The Ironing Maidens perform at 2019 Adelaide Fringe.
Award-winning electronic duo, The Ironing Maidens are putting domestic labour, technology and the history of women in electronic music centre stage with their freshly-pressed house beats.
How did your 'Strike While The Iron Is Hot' regional laundromat tour go last year? We had such a fabulon time on our laundromat tours last year. We played NSW and Queensland, and loved both. I think because we both grew up in small towns, we really enjoy heading out to the regions. The audiences are so warm, receptive and interested in seeing something different.
Laundromats are usually well located right smack in the middle of town, so they are a great spot for a show and the owners have the best stories. In the laundromat, it’s quite intimate, people are right there with you, so you really get on a level with the audience.
We have such a riot of a time together. You can really have a unique, musical experience in among the smell of the washing powder and the sound of the dryers. We love it.
What's been happening for the band since releasing your debut EP last year? Festivals! Taking the small and intimate nature of the laundromat show and stretching it out to fit a massive stage. We worked with a great director and learned to take up a bit more space physically.
Last year we played some great boutique festivals like Jungle Love, and then Woodford Folk Festival was a massive blast. Beautiful stage, gorgeous lighting – huge smoke machine; we really worked that smoke machine to the max.
It’s been great being able to perform to larger audiences and get them dancing. Nothing like a huge crowd going off and people trying to climb onstage to make you feel like an ironing rock star.
In what ways has the approach to making music developed since first starting? We are constantly learning and evolving, which has affected our approach quite a bit. We also both teach, so we have to keep onto new things because the industry and the technology moves so fast. It’s exciting.
I think some of our production approaches have changed, perhaps become more streamlined. What hasn’t changed is that we are always looking back to find inspiration. When we are writing we both bring into the studio things we have been inspired by: previous artists, tracks, visuals, art, politics, and that flavours our work.
The other thing is, however far out there we go with a concept, we try to keep pulling it back to the realm of the household, we keep our music in a particular domestic space and those parameters help us stay on track.
Similarly, has the live show evolved in that time as well? Yes, absolutely the live show is always evolving. We just can’t sit still on it. Because the content and the ethos of the show is very much based around growth and change, and what still needs changing re: gender parity, then that happens in our own creative process and then it’s kind of an art following life, following art situation.
How are you both feeling about getting to perform at Adelaide Fringe? We always have a great time playing in Adelaide, so we are really looking forward to this being the first laundromat show of the year. After the big festival shows we are excited about being crammed together in a little laundromat space again.
We are also looking forward to playing at this particular laundromat, as it is gorgeous and has some great people and music attached to it already. We can’t wait to get in there and get those coins in the machines.
What will The Ironing Maidens be presenting at Fringe? This will be the laundromat version of our show, so we can’t fit the hills hoist in this time. It’s a 45-minute show using irons and ironing boards that we have adapted into electronic instruments as well as lighting, visuals, costumes, dancing, plenty of iron puns and a much smaller smoke machine than we had at Woodford.
Following the show we DJ into the eve, have a dance with the audience and get to know them really well by the end of the night.
Have you ever burned yourself on the iron while performing? Ha ha ha. Actually I haven't as yet, touch wood. However we do have an ironing competition as part of the show and the irons are very hot, turned right up to cotton/ linen if you know what that means. It’s very dangerous and the competition gets steamy. You have to look out during that part of the show. You could get an injury or a new job.
Do you use a specific type of iron? We currently use German irons that we picked up second-hand in Berlin. They are called Bügeleisen. We had to take their ironing plates off and rebuild them with custom-made plastic plates because we were getting a really sore iron arm using such heavy instruments - it was an RSI risk.
Actually, we find that the older irons are the best because you can pull them apart, get inside them and rebuild. The new ones made in China are moulded as one piece and are very difficult to work with. So don’t throw out your irons - donate them to The Ironing Maidens.
Do different irons and boards allow for different tonal qualities as with instruments? Yes, for two different reasons. Firstly, all the sounds we use we have sampled from irons and ironing boards, sewing machines, washing machines and other appliances. These we use for different purposes eg. hitting an iron on a wooden ironing board and using that sound as a kick drum.
Secondly, all the irons are built differently. For instance, I have one we call the Ironiser, which we have installed a small, square-wave synthesiser inside so I can play it, more by ear, to create the tone and notes. Others have sensors that are assigned to particular sounds. We have dreams of building a whole modular rig of irons, but need more irons first - donate to the cause.
Who are some of the female pioneers of electronic music that inspire and influence you? This show started out as a homage to the work of Daphne Oram, who was creating electronic compositions from back in the '40s and who built (arguably the first) early synthesiser in 1959 in England.
When you listen to Daphne’s compositions now, they are timeless and could be made by a modern day producer, except that she worked with tape and machines, not a computer.
Other faves are of coarse Delia Derbyshire for creating what we know to be the Doctor Who Soundtrack, but also we particularly love the work of music concrete composer Else Marie Pade from Denmark. So many amazing female electronic composers from the 1940s up until now; it’s a treasure trove of inspiration and innovation.
Where to from here for The Ironing Maidens? Much more ironing. It’s one of those things that are just never finished. We have a new single coming out for International Women’s Day, so stay tuned for that. We have some fantastic gigs and festivals to look forward to this year - and always laundromats - all listed on our website. You can send us your favourites and we will try make it there.
Although I have to say it would be fab if, in Australia, we could reach a gender balance in our home and career environments this year.
If the pay gap could disappear and everyone could share the load and move forward, things could be very different for Australia. If that happens then we might even give up the ironing and take up something new - inflatable synthesisers anyone?
The Ironing Maidens play Melbourne St Laundromat as part Adelaide Fringe 15-16 February.