“I struggle with this,” admits the DJ and producer Elizabeth Maniscalco when asked how she describes the music she makes as BRUX. “It brings me back to conversations with Uber drivers where they’d ask, ‘So what do you do?’ and I’d say, ‘Music,’ and then they’d ask, ‘Well, what kind of music?’ I’m like, “Ummmmmm... electronic?’ I don’t know if I should try not to label it, or confine it, because I really do like to switch it up with every release — I’m always drawn to gritty, commanding, noisy music, though.”
“Noisy” is in the ear of the beholder, but there’s no denying that there’s a hint of cacophony in much of the music that the Sydney-born, Brooklyn-based Maniscalco’s been making lately. Big kicks, bass turned up to 11, heavy-duty rhythms, squealing synths and processed vocals have been among the tools of her trade as both a producer and live performer ever since her debut under this BRUX moniker, 2018’s ‘I’m Back.’
The new ‘BADBOI’ EP, featuring a pair of previously-released tunes — the title track, produced with her friend Pat Lok, and ‘Folly Of The Beast’ — along with the new ‘Vinegar Hill’ and a pair of remixes (from Chambray and the emergent Taut) is a prime example of her current sound. Somehow, on the new EP and elsewhere, through the sonic free-for-all, her tunes are catchy as hell.
Maniscalco has a softer side as well. For instance, ‘IIWII (It Is What It Is),’ the lead track off an upcoming collaborative EP with The Kite String Tangle, positively swoons. “Conceptually, that EP is really about the climate crisis, so it’s quite different in that regard as well,” she says, sitting in her compact home studio, her dachshund Daisy at her side. “It’s a different lane of what I want to focus on.”
In what feels like a different lifetime, musically speaking, Maniscalco found some success making and playing music from a different lane entirely — overtly poppy material, what she describes as “indie-electronic kind of folky stuff” — under the name Elizabeth Rose, a persona which lasted from the late ’00s through the release of 2016’s ‘Intra’ LP.
“The album didn’t go as well as I’d hoped,” Maniscalco recalls, “and that got me to step back and reevaluate — like, maybe this isn’t as authentic to myself as I thought it was. I left my management, label, booking agent... I was completely disconnected, and it was a very stressful time. But, I’m really glad it happened, because out of that period of like four or five months, I gave myself space. I rented a studio, and I would go in every single day and just write as many dance-track demos as I could — and there were a lot of terrible demos to begin with! Then one day out of nowhere, after about two months, I finally started to turn a corner. I was getting into the flow.”
Being accepted as a participant in Berlin’s edition of Red Bull Music Academy during that period of rediscovery was a key factor in her new direction. “I submitted that application in August 2017,” she says. “I hadn’t released any BRUX songs yet, and I hadn’t been validated. But RBMA affirmed a lot of things for me. Even just to be chosen from the demos that I submitted made me realise, ‘Okay, maybe weird is good.’”
BRUX was originally meant to be cloaked in anonymity, with Maniscalco’s face fully obscured; the project’s evocative artwork saw her face hidden in elaborate masks. “I didn’t want to show my identity, specifically my gender, because of how I was treated as a woman in music, just not being taken seriously for so long,” she explains. Gender discrimination, in music and elsewhere, obviously still exists — but in 2020, conversations with her friend Nina Las Vegas convinced her to go a bit more public.
“Nina kind of gave me some ideas of moving away from the mystery and stepping into the light a bit with my own identity,” Maniscalco says. “I remember thinking, ‘Ah, I don’t know if I want to do that.’ I found it scary to be so vulnerable, and at the time, I thought it would go against the whole angle of the project. But after sitting with that for a few weeks, I think I just realised that I shouldn’t have to hide who I am in order to feel like I have a spot at the table. I mean, that’s kind of messed up. So I started to think about how I could reveal myself through the artwork, through social media posts, maybe giving a bit more information about myself personally. Just giving more of myself.”
Maniscalco first became enamoured with NYC in 2013 after visiting the city as a stop on tour with her old Elizabeth Rose project. “I just fell in love with it, she says. “I think I’m drawn to the energy and the chaos and the rawness here.” She finally made the move in January 2021 — and like a feedback loop, that chaos, in turn, has informed the music she’s been making since.
“It’s the chaos in the sense of ‘energetic’,’ but not so much that I’m piling too much shit in,” she laughs. “I feel like I have a fire under me — I want to make the most of my time here and really be heard and seen, and I feel like the music that I’m writing now has that energy and urgency, getting my point across and being direct — really making a noise.”