his mix for the Quietus last week set Mixcloud humming, Rory Gibb speaks to FaltyDL about field recording, new LP You Stand Uncertain, moving to New York, and a growing love of house music and Frank Zappa" />

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A Quietus Interview

Standing Certain: FaltyDL Interviewed
Rory Gibb , March 16th, 2011 08:58

After his mix for the Quietus last week set Mixcloud humming, Rory Gibb speaks to FaltyDL about field recording, new LP You Stand Uncertain, moving to New York, and a growing love of house music and Frank Zappa

Of all the producers offering individual takes on UK-borne dance sounds at the moment, few have a musical voice as distinct as New York's Drew Lustman. His music as FaltyDL is only loosely tethered to easy reference points – two-step, house, jungle – instead drifting free somewhere in between, occasionally grounded by a well-known sample or airy female vocal. But it's immediately recognisable as his own, possessed of a nervy and cosmopolitan energy that bustles like a crowd along a packed city street.

He's traversed an impressively wide range of styles considering that his debut album, Love Is A Liability, was only released two years ago. Its diffuse, jittery take on UK garage established his sound as part of a wider cross-Atlantic narrative, one that started with early house and techno arriving in Britain from the US, and has continued to develop as the hardcore continuum's mutations have proved viral in their spread across the globe. Since then he's tackled sprawling nocturnal soul (the Bravery EP), tightly distilled two-step (Phrequaflex) and slow and soulful house/disco edits (the Endeavour and All In The Place EPs).

His new album You Stand Uncertain is something else again; it's less stylistically coherent, veering between genres with an ease that belies its complexity, but it's also the most complete 'album' statement he's made so far. A little like Burial's self-titled debut it plays like a love letter to rave, characterised by rhythms that stammer like old hardcore tracks and occasionally punctuated by ecstatic shrieks, buried deep in the mix. But it's less preoccupied with nostalgic visions of the past; his first fully vocal tracks, 'Gospel Of Opal' and 'Brazil' are among the most direct and affecting things he's yet committed to tape.

In the run up to You Stand Uncertain's release, Drew chatted to The Quietus about his writing process, the New York scene and the demands of the dancefloor, and recorded us an exclusive mix.

So your new album's been in the pipeline for a while, right?

Drew Lustman: It's pretty much that once we've stopped putting tracks together for a certain release, everything I make after that will be considered for the next one. But right now, because this album's done, I'm very relaxed with everything I'm making, I'm not pressured about where it's going to go. It took about a year and a half to make all the tracks for this album, but only really the last six months of trying to piece it all together and figure out what goes well together.

How did it all come together in the end?

DL: I work very closely with Mike Paradinas [Planet Mu label boss] when we're putting together a release. He'll suggest what tracks sound good together as an album. We don't usually have the same idea though. Since I don't really tend to make big dancefloor, banging tracks, we want albums to really flow and sound like albums. So we'll pick all these different types of tracks and just experiment, you know? I think he burns probably 30 or 40 CDs just trying to find the right tracklist before we agree on it. I drove around in his car with him once, and he just had this pile of burned CDs in the back of the car, and they all said 'Boxcutter', 'Luke Vibert', whoever. He sits in his car, goes 'that doesn't work' and throws them back there!

It must be useful having someone to give you that outside perspective?

DL: For sure. I have complete control over the music that gets made, but there's definitely a good give and take around the order in which it gets put together. I'm glad I have that, because I don't really trust my compilation skills. Well, I don't know, it might be fun to put one together myself sometime, but we'll see what happens.

You produce fairly prolifically, or you seem to?

DL: I think so. I think I've been really lucky too, to be able to make a bunch of different types of music. It's a combination of things that allow that. Part of it is because I can afford to right now – the tours have been good and the releases have been good, so I can sit and make music all day long. But I also don't feel pressured to make any one kind of music. Not that anybody really does, but particularly at the moment I'm experimenting with so many things, so when I talk to one label I can say 'why don't you guys check this out'. With Rush Hour it was the disco-y stuff I was doing, with Ramp it's the weirder garage tunes…

I guess that must work quite nicely in the sense that the scene that's come out of dubstep and garage in the last couple of years has gotten to the point where experimenting with style and tempo has become the norm. I suppose it must be helpful that people are more accepting of that sort of flexibility?

DL: For sure. For instance, when I talked to Loefah about my upcoming Swamp81 release he said he didn't want anything that sounded like my Planet Mu tunes. So I suggested he check out these Afrobeat-y tunes I was working on.

Your music has a great deal of personality as well, there are a lot of different sides to it. It's not simply functional.

