ABYSS X’s Freedom Doll: Ancient Echoes to the Future’s Beat
By N.K. Yilmaz
Friday, November 3, 2023
Abyss X’s music invokes a dark, phantasmagoric landscape—equal parts haunting as it is beautiful. Since 2016, Evangelia Lachianina has made such celestial music under the moniker Abyss X, crafting visual invocations rooted in her background in theater and dance. She blends pulsing electronic beats with folkloric elements while writing ambient acoustic ballads. Hailing from the Greek Island of Crete, Lachianina draws from her distinct cultural surroundings, along with 20th-century pop, electronic, and rock music, to inform her sonic palette.
I checked in with Abyss X in the weeks leading up to her performance at National Sawdust—the kick-off to her US tour—to discuss her unique approach to live performance and the myriad influences on her new record, Freedom Doll.
Yilmaz: Describe the evolution of your sound from Mouthed (the debut EP) to Freedom Doll. How does your initial vision inform your current work, and how has it changed?
For Mouthed, I was thinking about what ancient Cretan music would sound like if it had a modern twist to resonate with a current audience. I researched and found instruments that could represent a sound from that period. That album was more esoteric, that’s what inspired me back then. Only one track on Mouthed has vocals, and since then, I’ve aimed to express myself more vocally. People would express their enthusiasm and say, “Why don’t you sing more on your albums?” On Innuendo , I introduced my voice on every track. I wanted to follow that theme with this release. In that way, Freedom Doll was more about songwriting. Those tracks unloaded everything I felt emotionally and mentally post-COVID and mid-COVID. I also collaborated with new musicians, so they shared ideas that made me write differently. My main intention was to prioritize the songwriting element.
My approach for previous releases was more conceptual work. For instance, I wanted to make a record informed by the riots in Greece—heavier and more abrasive—and that’s what became Nüshu (2016). Freedom Doll is about being very honest and vulnerable about how I felt. It's directly related to how I was feeling rather than it being a body of work that is intellectually-centric. It was more about translating my core psyche into a performance. I'm approaching performing in a different, much more violent, vulnerable way on Freedom Doll. I explored new singing techniques to evoke what I felt in the listener. The track From Hot to Cold is about sudden shifts in relationships, directly inspired by what I was experiencing. The record is full of things I needed to put down on paper. In the past, I never thought I would sit down and write about things like that, but it was very liberating to be vulnerable like that.
Yilmaz: What was your journey of fusing elements of Greek heritage and folklore with your music?
I love contradiction and juxtaposition. Cretan music and all traditional music is very inspiring to me. Its elements of ecstasy and catharsis are palpable regardless of cultural barriers. Electronic music is great and I love it and all its subgenres. I love its transcendent qualities. I grew up when there was an explosion of techno in Europe. I've been clubbing since I was fifteen and was in that culture for some time. But something about traditional music is so familiar yet incomprehensible at the same time. Cretan music resonates with me for being my culture, but it even sounds strange to me sometimes. And with its effect on me, I wonder how audiences of other cultures respond to it. There's something fascinating about traditional instruments. I have one collaborator from Crete, Maria Skoula, who plays the Cretan Lyra. She's the only woman who plays it on the whole island. It's an instrument with a very male-dominated culture. You can find her playing on Pleasures of the Bull. Fang is a track that heavily features her lira. It was amazing working with such a high-caliber musician who can build a whole new language for that instrument because I don't know how to read or write music. It was so interesting because Cretan Lyra is played in a specific way according to tradition, but she created new tunings with Byzantine elements. It was inspiring to experiment with this ancient instrument while paying respect to the folklore.
“Freedom Doll is about being very honest and vulnerable about how I felt…It was more about translating my core psyche into a performance. I'm approaching performing in a different, much more violent, vulnerable way on Freedom Doll.”
Yilmaz: How do you approach live performances and adapting your recorded material to the stage?
I like to take listeners on a journey. I don't even look at my shows as a concert; I would be very bored if I did. I approach shows as performance art. I'm specific about my lighting design and stage plot generally, how things look and feel for the spectator. It leans towards theatrical performance, rather than a concert.
We live in a time where it's hard to travel with a full band and fly people internationally. So, I work around that by collaborating with local musicians around the world. Currently, I’m working with ensembles on multiple continents. It adds so much to the show when the physical instruments are on stage. That shapes the experience differently for the spectator, and I wouldn't want to cut corners on the quality of sound I can provide. I come from a theatrical background, where there’s an emphasis for a performance to be delivered in such detail, so that’ll always be a priority.
Kai and Liz Scott come from a metal/punk/hardcore background and are both versatile musicians. I think they're going to bring interesting flavor to the album in a live sense. We will introduce different types of drumming and guitar playing, which is very exciting to me. When I collaborate with musicians, I don't want them to follow specific instructions. I want to see what they bring to the table individually and add to the project through their lens.
National Sawdust is the first date of this tour, so I want it to be a night to remember.
The music of Abyss X blends the sounds of the ancient past with the pulsing rhythms of a near future. Her new tour is a fearless experiment in theatrical innovation alongside a global cast of musicians and a testament to her artistic evolution. Freedom Doll is a record rooted in songwriting while drawing from ethnic influence and masterful genre-bending. The line that separates music from noise can be drawn within the emotional journeys it takes us on, and the pictures it paints in our minds. Abyss X not only taps into this quality within her songwriting but also when carefully crafting her live performances—all to portray the ineffable images her music invokes.
About Nikolas-Kaan Yilmaz
Nikolas Yilmaz is a Bulgarian writer and musician based in Brooklyn. He is currently the editorial intern at National Sawdust, an editor at Rambler Magazine, and is in multiple recording and touring projects. Yilmaz has been organizing and performing at NYC multimedia cultural events since 2019.