On her website, Maria Minerva (née Juur) tells us that once she left home, it was easy to do it again. Indeed, for her, home is wherever she lays her head and finds a wifi password. This impermanence and transience hovers above her music like a ghost, belied by the Euro disco and dance pop stylings that she deploys. It is this combination, of the fugitive and the substantial, of the common and the uncommon, that gives her music both its reach and dynamism.
Born in Estonia, the tiny northeastern European state hemmed in by the cold waters of the Baltic and Russia, in 1988, Juur’s creativity is clearly shaped, in part, by her early experiences in the dying days of the Soviet Union. Growing up on a “model” Soviet-era concrete suburb, her web biography recalls heavy Russian influences, hated trolley buses, shitty TV, lycra, and, crucially, badly-produced 1990s Euro disco.
Juur’s music harnesses the melodic imagery of Euro disco, with its relentlessly vacuous tunes and dry upbeat rhythms, and subtly distorts and disconnects it before combining the result with sly vocal dissonance. In this way, her music deliberately inhabits a hinterland that is between destinations, using this to powerful artistic effect.
The stand out track on the EP, “Black Magick”, with its deadpan and detuned vocals delivered atop the aforementioned awkward melodic imagery, typifies the knowingly innocent, alienated and strangely plaintive attitude of the female protagonist present in all these songs. As this track evolves, the lyrics cleverly mutate, from an opening few lines that could be found in any mainstream pop song, via subtle shifts of stance and ground, to a scenario and meaning that is darker and more complex in nature.
MARIA MINERVA – BLESS EP ALBUM REVIEW CONTINUES BELOW
Allied to her relationship with the land of her past, there is also an undoubted arts and academic context to Maria Minerva’s music, with her background at Goldsmiths College in London. In her earlier album, Cabaret Cixous, her reference to Hélène Cixous, the feminist philosopher and author of “The Laugh of the Medusa”, sheds a light on her interest in feminist philosophy and literary criticism. This framework is perhaps also reflected in her decision to adopt the nomme de guerre Minerva (but that’s a whole other can of worms). (Editor’s note: See extended info panel below for expansion on the content in this paragraph.)
Juur is constantly moving forwards. Her career in music only began in 2011 when she signed to the renowned L.A.-based label Not Not Fun. Since then, there have been a string of releases and an extensive itinerary of tours across Europe, the USA, and Australia, including an appearance at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Now based permanently in America and in pursuit of a green card, she is involved with the esteemed UCB Theatre, whose stellar alumni includes Robin Williams and Tina Fey.
Strangely though, for an artist who has embraced the USA, it is within the European literary and philosophical traditions that Juur’s work seems to find its home. It is perhaps at odds with the philosophical outlook of her music, but I find echoes in her output of that other great émigré of forgetting, whose work in literature relied on displacement, exile and connection, Milan Kundera.
This is a great EP full of that strange but effective hybridized music the New York Times called “dance pop made sallow and creepy”. It is dark and dirty and laced with a sleepy sexiness that is made all the more disturbing because of the sweetness and innocence that also pervades. Maria Minerva is destined for greatness.
Exploring Maria Minerva’s Artistic Framework
Via The Feminist Philosophy Of Hélène Cixous
& The Greek Mythology Of Minerva And Medusa
There is undoubtedly an artistic and indeed literary framework to the music of Maria Minerva/Juur, and this is to be found in many aspects of her oeuvre. As a graduate of Goldsmiths College in London, her output reflects an interest in the work of Hélène Cixous, the French feminist writer, philosopher, literary critic and rhetorician. The feminist context is clear, but perhaps Minerva/Juur sees a kinship with Cixous, not only as a woman struggling against a world where, as Cixous says, an apartheid exists and women are the dark heart, but also as an émigré. The “belonging constituted of exclusion and nonbelonging” that Cixous and Derrida — both French Jews in Algeria — experienced, is perhaps also experienced by Juur. Juur, who grew up in an area of her country that was affected by a heavy Russian influence, may have been alienated by the impact of this ruling foreign occupier who sought to change both the landscape and the culture of her homeland. It is possible that the Russification of Estonia is where the dislocation that led Juur to moving from place to place, finding a home wherever her head could lay, began.
In her major essay, “The Laugh of the Medusa”, Cixous offers a kind of manifesto to disempowered womanhood, calling them to create a new paradigm of writing, an “écriture féminine” — a paradigm that could equally apply to other forms of creativity. Cixous celebrates the differences and “infinite richness” of the individual female constitutions and the unclassifiable nature of female sexuality. For Cixous “women’s imaginary is inexhaustible”, however, she states, this great font of unbounded creativity is suppressed, carried out furtively and in small measure, guiltily, like masturbation, subject to the obsequious relayers of imperative laid down by an economy that works against womanhood. In the work of Juur we find, perhaps, a knowing take on that furtive and guilty secret in the innocent voice that is shot through with sleazy and suggestive sleepiness. Juur has, after all, responded to the call but in a manner only possibly in the early Twenty First Century, some thirty eight years after Laugh of the Medusa was written.
Juur’s choice of name, Minerva, and the interplay between the characters of the myths of Medusa and Minerva is significant. Medusa was a beautiful and much-desired young woman with magnificent long hair. The youngest of the three daughters of those titans of the sea, Phorcys and Ceto, she was the most beautiful but also the only one to be mortal. These three sisters, Medusa, Stheno and Euryale, were said to have great wisdom and served as priestesses to the virgin goddess of wisdom, Athena.
Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom, magic and the arts and defense. The connection between Minerva and Medusa is one of mutating history and co-option, with the Roman’s equating Minerva with Athena. According to the late version of the myth by Ovid, Athena is the goddess who, on witnessing the rape of Medusa by Poseidon, punished Medusa by transforming her beautiful hair into snakes and making her face so ugly it would turn those who looked at it to stone. In this version of the myth, the victim is the transgressor and, in the eyes of Perseus, is rightly punished by Minerva (Athena). Perseus then beheads the mortal Medusa.
Juur appears to be inverting the narrative imagery evoked by Cixous, deliberately and ironically placing herself on the side of the goddess who judged and then harshly punished the innocent victim of rape, the mortal woman that was Medusa. In doing this, she throws the dialogue into sharper relief, defining, perhaps even more clearly, through her clever and imaginative use of the the idiom, the current and ongoing plight of womanhood. For Cixous “woman’s imaginary is inexhaustible” (sic), “their stream of phantasms is incredible”. Through her persona Minerva, Juur has not only absorbed and acknowledged this tradition, but reinterpreted it for the difficult and dangerously ambiguous times in which we live.
Gregory P. Healey is a writer from the United Kingdom who has been a regular and longstanding contributor to Redefine Magazine. A supporter of indie music he has, in recent years, been a DJ on Dandelion Radio and has contributed to reviews to Phlow, the Net Audio Bible, and the New London Review. He also makes music under the name HealeyIsland and is a custodian of the fictitious Miroslav Moesche Sound Archive Trust.