An interview with Will Lister

A string of assured and quality releases on Phonica Records, Joy In Repetition, and ANMA Records seemingly isn’t enough for Will Lister. Somewhat of a mover and shaker in his London town of 3 years, musical ambition and potential shines through his various means of output and contribution to our scene: hosting a Balamii radio show, DJing, and selling records at Phonica but to name a few; all in tandem with student life and involvement in advocating for and organising meaningful projects such as Dance For Refuge.

The end of university is in sight however, and despite enjoying a reasonable amount of success thus far, I get the feeling he’s just getting started. In the month of his most recent release alongside house veteran Trinidadian Deep, I caught up with the name fast-becoming a force to be reckoned with to discuss radio, vegan hotdogs, and prog rock sets.

It seems as though you’ve established yourself within the London community fairly quickly. Was getting involved with Phonica Records and doing radio part of a master plan in the decision-making process of going to university?

Not at all. I always knew since I was 15/16 that I wanted to come to London, and wanted to do music. I decided to study Popular Music at Goldsmiths, which is in New Cross – a pretty hot area for music. The summer before starting I was emailing Simon from Phonica, and that’s how the internship came about. And then with Balamii radio being around the corner and making friends through university radio stations, I ended up surrounding myself by the right people quite quickly. Not in a network-y way, just making friends with people who had similar interests, and who happened to be doing sick stuff.

I get the feeling that the art of radio and its role in electronic music and local scenes is still fairly prominent – would you agree, and why is this?

I think so – I guess it’s to do with community building. When you set up a station and you advertise it to people in the local or wider area you start to build a community around that station, whether that be with people who live in that area, or a mix of people who have come from different places who bring their own take on things. And these are often people from every walk of life. It’s a real thing, and it lends itself to meeting new people with similar interests. I know from playing in Manchester that the radio community there is really strong. I’ve also heard about Noods in Bristol – they seem to have a really nice group of people there, too. I guess it creates a bit of a buzz and a bit of a centre for whatever is going on; that’s maybe one of the reasons why it still plays an important role in this day in age.

You’ve had some interesting guest mixes on your Balamii show, two of which have been from Umfang and the women behind Mix Nights in Bristol, in recent months. Are you conscious of using your platform to shine a spotlight on women in dance music, and do you feel radio as a whole has a duty to do so?

It wasn’t a conscious decision for me, but fair representation is important for sure. What I am trying to do though is build confidence in the show by sharing the platform with both artists who are quite big, as well as those who are likely to be relatively unknown, but are also doing sick things and deserve to be put out there. It was amazing that Emma (Umfang) said she was happy to come down as it helps amplify lesser known artists – like, okay if Emma has been on and rates it, then the Mix Nights guys and whoever else must also be good, and people might be more likely to check them out too. But I’m not trying to act as a gate holder or whatever, or put myself on a pedestal because I’m creating this platform – I want to share it with friends and everyone who I respect and like in music.

I remember listening to Alexander Nut’s Rinse Residency religiously every week whilst revising, finding new artists. It’s something that I try and do musically with the shows – people who might not have an online presence send me some amazing stuff, and it’s dope and a real honour that people want to do that before they release it to the world, and that they think highly enough of me to send me their tunes.

Any exciting guests lined up for the rest of the year?

Meda Fury and Hi & Saberhägen will be rolling through in the not too distant future, so definitely check them out.

On radio you play quite a broad spectrum of electronic music. If you were to participate in an Alternate Cuts style set, what genre or scene would you go for, or do you think you’d be picked for? Does this represent a scene you have neglected in terms of digging, or simply a corner of your record collection that hasn’t found the right moment yet?

That depends what I’ve got enough of to play. I’m trying to build my hip-hop stuff a bit more; I’m really into the Slum Village/Jazz Liberatorz style. I don’t have a massive collection by any means, but it is something that influences me musically in terms of how I write and in terms of soundscapes. I’m also listening to more jungle, so I could do like a hip-hop and jungle set, but everyone does a jungle set nowadays.

What are your digging habits, and are there any areas or scenes you would like to dig deeper into in the future?

