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Drew Lustman [FaltyDL] Interview

Drew Lustman [FaltyDL] Interview

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as featured in Big Up 19 ~ #Selfiessue

From early on in his musical career, Drew Lustman has had his boosters. His first 12” single as FaltyDL for the esteemed Planet Mu label featured remixes by two of the biggest figures in the history of electronic music, namely Mike Paradinas and Luke Vibert. Better known as Mu-Ziq, label owner Paradinas has since released a number of FaltyDL albums and shorter releases, though his last two full-lengths have come via Ninja Tune, another highly regarded imprint. Enamored by the dance music of the 1990s, intelligent and otherwise, Lustman has spent the last six years drawing influence from his forebears while rarely sitting still. From his Brooklyn, New York home studio, he’s produced everything from an outsider’s take on British dance music to last year’s radical electronic patchwork In The Wild.

Returning to Planet Mu for the first time since 2011, Lustman has retained his unique yet nonetheless real name for a brand new record entitled The Crystal Cowboy. I met with him at a cafe in Greenpoint to discuss this accessibly retro sounding album, his slightly ambiguous yet prominent place in electronic music, and how it all makes him feel. As it turned out, we quickly surmised that we’d attended some of the same nightclubs in the mid-2000s, including one that specialized in dubstep back when Skrillex was still post-hardcore kid Sonny Moore.

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interview by Gary Suarez

When dubstep first made its way across the Atlantic, were you in New York at that point?

I moved here in ‘06 and the person who turned me on to your writing was Dave Q, the promoter of Dub War. Did you go to Dub War?

I used to go to Dub War, yeah.

We were there together, I’m sure. Now that I see you, I feel like I’ve seen you in the room.

It’s entirely possible. What was that place right off of 8th Street? There was that loft space inside.

Club Love. The declining nature of that club can probably parallel the declining nature of dubstep. It became a sports bar. I would go in there and I would deejay. The monitors were from the Paradise Garage, the old Bozak, that was all from the Paradise Garage. And every time I’d go in there in the last two years, a piece of gear would’ve been sold by the owner. The last gig I played there was on the promoter’s computer with monitors from home, like $300 monitors. But I think that’s my entry point for going out. I’ve been into electronic music since I was like 13, 14, so like ‘94, ‘95, ‘96. Moving to New York in ‘06 and going out, that’s when it all started for me. And that was the night I went to because it had a few artists from Planet Mu that came over, like Vex’d. That was my first one.

They were one of my favorite artists at the time. Degenerate was such an amazing record. I really liked dubstep, the DMZ stuff, I’d enjoyed a lot of what I was hearing. But I heard that record and was like this is where they merged.

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A lot of people had that moment with different artists in dubstep [..] but that was my first ~ the Vex'd show. I hugged the wall in the back. I was terrified. I was like, what is this?

[/quote_left]A lot of people had that moment with different artists in dubstep. It’s probably generational too, where you were at the time, but that was my first – the Vex’d show. I hugged the wall in the back. I was terrified. I was like, what is this? At the time I was sober, some hybrid of sober and straight edge-y. So I was just there drinking water and geeking out. And I’d go home at night and I’d just track out. I was making tunes ‘til like 4am. The first year of living in New York is when I shut everything out and just became a producer and dedicated all my time to it.

Love Is A Liability, the first record you did for Planet Mu, was the first record of yours I heard.

Oh really? Wow. There’s a bit of blissful ignorance, I think, in the production of that album. I was learning what I was doing as I went along. With the first track I sent to Mike Paradinas, he was like there’s something here; it’s not there yet. There’s five versions of that track, including an edit he made. There are really weird mistakes on that album.

What do you mean by mistakes?

Okay, maybe not mistakes. More like I had less of a capacity to call myself out on where I was being lazy in production. It’s not mistakes. Imagine someone just making club music from their idea of what it is, at the beginning of everything going streaming and getting most of it from the Internet, not from a firsthand experience. But also making it on pretty crude old-school versions of software and hardware.

What were you using at the time?

