In Planningtorock’s video for “Doorway,” Janine Rostron appears on either side of a split screen, her hair blown in slow motion by some unseen wind. The audio and visual aren’t synched so the synth-heavy orchestral arrangement and droning vocals are slightly off from the exaggerated movement of her mouth. This draws more attention to Rostron’s face, which would be quite pretty, if she weren’t wearing a monstrous prosthetic nose. “I was interested in literally extending my head to play around with the idea of what is and is not beautiful,” Rostron says. “It’s very much about female imagery. I’m really missing in society this natural imagination of the eternal elements of women.” The nose, though freakishly proportioned, does bear a noble, almost Roman air, and the effect is one of unsettling, almost beastly androgyny. At some moments she looks like a scary monster and, at others, a bewitching sphinx.
Like her videos, Planningtorock’s live performances are a vaudeville of masks, costumes, prosthetics and projections, so it’s unsurprising when she says it was film—not music—that first inspired her to become a performer, and even less surprising that one of her favorite films is Sally Potter’s art house classic, Orlando. Based on the novel by Virginia Woolfe, Orlando tells the story of an Elizabethan-era nobleman who consigns himself to eternal life, only to be inexplicably turned into a woman partway through. “I was very young when I saw it,” she explains, “and it completely blew me away. Sally Potter wrote and collaborated on all of the music, and I feel that is what makes that film so powerful—because it’s very fully developed and a quite personal concept.”
Planningtorock’s new album, W, took almost four years to make, but the long gestation allowed Rostron to explore and prerecord live percussion and get “really nerdy” with mics. As she explains it, “I quite like music that’s a bit dense at times, that’s not instant. Some music feels almost like a one-night stand. You love it instantly, then you never listen to it again. I’m definitely one for the long, long relationship.” It seems as if Planningtorock is Rostron exploring an involved relationship with herself in all facets, both the beautiful and the brutish. Even the alias, Planningtorock, is an unfixed, sexless clause. It hints at the potential, but never the conviction or commitment to being just one thing. Some of the best moments on W are those in which Rostron’s natural singing voice harmonizes gently with one of her darker alter-egos. “It’s like the instrumentals are the beds,” she says. “I’m just waiting to find the right people to sleep in them.”