My mood really changes, and at this moment in time my record buying is sadly quite functional and practical because of uni. Sometimes I really want that physical interaction at a record shop, and other times I’m not in the mood for it and would rather be chilling out in my room looking for tunes. I’ve been digging a lot of Canadian and Australian house-y stuff at the moment that I usually find on Bandcamp. YouTube often results in being totally swallowed up by the internet – you know how it is. And Spotify probably more for band type stuff rather than electronic music. If someone could track my Spotify listening history it would be about 5 seconds of a million tunes. I’ll go through boundless 1970s prog rock albums and just listen to the beginning so I can flick through to find samples. Actually yeah, maybe I’ll do a prog rock set instead for Alternate Cuts!

Whose record bag would you love to take a sneak peak in?

Alex T? Yeah, Alex T. To be honest I say it as a joke, but he would be up there. Maybe you can just send me a video if you live with him. Josey Rebelle is a big inspiration, although I’d imagine she would have numerous record bags with a variety of records for different gigs. I played at a warehouse party in Sweden last year called Love Potion with Jack J, PLO Man, and Hashman Deejay – I’d probably pick those guys as that was one of the best nights I’ve ever been to.

Some people often speak of a musical education at home at the hands of their parents – I was wondering if this was the same for you, or if you had anyone similar in your life?

Not massively, but both are really into music. I have fond memories of my Dad playing AC/DC, and similar kinds of rock music. Actually, one of my favourite albums growing up has to be Exile on Main St. by The Rolling Stones, which now holds a very nostalgic place in my heart. My Dad works for an arts charity which books bands from around the world to play local village halls in the UK, so he listens to loads of music from various parts of Africa and India, which I’ve also been exposed to. I guess in terms of a musical upbringing from your parents, I probably got my wise taste of music from mine rather than a specific interest in a certain thing. It’s quite nice now because they are both into electronic music. If I remember correctly, one of their favourite sets was James Holden at Beacons Festival, actually. At Christmas I tend to buy them my favourite records of the year.

Although there is a case for nightlife being valued more, and thus taken more seriously in other cities around the world, sometimes there’s a tendency to romanticise foreign scenes over London and the UK in general. Do you think this is the case, and what do you think London has to offer?

It’s easy to romanticise a place that you don’t spend a lot of your time in. I definitely romanticised London before I lived here, and despite it not being quite what I expected when I got here, I still feel as though I can wake up, go outside, and do something that I couldn’t do in another city. It’s an amazing place and it has such a good music scene, although it’s natural to hold a different viewpoint and opinion on a night out when you’re travelling to a new place. I feel like if you live in London, you’re more likely to eventually take a cynical view on things when nights become more familiar. There’s a lot of journalism coming out of London which may reflect that across the wider scene – if you’re writing from a place that you’re spending all of your time in, you may have a subjective view of a particular night, which might not be the case for someone travelling from out of town and is less familiar. It’s interesting, but I think London is definitely still as magical as I once thought it was.

Are there any particular places you like to touch down in London?

A night at Five Miles was probably one of the best I’ve had in a while. It’s in some kind of industrial estate in Tottenham, so as well as a sick sound system, there’s a great feeling of isolation, which adds to the vibe. There’s probably a few parties I shouldn’t mention actually, ha. The Waiting Room is sick, and they do banging vegan hotdog as well. And then I spend a lot of time at Phonica Records; I’m actually going back to work there now that I’m leaving uni soon. I seem to have this weird connection with Soho – it was the place before I came up that I wanted to hang out in as it’s got my favourite record shops, and sick clothes and shoe shops. Now I probably go there two/three times a week just to get a coffee and have a wander about.

You now have solid releases on Phonica Records, Joy In Repetition and most recently on ANMA records. When did you first start dabbling into music production and DJing?

My dad had Logic Pro on his computer, so I first started dabbling into making tunes when I was 14/15, and DJing came later. I was into cinematic orchestra and early Bonobo albums – that really textural and melodic kind of sound – and so I was trying to write that on Logic with the worst sounding pianos and drums. After that I started listening to more electronic stuff like James Blake, Four Tet, Floating Points, and of course, went through an Eton Messy phase where I was trying to make 4×4 bassline-y house music with vocal chops. That was more of a sign of the times, and the fact that Bristol was the nearest city to hang out. It wasn’t really a conscious thing, but eventually my productions evolved into something that I would say is more of a personal sound to me.

Tell me about your relationship with Phonica Records. Do you see them as an early mentor in your development as an artist through that first release?

Yeah I’d say so. Releasing your first record is one big learning curve, and it was nice to have them put a lot of effort and time into it. I’ve been lucky enough to work with people since then who’ve done the same thing, as I know a lot of other labels don’t work the same way. So yeah, it was great to work with Phonica – it’s really done me good!

