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All of which makes Chantal Passamonte — who records challenging, but ultimately uplifting, electronic music under the name Mira Calix — a kind of poster girl for a genre still working its way out of the fringes. "Electronica is still kind of perceived as a geeky boy thing, but it goes way beyond that," says Passamonte, who played in New York on Monday, kicking off a mini-U.S. tour in support of her new album, "Skimskitta." "I know when I play, there are loads of girls, more all the time."
Still, Passamonte has a small bone to pick with women’s magazines, which tend to cover only mainstream music. "What I mean is, you’re not very likely to read about Aphex Twin in Elle," she says, referring to the band headed by her friend, Richard James, a demigod in electronica circles. "People are more open and brave than we sometimes give them credit for."
Born in Durban, South Africa, Passamonte, 30, warmed up to computer music quickly. An early fan of My Bloody Valentine, LFO and Spacemen 3, she moved to London 10 years ago to work at the famous Ambient SoHo record shop, ultimately becoming press officer for the Warp label in Sheffield, England. Not content with merely being surrounded by music, she taught herself to make it, even recording nature sounds at her country house in Suffolk, U.K.
Passamonte’s music is sparse, sometimes jarring, and reveals its secrets slowly. She figures it’s easy to make happy music, but prefers to study the "gray" areas: mixed emotions you can’t even put into words. "For me, good music is music that moves you," she says. "It’s like a good conversation, a relationship and that great feeling of getting to know someone."
While Passamonte readily admits aficionados of the electronic scene are not very stylish, she’s passionate about fashion, and clothes by Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten and Girbaud hang in her closet. "I like things like Helmut Lang — things that are kind of futuristic and simple, but clever," she says.