It was Reason, which I still use, including a bunch of standalone programs for specific editing-type things. An old MPC-1000 and a turntable. People would tell me it sounded a bit like jungle, the production style of jungle and garage sort of mixed. It just wasn’t as clean as everything else at the time. Everyone was getting really clean with their productions and I was, like, mixdown? Fuck a mixdown. I’m just gonna export this out all in red and press it.

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Everyone was getting really clean with their productions and I was, like, mixdown? Fuck a mixdown. I'm just gonna export this out all in red and press it.

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It was also the Burial album [Untrue] that had come out in the middle of me making that album. At the time, I wouldn’t have admitted what a heavy influence it had on me. I listened to it the other day and it’s still so fucking good. You can play “Archangel” in the club and it’s emotional and it also bangs. That record was so huge for me. Prior to that, everything I was making was Squarepusher-y, AFX-influenced, very fast drill n’ bass. I liked all the breakcore stuff Mike Paradinas was putting out. I liked Venetian Snares a lot, Datach’i. I loved all that stuff. It felt like it was made by guys that didn’t go out much.

That defines a good bit of Planet Mu’s output, at least up to a certain point. Now there’s more of a connection to dance scenes like footwork.

He is so on it. The JLin album is ridiculous. To be that on it, but be able to switch up. It doesn’t feel like re-appropriation when Mike switches to something and goes into a very urban sort of sound. He’s there before a lot of other people.

You’ve hardly stayed in one place sonically for long, which I imagine is intentional. You’re trying different things, but it also makes what you do kind of hard to categorize. It means you don’t necessarily reap the benefits when something is identified as a trend.

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I want people to know it's me within the first few seconds of the song. That's a conscious thought I have.

[/quote_left]The people that I have modeled my career after, the ones I look up to, like Mike [Paradinas] and Luke Vibert, have really touched on a lot of things, but it sounds like them doing it. That’s always been very attractive to me. I want people to know it’s me within the first few seconds of the song. That’s a conscious thought I have. But when I sit down, I have no idea where the track is going to go. I hear a sample that sounds good and I follow that rabbit hole. So how do I feel? I’ve never made a garage record as direct as Disclosure’s was. I’ve never made hip-hop tracks as direct as Hudson Mohawke. I’ve always felt like I was drawing from lots of things at once. I’ve never thought of consequences, of will I be thought of as one genre or another. I’ve been really lucky. The press has been really nice to me over the years, barring a few shitty reviews.

You have a critical history. You have a discography. Critics have a frame of reference when approaching your music. Do you think that plays into favorable reviews?

Yes, but I wonder if it’s the actual music or the fact that I have a discography that plays into it. “Veteran Drew Lustman comes back with this”. I wonder if it’s because I’ve made a lot in a short amount of time.

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With your last FaltyDL record In The Wild, a lot of reviewers didn’t understand it.

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Who has that patience anymore? [..] The less amount of time I spend in a club, when I'm only there playing gigs, I actually feel untethered from the dancefloor and the attention span of a 21 year old raver.

[/quote_left]Who has that patience anymore? Am I writing it for an older crowd? The less amount of time I spend in a club, when I’m only there playing gigs, I actually feel untethered from the dancefloor and the attention span of a 21 year old raver. In The Wild was designed to be played out of order and in order. That is a lot to ask of anyone these days. It was 67 minutes. It plays to me like a Boards Of Canada album, but a Boards Of Canada album made 15 years ago. So I wonder if a lot of my points of reference are old, and I’m moving forward, while my points of reference remain mostly in ’90s electronica, I don’t know if it’s shooting myself in the foot but rather stapling my foot to that era. The sounds change and the production techniques change, and obviously I’m hearing a lot of current music, so it’s not that much the same. But my points of reference have been in the past, and I think that, out of everything, has been my biggest hindrance. I hear new sounds and I like them, but I don’t really jump on them until they’ve been around for awhile. I really love nostalgic things and I get into them. The idea of an album format is a romantic thing to me.

An artist like Aphex Twin reaches back to the past and is hailed for it. Being a comparatively younger artist, do you think those who were there are more rewarded than those who grew up on or were heavily influenced by it?

