With a career spanning over 25 years, Hamburg-born singer, DJ and label owner Billie Ray Martin is a woman with an impressive history in both dance and soul music. Holly Combe salutes her return
Hailed as the “ice queen of electronic soul” and a “restless creative spirit” in music magazine The Wire, Billie Ray Martin has outgrown the electronic chanteuse tag others have dubbed her with by retaining control over her style and persona. A perfectionist who has said she “would change many things, too many too mention,” Billie Ray’s shows have been described as theatrical events that interact with the audience and indicate she is “never satisfied with the easy option”.
Emphasising a background in soul as well as electronic music, Billie Ray began her career when she led a Motown-inspired band Billie and the Deep in Berlin during the mid 1980s. After this, she moved to London where she advertised herself in Melody Maker as a “Soul rebel searching for a genius”. This led to the birth of the synth-funk act Electribe 101. Following their split, she went on to collaborate with Spooky and The Grid in 1993, and then compose, produce and arrange her first solo album, Deadline for my Memories, released in 1995.
Later she co-founded the label Sonnenstahl Records through which she released her second album, 18 Carat Garbage. This purely concentrated on the soulful end of Bille Ray’s talents (previously seen in Deadline‘s ‘I Try’) and saw her digressing from the 4/4 beats and working with renowned Memphis stars such as Carla Thomas and Ann Peebles before returning her attentions to the dancefloor again.
Fast forward through several solo ventures and collaborations to 2011 and Billie Ray is engaged in her latest project, The Opiates, with critically acclaimed Norwegian electronic music composer Robert Solheim. Robert’s work has appeared on the ambient techno label Origo Sound and he started releasing it on his own label, CURRENTMUSIK, in 2005. He has recently shifted from more downtempo styles to music geared towards clubs and dance-floors. This is an area where Billie Ray is arguably at her best, so their meeting of minds over the past few years seems fitting.