Self-Portrait: Desert Sound Colony

Self-Portrait: a series that dives deep into the sounds of some of our favourite producers and labels with a mix of 100% unreleased and forthcoming original material.

As Desert Sound Colony, London-based producer Liam Wachs originates a unique sound that melds psychedelic guitar influences and hazy post-club beats. These productions incorporate live instrumentation, while under his other guise, DSC, he exhibits a more club-focused sound that draws influences from the dubstep, breakbeat and hardcore that he was introduced to in his late teens.

Now operating solely under Desert Sound Colony, he first made his debut in 2014 on Francis HarrisScissor and Thread imprint, returning the year after for the release of his Cracks In My Soul EP. Since then, his productions have taken him to imprints like Planetary Notions and ManPower’s Me Me Me before, fed up with radio silence from labels, he decided to launch his own last year. Since April Holding Hands Records has released three EPs of Liam’s own material, under both his DSC and Desert Sound Colony monikers, and we can expect fresh material on the way from another producer.

With a forthcoming EP on Fayer and a recently debuted live show, we thought it fitting to dive deeper into what DSC is all about. Here he talks about his sweaty introduction to dubstep, making music for big systems and his quest to bring live instruments back into the club. This sits alongside a mix of 100% original unreleased material.

Let’s start with an ice breaker, what’s your earliest musical memory? 

Probably my parents singing me to sleep, which they did every single night until I was a teenager. It would have been a mixture of children’s songs and some 60s and 70s stuff. I definitely remember my dad singing ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles a lot.

Have you had any professional musical schooling? What first led you into music production?

I took piano and guitar lessons when I was very little but had stopped both by the time I was 14. I was far too busy imagining I was going to be either a professional football or basketball player haha.

I was heavily into death and black metal as a teenager but that mostly involved just going to a lot of gigs and trying to learn some Metallica solos on the guitar. 

Everything changed for me when at 17 I got invited by a couple of older friends to a house party in Sheffield. We drove up from Hertfordshire, crammed in the back of my mate’s BMW E30. I remember him playing a bunch of hardhouse CDs, like Lisa Lashes, which I had never heard before… When we got there a truly glorious sight met my eyes. The party was taking place across three eight bedroom houses with a big connected garden and three basements with different genres being played in each of them.

Some cool older girls convinced me to try some MD for the first time and it was at that point that I went down to the first basement. Sweat was dripping from the ceiling and down the bare brick walls, whilst mashed students freaked out to the ridiculously large soundsystem blaring sounds that I had never heard or conceived before. The sound was dubstep and the tune being played all night was Rusko – Cockney Thug. It literally got played around ten times and every time it tore the roof off. 

Somewhere on the way back down the M1, feeling a weird new combination of exhilaration mixed with extreme tiredness, I decided I wanted to make club music. The next day I pirated a copy of Logic and that was the start of that.

Your productions under DSC are more club-focused, taking in influences from breakbeat, techno and garage. Did you set out to make a clear distinction between these and your productions as Desert Sound Colony? 

Yes that was the plan originally. I thought people would get confused if I started putting out club bangers as Desert Sound Colony. Turns out they were just as confused by the whole DSC thing so I’ve decided to sack that off and just do it all under the one original name.

I know the public don’t always like it when artists have more than one string to their musical bow, but I am hoping that the sort of person that likes my more bandy music will also enjoy the club stuff too.

Can you talk us through how you might construct a track? How much of your material is sample based and how much is original?

I really don’t have much of a set way of doing it to be honest. Sometimes they can be heavily sample based and other times I will record and synthesise pretty much everything. The bandy stuff tends to be a lot more recorded audio, mostly off the guitar, bass and played in percussion, which makes sense. The club stuff has a lot of individual samples but very rarely any loops, although obviously some of the breakbeat stuff does.

The most common way I will start is by jamming a loop of what will most likely be the peak of the track. I just loop tons of stuff over the top and then I extrapolate out from there.

Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio? Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?

No rituals really. Most of the time I do have a destination in mind though. Usually I will listen through a bunch of tracks for reference and then maybe take inspiration from a drum loop of one or maybe a synth of bass sound in another. That tends to be a good place to start and then quite rapidly you find yourself somewhere totally different. Most of the songs go through many iterations before they reach the final stage, often sounding nothing like how they started.

