EDM Interview: Catching Up With Light Year

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LY

About four years ago, Jordan Feller was teaching himself the ways of Logic, Ableton, and Reason in his bedroom in Sydney, Australia. Flash forward a couple years later, and the DJ-turned-producer was getting props from heroes such as 2ManyDJs and Tiga. After a couple of EPs on Australia's legendary Bang Gang Records, it became clear that Light Year was destined to become something greater than a local heavy-hitter. Around the time of Jordan's first two releases back in 2010, most of his peers were in the midst of the blog-house / nu-disco electro craze that you couldn't escape - but he was quick to define himself without taking much influence from the flavors of the week. Even though the path of creating an individual sound may be never-ending, Light Year is moving along just fine. Last year's "Moderation" EP became an instant staple in pretty much everyone's collection, which displayed significant growth and pushed Light Year in a direction that he had been building himself up for - something darker, deeper, rawer, and vintage yet futuristic. While Jordan's music doesn't quite fall into a specific niche, it's his understanding and appreciation for techno and house music that keeps his material timeless. Continuing where he left off with "Moderation," Light Year released "Bliss" a few months ago and is in the studio at the moment gearing up for his next release. During some of Jordan's rare downtime, I had a chance to catch up with all things Light Year from the past, present, and future.

Hey Jordan, what’s up? How are things?

Hey man, im good thanks!!

Yeh I have played here once before and it was fun. It’s crazy hot here at the moment, like 35 degrees and 85% humidity which is an intense climate change coming from London. I have to say humidity, who needs it?

Clearly music has its travel perks. What are some of the most interesting places you’ve visited as Light Year, or just straight up favorites? I think I remember you spending a good amount of time here in LA like a year or so ago.

On my first ever tour I went to Poland which was a real culture shock coming from Sunny Sydney, Australia and being dropped in the middle of Poland in the European winter. While here in Hong Kong I visited Shenzhen, China, which was like the Wild West. It’s just on the boarder of Hong Kong and as soon as you cross the boarder, you walk into this giant mall where all these people are hustling fake goods. I saw a Chinese cop slap a female retailer only to see her slap him straight back. It was a little intense.

My favorite cities in the world are London because I love the scene there and I have good friends and access to recording studios so I can work while I’m there, same goes for LA. I spent a few months living out in LA last year which was cool but I have just been living in the UK for the past 4 months so I get around.

New York is always special to me, I feel like when you go there to play it’s the end of the line, it doesn’t get any bigger. I recently toured in Sicily and parts of France and the countryside there is beautiful. I think apart from Sydney I’d take a house on the water in Sicily any day.

When you put out “Moderation” last spring, it seemed to mark a solid and natural progression of the Light Year sound. How would you explain the difference between that release in comparison to your earlier works? Would you say that you’ve reached a point where you can really define yourself and what you want to sound like?

I guess it was more of a focused record that was released as a single rather than an EP. I have a clearer idea about what I don’t want to do as Light Year now, which is weird but I have never known exactly what I want to sound like. I have been getting more satisfaction out of these more recent records than some of my earlier stuff, which is always the way. As a producer you always like the most recent tracks more than any of your older stuff. I look back on the earlier records and you can hear that my tastes have developed and you can hear the difference in the music I write now. Although I still feel like there is an obvious and natural sounding progression in a production sense from my earlier material to what you hear me doing now. I don’t set out to sound like anything in particular, but inadvertently I always end up putting my signature on the end product.

Do you feel like your earlier EPs were products of the time and place in which they were written? Even though all Light Year material has displayed a techno edge, I get a sense of maturity with the newer stuff.

Definitely. I was a DJ before a producer. So I approach writing electronic and dance music from a DJ’s perspective. I’m influenced when I’m writing Light Year stuff by what I hear working on dance floors, what other producers have done and are doing. The longer you are a fan of music the more music you find both old and new so I’m like a sponge soaking up all these influences. I never set out to write a track like someone else, but a vibe or a feeling will influence me. I have just returned from spending 4 months in London and that will have an obvious affect on what I’m writing right now. I was able to experience clubs/warehouses I had never been too and to hear what DJ’s that I have never heard play to a packed room. It was so inspiring that these parties were so much fun but the soundtrack was quite deep, for instance I went to a gig at Corsica Studio’s in London when DJ Koze played. I don’t think the BPM reached 120 but the vibe was so cool.

I also like how your music has never been overly aggressive, as it remains groovy yet still big-sounding production wise. Have you ever put much thought into this fact, or is it just a subconscious result?

It’s more subconscious than anything else. Sometimes I set out to write a dusty sounding groover but I’ll generally end up overproducing the lo-fi vibe out of it. The closest I have come to deliberately going against that big sounding aesthetic is on the dub I did of my most recent release Bliss.

It seemed that the remix work picked up over the last year or so as well, which seems to be a good thing in terms of helping people reach their signature sound. Do you think remixes are a decent way for producers to hone their skills?

