An Interview With Desert Sound Colony

Desert Sound Colony

Desert Sound Colony has been on an intergalactic journey through a number of aliases and musical outfits before landing on his feet as the DJ/producer we’ve all grown to recognise and admire. From getting his musical chops flowing early doors, his exploits have seen him grace venues and ears aplenty; recently gaining the accolade of Berlin’s iconic Panorama Bar. Aside from spreading his musical wings into a well-respected figure in the scene today, DSC’s label and relationships with grassroots brands have seen him become an instrumental member of London’s dance music community.

As a ‘resident and helping hand from the get-go’ we had a chat with the man himself following our 8th birthday at fabric, taking a retrospective look at the past, present and beyond.

I want to go back to your early experiences with music first of all, particularly in childhood. Where did music making begin for you?

I certainly grew up around a lot of music, both of my parents are massive music heads. There was music on from the second we woke up till the second we went to sleep, pretty much all day, every day. They got me playing instruments from a pretty young age; from about six or seven I was playing piano and guitar. I played both of them till I was about 14 and then I decided that I didn’t want anything to do with them and I hated practising, so I stopped; pretty common story. I wish I had carried on now though… I got into producing dance music when I was about 16 after I started going out to dubstep nights in London.

Cool, so you’re going out to dubstep nights in London and Leeds, producing music and then eventually you become a resident at Flux. How did that come about? How did you develop this relationship with Leeds?

One of the main reasons that I went to Leeds was actually because of Johannes. I met him when I was 16 and he was 17, at this self-sustaining community in Scotland; it was basically a little hippy commune. Our parents had both forced us to go and spend a week there, but as soon as we met we got on like a house on fire. He started at Leeds a year before me and certainly played a role in convincing me to join him. Once I was there I started to discover different styles of music; I went out to more house and techno nights that broadened my tastes. When I was in second or third year, Johannes came to me and said he was thinking about starting a night – I thought it was a great idea. I can’t remember whether our duo started before or after the idea for Flux, but I was definitely involved as a resident and a helping hand right from the get-go.

Why did you coin the duo, Aartekt with Johannes? What was the concept it and is there any meaning behind the name?

We had pretty similar tastes, I was producing the music and we were DJing together. It made for a good combination in that Johannes had this night that was starting to do really well, it gave us both leverage in other areas that we were lacking; he got to be connected with an up and coming producer and I got to be connected with a successful promoter.

The name is a classic Johannes idea! He’s very good at marketing and what not, so he thought we should have a name that would come up at the top of everyone’s iTunes; that’s why there is the double-A at the beginning, it puts you right up there. It’s crafty, very crafty.

Alongside Aartekt, you’ve also had another alias called Wachs Lyrical. How long did you carry on creating music under both of these aliases before developing into Desert Sound Colony? Why did you develop this new alias?

Wachs Lyrical was the alias I had right from the start when I was 16, up until I went into Aartekt. There wasn’t really any crossover, I went from Wachs Lyrical into Aartekt and from there into Desert Sound Colony. I moved to Bristol when I was around 23 or 24 and we decided to stop doing the Aartekt duo, as it didn’t really make much sense anymore because of how far apart we lived. From there, I started writing a lot of new music, I wanted it to be based around samples I was recording into a mic and live instrumentation. It was quite slow and psychedelic but still clubby, coming slightly out of the Nicolas Jarr playbook. I wrote a lot of tracks very quickly and came up with the name afterwards, when I felt like I had something worth playing to people.

Name-wise, I thought it suited the style of music I was making at the time – deserts have quite psychedelic connotations. I also thought that the music sounded like it was played by a band, so I thought I’d also give it a plural name to give it a little bit of ambiguity.

Desert Sound Colony has definitely morphed and changed quite a lot over the last six years. It started off very slow, based around live instrumentation, whereas now it’s completely unrecognisable; very fast, broken beat-y, druggy, pacey club music. It’s been on quite a journey but I’m happy about where it is now, I think it’s probably going to be there for a good long while.

Your residencies have seen you through a coming-of-age of sorts, to be the artist you are today. What did they teach you? How has that impacted on your career so far?

It’s definitely been pretty monumental, it’s given me the opportunity to play a lot of great gigs throughout the years. I’ve been able to play some really amazing slots in some of the best venues in the country. I’ve cemented myself down, playing in the basement of Beaver Works up in Leeds and that’s arguably my favourite room in the country to play; it’s amazing down there. I’ve been able to play more peak time slots than I would have done anywhere else, being a resident from the beginning, Johannes has put a lot of faith in me as an artist.