So much depends on how it’s approached, who releases it, the context of it all, and the artist itself. I generally have been received favorably for doing that. The way I’ve released music is largely a response to other people’s music I’ve been hearing. It keeps you in the position of being an afterthought, not the auteur of it. Let’s say from Day One I had a manager, someone who was really going to curate where things went. I wonder what sort of position I’d be in now.

Still, one of the biggest conundrums of your project is that you aren’t easily categorized.

I can’t hate on it, because I feel like I’m doing it to myself, but not in a sabotaging way. It always feels like the right thing to do.

It’s hard to call it sabotaging when you’re releasing for well-respected labels. If you were toiling in obscurity on Bandcamp, I could see that argument. You’ve got Ninja Tune and Planet Mu. You’ve got a tastemaker like Mike Paradinas listening to your stuff, playing a significant role in your career.

See, I forget all of that. Here’s where the ego comes in, the artist part. I think, none of it is enough, none of it is received well enough. I get wound up very easily just by turning on the Internet. I don’t care about Jamie xx or the color of his shirt when he was mixing his last album. That’s the 24 hour news cycle.
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I get wound up very easily just by turning on the Internet: I don't care about Jamie xx or the color of his shirt when he was mixing his last album.

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But I’ve had some moments of positivity recently that’ve felt so transcendent above all that. Not checking the Internet for a day is so good. Once you get a taste of the press, and it goes away a little bit, for me it was tricky. After Hardcourage it was good, and then In The Wild was like, fuck, there goes it for Drew. It was such a silly thought to have.

The relationship between artist and critic is a tough one. What critics determine is worth talking about is based on a variety of factors, several of which have no relation to you as a person or your music. A lot of times it’s so out of your hands, but you can still take it personally if press attention drops off.

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Am I reacting to press? Am I reacting to other music? Am I reacting just to myself? The best is when I’m in a good mood and I’m not thinking about any of that stuff.

[/quote_left]I’ve remained in the album cycle for three years in a row, which makes it much harder to pitch something. I realize that. The most important part is: what do I take back into the studio? Am I reacting to press? Am I reacting to other music? Am I reacting just to myself? The best is when I’m in a good mood and I’m not thinking about any of that stuff. That’s become a skill I’m trying to hone this past year or so. Pot’s helped that, naturally. Set up tracks very sober in the morning, go back and re-sequence it stoned in the afternoon. It’s fun.

Some people are going to take The Crystal Cowboy as a reaction to the critical response to your last record. How do you reconcile this?

The key is to make your next record before the press comes out on the one about to come out. Always be one ahead of the cycle. I have a new EP that’s ready. I’ve always gravitated towards producers who consider themselves music producers, not a garage producer or a house producer. If you ask Theo Parrish, he’s a music producer. He’s done so much different stuff.

To me, I’m sacrificing a bit in the moment that I would be gaining on a much more streamlined career direction for hopefully a body of work that will look like a legacy that I’m just proud of.

A lot of my friends, they don’t say to me “Drew, this track is amazing.” They say “Drew, your work ethic is incredible.” That’s the compliment I get from a lot of people. That’s the sort of compliment people gave to my dad as well.

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A few esoteric records in a row and you stop getting club offers. And then it's going to take awhile to get the Oneohtrix Point Never type gig offers. I thought that's what I wanted, but I don’t know. I still don't know.

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I think we’re all acting on a lot of subconscious levels on why we make things, at what rate and quality. I’ve been happy to try and get a lot out there and view it all as a whole body. But that’s a lot to ask of somebody, because most people aren’t going to listen to all of your music. They’ll just listen to one and that’ll be the first and maybe last thing they’ve heard of you. It just hasn’t really stressed me out so much.

Once I started making a living from this, things changed a bit. I started worrying a bit more about that. With gigs, how many months am I booked out? Job security. What are my releases? A few esoteric records in a row and you stop getting club offers. And then it’s going to take awhile to get the Oneohtrix Point Never type gig offers. I thought that’s what I wanted, but I don’t know. I still don’t know.

Why is “Hyena” so short?

