way because I couldn’t learn like his other students,” Carroll says. “I can’t really do notations.”

As well as a flute, Carroll owns a theremin, a guzheng and a steel pan (she has a mini one and wants a couple more). “The sound of the steel pan is actually my favourite sound, I love tinny noises,” she says. These instruments can be heard through her music: sometimes distorted, sometimes in their original forms.

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CURRENTMOODGIRL’s releases are also full of objects making ordinary, everyday sounds. If you hear the hiss of a gas hob being switched on, or an oven door closing, that’s exactly what it will be — painstakingly sampled. Carroll plays these ‘found’ instruments in the same strange and discordant way as she plays the flute or theremin.

“Some people have said that this stuff I’m doing now is ‘ambient punk’. I don’t even know what that means to be honest, but I’ve been called it a couple of times,” she says, laughing. “I’ll take it, it sounds cool.”

CURRENTMOODGIRL / Photo used with permission from the artist

You can hear the ambience in the hustle and bustle of her music: familiar sounds, slightly off-beat and distorted. There is also something very ‘punk’ about the DIY methods she uses – the gas hob, the oven door – it’s a rejection of overproduction and artificiality in some contemporary music.

Carroll’s music is deliberately disjointed — it takes sudden turns. “I don’t use tempo, or anything like that,” she explains. “I do every beat by hand.” Each beat is individually drawn-in, rather than being electronically adjusted and uniform. “People won’t realise, but they’ll think ‘there’s something different about this’. It adds something to it that you can’t quite put your finger on.”

CURRENTMOODGIRL / Photo used with permission from the artist

In late 2021, Carroll released her most recent EP, Side Split. The record is lighter and more melodic than some of her previous work. My Own is a stand-out track, combining her recognisable discordant sound with what she calls a “fucked-up pop element.”

The music has a strange quality to it: it blurs the boundaries between joy and sadness. “I’ve got a personality disorder and ADHD,” she says. “And I’ve got really bad depression and anxiety. My songs are just what comes out at the time — sometimes it’s melancholy.”

CURRENTMOODGIRL / Photo used with permission from the artist

The vocals are beautiful: more natural and simple than in previous EPs. There is drama and grandeur too – at times Carroll could almost be singing a hymn – a commitment, sentiment and seriousness to her voice. 

The conversation turns to Manchester. “I feel like a Manchester musician,” Carroll says. “But in my own way. I don’t feel part of the scene: I never have and I never will.”

“I don’t feel welcome in Manchester, really,” she says, which is striking considering she grew up in Whalley Range. “I do get a lot of my influences from Manchester – the sounds are very industrial. And, you know, I love Manchester. But it’s known for being rough, it’s known for being male.”

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We list some of the city’s musical icons: the Gallaghers, Tony Wilson, The Buzzcocks. The scene often trades on a brand of tough, stereotypically northern masculinity. It’s hard to imagine two Gallagher sisters being quite so big. Images of Mancunians in popular culture are almost always men — illustrated depressingly in murals of the city’s famous figures. “I think it’s not really seen as being a female place,” Carroll says.

“I really wonder about who got copied and who got forgotten,” she says. “These women who were making music in the 90s, but just wouldn’t have been able to put anything out.”

CURRENTMOODGIRL / Photo used with permission from the artist

Carroll says the situation now for female artists trying to break through is helped by the ability to self-publish. “Even through a lot of us are unsigned, at least we have it on the internet for people to find in the future.”

I ask her about the future. “I see it as a privilege not to be big at the moment,” Carroll says. “I’m not sure I want to be big. I just take every day as it comes with my music, continuing to learn and enjoy it. That’s the main thing because I know for me it’s going to be a lifelong thing.”

“I might end up being a lecturer, I don’t fucking know. I might end up being a teacher. I might end up doing well with my music. But I feel like I’m right at the beginning.”

Side Split is written and produced by CURRENTMOODGIRL. Consider buying the EP from one of Greater Manchester’s independent record shops or from the artist’s Bandcamp.