'S/T,' the album Cherushii (left) and Maria Minerva (right) worked on in the year leading up to Cherushii's death in the Ghost Ship fire, is out Feb. 15 on 100% Silk. (Jeremy Danger)
Estonian singer Maria Minerva and the late San Francisco producer Cherushii became fast friends once their label, 100% Silk, paired them up to go on a nationwide tour together in 2013. Whenever Minerva would visit Cherushii in San Francisco in the years that followed, she was struck by her unpretentious optimism and sense of adventure.
Minerva recalls a time when Cherushii invited her to perform an early-morning set at the Folsom Street Fair, the famed fetish celebration.
"To me that was the most insane experience ever," Minerva laughs, remembering how Cherushii brought the same enthusiasm to the sparse crowd of leather-clad early risers as she would have during peak hours at a rave. "For her, that was her comfort zone."
Sadly, Cherushii, whose real name is Chelsea Faith Dolan, was killed in the 2016 Ghost Ship fire just as she was hitting her creative stride.
"Right before her passing, things were going so great for her. She was doing bigger and better gigs every week, producing a lot—she never stopped," says Minerva in a phone interview from Los Angeles. She and Cherushii had been in the process of completing a collaborative album in the months leading up to her death.
After two years of working to finish the project amid a difficult grieving process, Minerva releases her album with Cherushii via 100% Silk on Feb. 15. Titled S/T, it offers a glimpse into the new, exalted house-pop direction Cherushii was reaching for before her passing.
Soulful, ebullient and effervescent are some ways to describe Cherushii's approach to house music, which harked back to the funky, jubilant expressions of influential '90s acts like Inner City and Frankie Knuckles.
On S/T, Cherushii's deep, pulsing grooves and heavy-reverb synths recall the work of pioneering pop producer Giorgio Moroder, who's responsible for some of Donna Summer's biggest hits. With Minerva's melancholy lyrics about solitude and heartbreak against Cherushii's ecstatic production, S/T would sit comfortably on a playlist with tracks like "Missing U" by Robyn or "Everything is Embarrassing" by Sky Ferreira—sparkly dance-pop tunes that belie pensive, emotional lyrics.
"More so than other musicians I worked with, [Cherushii] was inspired by the notion of making songs for people to thrill to, and bond to and celebrate to," says Britt Brown, the co-owner of 100% Silk. "She wasn’t one of those people who’d write a song because she's sad and it's a sad song. ... It was this revved up, joyful party song."
"Out by Myself," about the feeling of transcendence on the dance floor, captures how the pure love of a good beat propelled Cherushii's creative process. (Her romantic and creative partner David Last assisted with mixing on the track.) On S/T and in Cherushii's solo work, her songs are often lengthy, with play times of up to eight minutes. Her maximalist beats beckon the listener—who is also often a dancer—to find the groove and hang out in it for a while, allowing melodic twists and turns to take them to new heights of spiritual ecstasy.
Brown and Minerva say that Cherushii sometimes felt under-recognized as a producer, and Minerva laments that Cherushii passed away before gender equality became a major topic of conversation in the electronic music world. Now, many international festivals have committed to booking 50 percent women for their lineups by 2022. Female producers Peggy Gou and Yaeji have emerged as two of club music's biggest stars, and their work shares Cherushii's joyous, life-affirming sensibility.
"She would complain to me about the party scene in San Francisco—and that's like throwing shade now—but a lot of the male producers and DJs would look through her and not give her the time of day," Minerva says. "Now the music world is waking up to the fact that it's happening, and festival lineups get called out for the lack of women."
"That never happened five years ago," she continues, "And it's a shame because I feel like she would have benefited from that new awareness."
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