As you continue to hold down your residency, you’re also gigging regularly throughout the UK and the world. You recently had your first appearance playing Panorama Bar. Can you tell us about your experience there?

Yes, Indeed. There are no words to describe it – it is just balls to the wall insanity in there, absolute mayhem. I can’t imagine it gets any better than playing there. I’ve been to a lot of clubs and I have to say, it does live up to the hype. The crowd is so responsive and so up for whatever you want to play. It also helped that I had a strong contingent of friends who came over for the set. There were about 20 or so of my friends going absolutely bananas, so I guess that took everyone else in the room up a level – latching on to the excited. I got to play a lot of UK sounding bits; a bunch of old Hessle [Audio] and Ramadanman tracks – I played ‘Footcrab’. A load of tunes I took with me I thought I’d never be able to get away with playing, but they seemed to slot in perfectly; they turned out to be some of the biggest moments of the night.

Incredibly, I was given possibly the best slot to play – I played from 5.30-9.30am. It’s weird because in a normal club, everyone would be tired and there would be no one left by that point, but there – that’s peak time, it feels like it just gets going around then. It was really nice to play a very ‘me’ set, going very much across the board. I started quite slow around 123bpm and moved up to around 136 by the end; pretty pacey, plenty broken beat, garage and electro but also a lot of house and disco-infused techno bits. It was everything I hoped it could be and more.

How did the jump to a stage such as Panorama Bar feel?

I’d say it’s a jump in the crowd. There is this vibe that you can do whatever you want, everyone is having such an insane time. It’s probably one of the easiest places I’ve played in that regard, because everyone is so up for the music, you don’t have to work very hard to make it work. It was also nice because I had friends in the crowd and friends from the label playing either side of me; it was really welcoming.

Another thing that helped was that I got there right from the beginning, before it even opened. I was there experiencing the crowd in the five and a half hours before my set – I was very clued in to the vibe of the room. I think it’s much more difficult if you sleep and then turn up half an hour to an hour before your set and you’re straight in; that must be way more terrifying. I’d been there for so long by the time I came on, I think it made it a lot easier. It was so welcoming, and it felt like it couldn’t really fail to be honest, everyone had so much belief.

You’ve got a reputation for showcasing the local talent of Leeds/London alongside established international DJs with your label, Holding Hands (e.g. Adam Pits). Was this something you consciously set out to do?

Yeh it definitely was. The first three releases were just from myself, but I always wanted to put out other people’s music and just so happened to be surrounded by some amazing up and coming producers. Nearly everyone on the label is either someone who I went to school with or someone who I know from Leeds. Adam Pits went to school with me. The next release I have coming up– I have a couple of friends on there who were at Leeds with me.

I noticed in your Aartekt bio, that the language is very genuine and down to earth; it has a no-frills vibe and it speaks of being very thankful for what one has. This is much the same with your Holding Hands label. Would you say this is a recurrent theme for you? Does it reflect any personal values?

Yes of course, I do try to get that across. I think there are too many people taking the music industry way too seriously; when it’s not about that at all. It’s about having a good time with your friends. I think it should be no frills, not about showing off – it should be big smiles and having a wicked time. It’s so simple but I think a lot of people get lost, there are some cultures within the industry that I don’t really agree with. I try to surround myself with people who want to have a good time and share their ideas, share tracks with each other and have a big smile at the end of the day.  

What are your plans for the label this year?

I’m definitely starting to branch out into some label nights around the country and into some other countries as well. I’ll also be doing more gigging with some of the artists from the label as they’re also making good progress. We have just done one back on the 1st March at The Waiting Room in London, it’s a charity event that I run every few months. We’re also doing a takeover at the new Space Lab night in Birmingham in March – that should be very wicked with Joy O and Saoirse; I’m bringing Adam Pits and Breaka with me that one.

We have the next release coming this month, that is going to be the first various artists release. It’s called Slam Jams Volume One – that one is for slammers! It’ll be with a couple of people who are already on the label along with a couple new people, which is sweet. I’ll also be starting a new sub-label which will be for reissues. The first release for that is in production at the moment and I reckon that should probably come out April time. Massive one for the first reissue.

And what is coming up for Desert Sound Colony?

Lots coming up – I have all the releases planned out for the year pretty much. I don’t know how much I can say about them yet but there will be another one on Nick Hoppner’s label, Touch From A Distance. There’ll be another one on Holding Hands at some point and then another two on other labels, that will be announced throughout the year. I just signed up with FMLY Agency, so hopefully I’ll be doing a lot more gigging as well. I’ve got a few gigs booked in for the next few months, so hopefully I’ll be getting around.