My first experience of meeting and hearing Sarah J Stanley‘s earlier music was some years ago in her native Aberdeen. She and her now wife had been a vital part of the music community and whilst her style back then was more folk-based, it was instantly recognisable that she had natural talent exuding from her pores.
Her moniker, HQFU, was born in 2015 and her debut single, Ca$hle$$ Lip$, was unlike anything that was being produced by an artist in Scotland. Her technique was a callback to old-school techno and a style that holds an overwhelming amount of nostalgia for many.
Since her move to Glasgow, Stanley has also built up significant working relationships with musical peers such as RM Hubbert, Marnie and Bossy Love to name a few. This has enabled her to meld her various, eclectic styles with their music, whilst also cementing ongoing collaborations.
The one thing that has remained a constant throughout is Stanley’s dry and often dark sense of humour. She is a character that in many aspects “gives zero fucks” and that comes through in how bold her music is and indeed the way she packages it. Her artist alter-ego adopts this same approach and with her vocal hatred of subjects like religion, not-to-mention her firm moral compass, she often uses this to build her art around. Like most creative souls, however, she also has a self-doubt about her work. The natural emotion of wondering how it will connect with her audience and how it will be received on a wider scale is something that makes her very relatable.
Her new album, For Inhumanity, is entirely instrumental and continues Stanley’s sentimental, sonic references to 90s techno and house. The hugely impressive body of work and subsequent listens of it will reveal further layers, melodies and nuances you missed the first time. HQFU has no real parallel with her peers so the beauty of having no significant reference point, other than being reminded of music when I was a teen, is something wonderfully refreshing.
‘Secret Pursuits‘, is the initial album stand out for me. A distinctive and commanding soundtrack, the tenacity shown in the production with its trance throb, warm pulsating beats and gargantuan synth arpeggios will instil a fascinating sense of confidence whilst listening.
Another compelling highlight is ‘The Aberration’. Stanley says of the song, “This is the most important track to me because the calm before the storm is an inversion of my creative reality. You make in complete submission and broken subservience to your discipline, and it’s then you might get to find how the dust will settle into the shape of something you can understand with some semblance of calm.” The song is a stunning electronic score and the frenetic bed of strings that underpin the track augment its depth. There is something unexpectedly emotive about this leaving you feeling mysteriously unsettled by the outro.
The album has a great deal of discord and Stanley manages to perfectly harmonise that with the more melodically rich aspects of her songwriting. There is a command over familiar electronic musical components that feels effortless, but it injects experimental fare compared to more commercial dance releases.
“These tracks take me to a dark and sad place; grief I maybe thought I’d buried. Hopefully, there is an emotional intensity there that comes across without being clouded by lyrics. Occasionally it’s good to be willing to shut the fuck up and let music alone have its place where it’s due. These tracks are a bit of that hush.” explains Stanley.
As a producer, HQFU is creatively unique. This album is a step forward in her artistic development and the canvas that she etched with her previous releases feels full of colour with this long player. This is pure electronic escapism and will hopefully mark the start of a new career for Stanley as a recognised composer as well as a notable artist.