Those outside the rave scene are often confused by the phenomenon and its growth. Images of colourful dancefloor characters gathering en masse in front of a DJ—some of whom might be under the influence—breed many a question as to what the culture really is about, and whether or not it deserves a spot in mainstream society. What curious onlookers find if they choose to check it out, however, is that it offers a spiritual experience of sorts to participants in addition to the apparent hedonism. Dance music’s roots in rebellion against societal oppression and its core principle of acceptance conjures a sense of freedom and openness—which gives way to self discovery, close friendships, romance, and even valuable life lessons.
It’s this duality that Life on Planets sought to capture in his brand new EP on Kitsuné Musique, ‘Glowstick’. He and collaborator Taylor Bense fashioned three cuts bursting with the house-fusion appeal that defines the Life on Planets aesthetic, with plenty of funk-inspired guitar bits, groove-heavy basslines, and warm synth melodies. The Soul Clap Records and Wolf + Lamb alumnus laces lyrics in that whisk his audience into an afterhours wonderland, bringing to mind playful, yet powerful moments that can come up while connecting with others to an almost shamanic set by the DJ in front of them.
‘Glowstick’ commences a triumphant end to 2020 for Life on Planets, who will be self-releasing a hip-hop piece, “Midas Touch”, this coming Friday. On November 6, the remix compilation of his ‘Only You’ EP on Soul Clap Records comes out, with him having gathered remixes from Fred Everything, Jude Brown, Afriqua, Charlie from Soul Clap, and more. ‘Only You’ earned much acclaim across the underground house sphere, with its sales additionally raising $1,000 for Black Lives Matter. He showed off his take on current political issues through “Take Flight”, which hit digital shelves in July. Curious to dive deeper into his musical direction, creative process, and thoughts on the world today, we stole Life on Planets for a brief dialogue just before his ‘Glowstick’ release.
Let’s start with the basics—when was your first encounter with house music, and did you fall in love with the genre right away? Tell us the backstory of your history with electronic music.
So honestly, I had a very limited idea of house music before Life On Planets. I was busking in Baltimore and my roommate made techno. He heard me playing and wanted to link me with a house producer. I was like, “House music? Like ‘Show Me Love’?” And he put me on to that doc, Pump Up The Volume about the history of electronic music. Before watching that I had thought that dance music was this European thing. I remember friends of mine bumping Tiesto and stuff like that and being really turned off by this glitzy, superficial energy. I didn’t know that, as with so many genres of music, it was built by black hands. Or that the genre was so diverse and broad. So I started to go to some parties around town and see this beautiful underground of people actually dancing and connecting at clubs and loved it! From a production standpoint I was coming from playing in bands and could never get a drummer to just give me “untz-n-kats” so it opened up so many doors for ideas to just flow.
How did growing up in Baltimore influence your sound? And how did it evolve when you moved to New York?
In Baltimore, everyone is constantly experimenting. Around that time you could see bills with a noise rock band, a hip hop group, an indie darling, electronica…it was super eclectic. So my sound was a little all over the place. I’d say since moving to New York it brought more focus and simplicity to my show. But also, more confidence to just do my thing unapologetically.
You’ve made a reputation for yourself as an artist not afraid to use his platform to speak on societal issues. What was the catalyst in taking on more of an activist stance in your musicality and lyricism?
You know, I had a friend tell me that the one good thing about Trump being in office was that all of this darkness and hate and ignorance can finally come to light. We can have these conversations about race and really work to eradicate it. But even before Trump, the police brutality and neglect for the community was all over the place. It was watching and joining in some of the marches in Baltimore in the aftermath of Freddie Grey that really sparked my desire to say more. I brought my guitar and jammed, chanted and walked alongside people from all avenues of life. After that I started writing more about injustice and those deep feelings that I had thought were too heavy to bring in before. I just wanted to do what I could with what I do best to help bring about change. We are still slowly chipping away at this facade of equality and I believe we can move it forward if we keep expressing ourselves and remembering that we have the power to move mountains.
Do you think it’s more important than ever now for artists to use their voices on causes they care about? What would you say to those who think that “politics should be left out of music?’
I think that it’s important for artists to stand up for what they believe in. Over the years, well known artists used their platforms to make huge political statements, from Picasso to Marley. They faced dire consequences, but were they afraid to speak their mind? Their messages opened the hearts and minds of people all over the world. Music, dancing and politics have always been connected. When Africans were forced into slavery here in America, they danced to touch freedom and they sang to gather their faith and strength. And our musical tradition has evolved from that. So we have to remember that the fight is not over. Politics are ingrained in our musical heritage. Does that mean that every song has to have a powerful message? No. But we must remain aware that we can use this force for change and never try to leave that ability by the wayside.
An artist faces a lot in the industry, be it getting their work signed to the right labels and pushed out, social media hate, fans being picky about directions you take in your music. What have been your keys to finding confidence in yourself as an artist and courage to stand strongly behind what you create?
