‘Feeling is everything:’ Anushka Chkheidze is an unwavering force in Georgia’s electronic music

With the release of her second album Move 20-21, the Georgian experimental producer shows her truest self by enlisting the help of her creative peers to make a stunning visual album.

26 February 2021

The words which form Anushka Chkheidze’s track “Love=Survive” are detached, haunting. Repeated again and again, the lyrics — “When he fell from the tree, she jumped off a cliff, they were siblings” — offer no resolution to the story they conjure. To understand how the tale pans out, you have to pay close attention to the delicate synths building over time until, suddenly, the suspense melts away into a deliciously hopeful sound.

With her second album, Move 20-21, Chkheidze proves herself a subtle and multi-faceted storyteller: she took the inspiration for “Love=Survive” from her grandmother, who jumped off a cliff as a child to save her brother after he fell while cutting firewood for the family. Miraculously, both were left unscathed. It made sense for the producer to end an album that was produced during, and dedicated to, the last year, with this musical tearjerker and its extraordinary message of love. “The story makes me cry every time I hear it,” the artist explains.

“The album is a reflection of 2020 and 2021 so far, but not because of the situation brought on by Covid-19. It has to do with people, home, age. Last year, I realised I need to take better care of others, and of myself.”

Riding high after the release of her debut album Halfie last April, which has since been nominated for IMPALA’s European Independent Album of The Year Award, it took Chkheidze no time at all to start working on her next record. She decided to record her second LP in her hometown of Kharagauli, a village in the Imereti region of western Georgia, after the first lockdown. Compared to Halfie, she says the tracks are “not always bright”, but they are varied. “My mood was changing everyday, so I wanted to express these feelings,” she reflects. Where Halfie felt like a collection of observations about the world around her (“Kid’s Chapel”, “Squirrels”, “Ships, Planes, Bicycles”), Move 20-21 is a study on where you can travel when there is nowhere to go. The journeys it takes are interior, psychological, and nostalgic, and though Chkheidze probes feelings of hopelessness, it’s still the kind of record that celebrates life.

Musically, Chkheidze lays it all out on the table: with a taste of sweet euphoria in “Beside Halfie” and “Love=Survive”; doses of buoyant synth work in “Tonino”; a frenetic percussion behind “Lazy, We Are” and “Move, Move”; and a venture into grittier rhythms with “20-21” and “OCD”. The album also finds breathing space by including choral music, of which Georgia has a long and remarkable tradition. On “Baked Face”, you can even hear Chkheidze’s own vocals, which, with the absence of a beat, is most reminiscent of a prayer (“Right now, I am asking my God/ where I go after this life”).

This is the kind of versatility we’ve come to expect from Chkheidze, who spent her youth playing piano, attending a choir, and dancing. Remarkably, her first encounter with electronic music came while she was making mixes for her hip-hop dance group. It wasn’t until 2017 that she’d start making her own music.

Like so many of Georgia’s talented artists, she was introduced to music production at CES Creative Education Studio, an experimental school for sound, audio, and design founded in Tbilisi in 2012, which is now situated in the city’s popular creative hub, Fabrika. The school makes a point to free the students of fixed genres: not only to help them hone their skills to become well-rounded producers, but also to help them explore themselves and their abilities. Even if you have a background in techno, you might be set a classic composition as homework. Out of the success of CES Creative Education Studio emerged CES Records, founded as a way of bringing Georgia’s upcoming musicians more recognition abroad. Chkheidze featured on their inaugural album, Sleepers, Poets, Scientists, a beguiling compilation featuring nine graduates of the Music Production short course. This is where you’ll find her more ambient tracks — “The Old Man and the Sea” in particular stands out for its enchanting hook, giving listeners the sense that they are in a lucid dream before the sudden jolt that reminds you that you’re sat within a fantasy.

The gentle immersion of “The Old Man and the Sea” is what separates Chkheidze’s earlier work from the infectious pace of Move 20-21. When it comes to production, it’s not about tempo — in her view, “feeling is everything”. Certainly, with her latest release, the Georgian artist seems to be pushing herself into a place of introspection.

But it’s at her live performances, that Chkheidze has traditionally let out her full emotional spectrum. While gigs are on a pause, Chkheidze and CES have come up with an alternative, asking 15 filmmakers and mixed media artists to respond to her music with their own visual styles. A host of videographers, editors, dancers, and actors, further contributed to the astonishing visual version of Move 20-21 (see below). This showcase of Georgia’s phenomenal creative energy is a true baptism of fire for an album born of a time of isolation — with it, Chkheidze invites us to keep hoping, to keep moving.

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