The evolution of Anna Lunoe: from touring DJ to global tastemaker [Interview]
There aren’t many roles in dance music that Anna Lunoe hasn’t tested out yet in her decade-long career. The Australian export has served as songwriter, producer and vocalist on tracks like the 2015 summer tune “Stomper” and her most recent solo release “Radioactive,” as well as played out the tracks in her DJ sets around the world. The Sydney native cut her teeth in her hometown for years, DJing alongside the likes of Flume, Nina Las Vegas, RÜFÜS, and Alison Wonderland, before making the move to Los Angeles in 2012.
While building a growing fanbase around her own productions, Lunoe has also thrived in a tastemaker role, bolstered in recognition thanks to her acclaimed weekly Beats 1 radio show and her HYPERHOUSE events. Some have even likened Lunoe to celebrated radio host and top-tier curator Pete Tong. Though she takes on multiple facets of involvement in seemingly everything she touches, Lunoe hasn’t maxed out her editorial influence just yet.
“I will always find new challenges in everything that I’m doing, and I also think its really important to do what you’re doing well. I’m always thinking of new things to do and can’t help but bite off more than I can chew… there’s no doubt that I’ll be doing new things and more things – that’s just my nature.”
Photo credit: Elizabeth De La Piedra
Developing her unique skillset – or “tool belt,” as she refers to it — has been a process over the course of her entire career. The components of her oeuvre which coalesce today with apparent ease are a result of dedicated piecemeal development.
“I was already touring 200 nights a year when I started making music so I learned bit by bit, and practiced one thing, but didn’t really nail the other thing, and then it took me another year to nail the other thing, and then I could put those two skills together so it kind of feels like the skills I’ve developed over the past 8-10 years of my career are starting to work really well together.”
The most recent source of inspiration for Lunoe came after a moment of historical achievement: her Main Stage set at EDC’s flagship Las Vegas festival, a first for a solo female act. For Lunoe, the freedom that she was able to exercise during that set has had lasting repercussions for her mindset as a DJ.
“I think that EDC really cracked a nut in my head, because it made me realize that I could get away with things that I thought that I wouldn’t be able to on such a big stage. So it actually made me a more daring DJ because I started playing these main stages and I thought, ‘ok I think at the main stage people want to hear the same songs,’ and if I worked this hard to get here, am I going to fall in line and just do what I’m supposed to do?”
Purchase Anna Lunoe’s new single “Radioactive” here.
Read the full interview below:
Dancing Astronaut: The first time I saw you perform was a 1 pm Coachella set at the Sahara tent, and the most recent set of yours I’ve witnessed was HARD Summer 2016 [a surprise set replacing Desiigner], which you revealed you learned about with literally an hour’s notice before you took the decks. There’s been a whole lot that’s happened for you in the three years between!
Anna Lunoe: It’s like a whirlwind.. It’s kind of crazy to look back on that Coachella. It was such a big step for me at that point, and looking back on it, it really was one of the scariest festivals I ever played. Now I do those types of things without really worrying about it, so it’s funny how things change.
DA: You already have some pretty killer collabs on the books with Flume, Treasure Fingers, TEED, Sleepy Tom, and Chris Lake. Do you have a wish list of someone whom you’d love to get in the studio with?
AL: For me collaboration has always been something that I’ve never premeditated- it’s been me meeting people and vibe-ing and wanting to make music together and I’ve never really actively gone for anybody. I’m really enjoying making music alone at the moment, and in the past I’ve collaborated a lot and I’ve learned a lot from the people and now between the radio show and touring and curating and all the other things that I do, I’m really enjoying every minute that I can steal to make music alone.
DA: You occupy a unique intersectional position as a producer, DJ, songwriter, and vocalist- on tracks like Stomper and Radioactive, you play more than one role! How has wearing so many different hats affected the way that you create music?
It’s something that I don’t actively thing about, for me this is just how I do music, you know? We have a very traditional understanding of what we think dance music is, and in a lot of cases its making a track and then bending it to a vocalist. For me, it starts with a vocal and then I build the track out around the vocal, and its done in a way that I build songs for what I need, and its just the way I’ve always made music so its difficult to isolate the act of that. What it means for me as a person is sometimes being a little bit kind to myself, because I do really have high standards for what I do, and I have to remember that I’m trying to do a lot of things at once and I do need to be kind to myself and not expect myself to be an expert at everything. I’m not Beyonce, and I’m not acting like I’m Beyonce, and I have other skills, but I sometimes get frustrated at myself because I can’t be as good as I see it being done.
Even doing the video clip [for her latest release Radioactive, check out the video here], I haven’t done a video clip in the two years since All Out, and that’s scary actually. To be performing your song to camera- that’s not something that I do every week. That requires backing a lot of my stuff up, to own it- that’s something that most producers don’t need to deal with. And I can’t imagine it any other way but it is a unique way to see it and I do face different challenges and different expectations on myself. I just try to be as open-minded and kind to myself and keep encouraging myself.
DA: Has this process changed for you over time?
AL: I will speak on growth: it’s all happened one step at a time, adding these skills to my toolbelt, and I always used to say- you know when you have a kid being raised by bilingual parents and they don’t speak until they’re five and then they can do everything and speak, like, three languages? I always say that that’s kind of how I am- I was already touring 200 nights a year when I started making music so I learned bit by bit, and practiced one thing, but didn’t really nail the other thing, and then it took me another year to nail the other thing, and then I could put those two skills together so it kind of feels like the skills I’ve developed over the past 8-10 years of my career are starting to work really well together. I’m starting to feel really competent in all these different things and feel like I can master them a little bit better. I think I created cool things but just not consistently, and in bits at a time, so if I were to look back at my career that’s how I see it.
