Tunes: Gel Set

Gel Set is a fixture of the Chicago DIY electronic scene. Laura Callier has logged years of synth programming and vocal experimentation under the Gel Set pseudonym, as documented on physical releases with Chi Town-based imprints like Lillerne, Modern Tapes, and Notes And Bolts. Her full-length Human Salad LP, released through Moniker Records, showcases her most complex compositions to date, animated in equal parts by her detached lead vocalizations and the technoid arrangements issued from her web of hardware. Like Montreal’s cyborg chanteuse Marie Davidson, Callier blurs the line between analog performance and coiffed post-industrial studio production, constructing dense sessions seemingly weighted with more synchronized layers than one person could conjure alone. Yet whoa: there she stands, somewhere behind the tiered rows of her machines, guiding them through bruising breakdowns and swells of corrupted synthesis.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I’m currently getting my MFA at the School of the Art Institute in the Sound Department, though I focus on fiction writing and video as well. In my solo project Gel Set, I create dark, techno influenced minimal, textural pop music, inspired by horror movies, human loneliness, the feeling of insignificance and wonder you get when you look up at the stars, and too much coffee. I do all the writing and production in Gel Set, though I get to share these duties with other amazing women in my duos God Vol. 1 and Simulation.

How did your interest in music begin? Growing up in the early 80s, I spent hours as a little kid glued to MTV watching music videos, I remember being especially captivated by Cars, Madonna, and Weird Al videos. I didn’t study music as a child, but when I was in junior high I had one of these pink hand held mini pianos and used to spend hours plucking out the tune to “I’d Die Without You” by PM Dawn and Erasure songs haha.

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your music? One time I played a show for a Girl Scout troop in Forest Park, and afterwards a little girl came up and said “That sure is a lot of wires. How do you know where they all go?” and I got to explain to her the routing of my set up. I think it would be so fun to teach little ladies electronic music.

Most embarrassing moment on stage? Sometimes I try to make witty banter between songs on stage, and usually the result is a heavy silence and the sound of crickets, with me feeling supremely embarrassed. For this reason I often try to play samples between songs so I don’t get tempted to say something stupid.

Who would you ideally like to collaborate with? My eternal romantic fantasy is to Chris and Cosey out with some weird synth boy, but in case that never happens, I’d love to work with more vocalists because I don’t really enjoy singing, definitely prefer making beats and production.

How has living in Chicago affected your music? Chicago is a treasure musically. So many amazing, enthusiastic people who are super positive and creative and productive…from the moment I started making music I felt supported and welcomed. I really don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t live here. So many cities suffer from a lack of good DIY spaces and low cost of living, which we still pretty much have. Even though I wish there were more gals making weird electronic music here, there are tons of cool ladies making music I love like HOGG, Spa Moans, HIDE, Toupee, Gula Gila, Matchess, Lil Tits, Magic Key, Techno Pagan, and Forced into Femininity, among many others.

What was your first paying job? I started babysitting at age ten which I didn’t really like, and became a math tutor at age 15 which I loved.

What’s your absolute favorite place in the city/the world to be? I love being in the forest, walking among the trees. Chicago has some pretty ok forest preserves, though ideally I’d like to end up living closer to some deeper woods.

Do you have any guilty pleasures? My two main guilty pleasures are singing along to bad top 40 pop music on the radio in my car and compulsively making bad puns/jokes.