Are there any producers or artists who have inspired your production?

So many. I listen to a very broad spectrum of music and I find myself inspired by so much of it. I love Andrew Weatherall, Pearson Sound, El-B and Minor Science to name a few.

You recently debuted your live show at Snap Crackle & Pop, and you have another show lined up in March. How long have you been working on that? 

That show at Snap, Crackle & Pop was a lot of fun! I had been working on that new solo show for a few months. It really takes me a long time to get it right… Amazingly there were no technical hiccups and it all ran very smoothly.

You’ve said it’s quite different from your normal DSC productions. What can we expect from it?

Well a bunch of the songs are in the mix I’ve recorded. It’s broadly band music but it is aimed squarely at a club environment. I don’t see nearly enough live instruments in clubs and I think that it’s such a shame and a missed opportunity. I think if you combine psychedelic club music with live performance and play it in front of high crowd on a big system, then you are going to experience some real gold.

In the 60s, 70s and 80s that was the norm. Clubs only had bands in and people danced as if they were a DJ. Nowadays people seem to think that a band is only there for you to stand and watch rather than to dance to in a way that you would let go in a club. I am hoping I can reclaim some of that old flavour that we’ve mostly lost.

What kind of stuff do you reach for in your DJ sets? Name three records that are firmly in your bag at the moment?

Its super broad as well. I like to play for as long as someone will have me and if that is the case then I will start at around 100bpm and finish at around 135bpm. If its good then I will play it. Here are a few favourites at the moment:

Yone-Ko – War People (Yuki Masda Remix)

Trying To Sleep – OBI

Holy Mackerel – Oli Silva (Craig Richards Remix)

Volumes – Minor Science

Last year you launched your label, Holding Hands Records. What was the impetus behind starting it?

To be totally honest I was sick of sending music out to other labels and getting no response. I knew that the tracks were kicking off when I played them in my sets and yet no one would answer me. I know there is so much more at play than just the quality of the music when it comes to labels signing tunes. The odds of any label actually giving the tunes a proper listen on monitors or big speakers are slim to none in my experience, unless they know you personally or there is some link. I don’t blame them for this at all but it wasn’t working for me so I decided to just sack off that whole process and start my own label. That was how Holding Hands was born. It turned out to be a great idea as the records have been getting played by a bunch of people who I originally sent music to and never got a response from haha. Circumstance is everything in art…

What’s planned on the label in the coming months?

Next up I’ve got the first full release from someone other than myself and it is a doozy! I can’t say more than that at the moment but trust me, you will stop and listen when you hear these tunes. They are gonna be massive.

We can’t wait to hear it! In terms of your own material, you’ve got a new EP, ‘Tethered’, coming out on Fayer this month. We’ve read that it takes in both brand new material with some specially curated remixes. Can you tell us a bit about how it came together?

Fayer approached me after hearing my music on Spotify. They were a good fit for a couple of deeper tunes I had been working on and so we agreed to do this release together. They have brought in remixes from H.O.S.H, Dennis Horvat and The Drifter to round off the EP with some more club vibes.

This mix is comprised of 100% original Desert Sound Colony material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

This mix has a real wide selection of music, all of it unreleased. It starts off with some more bandy tracks and progresses to a high tempo dance conclusion. Some of the tracks are a few years old and a couple of them were literally written last week. 

The one I am most excited to get out there is probably ‘Lose My Rhythm’. That will be coming out in a few months on Snap, Crackle & Pop. I hear that Andrew Weatherall has been closing his sets with it so that is a real dream come true.

Finally, what’s on the horizon? Any bookings or releases we should know about?

This Lose My Rhythm release is a big one and should be out in April. I am going to be ramping up the live shows over the next six months as well so keep your eyes peeled.

‘Tethered’ will be released on Fayer on 12th February.

7th Heaven
Weird Cat
Toxic Low
Lose My Rhythm
The Water
Pressure Points
Grabbing The Golden Goose
Somehow I Talk
Zoom To Your Doom
Finger Flies
In The Kitchen

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