DA: Through your own platform HYPERHOUSE and your Beats 1 Show, you’ve proven your acumen as a tastemaker for the genre. Do you have plans to build your role as a curator out further in these or other capacities?
AL: I will always find new challenges in everything that I’m doing, and I also think its really important to do what you’re doing well. Right now I think that making the radio show excellent, and making the tours excellent, and making my shows as a DJ excellent, and my song releases excellent- that takes a lot of excellence! But I’m always thinking of new things to do and new ways, and I kind of can’t help but bite off more than I can chew. I wish that I had more control over that, but there’s no doubt that I’ll be doing new things and more things- that’s just my nature. But I’m also cautious that I’m not doing things for the sake of ticking the box. I actually want to make something special- recently I’ve started doing live events here in Los Angeles. I’m keeping it very small because its a very small capacity room, but once a month we do a live recording for my radio show and I’ve got a little secret hideout- we do a secret lineup every month with a very limited amount of RSVPs, and it fills up in 15 minutes every month! That was a really important thing for me, to take the radio show to real life and have people meeting each other and have people community-building, and having artists meet other artists, and smaller artists meet bigger artists, and promoters meet up-and-coming artists. That’s just another way that I wanted to build more community. I’m always banging little things on the toolbelt and adding more projects to the mix.
DA: This past EDCLV was historic- you became the first solo female to perform at the festival’s main stage. The fact that it took 20 years for a woman to earn that title shows how much work remains, but it’s an amazing achievement on your end. What did that moment mean to you?
AL: It all happened so quickly, I only found out on the day of that I would be the first woman to play the Main Stage there. At that point, I was already so hyperemotional because I’d flown from Australia two days before, I hadn’t slept for two days, and I was so nervous about playing Main Stage- and I’d always been a proudly side-stage artist, I was proudly alternative- and I was really a bit concerned and freaked out about playing Main Stage in general. So I wasn’t really thinking about anything more than doing a great job, and staying true to my alternative roots, but doing it in a way that the Main Stage could accept and in a way that was still inspiring to me. That was my main focus as something that I was really nervous about- then I got told when I got to Vegas that I would be the first woman to play. Honestly, at that point, it made me relieved. On some deep level, I felt like I had kind of nabbed it just by getting there. So even though I wasn’t going to try to not kill it, I was able to relax a little bit and felt calm in the idea that whatever happened to me out there, provided I didn’t completely blow it- it was a milestone, and it brought a sort of calmness to me and a pride to what I had done that was beyond me getting all caught up in what I was going to play.
DA: One of the best aspects of your DJ sets is that they’re each entirely dissimilar- you’ve really honed in on the ability to play to each specific venue and each unique audience in a way that’s continuous but never replicated elsewhere. What is your process for preparing?
AL: I really have been having a lot of fun this year preparing my DJ sets. I think that EDC really cracked a nut in my head, because it made me realize that I could get away with things that I thought that I wouldn’t be able to on such a big stage. So it actually made me a more daring DJ because I started playing these main stages and I thought, ‘ok I think at the main stage people want to hear the same songs,’ and if I worked this hard to get here, am I going to fall in line and just do what I’m supposed to do? I really wanted to fight back- even if I only get one solo play, I want to play in a way that would inspire me if I was in that audience- and I love when I don’t know the records being played, I think that’s exciting. So that’s been my goal this year- I just wanted to play crazy, fun sets without playing the same old songs that everybody is playing. I do try to play songs that people know- I’m not super-duper alternative- but I try to play them in a way that feels fresh to me. Thats what I try to do, and honestly when I’m building a set, obviously I play a lot of my own songs, but getting in and out of my own songs is always a transition. I’ve got certain songs that I know get you there, so sometimes I rely on puzzle pieces that can fit it all together and then I will take a section and know ‘ok, I’m going to go in this BPM, and I’m going to spend four tracks at 160, and I’m going to get down to 140.’ So I build it like an arc, I think about the BPM and where I want to move to, and what sounds I want to hear at that particular festival, and then I just build it out like a road map. I hope that it works!
DA: What’s coming up next for you?
AL: All I know is what 2016 looks like, really. We’ve sort of made a plan for the next year, but I’m focusing on one day at a time (laughs). My goal is I’ve got a few records done, so I want to get as many songs out as I can at a fast pace- which for me, I’m not a super prolific releaser- so I’m excited to have these songs up my sleeve ready to release, so getting them out in a timely fashion is a priority. Doing the HYPERHOUSE tour and making sure that it’s a super exciting and fun show is my next priority- that starts in a couple of weeks. I’m doing some shows with What So Not. I’m actually taking two weeks off and doing a road trip through the Southeastern US as well, which I’m really excited about! I’ve been in and out there but never spent any real time there so I’m really excited to get to know that area of the world a little bit. I’m going to go back to Australia for Christmas, and then come back [to LA] for New Years’ Eve. And then next year, I just want to keep my radio show going really good, and probably tour Europe for a little bit more, and try and make as much music as possible. Not just touring for the sake of touring, but do the right itinerary and make sure I’ve got as much music coming out as I can make. Music that I like, and think is inspiring, and makes me push myself in that area as well.