Yeh absolutely. I don’t put as much pressure on myself when I’m doing a remix. There are parts and ideas already there from the original so most of the time it’s quicker to get a vibe going than original material. I’ll also be up for taking more of a chance working on a remix and then if that works well in the remix apply what I did to an original track. Recently I remixed Flight Facilities new track, which I enjoyed, I didn’t use a whole lot of the original but the boys loved it and it was received really well too. The other positive of remix work is that there is a deadline to work too. Writing originals can be tiresome because there is no obvious end point until you’re happy with what you’ve written.

Yeh I would say these days when it comes to getting a demo down I’m pretty quick. I have a real basic template in Ableton with Maschine so that I can punch out a beat quickly. I’ve found for me that creativity comes in doses, so the first 2 hours working on something is generally the most creative because everything is new to your ears. From here I like to sit on that initial jam for a couple of days, tweaking it and getting it to a demo and making sure that it’s worth pursuing all the way to the end. At this point if it’s an original track I could sit on it for 2 weeks, a month and send it to some friends who will tell me what they think. If the response from here is positive and I’m still excited by the track that’s all I need to get it finished. I’ll also work on 3-4 different tracks at once, so once I’ve put 2 hours into one track and I get bored I move on. Then when I go back sometimes I’ve forgotten the changes I’ve made or sounds that I’ve added which is always the best test of whether the track needed those changes, I’ll know straight away ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

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Describe your studio setup. Do you work entirely from home? I saw a few gear photos, and even one with Simian Mobile Disco. How was it checking out their space? I bet you learned a thing or two from those guys…

I used to have my own studio with a fair chunk of external gear but now that im touring a lot more it’s not so practical. I still share a studio with some friends in Sydney but other than that I’ll work in people’s studio’s around the world recording equipment (drum machines/synths etc) and take that away and write on the road. It is kind of good in a way because it limits you and also makes you get the most out of studio sessions. I remember when I had my own studio with all my gear I’d complain I’d heard all my sounds and I needed more, now I have such a raw set up that if you give me any keyboard or machine I’m generally so excited to be pressing notes or using my hands outside of the computer I’ll write 2-3 different ideas in a session.

The time in London working with Jas from SMD was a career highlight from me. He told me all about vintage mixing desks and synth modules. Most of the time I sat there kind of blankly listening but really having not much of an idea what he was going on about. We worked really well together as well, just a sweet down to earth guy with absolutely no ego. It’s inspiring meeting people like that that have had great success and made a career out of music but aren’t jaded or wankers.

What are some of the main influences for this new album? What artists do you typically listen to for inspiration?

Over the last few months I have been listening to a really diverse range of music.

DJ Koze’s recent LP was cool, the new Daft Punk was interesting. There is this dude called Kaytranada who I like. He is doing that 808 half time stuff but keeping it cool and out of the ‘trap’. James Blake’s album was as melancholy and depressing as I imagined, great listening on a rainy day. Four Tet has been influencing my use of vocals. I find the way he uses vocals and they way he chops them up inspiring. There is so much that influences me on a day-to-day basis musically. I guess I’m lucky that my business is listening too and making music so I always want to be around it.

Do you think touring over the last while and being able to play out more has affected your production? What kind of role does that factor play in the new album if so?

Yeh as I said earlier, being in different parts of the world influencers the music I make. Going out in London and experiencing the music culture over there will have a profound affect on the music I’ll write moving forward. I like the idea of writing an artist album and if my touring would allow it, I’d love to base myself in London for a long enough period where I could plan and write one.

Yeh I look up to those guys because they have remained relevant to me at least by just being themselves and releasing good music continuously. There will always be certain elements in my music that will be recognizable but I don’t want to be easily put into a genre box or jump on any trends that play out in 6 months. The music business and climate change so rapidly these days that you can’t let yourself be too caught up in it all.

I guess my style at the moment is predominately house and techno music. I really try my best to make music that will age well and not be to cliché or full of gimmicks.

Actually, last time I saw you, you were playing before Tiga at the Echoplex. It was a great fit and you seemed to be in your element. Is DJing more fun for you when you’re placed alongside people you admire in an appropriate setting, rather than festivals or whatever? Or do you enjoy it all equally? Ideally, what kind of gig would you like to play in a perfect situation?

That was a cool little tour; I did 2 dates with Tiga and Damien Lazarus, one show in LA and one in San Francisco. Obviously they’re both great DJ’s so it was fun playing alongside them. I felt like the crowd knew what it was in for so I felt a bit more relaxed about playing whatever I wanted. Festivals can be hit and miss sometimes. That being said I was lucky enough to play the sundown set at HARD summer last year, which was one of my favorite gigs I’ve ever played. My ideal set is any time I feel the freedom where I can play what I want to the audience and they are receptive. It’s like you gain their trust and they’ll let you go anywhere you want.

Even though you’ve probably been locked in the studio over the last little while rather than DJing tons, are you still pretty active in the music community in Sydney? How is the scene there at the moment? There seems to be a tight crew of like-minded producers and promoters; tell me about that. Any fellow producers making stuff we need to check out?

