TRACK BY TRACK: SaD – SATURN RULES THE MATERIAL WORLD (TRANS-BRUNSWICK EXPRESS, 2020)

Words: James Frostick
Artist image: Laura Du Ve

Today marks the official release of Saturn Rules The Material World – the debut album from SaD (Simona Castricum and Daphne Camf). This is a record that manages to navigate the choppy current of propulsive and murky techno and the leisurely eddies of minimal synth-laced balladry with equal amounts of poise. SaD have shared with us a track-by-track breakdown of the album in its entirety – not only its compositional origins and inspirations, but insight into the emotional heft the album carries.

Although I don’t know the circumstances behind Simona Castricum and Daphne Camf’s team up, I’m very familiar with their respective origin stories and other works. Simona has been a pillar of the underground electronic scene for a long while, crafting catalysing club thumpers imbued with sentiments surrounding empowerment, empathy and endurance.  Daphne is part of the heat-beat collective NO ZU, a fixture of the creative crucible and one of the many heads of the hydra responsible for the group’s swirling (yet controlled) sonic maelstrom. Together, they create SaD – a dynamic darkwave outfit that deftly evokes the genre’s most visceral highs and despondent lows.

SaD’s new album Saturn Rules The Material World is an eight-track opus, the genesis of which stretches back to 2018. Over two-ish years, the duo have pieced together a record that traverses a detailed auditory landscape – icy and minimal at one juncture, shrouded and mysterious at another, then propulsive and intimidating in turn. It takes a certain amount of skill to push a record’s momentum to an energetic zenith before bringing back to terra firma, all the while managing to maintain a sense of vitality throughout. On Saturn… Simona and Daphne add nuance to the album’s peaks and troughs by centring each track on an emotional crux. Couched within the record are sentiments surrounding love and desire, hate and guilt, and self love and forgiveness. Oscillating rapidly between such feelings might seem draining on paper, but is it not what we experience in reality? SaD embrace the back-and-forth nature of emotion, responding and mirroring the sensations that arise with whatever sounds their chosen 80s-electro palette allows. The end result is a considered and layered work that showcases the width and breadth of the darkwave electro genre, a masterclass in thought and execution – an effort that rivals anything else in Simona and Daphne’s respective discographies in terms of quality and re-listenability.

Daphe and Simona were kind enough to share insights into the creation of Saturn Rules The Material World, from the emotional impetus behind each track to the inspirations that help laid the sonic groundwork. 

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‘To Know You’
Daphne: I wrote the majority of the lyrics on Saturn Rules The Material World after the dissolution of a relationship (how original). The lyrics on the opening track reflect the fickleness of romantic love – the tendency for separation to sometimes make love decay into hate, with eventual closure being a void of sorts. Love becomes hate which subsequently peters out into…nothing? The enduring desire to love and be loved that is the human condition, versus the guilt of burdening the unburdened with the private weight one carries – decades of shitty luck and dark nights of the soul. Despite the repetitive beat and programming, the song has a meandering feel, with Simona’s guitar and my vocals taking turns ebbing and flowing in crescendos and diminuendos. 

Simona: This would have been one of the very first songs we wrote together with ‘The Poets of Antiquity’. The opportunity with SaD for Daphne and I is how to play live minimally; an escape from the complexity of the admin of the ‘Simona’ or NO ZU live-show chaos. I feel like this was what brought us together in our respective musical experiences  – keep it simple. ‘To Know You’ is almost a mantra, how we moved forward with a mutual understanding and expectations.


‘Love is Confirmed’
Daphne: This is the one song on the album where Simona wrote the lyrics and vocal melody. There was a point in my life where it was hard to practice this in my own time without breaking down – the words feel as close to me as if I’d written them myself. Despite this, on the surface it’s a relatively sunny sounding post-punk, synth-pop number. 

Simona: The only lyrics on the record I wrote; a song centring kindness, empathy and self love. It’s all about getting out of a dark place, recognising how constant acts or events of survival is a solid you did for yourself, coming out of it and finding that place of forgiveness, finding victory in what you thought was defeat.


‘Don’t Go’
Daphne: This was one of the first songs we wrote. SaD has been the first band I’ve been in where the vocals and lyrics are earnestly emotional – I made a point of stepping away from a fear of drowning in sincerity and just writing from the heart. No backtracking. The vocals were re-recorded once, possibly even twice – there’s always that eternal push and pull between “uh-oh my voice is starting to wear out” and “but I KNOW I can do a better take”. The chorus was kinda hard to double track. 

Simona: The great thing about SaD it how it’s given me some freedom to delve into deep break-beat energy, simple bass riffs with guitars and no responsibility for vocals. The vibe of mid-eighties Cabaret Voltaire, the first few Curve EPs I always really loved how minimal that style of songwriting is.


