The first time I heard the word “cherushii” was when Czarina from 5 Mag came back from a night at Queen! at Smartbar and described a female producer from San Francisco who showed up in that hedonistic hothouse in a cute sweater with a case of analog gear and made some seriously slippery house music for an hour or so.
I’m not sure now what was most extraordinary about this – even a touring “female producer” was still a little bit unusual at the time – but this was notable praise. Getting on Czarina’s radar is not an easy pass: she has better taste than I do, so this meant something.
I scanned through Cherushii’s music and put her name down on our internal Trello board for tracking interesting stories. A little while later she appeared on the front cover of the Chicago Reader, in a story I never saw coming.
And then the year 2016 happened, with everything that happened and kept happening and happening so fast, and Cherushii was among the 36 dead in Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire. It was a punch in the stomach after a kick in the head.
It’s never certain what’s going to happen to an artist’s works after they die, especially when they die so young and so suddenly. There is a Frankie Knuckles Foundation but there is also a Frankie Knuckles estate – his intellectual property generates revenue, and will continue to do so long after he’s gone. Record companies fire up the duplication machines when a major recording artist dies – it’s a cold-blooded calculus that floods the market with their works and even generates charting singles decades after their peak. It’s one of those things that’s touching when you’re far removed from it but kind of disgusting when you’re close enough to read the formulas on the spreadsheet about what a potent profit generator a dead artist can be when the living artist is not.
For an underground artist, it’s not so clear. The discography of people like James “Jack Rabbit” Martin became fair game after his death, with the primary limitation being the scarcity of copies bootleggers could get their hands on. His unreleased works, if any existed, have to be viewed as lost and possibly destroyed.
I wondered what would happen with Cherushii’s records, particularly as her family is already going through the trauma of a very high profile trial of the individuals involved with the Ghost Ship fire. One of their primary defense strategies was the wild and self-serving allegation that the fire was committed by an arsonist. Imagine going through that, and then searching hard drives for master recordings by night.
But then this record was released, to wide fanfare. Maria Minerva had collaborated with Cherushii on Memory of Water in 2015, and had apparently obtained and completed several tracks they had been collaborating on together for this self-titled Cherushii and Maria Minerva EP.
I admit that I didn’t at first want to listen. I didn’t want it to be bad. I didn’t want to listen to funeral music. It took a story by Quinn Moreland on Pitchfork bubbling back up into the Twitterverse some four months after it was released (a small eternity in contemporary electronic music) to really make me sit down and listen. And it’s not funeral music and it’s not bad. It’s a quite striking conversation between friends.
According to Minerva in Pitchfork, she had emigrated from Estonia to the US in 2013 and struck up a friendship with labelmate Cherushii. She had been planning to visit the Bay Area the month following the Ghost Ship fire to “tie up loose ends” on the EP. Instead, she would be first confronting the death of a friend, and then attempting to save and salvage the music they’d worked on together. “Everything was up in the air at that point for the label as well,” she said. “100% Silk got sued [by families of two of the deceased, as part of a wrongful death suit]. They were cleared of the lawsuit, but it took almost a year.”
After an initial period of being “really overwhelmed… I was like, ‘I don’t have the files, I don’t have the gear that we need to do a specific thing that she did, I don’t know how to tackle this,'” Minerva enrolled the help of producers Adam Gunther and Brian Foote and Cherushii’s boyfriend David Last to complete the project. “I couldn’t drop the ball on this,” she said. “I would never forgive myself.”
Minerva characterizes the tracks on the EP as “pretty much half hers, half mine.” “Thin Line” is far and away the most striking and may be the best remembered of Cherushii’s tracks, certainly on this album. A demo that Minerva laid vocals over, it originally appeared on Memory of Water and is a kind of breezy, jangly hunk of Balearic dream pop. Minerva told Pitchfork it was “one of the best songs I’ve ever made” and I think she’s right.
Minerva herself doesn’t shrink in Cherushii’s prominent shadow. Her vocals are fairly unique for dance music – “left-field” is the usual term deployed, though it groups dissimilar music together because it doesn’t fit elsewhere. Lead track “A Day Without You” evokes ’80s electropop production tropes but weaves them into the fabric of a totally unique sound. The emphasis is on the “-pop” part: “Day,” “Nobody’s Fool” and “This Must Be The Place” bear some extraordinarily polished arrangement and songwriting and, beneath the wobbly bassline and synth stabs are some extraordinarily crafted pop hooks.
Cherushii & Maria Minerva: Cherushii & Maria Minerva / 100% Silk
1. Cherushii & Maria Minerva: A Day Without You (05:34)
2. Cherushii & Maria Minerva: This Must Be The Place (07:07)
3. Cherushii & Maria Minerva: Boyfriend Shirt (06:36)
4. Cherushii & Maria Minerva: Out By Myself (03:56)
5. Cherushii & Maria Minerva: Nobody’s Fool [Vocal Version] (06:59)
6. Cherushii & Maria Minerva: Thin Line (04:52)
7. Cherushii & Maria Minerva: A Day Without You [Leech edit] (04:43)