Yeh all the producers in Sydney all know each other because it’s a small scene. Guys like Flight Facilities, Touch Sensitive, and The Presets are all Sydney based. Many of the producers on The Motorik record label as well as Modular and Future classic are in Sydney too. It is quite tight knit and everyone knows what everyone is up to.

There is a solid party scene in Sydney and Melbourne at the moment too. My friends run a monthly party and record label called Motorik. The parties are selling out each month at a different warehouse around Sydney. That retro thing of getting a text message telling you the address is so cool. In Melbourne there are a few good spots, I play at a night called Survivor, which is one of my favorite places to play in Australia. They run a big night turning over 1500-2000 people every Saturday but have a strict music policy in the main room which is rare for Australia where ordinarily such a large room would bring big commercial music they embrace more of an underground sound.

There are plenty of people making great music at the moment. Obviously Flume, Flight Facilities are doing really well. The Motorik guys are building a solid techno vibe for their label with people like Jensen Interceptor and CSMNT61. And Future Classic are releasing consistently good stuff too.

On the topic of a tightly knit scene, would you say that all of you guys play a crucial role in each other’s work? How have you seen things change musically in your hometown since beginning the Light Year project? Do you find that people are supportive or do you get a greater response elsewhere? 

For me personally I share a studio at the Flinders Hotel in Sydney. All the producers from Motorik Records are in the same building, which is great when you need some feedback on something you’re writing or if you need to use some equipment. I also have other people I send demos to who I know will tell it to me straight, but more often than not I’m my own worst critic.

Club music has changed in Australia since I started Light Year. Big room house and electro was hugely popular and there were 2-3 large club nights catering to that on Saturday nights, then the scene went flat. Festivals exploded and it kind of eroded away the big club nights. Now musically the scene has splintered off into this EDM/Dubstep/Trap thing and on the flip side of that other producers and promoters have embraced the deeper sounds of disco, techno and house.

I have been lucky enough to be supported by a number of the best clubs in Australia for playing and producing a less radio/commercial based sound, which I’m thankful about. I always try to build a relationship with the people and the parties I play at. I think that’s one of the most important things is having those relationships where they recognize what you’re trying to do and they support it.

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Now that you’ve done a fair amount of travelling for DJ gigs, what can you say about the current state of clubbing / proper dance music on a global scale? I know everyone has their complaints with the whole “edm” thing, but I’d like to hear your positive outlook. Could you see things getting better for producers pushing your sound in 2013 and beyond?

I was in London and I had a month off so I did my best to soak up as much as I could. I find that there are always going to be places that cater to a certain crowd and others that are more ‘music’ focused. It’s up to you to find them. I recently did the WMC week in Miami and there couldn’t have been more EDM in one place but I had the best week because there were all these other incredible artists there too. 90’s inspired house and techno is obviously picking up in popularity at the moment and ‘good’ dance music is being played on prime time radio with people like Disclosure and Duke Dumont so it’s an interesting time to be making this type of music in the sense that people are checking for it more and more.

At the moment, who are some newer artists that the readers should be keeping an eye out for? Who is keeping it real in this era where many people are not?

I listen to such a random cross section of music. Some of these artists aren’t necessarily new, but:

DJ Koze, Toro Y Moi, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, 100’s, Atoms For Peace, Four Tet, Jimmy Edgar, MachineDrum, Mr G, Kaytranada, Daniel Avery, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Madlib, Ta-Ku.

When can we look forward to hearing stuff, and when do you think it’ll come out? Are you already picking remixers?

I have 2 releases coming out very soon. One is on Jon Convex’s label Convex Industries. That track features Louisahhh and there is a huge Mr G remix. Also I have collaborated with Jensen Interceptor for a single release through Motorik, which features remixes from Phil Kieran and In Flagranti. It’s crazy though; most of this music is 6-12 months old so I really can’t wait for it to come out and for people to hear it.

So what’s the plan moving forward? Hitting the road again?

Yeh I’m touring Australia for the next 2 months and then I jet off to the USA/Mexico for September and Europe again in October. I have been working on a lot of new music that I’m planning on finishing up while home here in Australia that may come out later in the year or early next year. I’ve also started a new project with a friend of mine from Melbourne, which I’m really excited about.

As far as the future goes, where would you like to see Light Year in a couple years? Do you think you would enjoy the process of doing full albums?

I would like to have based myself somewhere in Europe either London or Berlin. I can’t help but love the touring but I’d like to keep growing my audience and reach as a DJ. I have been entertaining the idea of doing a full-length album but it’s just tough to find the time and whether or not in this new digital age if it’s that necessary. One half of me has always wanted to write an album and the other doesn’t want to loose the inertia of constantly releasing singles and EP’s. I need to see how things go for me over the next 6 months before I can make a firm decision I guess.

Alright man, thanks for chatting. How about some final words of advice for all the up and comers out there?

Don’t jaywalk in Venice beach - it will cost you!!

Later!

Keep up with Light Year via Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud. And check out his latest mixtape below!