East of Los Angeles in the California desert is the Joshua Tree. Sitting between the Colorado and the Mojave Desert, the area is known for its rocky terrain and its bristly Joshua Trees, from which the region takes its name.
Besides the beautiful expansive scenery it has something of a rich musical heritage that stretches back to the 1940s; many musicians visited in search of inspiration or some sort of spiritual awakening amongst the trees and boulders, sometimes suitably enhanced by psychedelics.
Byrds singer Gram Parsons is perhaps the most well-known name associated with the place. Aside from introducing musicians like Keith Richard to the area, it sadly became the location of his unfortunate overdose at The Joshua Tree Inn back in ’73. More recently, you’d connect bands like Queen Of The Stone Age with the area — as well as being the home of singer Josh Homme, it’s the location of the studio where they, and many other bands, recorded several albums.
DJ, producer and Dusk Recordings co-founder Heidi Lawden was equally bowled over by the magic that exudes from this landscape, something she describes as ‘metaphysical’. Inspired by remote stays, desert sets beneath the stars and the mercurial moods attached to Joshua Tree, Heidi’s pieced together a mix of music which captures both the space and the headspace she’s in when immersed in these surroundings.
Dusk Volume 1 is available now on Dusk Recordings.
Why does Joshua Tree mean so much to you?
There really isn’t anywhere quite like it. I saw an aunt’s super 8 footage of it as a kid and I was intrigued from that point on. Being told that it’s a 100 degrees there and barely anything can survive — as a kid it sent the mind wandering.
When I finally got to visit for myself I was immediately smitten. We stay in a particularly remote part of it with no neighbors for miles, giant boulders and Joshua Trees, more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life and nothing but the sounds of the wind. Even if you don’t believe in aliens you’d be tempted to think there’s a possibility haha. It’s really metaphysical and inspiring.
What makes a Joshua Tree record so unique?
I think everyone has their take on desert music and for a large part it’s country and folk/blues rock: Bobby Gentry; Victoria Williams; Lennon recorded his Joshua Tree tapes there. That type of thing is so right out there but for me, in addition to that, the landscape really lends itself to synth-laden drone vibes. I played out there a few times and once with Actress, he was wonderful. Sonics really come into play out there.
What’s your most sacred Joshua Tree record and why?
I don’t know about sacred but stuff that gets played every time I’m there is probably Bobby Gentry – ‘I saw an angle die’, Linkwood – ‘System’, Otik – ‘Actress’. It’s impossible to pick just one.
Any standout memories from dropping a Joshua Tree track in a set?
Actually another time that I played out there, outdoors amidst boulders, I had found a track on Soundcloud – it was Kiwi – ‘Guanako Haka’. I messaged and messaged him like a deranged person: “you don’t know me and I can’t find this track for sale anywhere and I have to have it for my gig in Joshua Tree at the weekend.” I think he thought I was a nutter but sent it to me anyways. We’ve been friends ever since, he’s remixed things I’ve been involved with and he’s just an incredible talent. That track melted a lot of peoples minds that eve. Friends, one in particular, always remind me of that moment.
How has Joshua Tree impacted you as a producer?
The first track I’ve ever released, just this month on Dusk Volume 1, was partly imagined on a trip to Joshua Tree, while there was no opportunity to dance with friends. It’s a repetitive track but with lots of movement and individual parts where we let a piece of percussion have a moment to shine; kind of like old Jazz bands would do with their solos. But on the whole it’s got desert vibes running through it. Hein (the other half of Heidi Hoven) is also a lover of the desert — he lived out there for a while.
I hear songs in my head all the time, I don’t think theres ever a moment something isn’t swirling around Joshua Tree. It gives your brain space to think; no tv, no cell signal, nothing to do but be in or out of your head.
How did you approach this mix? What did you want it to say about Joshua Tree?
I wanted to sum it up as a soundscape. It’s barely mixed, and like my mercurial moods musically in the desert, it’s a lot of different styles and sounds. I wanted it to feel like you were scrolling through an old radio stumbling across various tracks on various different stations, enjoying for a moment and moving on.
What would you say is Joshua Tree’s biggest legacy on music?
Gram Parsons. I think a lot of people are attracted to it because of that, and then bands today like Queens of the Stone Age, who’s singer Josh Homme is from the desert. There’s a recording studio out there that a lot of bands use.
There’s a venue in Pioneertown with an amazing honkey tonk house band made up of local musicians and whoever is rolling through town.
I’ve seen so many people play there outside under the stars; Spiritualized, Simian Mobile Disco, Vetiver. I saw Gary Numan announced a show out there this year and I will be there. I’ve also seen some mainstream house/electronic DJ announce a show there and I kinda died a little inside, but hey I don’t wanna be a Debbie downer.
Charles Monroe – Flight of the Ecranoplan
America – Molten Love
Bobbie Gentry – I Saw An Angel Die
Midland – Tortuga
Jonathan Wilson – Desert Raven
Otik – Actress
Leslie Winer – Flove
Space Beacon Bells
Thomas Dolby – I Scare Myself
DJ Sotofett& Jaako Eino Kalevi – Drippin’ for a Tripp (Tripp-a-Dubb-Mix)
Cosmic Metal Mother – I Think
Daniel Avery – Diminuendo (Patrick Russell Remix)
Crosby, Stills & Nash – You Don’t Have To Cry
Linkwood – Nectarine
Isaac Spayes – More Gaze (Sid’s Cut)
Pharoahs – Below J Tree
Iron Galaxy – One Of Us
Daniel Avery & Alessandro Cortini – Illusion Of Time
Douglas Grindstaff, Jack Finlay & Joseph Sorokin – Alien Planet Atmosphere #2