DeWalta talks literature, fatherhood, ‘Lyra’, and tropical getaways [Q+A]
In a highly saturated music market, DeWalta manages to stand out. The saxophonist, french horn player, and producer has been deeply involved in music since the age of six, and was already performing in local jazz clubs by the age of 13. However, classical and jazz weren’t in this budding musicians cards; electronica was. By the time he graduated from Berlin’s prolific Musikhachschule Hanns Eisler conservatory, he’d already fallen in love with the art of music production and promptly began churning out house and techno records whose quality rivaled that of artists who’d been around far longer than he. It wouldn’t take long before he became a fixture in the Berlin, and eventually the global scene, hitting clubs like Watergate, Fabric London, and The Apartment in Barcelona, to name a few. His expertise stretches far beyond fine-tuned sound design, however; in 2007, he launched his reputable imprint Meander, where as an A&R and mentor he’s helped grow the careers of Amorf, Cristi Con, and more.
DeWalta’s creativity certainly isn’t a static force. He’s constantly evolving, with his newest album Lyra serving as a sonic marker of where he’s at musically. His most expansive project yet, Lyra arrived as a double LP. Its first part showcases his club sound across six sultry, mesmerically deep tracks that are highly expressive despite their stripped-down nature. Lyra π explores textured, ambient soundscapes for a truly immersive listen that pays homage to his musical roots. Both discs are celestial in tone, much like the constellation they’re named after.
The stalwart is also playing SXM festival, which is just kicking off its 2019 iteration. Based in the picturesque Saint Martin, the festival has become a top destination for global underground aficionados. We nabbed him right before he hopped on a flight westward to ask him more about Lyra, his favorite pieces of literature at the moment (he’s quite the reader), how he’s changed since becoming a father in January, and of course, playing the Caribbean.
You’ve mentioned that writing ‘Lyra’ signalled a new beginning for you. How have you evolved/improved musically in penning it?
I do have the feeling of currently going through a particularly transformative time, yes – maybe more so than during previous times I have released albums. I like to believe that anyone’s state in life heavily affects their output and art and therefore `Lyra` does play its role in the bigger picture of my current life. However, I am not sure if the album, the work itself has signalled a new beginning in my life or if the changes in my life have shaped the album – if that makes any sense.
Regardless which way around; The creative process is not a static and fixed thing. Creativity hopefully changes and constantly morphs and evolves over time. So, my approach to composing, writing and producing music has indeed changed quite a bit over the past 10 years (into ways of more playful, less DAW based, more hands on creative experimental, modular patching, outboard, jamming but multi-tracking). I feel like every release and especially every album along the way can be seen as a mark, snapshot and somewhat special moment in a career of an artist. `Lyra` came together quite differently than my previous albums partly because my approach in the studio, as well as how I write in general, has changed quite a bit. I have realized that environment and location have a huge impact on the created content in my case. Living in Berlin since my teenage high school years, I am now also seeking different places (like Portugal) to compose and find new sources of inspiration while of course maintaining my Berlin studio for most of the work as well as mixing, engineering and post production. Of course, also my private life, the act of taking more responsibility for people close to me; prticularly having a child has transformed how I look at the world and eventually also how I write music. Taking real care and responsibility for someone besides yourself can indeed be the most liberating thing.
It seems you’re an avid reader. What are some of books you’ve read over time that have shaped your outlook on life and music the most?
I would not consider myself a real avid reader, since I have some friends who are real bookworms, compared to me… I spend too much time in the studio (and reading manuals for synths) to be a proper worm, but I do like to go down the rabbit hole if something catches my attention.
I’m not gonna lie: in recent times my outlook on life has been shaped by:
1. either reading mostly upsetting news on various topics such as Climate change, over population, poverty, inequality, bigotry and idiocy, nationalism, trump-ism, brexit-ism etc – turning a blind eye or the refusal to learn from the past – respectively reading about the negative impact of humans on earth, or
2. on the contrary, reading educational content, books or papers on concepts and ideas how to work on humanity’s current challenges not leave a devastated world behind for our children. To learn how to make things better or to understand why things are the way they currently are.
