By Zim Ahmadi
Behind us, two middle-aged men dressed in bike shorts and polo shirts loudly discuss business ventures, local politics, and new hiking spots. To our right, three men loudly discuss the End Times, their spirited discussion leaking into the microphone.
On paper, it’s not the most conducive setting for an interview. But this mix of the mundane and apocalyptic is the perfect backdrop for a conversation with elusive lo-fi artist lurkgurl, whose music is rooted in this very notion of reality intruding on a mysterious other world.
Lurkgurl, also known as Khadijah Juswil, is relatively fresh off the release of her latest EP, she-fi fantasy. It’s another bit of lo-fi goodness, combining her love of Frankie Cosmos and Daniel Johnston’s lo-fi ethos with a floaty, meditative production style. There’s something of the Enya about it, albeit a microcosmic Enya existing in the tiny world of ants and frog ponds.
I was disillusioned by a lot of stuff: music, art, everything. I just wanted to wipe myself off the face of the earth.
“The first title for she-fi fantasy was ‘Hujan’,” she laughs, as she often does throughout our conversation. “That’s why I put the rain sounds in.” Eventually, the concept of the divine feminine (“or the archetypal female”) started to “rise like air bubbles to the top”, as she once described her train of inspiration-thought.
But there’s a personal touch to this idea as well, as she comes to terms with her sapphic leanings through the EP. “Coz, I guess, I’m gay. It’s something I’ve always kept to myself, and now I’m trying to embrace that. Because I always felt, like, some kind of shame around it. The EP is like my process of accepting that.”
She adds, “it’s a space to escape to. A place where I can immerse myself in my feelings.”
Khadijah put together a zine to accompany the EP, titled Endling Echology Vol. 1: Latter-Day Fieldnotes. It’s a rumination on the infinite nature of time while also reflecting her constant oscillation between transcendental peace and inner turmoil.
But it’s also a diary, and, like any other diary, it covers the good days and the bad ones. There’s a particularly distressing entry titled ‘Plague Patient,’ referring to her own experience with COVID, coughing blood and occasionally being completely immobilised. It ends with the phrase “Even in Death we provide”, which Khadijah insists was meant optimistically.
The zine isn’t just about she-fi fantasy, though. It’s a journey through her past two years and some.
In a previous interview with Krew Filem Sek Kito, Khadijah mentioned having promised herself to create at least one project every year. I ask her about this promise.
“It’s about making a timestamp of my life. It’s all about time. I wanted to encapsulate the vibe of the year,” she explains. “You know Richard Linklater? I like how he plays with time, how he charts the growth of something in real-time in movies like Boyhood and the Before trilogy.”
The one-project-per-year streak started in 2014 with her first Bandcamp release, jungk (a portmanteau of Jung, as in Carl Jung and Junk). Then came D~A~N~G~L~E, F~U~N~G~I and For Real, before a two-year hiatus.
Khadijah laughs while reminiscing about those two years, even though they were not all bright. “I actually put out an album under my name, K. Juswil, called Pending. Then I took it down. And I lost all the files.”
She reveals that a “crisis” precipitated the two-year gap. “I fell into a really dark place, and that’s when I dropped out of art school. I was disillusioned by a lot of stuff: music, art, everything. I just wanted to wipe myself off the face of the earth.”
She dragged herself out of this darkness with demo mode forever, which contained definitively optimistic cuts such as ‘finish line’ or ‘way too more’—mostly unabashedly quaint indie-folk reminiscent of acts like Frankie Cosmos and Lomelda.
Life, however, had other things in store. COVID hit the following year, and with it, another fall back down to rock bottom. From that came Deathcare.
“I got my bearings back,” she begins. “And then Deathcare was a pretty dark place when I hit depression again—combined with the whole COVID thing and losing a lot of people. Everyone was dealing with death around them; I felt that too. Very much”.
Deathcare is a special EP for me, as it coincided with the death of my uncle and grandfather. I expressed this during the interview, leading to a conversation about family.
Khadijah dragged herself out of her first depressive episode through marathon running, a pursuit she picked up thanks to her “endurance sport junkie” father. “When I had this depressive phase—when I took those two years off—that was the first thing I kinda got into to pick myself up.”
Having run track-and-field in school gave her a leg up, but the most intriguing thing about this experience was how it informed her music.
I always feel like we’re on the brink of the apocalypse. At any time, something’s gonna hit, and we’re all gonna fucking die. In that sense, we’re all endlings.
“It empowered me to do stuff. I would win first place, and I won the cross-country run three years in a row,” Khadijah recalls. “People kinda noticed me because of that. I was going to state meets. But then I was a super shy kid. Always conscious of people looking at me.”
The motivation didn’t come without baggage. Khadijah admitted that the complexity of this endurance fitness phase was tied to her anorexia, as she would fall into a cycle of over-exercising and under-eating. That is until she got deep into skateboarding.
“I was in that cycle for a while; I think skateboarding really saved me from that. It made me not think about that petty shit.” She expresses that skateboarding “is really just a fun ‘fuck you’.”
She recalls that “skateboarding was basically 70% of my life. I would put skating content out, throw myself off of stairs.” But those days are past her: “Yeah, I can’t skate like that anymore; I’m 25,” she says with the finality of someone twice that age.
Things are quiet now, the men in polo shirts gone. Our conversation circles back to the zine. One question remains: what’s an Endling Echology?
“‘Endling’ is like the last individual of its species. I don’t know; I always feel like we’re on the brink of the apocalypse. At any time, something’s gonna hit, and we’re all gonna fucking die. In that sense, we’re all endlings. ‘Echologist’ refers to the last echo. My mum is an endocrinologist.”
Asked if she ever worries that she’ll be doing something stupid when that “something” hits, she replies nonchalantly, “no, I don’t care at all. Everything’s stupid.”
She adds: “I don’t know. I know people wanna say the right things, say their last rites, ucap dua kalimah shahadah. I think we’re all gonna be fine.”
she-fi fantasy is out now.