Karina Utomo has firmly made her mark within Australia’s heavy music scene. As the courageous frontwoman of extreme metal band, High Tension, she’s kicked, growled and screamed her way to stardom through unwavering resilience and determination. We sat down with her for a chat to discuss her life, creating music and fighting her way through boundaries.
“I started playing music when I was about 16 or 17, and I was in a punk band. But it wasn’t until I went to my first hardcore show that I felt compelled to do more with my voice and learn how to sing in a very abrasive way. It made a pretty significant impact on me and I think I was just blown away to witness and hear what the voice can do. Something happened, something flicked a switch when I heard that music live and what was happening with the voice.
“When I first started performing and started experimenting with my voice, I had quite a few people tell me to stop singing. I think that I could have easily given up, but it’s hard to explain when you have this burning determination.
“I think it’s presumptuous to determine what someone should or shouldn’t be doing. No one is going to try something for the first time and be a virtuoso. There has to be room to be shit. The important part is that you’re doing something and giving it a crack. I think that people underestimate the power that others get out of doing creative things. I think it’s important to not stop someone from making things and experimenting with whatever they want to do. There’s so much space for all different kinds of art: it should be appreciated and enjoyed.
“I think setbacks are good. I think it would be a bland existence if you didn’t have setbacks, especially as an artist. Setbacks make you stop and think about a different method of doing something. It’s reconsidering your processes. I think it’s important to be dialectic in your processes. You’ve got to be prepared for setbacks.
“If I could go back to when I was 16, I think I would tell myself not to sweat over the little things. Not to worry too much about superficial things. Not listening to what other people might think is best for you. I think at that age, you know what you want to do. If I didn’t put down my guitar when I was 16, I’d be shredding right now! There are so many things I wish I stuck to. I wish I stuck to playing guitar, and painting, and drawing. All these things at the time gave me so much. But because I gave in to people saying, “you should only focus on this or focus on school”, I didn’t put in my hours.
“I think that the landscape has shifted quite dramatically since I first started playing in bands. There was definitely a lack of visibility with women as protagonists in the scene. There were always women in music and they were the ones that did all the hard work so I could be here right now and not have the same issues that they faced. A more diverse scene and industry is better for everybody. It means better attendance; it means a wider audience to engage with. But what I’m really hopeful for is an extreme sonic shift. I think everybody is quite sick of this homogenous state. It’s really stagnant and it’s time to step to the side and let different voices take over.
“Resilience means a lot of things to me. It’s ignoring superficial noise, anything that’s going to take you off that path of working and contributing towards something that you want to do. If I didn’t have the resilience to push through all the boundaries and hurdles that happen when you’re trying to create, I don’t think my life would feel as enriched as it is.”