DL: I think it's safe to say, at this point, that we can totally throw out the idea of 'intelligent dance music', as genre and term. I know as a producer, and you know as a music lover, the biggest compliment you can get in making dance music is seeing people dance to your music. To me, that's the most intelligent form of music: if you try to make dance music, and you achieve that goal. Personally, I like to think I'm still striving to keep one foot in the dance thing, and one foot in the more melodic side. But with an album I'm really afforded the opportunity to do whatever I want, and not think about where my feet are planted. At the moment I'm still trying to figure out this new sound in my head and get it out there, and if people can dance to it then that's great. It takes some courage to DJ some of my tracks out there, as I've seen what they can do to the dancefloor firsthand!

Some of them are quite difficult to mix – but then that's largely because of how swung a lot of your beats are, and busy some of your tracks sound.

DL: There are times when I can only mix my music with my own music, as I'll swing every bit of percussion, the kick drums and everything. I also think that's just the way my brain processes things. I've always been a kid with so much going on in my head, and a lot of music I make very much mirrors that. It's funny, my friends here in New York that aren't involved with the music scene whatsoever always say 'Drew, your music's crazy, there's so much going on, it's hard to focus'. I do want people to enjoy it - I don't want it to be too much hard work for people. I think also we lose sight, with how much music we listen to, what it's like to listen to something with virgin ears.

So when you put this album together, having had a couple of years since the last one, was it a different process? Did you aim to do something different with this record?

DL: I guess like most artists, I tend to enjoy what I'm currently working on more than what I've done in the past. It's hard for me to revisit something I've done in the past and really like it, so I tend to be more excited about what I'm doing now. But I think my production values have become a lot better, I've become a lot better a producer in the last three years. A lot of that has come from experience of playing shows and releasing records. And just listening all the time, listening to so much more music.

I've still got a hint of childlike wonder when it comes to music though, still just experimenting with loads of sounds and samples. I've got more gear though, I got a massive keyboard which has a bunch of fun sounds in it, and I'm also working a bit with my MPD. I've been recording sounds with a field recording unit too. I've changed my set-up a little bit. I think I'm after a different sound these days too, though.

What's it like using your field recording unit?

DL: It's amazing. I go out with this little backpack thing, and I have headphones on… The truth is, you look ridiculous! So you've got to be careful. I once tried to take it into the subway and the cops weren't impressed. But I also use it as a home recording device too.

The difficulty, when you're out in public with something like that, is that as soon as people see you're wondering around with a massive microphone everyone just shuts up.

DL: You can't really get a candid recording of a human being any more, but you can get a candid recording of field sounds. The field doesn't know that you're standing in it when you're recording the wind going by, which is nice.

You say you've been aiming for a different sound with your new music. When you first started making music, would you say you were aiming for a specific sound – the two-step feel of Love Is A Liability?

DL: I think I get a palette in my head, a certain format and sound, and I just want to work it out so I'll make thirty or forty tracks like that. Even before releasing records became a part of my life I'd always get a sound in my head and just beat it to death, work it out and then move onto something else. And it's actually hard for me to revisit it; I tried to make a Love Is A Liability-sounding two-step track the other day and I just couldn't do it anymore. I think my head's just in a different place, I've been listening to a lot more house music and a lot of LPs, like Caribou's Swim album, Four Tet, stuff like that. I think You Stand Uncertain flows as an album better than the first one did.

There's usually got to be some extra factor to an album to really make it great. It's got to be more than just a bunch of good tracks stuck together.

DL: I think so. I think that's what Mike and I were talking about, and that's what I've enjoying about listening to albums again this year. But I do get sent a lot of amazing dance tracks, and that just pulls me back in again. I'll get a new 2562 12” or something, and I'll only want to listen to that.

It's easy to get pulled in different directions for a little while at a time. You'll listen to one style of music for ages, but then you'll just get sent one or two tracks that just completely shift your musical mood again. That Hotflush compilation you've got a track on [Back And 4th] is one of those. The Boddika track on there is amazing.

DL: I think I've had more fun playing his music out in the last few months than anything else, really. I think he's using so much analogue gear – the compression on the hi-hats and kick drums just sounds pounding. I use about 95% software for what I do.

In the UK there's been a real spike in popularity for the sort of music you make over the last couple of years. Is that something you've felt in the US as well, or is that something that's been more obvious when you've been in the UK.

DL: I think it's definitely more noticeable over here now. The nights that I go to regularly over here – the same ones who were bringing Skream, Loefah and Kode9 five years ago – are now bringing over a lot of the new generation of producers. I also think there's been some really good press in the States recently, a lot of good blogs, and XLR8R magazine is really on it right now.