There was a version of The Crystal Cowboy that had about four or five ambient interludes like In The Wild has. Then I said to Mike, “Let’s not do a 55 minute album; let’s do a 40 minute album.” And he was like, “Yeah, I agree. Let’s leave one in.” “Hyena”. It’s a lift off an old jungle record, a couple of things I put together. One of the samples is from Blog To The Oldskool. One of the samples is from an old Reinforced record. I have no shame in where I sample from.

Nor should you, given who your influences are.

“Angel Flesh,” the third track on The Crystal Cowboy, the whole time is D’angelo’s voice from the GZA [“Cold World”] remix. It’s pretty flagrant. Ninja Tune could not do that. Ninja would not release something like that, or they’d try to pay for it.

This new record is under your name. Artists often do that for one of two reasons. One is contractual.

I want Ninja to take that second option for FaltyDL.

The other reason people do it is because there’s something personal, sentimental. Especially for someone who’s been using a pseudonym. Why did you do it for this record? You conceivably could’ve put another name out there.

I started a name last year called Shanghai Den, and then quickly afterwards realized it was kind of a re-appropriation. The connotations I was putting on it was opium den style things. I used to smoke opium as a kid and get high on opiates. So I felt like I owned that enough. I did one single on R&S for Shanghai Den, a crazy single. I started sending Mike demos like “What do you think of this name?” FaltyDL almost never happened. Love Is A Liability almost came out under Drew Lustman. He’s always wanted me to put stuff out under my own name. Fans of FaltyDL have already read my name a few times, and they might make a connection there. So there is a bit of a business strategy. I was wondering if people would think, oh, is he singing now? But no, it’s just eleven more dance tracks.

That’s interesting, in light of the culture of electronic music and so-called faceless techno.

Cultures in dance music crack me up. I’ve been to Berlin. I’ve played the Berghain at 6am and seen some dude getting fisted in front of the booth. That’s cool. I love that that can happen there. You don’t hear a snare until 3am, just like a hi-hat and kick for five hours.

I’ve had more fun at a cheesy jungle night than at one with headier, austere techno meant to stimulate my higher brain functions.

In the beginning I played all these dubstep nights. Then it became more house-y nights. Now I feel like the doors are pretty open for the bookings I get and the lineups I’m on. If it’s small clubs, I’m headlining with local support from DJs playing crazy great sets.

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Okay, the real question is this: have I not wanted to do one thing because I'm afraid of not succeeding completely at that thing?

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Okay, the real question is this: have I not wanted to do one thing because I’m afraid of not succeeding completely at that thing? If I’d put all of my energy into Love Is A Liability garage for six years, five albums of music like that − hopefully getting better throughout the time − I would just be in this one position and this one scene. That would feel very strangulating to me. The other level is: the bigger you get, the more hate you’re going to get. So it’s taking a little less of a chance, in some way, by not focusing on one point to get to. I think there’s a level of acting on fear, gauging all of these different things, and there’s a level where it feels like the right thing to be making at the time.

Do you worry at all about where that leaves you? You used the word before: legacy. It boils down to what your definition of success is.

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Success for me is living off this, supporting myself, and respect from peers. That's it.

[/quote_left]Success for me is living off this, supporting myself, and respect from peers. That’s it. And I have that, not from all my peers. Like Hudson Mohawke, he’s a guy I’ve looked up to musically for years. We played together a lot, in the beginning. He doesn’t follow me on Twitter. We’re not boys; I don’t think I get respect from him, so to speak. That’s something that I’d like. But I’ve got it from Actress and these other singular guys I’ve looked up to. That’s important for me, to get it from these guys. I think I operate better when I don’t care about it as much. It’s more important for me to turn these guys on than an audience.

I’m going to use your words against you, but that kinda seems like that’s culture. That’s where you stand within that culture. Am I the biggest DJ in the world, or am I the one that all these producers and DJs hugely respect?

I’d rather have that.

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What about the future? You want to continue being a music producer and professional. How do you see the viability for that, given the field and the fickleness of listeners’ tastes?