It’s a tightrope. You go too far in one direction and everyone suddenly has an unsolicited opinion on what you should do…I still struggle with it. But I would say time, big failures and small victories have helped me to gather the confidence to keep making bigger strides and take more risks as an artist. As artists, it’s our job to bring people closer to the ethereal; to the unknown that we dive into regularly. Sometimes people may not understand or come around to an idea much later. Steve Monite can write a song in the 80’s that explodes decades later for dancers of the future. Realistically we have to balance that journey to sell tickets and albums, but we have to keep following our intuition and keep pushing… if you don’t listen to that voice inside you might regret it. And who knows? Maybe that idea for an electronic cosmic orchestral concept album might just hit and you strike gold! [laughs]
‘Glowstick’ covers a more personal side to you—your admiration of the rave scene. Were there any specific memories/moments in mind when writing the EP? We’d love to hear the stories.
From Baltimore warehouse parties with moshpits, rap and free pizza known as Llamadon to four story labyrinths like Womb in Japan there’s memories big and small. A memory that came to mind during recording was my weekend at Okeechobee fest….there was a guided meditation one morning and I think it really actualized me. I was doing a Snapchat takeover for a magazine so I claimed press to get backstage and it mostly worked which was dope! I got to see all these huge artists up close. As the weekend went on it felt like so many hang ups were falling away. I was connecting more deeply with people, almost like we were all riding the same blissful wave. I got into this zen moment on the dancefloor where it felt like I could just feel people’s energy from across the room. I felt sexy and enlightened all at once. I felt like I knew everything. You know what I mean? I could forget about trying to act cool, or worrying about speaking what was really on my mind. But that’s where that mood comes into play on the record. I feel that Taylor and I have really captured that feeling that takes over on the dance floor, backstage, on the decks. There are these moments when you tune in, and suddenly– everyone and everything is open and sensuous. There’s a different energy when we come together to celebrate art, music and just being; where we’re ready and willing to give and receive messages from each other and the ether. I can’t wait to get back out there.
Your second single ‘Freq Talk’ was quite a standout. Can you take us through its creation?
Freq Talk started out pretty straightforward. Taylor and I had an idea of how we work together from “Glowstick” so we knew what we wanted to do. Taylor is a mad scientist when it comes to synths and toys and added textures to the beat but it was mostly finished so we focused on writing and arranging. As we began to write the lyrics I started to see this idea blossoming of being able to travel astrally to the party. I’ve always been fascinated but have never broken through on how to have an out of body experience consciously. As we hung out in the studio and worked and took breaks, we talked about how we’ve evolved into a different type of species. Humans in the past weren’t always able to be connected like we are, or able to look things up instantly. We’re constantly on our phones out of habit and necessity to keep up. They’re a part of our survival. We had a few all night sessions just writing and tweaking things here and there and all these ideas began to merge and meld.
And how does writing music in general usually go for you as a vocalist and guitar player? Do you often create melodies with your voice/instrument first and then translate it to electronic? Are you hit with inspiration for lyrics first, or do you start with an idea of the theme and arrangement, and lyrics come to you as you’re writing the music?
It constantly fluctuates. It might be a melody that I suddenly hear in my head that I try to piece together in production, a sample that I reinterpret, lyrics that I seek to paint around. Glowstick started just clowning with some friends, writing some of the most ratchet stuff I could come up with based on what I was hearing on the radio. It sat in my notes and then a few weeks later I got inspired by some Bobby McFerrin and recorded a voicenote. Sitting in the studio with Taylor I went through my notes and sang that bassline and then took those lyrics and reframed them. On Freq Talk we sat writing in notepads as we listened to the beat, just revising and whittling down the ideas until we had the perfect phrasing and concepts. As much as I’ve tried to get it down to a step by step process, I’ve found inspiration just doesn’t work that way. One day I might play a bass guitar, the next I might try to find the groove and just go with 808s instead. One size does not fit all. You gotta be able to wear multiple hats and go with your gut.
The rave scene seems to be going through quite a tumultuous time right now, from recent sexual assault scandals, to mass loss on account of COVID. Where do you see things going in a few years when normalcy begins to return? What do you think needs to happen to rebuild a better scene than the one we left behind? Do you feel optimistic in change?
I think we can definitely build, and are building a better scene. I’ve had conversations with other DJs and watched different talks with artists about creating true equality in the scene from the ground up–covering lesser known artists in the press, making efforts to book BIPOC and LGBTQ talent and speak out about opression and injustice taking place behind the scenes. I see it happening and hopefully it will continue to happen. I believe that we will give power to everybody in this scene, show people that they can’t abuse their status without consequences, and teach everyone how to come into the scene with love, understanding and respect. As we work to achieve this, I predict more and more people will wake up and come into these communities with more understanding and care. We need to really nurture and take care of the marginalized and young people entering the scene to sustain our dance culture ecosystem.
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Get registered to vote and check your registration status at ravethevote.org! They also have a series with talks and performances from dope artists so do yourself a favor and check them out!