New York is… It's like a little fishbowl over here, so it's hard for me to say what it's like in the rest of the States. I know LA and San Francisco have their own vibe, Chicago's got its vibe, Detroit has its vibe. And then there are millions of little cities that have these monthly nights in between that I have no idea about.

I guess with somewhere like New York, it's a bit like London: it's so big that it's difficult to get a handle on what's going on in a general sense, rather than picking out on hyperspecifics.

DL: Sure. Every time I think I know what's going on in New York I'll make a statement to my girlfriend or a friend, like 'I'm really upset with the music scene here, there's not enough going on.' But I'm probably just not looking hard enough. There's lots of amazing nights everywhere that have a whole set of people I've never met before, who just do their own thing.

Moving to New York, and being in such a metropolitan city with such a high rate of information exchange is what's made me kick up my own musical career. I hear the same music outside as I did in the small town I grew up in – a lot of hip-hop, stuff like that – but moving to New York, and being with so many other twentysomethings that are really aggressively going after their own artistic careers, was the most inspiring thing about coming here.

There seems to be quite a solid scene there, with people that are pushing to make great music.

DL: There are. I don't go out enough to know all of them! I've said this often, the few people I do hang out with a lot around here are the guys associated with the Dub War night, a bunch of DJs and promoters. A really good friend of mine Mike Slott is making the most beautiful music right now. He rarely lets me hear any of it, but he's working on an album I think. I'm probably the last person you should ask about what's going on in New York, as I rarely leave this room!

You were saying you've been listening to and producing more house music recently – was there anything in particular that inspired you to move in that direction?

DL: I guess I should broaden that statement and just say I've been listening to a lot of 4/4 music. I was focused on a swingy beat for so long, now I'm broadening to 4/4 beats, probably because it's a lot of fun to mix that stuff together and I want to play more of my music out. There are Caribou tracks that are really fun to play, Actress, Floating Points, I've been listening to a lot of Theo Parrish's Ugly Edits recently, Anthony 'Shake' Shakir. I'm having a lot of fun playing that stuff in my sets at the moment.

I've been mixing one Anthony Shakir track in particular, 'Arise', which samples Steely Dan, with a new Boxcutter tune that's coming out soon. To me that's so much fun, mixing something from a totally different time and place with something that's very much of now. They stand up really well to one another, and they mix well. I've also been letting my mixes ride out a lot longer when I'm DJing. With Ableton it's really easy to get trigger-happy and play thirty tracks in 20 minutes, but it's really good to let them play for longer. I'm working on my live set now as well.

You've always been vocal about having been into UK sounds – hardcore, jungle, garage. That sounds less obvious on You Stand Uncertain, but it's definitely still there to a certain extent, and I read somewhere that you'd sampled a load of old hardcore records for this album?

DL: I did. I found a lot of atmosphere in some dusty old records, a lot of in-between-notes sound, the recording of the room when it was being pressed to vinyl, that sort of thing. And I sampled a lot of vocals. It's the same sort of thing I was doing with my garage stuff but instead of going to diva voices and R'n'B I was getting these hardcore, arty, mash-up vocal samples. For 'Lucky Luciano', the hardcore track on the album, I sampled a lot of stuff like that - a lot of old sounds, bassbins rattling around...

To be honest, I've spent a lot of time telling people I'm very highly influenced by UK music. I still am, but this year I've really broadened out to a whole different range. I listened to a lot of Animal Collective this year. I feel like I've spread out a lot more globally, and when you go somewhere else you're then carrying what they're influenced by too. It's been hard to ignore all the juke/footwork that's been coming out, and that's got an entirely different history and background, as does Theo Parrish. I've been listening to a lot of Todd Edwards too, which is very different from UK garage. I've also been really loving a lot of old psychedelic rock records this year too – lots of old Frank Zappa albums, especially ones from the early to mid 60s.

I suppose that's reflected in the tracklist of the mix you've done for us.

DL: It's all over the place! It's exactly the sort of mix I've always wanted to do, where you just drop a load of tunes, and genre-wise go all over the place, just play things I love. It's pretty funny, there are parts of it that are just an interview with Squarepusher on the phone, and I don't even know where I got that. It's weird stuff I find in my iTunes; when I come across something like that it's as comforting to me as, say, a familiar book is to a really dedicated reader. I don't read that much, I should do more, but I'll come across an old track and it'll bring back a lot of memories. It's kind of an influences mix too. The music I've chosen here – there's a RZA track, some Luke Vibert – it's all stuff I've listened to many times and just love.