‘Saturn Rules The Material World’
Daphne: Another breakup song. More biblical references than a televangelist (See also: ‘Sign From Above’). Sometimes we write songs together in the same room, other times we go off on our own to write our respective parts before coming together to show each other what we’ve come up with. This song is perhaps an example of doing something Simona didn’t expect with the vocals. This is possibly one of the best parts of band life – sometimes we write and perform together like one musical organism, other times we surprise each other by coming up with things the other person wouldn’t necessarily expect. Another example of neurotically re-recording the vocals, as they alternate in a very specific way between a mild staccato and a softer style.  

Simona: I think this song best displays the hand-in-glove way Daphne and I construct music; a mutual tenderness vs controlled aggression that gives each other space for shared catharsis or radical acceptance.


‘Still Alive’
Daphne: Simona sent a demo that sat untouched for a long time. Inspiration struck one night however, and I quickly recorded some vocal notes quietly and self-consciously in Voice Memo in the bedroom of someone’s share house. The lyrics depict a relationship from what feels like several lifetimes ago – destructive, dysfunctional, chaotic oblivion. The song was temporarily put on hold though when Simona couldn’t find the original stems. What to do? Rewrite from scratch or scrap it? Eventually they were found buried within one of many external hard drives, and we quickly got to work finishing the last song written for the album – a slightly aggressive jam, with my synth lines written spontaneously while noodling on my Microkorg on Simona’s couch. 

Simona: So much of where these sorts of songs start are in the idea of the sketch; and who knows where they might end up. I just throw ideas in a shared folder that are brain farts TBH. I forgot this one even existed in there until Daphne sent it back to me two years later with a narrative, and from that point it becomes a process of reassembly.


‘Sign From Above’
Daphne: Here we arrive again at break-up city, population: Daphne. Nonetheless, the working title for this track for a long time was simply, ‘Banger’. Because it’s a banger. Simona heard the vocals for the first time at a gig we played supporting Underground Lovers. 

Simona: Much Like ‘Don’t Go’; delving into big-beat influences in that 90s cusp; Renegade Soundwave, Curve, Depeche Mode, Flood, Andy Weatherall remix influences on MBV/Lush/Saint Etienne.


‘Raining Pleasure’
Daphne: This has always been one of my favourite songs by The Triffids –  Jillian Margaret Birt’s vocals sit effortlessly in contrast to the song’s dirge-y feel. As a testament to how intuitively we work together, after I suggested interpreting the song with a techno beat and a drone-y programmed note, Simona basically rendered what was in my head into audio form within minutes. I’m in love with the layers of Simona’s guitar in the instrumental second half of this song. I was initially uncertain about my synth in the instrumental section, I thought it might be overkill, as satisfying as that part is to play, but now I think it adds to the sense of spooky, regional desolation that Simona mentions below.

Simona: I’d never heard this song until Daphne bought it into the studio. I didn’t even give it a run-thru on a streaming platform. Daphne put down the vocal and I responded with programming as if it was a piece of light, slow 808 Detroit Techno. As we played it live the guitar layers built, I started to enjoy using ‘wah’ effects more from ‘Don’t Go’, started thinking what Underground Lovers or Ed Kuepper would do. I’m just a parrot when it comes to songwriting basically. But there is a spooky, regional quality to it that reminds me of something off ‘Eastside Stories’ or ‘Electrical Storm’ respectively that I understood of The Triffids.


‘The Poets of Antiquity’
Daphne: This was the first song we wrote – I still remember the excitement of being at a rehearsal studio and our earliest songs like this one and ‘Don’t Go’ coming together seamlessly. I’m of the belief that the best songs are usually written quickly and intuitively. Some of the lyrics were pilfered from a failed attempt to write a pop song many years ago, others from a poem about a whirlwind tour romance, while the rest are just me being dramatically morose and needlessly self-recriminating as usual. 

Simona: OK, so the love about SaD for me is that it lets me reclaim some queer-masculine 80s guitar stereotypes that I grew up with; particularly around what I always saw as pop-metal with electronic influences—Def Leppard comes to mind. So I can pretend to be some of that bullshit guitar-hero that I secretly liked at the time: The Cult, or Motley Crue. I mean; I never wanted to be Joe Satriani or James Hetfield, but fuck; they had rad guitars and leather pants and big hair. That gendered performance of guitar hero masculinity; like Steve Stevens, Peter Hook or even solo Alan Vega was always hilarious to me. It’s totally gender-fucking; Prince, Wendy Ann Melvoin, Lita Ford, Robert Smith — bring it on. So, let’s do it upon a cliff at Portsea backbeach and say fuck you to the skegs; which is what I’m doing in the video.

Saturn Rules The Material World is out now via Trans-Brunswick Express. The album is available digitally and accompanied by a bottle of Raining Pleasure, The Room Spray, described as “the olfactory counterpart to the auditory”. You can purchase via the link below:

BANDCAMP