I imagine it’s exciting to be sharing a slab of wax with Trinidadian Deep – how did this EP come about?

Yeah, that was really cool. I sent some tunes over to Angelo who runs the label and he asked if I wanted to release alongside Trini, as he had a few tracks from him too. And of course I said yes! These tracks from me are lot more acoustic; definitely not as electronic and not as heavy. Everything is recorded; the drums are mostly recorded live and so are the keys. It’s essentially just me running between the keyboard, the drumkit and the computer. I probably wouldn’t have wanted to do a separate 12” with them as they both work together on their own, so it feels especially nice because these tracks might not have come out if it hadn’t been for Angelo, so it’s very exciting.

And Trini is such a legend – he’s made some amazing stuff, and the tunes on this EP are sick as well. It’s nice to have… quite, not emotional, but being put on the same record as someone who has such an identity and has been doing this thing for such a long time, and the fact that I’m pretty new and haven’t put loads out – it’s like a juxtaposition of two worlds, and obviously with the geographical distance too – it’s just pretty cool!

Is collaboration in production something that appeals to you?

At the moment I’m working with a keys player called Max Winter, a drummer called Jon Ward, and a bass player called Nicolas Robillard (who produces under HNRO) on a 30-minute live show for Uni. Nic’s my flatmate, and they’re all just mates who make music in their spare time as well. It’s a big final year performance that you have to do which is meant to be a proper gig with a venue, visuals and professional set up. It’s cool because it forces me to think about it in a certain way, which means that once it’s ready it should be good for other places too. I’ve been speaking to some people about curating a night to debut the show, and maybe stream it with some DJs playing afterwards – there’s lots of possibilities, which I’m excited about. My first foray into music was through live instrumentation, playing guitar with bands and stuff so it’s nice to get back to that and work on something different. It’s quite scary though – there’s lots of rehearsing to do, for sure.

It’ll be your second year as part of the Dimensions DJ Directory, which spotlights emerging selectors. Aside from getting to play alongside some of the best artists every year – which is a massive deal in itself – has the affiliation with Dimensions helped with bookings and getting your name out to a wider audience?

It’s definitely helped. Dimensions are seen as being a bit of a tastemaker, so if you’re alright enough to be picked up by these guys then promoters probably take more notice. Andy and Dave are such sound people who are trying their best to help underground music and develop artists, so it’s nice to be seen in a higher regard by people who clearly know what they’re doing, and to get to share a platform with some of my favourite DJs. And the festival is a really sick vibe too. Last year everyone was mostly put on at The Ballroom, and I heard a lot of people say it was the best stage. Everyone there is pretty unknown, but everyone is good so it’s sick!

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

It’s going to be mostly writing music. I’ve got some tracks I’ve been working on at the moment, and I’ve got ideas for things that I want to do now. I’ll be working back at Phonica, and probably trying to pick up some studio work as I’ve done recording and engineering and assisted in studios before.  I’m playing Farr Festival, obviously Dimensions, and then there might be a few Amsterdam festivals in the pipeline, but we’ll see. I might just rock up to all the festivals with my USB and see if I can jump on with mates. Saying that, I won’t be partying much anyway because of money.

Finally, I want you to shout out some artists or DJs you think we should be paying attention to.

They are all on the Dimensions Directory, man – trying to think of people that aren’t. Alex T, 100%. Kiara Scuro and Sean OD. Roza Terenzi – she’s dope! The Regelbau crew: DJ Sports, Central, C.K., Manmade Deejay.

Cheers, Will. Take care, and hopefully we’ll be catching you in Leeds again very soon.

Thanks Liam, I’ll be up again at some point, no doubt!

Trinidadian Deep & Will Lister – Soundtrack to a Setting is available to buy now.

Dance For Refuge are back, hosting a party at the majestic V&A Museum on 22nd June to mark the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week, which celebrates the “contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees”. Since 2015, Dance For Refuge has been one for the heads and the hearts, raising awareness and funds to aid organisations actively involved in supporting refugees throughout the world. This month’s edition is curated by Mafalda, Thris Tian, and Zakia, so get down to this free event, get involved, spread the word, and contribute anything you can. More information can be found at https://www.vam.ac.uk/festival/2018/refugee-week-2018.