On my radar: Julia Holter’s cultural highlights

The American singer on finding serenity in Blade Runner, the joys of Alice Coltrane and the best Chinese food in Los Angeles

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1984, Julia Holter studied music at the University of Michigan and composition at the California Institute of the Arts. In 2011 she released her debut studio album, Tragedy, inspired by Euripides’s Hippolytus. Her fourth album, 2015’s Have You in My Wilderness, brought her international acclaim; its follow-up Aviary came out last month. Her UK tour starts in Manchester on 6 December and ends in Brighton on 14 December.

1. Film

Blade Runner (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1982)

Harrison Ford in Blade Runner
Harrison Ford in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Photograph: AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo

In the past two years I’ve been really into the old Blade Runner movie for some reason. I’ve found myself listening to the Vangelis score constantly for a sense of calm. There’s something in the imagery of that movie, and the questions about who is human and who is android, that feels really relevant to me when I think about how we view empathy these days. It has made me think about noir as a genre: this idea of a protagonist who is part of a corrupt world, but also implicated in it. I somehow relate to that.

Edward Said’s Representation of the Intellectual

2. Nonfiction

Edward Said: Representations of the Intellectual

I’m a slow reader but this was unusually quick for me to read, because it’s something that’s been on my mind. As a musician we don’t classify necessarily as intellectuals, but I think when you’re a public figure doing interviews there starts to be a sense of responsibility to give voice to certain things. I got a lot out of reading about Said’s ideas of the role and responsibility of the public intellectual: that it’s a person who’s independently, without being co-opted by corporations or the government, conveying a message to and for the public, especially as a voice speaking in regards to underserved people.

3. Place

Vista Hermosa Natural Park, Los Angeles

The skyscrapers of Los Angeles viewed from Vista Hermosa park
The skyscrapers of Los Angeles viewed from Vista Hermosa park. Photograph: Extreme-photographer/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This is a park in my neighbourhood that’s important to me. It’s an escape from all the cement and the air quality, which isn’t great. There’s not a lot of green in LA, so this is a very special park, with so many trees and plants, and tons of grass – and it’s really well maintained. It’s in a lot of movies because there’s a bench, and from there you have a view of downtown LA. It’s also a great place for dogs – I go there with mine, a chihuahua mix called Canela.

4. Music

Alice Coltrane – Universal Consciousness

Alice Coltrane.
Alice Coltrane. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

I feel like I actually don’t listen to a lot of music at this point, I just listen to the things that mean a lot to me, like this one. This whole record is a journey for me that’s cathartic and uplifting, and it’s been especially inspiring to me in the way it deals with strings. Particularly in this one track called O Allah, the strings and the synthesiser create this slight dissonance that’s really amazing. Sometimes it cuts suddenly to Alice Coltrane’s really transporting, lulling, organ lines, and it feels like you’re being lifted and carried. It’s wild.

5. Short stories

Master of the Eclipse by Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan
Etel Adnan at her Paris home in October 2016. Photograph: Catherine Panchout - Corbis/Sygma via Getty Images

This is a beautiful collection of short stories. There’s a line in it – “I found myself in an aviary full of shrieking birds” – that inspired the title of my latest album. In the story, Adnan’s talking about this poet’s experience of war, and how it changed his life and his country, Iraq. She talks about birds and angels and bees, and the connection between these different winged things. Her discussion of memory really stood out. She says memories stalk you: that we are basically hunted by these ghostly figures from our past, which can be beautiful but also terrifying.

6. Restaurant

Kam Hong Garden, Monterey Park, near Los Angeles

A customer eats fod at Kam Hong Garden, Monterey Parko
Kam Hong Garden, Monterey Park. Photograph: Courtesy of Yelp

My friend Jose Wolff, who made the music video for one of my songs, Feel You, is a foodie and I always thank him because he introduced me to this restaurant. It’s really small and unassuming: a simple square room, with maybe eight tables. It’s really good for pulled knife-cut Chinese noodles, dumplings, lamb noodle soup. The beef roll is so good: it’s crunchy, with tons of herbs inside. There’s a lot of amazing, varied Chinese food in LA, but this place is the best I’ve had.


Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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