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The Many Fantastical Faces of Allie X

The pop and fashion icon is programming synths and reprogramming herself for a new era. 

by Aurora Zboch

Photos by Marcus Cooper

Allie X is nothing less than theatrical. Typically, she’s dressing up to the extremes, both in beauty and music: ankle-breaking heels, billowy dresses, sunglasses and casual incorporation of fetishcore. Her voice is just as impressive, mixing classical styles with genre-bending versatility. Sitting in a calm DIY home studio, she reflects with laughter on her identity, musical world building, and her relationship with anger. 

“Masks are both a defense and protection as well as an obscuring of identity and reality,” she says. It’s in the shadows that Allie X feels the most seen and heard. “I’ve always masked myself in various ways as Allie X – I used to just wear glasses when I started and then I got into drag makeup. There have been veils. There have been a lot of wigs. There have been crazy looks. There’s a protection in obscuring my face and my body.” 

The fashion and pop icon is flourishing in darker realms on an 80s synthwave-inspired soliloquy, her new album Girl With No Face. While a complete departure from her radiant, radio-ready outings, this return to electronic music’s roots is a perfect bed for her silvery voice and macabre, yet titillating lyrics. It’s stripped back to the simplicity of drum machines and growling basslines, with erratic emotions distilled into brilliant synthpop. 

Prior projects, such as 2018’s Super Sunset EP, have solidified her as a pop genius, following it up by showcasing lyrical wonders on 2020’s soft and sultry Cape God. Now, exactly four years since her last full-length release, we’re transported to a new “super, super synthy” world. 

“Masks are both a defense and protection as well as an obscuring of identity and reality.”

— Allie X

In rare fashion, Allie X is bare-faced, wearing a striped long-sleeve and jeans while chatting on a video call with RANGE. She walks to find a comfortable spot in her home, finally settling in her tidy, warmly decorated studio. She shows off the gear used to conjure her nostalgic-sounding magic: a Moog Matriarch, for one. 

Panning her camera around the room, she explains, “I was educating myself and indulging in the technology that emerged in the early 80s, and the late 70s. I invested in a couple things like the LinnDrum and I have an ARP Omni-2 over there, which is a string machine that Joy Division used on their early records. I have a Behringer remake of the PRO-1, which was a Vince Clarke synth used on Depeche Mode and Yazoo records.” She watched YouTube videos and read the Gearspace forum to familiarize herself with the arsenal she collected, inspired by those synthwave legends. 

“It was a lot of trial and error, a lot of tinkering, a lot of banging my head against the wall. Then moments of completely insane laughter and crying,” she says, smiling.

Across 11 songs, Girl With No Face exhibits the masks she’s worn over the years for protection and projecting an enigmatic identity. While her masks were initially meant for hiding, this time, she wanted them to be part of the visual thread.  

“I didn’t really know how angry I was until I wrote the whole thing,” she laughs. “It just kept coming up the more time I spent on it. The more time I spent in isolation, the more this presence became apparent in the room. There’s a need for vengeance and there’s this real venomous anger in me. There was something masculine and aggressive in me that found its way out. Not intentionally, but I’m glad I got it out.” That entity became embraced and embodied as “the girl with no face.” 

At first, she was working out of makeshift spaces, transporting instruments between her parents’ home and cabin. “Luckily, I got to go really quiet as I made this,” she says. She recalls a great amount of lugging equipment around. “I only wanted to be working on outboard gear: synthesizers and drum machines. It’s so worth it.”

The opening track and first she worked on is “Weird World,” which flips between English and German as she unveils anger that was quietly bubbling. She explains, “German happens to be the language that I’ve sung the most in other than English from my classical days. I just love the harshness of it. I kept picturing Berlin. I kept thinking of Bowie in Berlin.” She points to the influences of Falco’s “Der Kommissar,” Nena’s “99 Luftballons” and the whole New Wave era. 

“I just felt like a fun little homage to that time and very aesthetically correct for what I was going for,” she says. “I just like the hardness of German and the hardness of German music. Kraftwerk was obviously the band that set Joy Division in a certain direction and then New Order and then all the interesting music that inspired this record.”

Whenever she took a break from music production, Allie X was doing hard labour. She took a room in her flat and did wood paneling, built the cabinetry, and a custom desk to keep many cables tucked away. “I am really sensitive to environment,” she says. 

Though now living and working out of Los Angeles, Allie X’s roots are still firmly planted in Canada. Hailing from Oakville, Ontario, much of the record was created at her parents’ house. What she misses most about home, in one word: “Community.” 

“Even though I was always a loner, it felt like I always had a group that I belonged to and that I could go hang out with,” she says. In LA, she doesn’t. She reminisces about her performance beginnings and friends in Toronto. While studying musical theatre in college, she found community with jazz kids at the University of Toronto. In its earliest iteration, she was a lead singer for the cover band Dwayne Gretzky, becoming close with band leaders Tyler Kyte and Nick Rose. She found community with Born Ruffians, Tokyo Police Club, Rich Aucoin, Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning. “In Toronto, it was very music for music’s sake.” 

“As creatives, we all have moments of doubting our own ability. It’s nice to have made something that will prove to me for the rest of my life that I could do it.”

— Allie X

As the sole songwriter, producer, and creative voice on this project, Allie X felt challenged as much as she felt liberated. “As creatives we all have moments of doubting our own ability. It’s nice to have made something that will prove to me for the rest of my life that I could do it, ‘cause I did it once,” she says. The final vision is one hundred percent Allie X. While shrouded in mystery, she is more clever and powerful than ever. “Off With Her Tits,” “Black Eye,” and “Girl With No Face” are fantastical, gritty focus tracks that the world has already had a chance to savour. 

Though it was a deliberate choice to pursue this route, Allie X was greatly challenged as an artist while being the sole person in the room. “Music is such an interesting thing in its creation. It really bounces around and if nobody is bouncing something back to you, it can be kind of strange,” she laments. “A feedback loop is very important.” 

She is weary, but hopeful that Girl With No Face will have its celebratory moments. After facing a series of health issues, touring her last album Cape God proved difficult. She plans to enjoy another solitary break. But it’s impossible for her not to dream of the big live show, down to the stage production, set design, costumes, lighting and theatrics that this project deserves. 

She knows her strengths and her limits, stating, “the grind of doing this as a career for so long, I know mentally I’m quite fragile. I know that my body and my mind just needs time off.” 

“I’m like a shark,” she says, “it’s really hard for me to stop moving. But I also am old enough and smart enough now to know that I have to stop moving or I’m just going to, like, die really early. I hid my health problems for so long. Then when I had to sort of confess about it, fans really did make me feel better by saying ‘we just want you healthy.’ That’s something that should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t. I always thought health was secondary to doing this as a career,” she says, gazing towards her synth collection. “I’m trying to reprogram my brain.”