One author in particular has impressed me: Yuval Noah Rarari and his trilogy of “Sapiens”, “Homo Deus” and “21 lessons for the 21st century” shines a light on what humans have done on earth over a very, very large time-span to survive and what the impact of homo sapiens has been on earth, other species and ourselves in the big, very big picture. It’s basically a modern, Anthropocene approach on how to look at issues caused by ourselves… and how to learn from the past.
I don’t think that music itself necessarily needs to be political or should always carry some kind of political message, however I do believe that artists can and maybe should use their output and art to work on current challenges, maybe raise awareness or simply create a space of dialogue or sensitivity for larger issues than just the next party.
What does your live setup currently look like while on tour? Have you encountered any challenges in road testing it?
Besides DJing with Vinyl and CDJs I am going to start playing LIVE solo again this year and I’m currently working on the setup for that. It´ll most likely be a few Elektron devices along with a eurorack modular system. I prefer to really work with machines LIVE on stage rather than playing prepared clips, so it’s quite a lot more work to get comfortable with synthesizers and machines on stage compared to a prepared Ableton-clip-set. I simply wouldn’t be comfortable playing clips in a slightly different order each show and calling it LIVE. The electronic music scene needs more bold moves, more risk and real creativity with electronic music instruments (including turntables or CDJ´s being used creatively) and less show-men (and women) throwing their hands in the air while some track or clip is playing… DJs are becoming superstars within a few months now with help of large social-media campaigns on Instagram, while the music itself, creativity and sound-quality take the back-seat. It’s not something I am interested in and I want to support. Nothing against the industry or social-media at large, but music is and always has been the focus for me – period.
You’ve just become a new father, in addition to launching your brand-new Horizon Pi label. Have you adopted a new routine or made any changed to your workflow to help you find balance?
I have always wanted to release electronic, synthesizer-music to be listened to and enjoyed at home while relaxing, in the car or in more calm and easy situations. Meander is the perfect platform to also release such music besides our DJ dance music. It was just a matter of time until we’d start the “ambient series” and ‘Lyra Pi’ seemed like a good moment for that.
I often start writing music with an idea or outline of a modular-synth-patch in mind. It’s an audible process searching and experimenting and sometimes these experiments turn into songs. I´m sure that the changes in my private life and becoming a father are directly affecting my creative output and the way I make music. My inspiration often comes from things outside of music
As a new father I am forced to find a new work-life balance as I want to take my responsibility as a father seriously while still doing what I love – making and playing music. These challenges however keep being a musician interesting and I won’t give up either of these two things!
It could be a coincidence that my first “listening only” or “non-dance music” record is coming out at the same time as becoming a father, but a holistic approach would probably think it’s all connected. I tend to think the latter ;-)
You’re about to play your second SXM Festival. What excites you most about playing this festival, and the Caribbean in general?
Because last year’s SXM couldn’t happen due to the terrible destruction of hurricane Irma I am quite excited and thankful to be invited back this time again. The beautiful location and the easy, loose and relaxed atmosphere as a result plus the fact that so many friends and colleagues of the music scene are on this island makes this festival a really fun one!
Aside from yourself, who else from the line up would you recommend checking out?
I’d definitely recommend checking out Zip, Ricardo Villalobos, Fumiya Tanaka and our beach party right after their event. We’ll be playing together on the XLR8R stage with my friends John Wander and Luke Cheadle, Cristi Cons, Vlad Caia as SIT, Digby and myself. Maybe I’d check out the FUSE stage with the usual suspects as well as my friends Apollonia, who are always fun to hang out with.
What’s coming up next for DeWalta?
I Took a baby break for 2 months so I’m just going back on the road now and will be touring quite a bit this year playing lots of DJ- and some Live- shows. There are also going to be some remixes coming out as well as singles. An EP is in the works for later this year as well. Plenty of exciting work with new music.
Order a copy of ‘Lyra’ here