A funny thing happened in like 2010, 2011. This is the biggest namedrop I can do. Thom Yorke hit me up. He was like, “I love what you’re doing. Come open for us.” I did that. It was amazing. So the next year or two I wanted to do a track with Thom. I haven’t gotten that email. Bjork hasn’t tapped me. These things haven’t happened to me that I’ve seen happen to other people. It still could happen, and some of these things I realize I have to build on my own. I’m making an album with Le1f right now. It’s going to come out on our time, and probably not with XL because they’re probably not going to like it. It’s going to take a couple years because he has other things that are important.
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I can't relate to people that are just bubbling up on their own. I always feel like I have to shout about myself, which is a very transparent action.

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I feel like I’ve hustled. With the exception of Ninja Tune, I’ve basically hustled every record I ever put out, to the extent that I’ve sent the demo. Mike didn’t hit me up first. All these other labels like Rush Hour never hit me up. Ninja was the one that asked if I wanted to do an EP and I came to the meeting and said I want to make multiple albums. I can’t relate to people that are just bubbling up on their own. I always feel like I have to shout about myself, which is a very transparent action. In retrospect you wonder how that looks, but I think it’s been okay.

Since you’re continuing to do this professionally, what about the live show?

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It's too easy for me to say I'm scared of failure. If I did it right, then I wouldn't fail. I don't know if it's laziness or if I'm just protecting myself by not doing it. It's interesting.

[/quote_left]The biggest hindrance is that I have not done a live show. Agents are always asking when the live show’s coming. I got my Ableton thing, my little controller, and I’m still DJing other people’s tracks. I’m terrified of really getting it together. There’s been budget for it, there’s been tour managers that want to help, loads of opportunities. To make the separates of my tracks would take me two days, to tear ten tracks apart. I could get out there with a live drummer, a singer, some crazy visuals. I just don’t want to do it for some reason. It’s too easy for me to say I’m scared of failure. If I did it right, then I wouldn’t fail. I don’t know if it’s laziness or if I’m just protecting myself by not doing it. It’s interesting.

With the live setting are you worried about it potentially restricting your flexibility in a set? I saw Flying Lotus two nights in a row on his last tour. The visuals were tremendous and timed with the music, but it was essentially the same set.

To be honest, for my own safety I’d choreograph the hell out of it. The way I’d do visuals is some sort of reactive thing, so I wouldn’t have to worry about being on cue.

The New York-based rapper Le1f is on The Crystal Cowboy. “Onyx” is very different from what I’ve heard from him before.

There are verses we didn’t use. His flow is incredible. One thing I want to work on with him is changing the timbre of his voice, to explore different ways of him talking. I love his voice. It cuts through in a mix in a really interesting way, because there’s a lot of baritone there. Without that I have him randomly counting to five. Some of the things we’re working on for the album will have verses and choruses. I want to get Donchristian and a lot of his friends on it. I’m one of Le1f’s many Jewish producers. We have this joke: it’s Jewish synth nerds and gay black rappers. Did you see Supermensch?

I didn’t, but I know Mike Myers produced it.

Great movie, about this legendary Jewish nerd manager guy to Alice Cooper and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. A guy that would make shit happen. I love pumping Le1f up on the phone and getting him excited. I love playing that role with him, telling him he’s really great and getting good results. That’s what’s fun for me in that project so far. I honestly don’t know how it’s going to end up. I could spend a lot of energy worrying about if I’m going to do a track with Thom Yorke or I could send tracks to a lot of other incredible locals and make things happen. So that’s the future.
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I could be in a ditch with a needle in my arm. That's where I was headed when I was 17. I have to get grateful really quickly and realize that I'm doing this for a living. It's ridiculous. Somehow I've made a name for myself. It's incredible. I can't believe I have that sometimes. And then other times it's not enough.

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One of these things in my Twitter feed could just set me off and I have to realize that I’m grateful. I could be in a ditch with a needle in my arm. That’s where I was headed when I was 17. I have to get grateful really quickly and realize that I’m doing this for a living. It’s ridiculous. Somehow I’ve made a name for myself. It’s incredible. I can’t believe I have that sometimes. And then other times it’s not enough.

Catch FaltyDL in Brooklyn on May 29th at Good Room.

Event Info

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