Approach and Inspiration: An Interview with Laksa

There’s something about the current breed of producer channeling the murky, bass-heavy techno synonymous with the UK. Sewing together elements of dubstep, bass, techno and garage into one patchwork sonic mishmash, Blighty’s scene is prominently weaving its way into the global dance fabric. Though this international acclaim is no novel feat, the number of artists releasing on imprints beyond the Channel and jockeying discs on foreign shores is no doubt rising. Domestically-speaking, every weekend offers up parties showcasing the oddball selection and wonky production keeping the current climate so striking. It’s a great time to be dancing in the UK.

One of the more intriguing and talented producer-come-DJs that have contributed to the contemporary complexion of our scene is Callum Ross, better known as Laksa. Having first released on Beneath‘s Mistry label back in 2015, the likes of Timedance, Whities and Ilian Tape have all gone on to publish the expert composition consistent of the artist.

From the sumptuous, soothing ambiance of his beatless output, to the raucous, driving drumwork and head-spinning melodies of his dancefloor-focused numbers, each track demonstrates a unique ability that has thrusted Ross into the spotlight. No wonder then that his musical travels have extended beyond Europe to Japan, India, Mexico and the USA.

We caught up with the main man to chat about his approach to producing, the inspiration behind his craft, and the reasons behind the UK’s realness.

Was there a certain song, clubbing or festival experience that prompted you to start producing?

Bristol – a crusty song, club and festival experience rolled into one.

Do you approach DJing on the radio as you do to a physical crowd?

I approach them differently but they feed into one another. I’ve been doing the re:lax show with re:ni on Noods for at least 6+ months and we’re really happy with how it’s going. We recently had an interview from DJ Plead and guest mixes from Loft and Kiernan Laveaux. Fortunately we’ve now been given the opportunity to host re:lax on NTS so we’re really looking forward to the next chapter of the project. We’ve got another exciting re:lax announcement soon as well, which we hope will complement the radio show and the artists we showcase.

A lot of your releases pair rampant, full-flowing dance tunes with tranquil and textured ambient numbers. Was this something you wanted to experiment with for your Contrasts EP that then stuck, or is it a more spontaneous blueprint that varies depending on your listening/production habits at the time?

My approach is always very spontaneous and I pretty much go into writing with no idea of what I’m planning to make that day. If I do go in with a pre-conceived idea or mood I want to achieve, it tends to be a rubbish session as I think it’s contrived for me to try and be something or do this or that sound. My knowledge of music theory/production isn’t the best so being purposeful with sound isn’t the easiest. The more I think about it the more I believe music’s quite a release for me, so i’ve just got to hope I’m in the right headspace where I can get a vibe going with enough happy accidents along the way.

Where do you find most of your inspiration when producing music? Hearing music on serious soundsystems, watching movies, doing your weekly shop?

Yeah hearing tunes on a system is always a good reference but that stuff only goes so far inspiration wise. At the moment to get inspired I’ve been reading loads of the Blackdown interviews from his blog, along with stuff on the HCC: all really interesting reads. In my head I’m trying to tap into some FWD/darkness/moody state of mind in which I will write something of that mood. I was even considering downloading some old dubstep and grime sets and just taking a load of random trains at night to listen to them. Having thought about it though, whilst it would be interesting to do something like this, it would all be quite contrived and against my approach of being spontaneous. I might still do it for lolz though.

So having said all that I think the best inspiration for me is my life/environment and trying to channel that through music when possible. For example the BUTW mix I did late last year represents what I’m getting at. I did the mix after finishing my final social work placement. That whole placement was such a mixture of emotions and experiences for a lot of reasons, some uplifting but a lot quite sad. Apart from putting the vocal clips in, there wasn’t a pre-conceived idea beyond wanting to something different/weird (mostly how I approach writing music). It was just a release for me and I don’t think I would have created that mix (which I was very happy with), had I not finished the placement and all that came with it. So going back to what I said before, I wasn’t trying to chase a headspace, I was just in it.

For anyone this resonates with, I would suggest doing some kind of mental timeline of music you’re happy with (doesn’t even need to be music) and what was going on for you around that time. I found it quite interesting for tracks where I could remember what was going on leading up to making them.

Assuming you’re focusing on music full-time, at what point did you think this was viable?

I’m not full-time music and to be honest I’m not sure I’d ever want to be. For how I write, where would be the ‘release’ with music if my life is solely revolved around…music? Recently I’ve been thinking that doing music full-time isn’t necessarily coherent with me being a good or inspired producer. Likewise, being ‘happy’ isn’t always coherent with writing good music and vice versa. I suppose for every artist it’s trying to find that balance where their worlds of music and life can productively feed into one another, because there can always be unexpected sparks and tensions. Right now I think a balance of my own life, music and social work is a good mix to keep me level headed, well-rounded and inspired.

This question did get me thinking about why those who get deeper in music or go full-time sometimes lose a bit of that ‘heart’, ‘grit’, whatever you want to call it. The analogy that comes to my head is of the rapper whose ‘realness’ gets them in the limelight or the singer whose album of heartbreak and pain taps into the listener, that initial rawness is what drew you to those records. But then once they’ve blown up and they’re still referencing their old life or have no life stories outside of music, what’s left? The technical proficiency may have improved, the vocals now sound crisper or the hats have a new sizzle, but surely making music is more than technical execution/ability. Apart from samples I know there aren’t really lyrics in dance music but I don’t think you could say producers are immune from what I’ve just discussed. Of course my way of writing isn’t some personal mantra or blueprint for writing music, but I think it’s an interesting idea to consider. As a producer or DJ you’re there to create experiences, and what personal resources or ‘life-stuff’ do you need to draw from to create these moments.

The UK techno crew (Timedance, Livity, Whities etc.) manage to keep their sound so consistent yet fresh and novel. What do you think it is about this bunch of producers that allows for this?

Not being a complete melt on Instagram. Maybe it’s not a watertight theory but goes some way in my book.

Is there a specific song or EP that you still feel incredibly proud of producing and still sounds novel when you listen to it?

Camo Trousers and my recent Timedance EP. They just achieve the weird/accessible balance I think, plus no clutter and dodgy mixdowns which I sometimes do.

Keep up to date with Laksa on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud.

Words: Jens Berring

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