[Interview] Desert Dwellers Teach Us To Live In The Moment

Amani Friend and Treavor Moontribe are the two brains who make up the internationally known DJ duo, Desert Dwellers. The two came together in the ’90s after producing separately and connecting through Moontribe. They visited Atlanta back in November (read our review of the show) but will return on April 28 for a show with Frameworks (read our interview with him) at Terminal West. We chatted with the duo via Skype to get a sneak peak into what to expect.

You’ve talked about the idea of transformational festivals turning into more permanent communities that own land and live and work there on a persistent basis. What do you think is the real value in knowing the earth underneath our feet?

Amani: We’ve lost that connection completely in our society. Where our food comes from, you know a lot of kids think that meat comes from the store and all that. There needs to be a big wake-up call about how we get our food and how we’re using our resources and trying to do things with less footprint if we’re going to continue having a world that isn’t just completely a big garbage pile full of toxins and heavy metals.

We see a lot of people working towards that in these communities and banding together with likemindedness. It’s my belief that eventually these pods will start buying their own land and putting all the energy that they’re putting into these festivals into more permanent structures, and figuring out what it means to survive as a tribe together again. That’s pretty idealistic and optimistic, but I do see people like Jamaica Stevens. She wrote a really good book called Reinhabiting the Village that talks a lot about all this. David Casey from the Numundo Project is very involved in this sort of thing, so yeah, we see a lot of people moving in this direction. It’s definitely a positive thing.

Do you have a sense of worry about the future, or a sense of optimism? Is it even relevant to think about the question like that?

Armani: I know we both just live in the moment and enjoy the present moment as much as possible. We do the best we can and spread positive vibes and good music. We’re both just sort of aware of what’s happening. You know, we’re not asleep, but it’s not good to stress ourselves out all the time either. We try to stay in a positive place.

It was interesting to learn that you use a combination of Traktor and Ableton Live while performing. How you feel about being called DJs, as that term becomes something that some electronic artists reject these days?

Treavor: Well, we’re both DJs, first of all, outside of being producers. We’ve both been DJs for many years. What we’re doing is a combination of DJing and what would be considered live PA. We’re playing our own music, we’re adding sounds from our own music on top, especially our sort of classic sounds from our earlier albums are added on top of newer stuff. We did do a bit more DJing in our sets with other people’s music over the last year, but that was because we didn’t have a lot of new music.

Right now we’re in the middle of producing a lot of new remixes and new stuff so we’re heading into another zone where we will have a lot of new music to play. I’d say it’s a combination. We approach our sets as a DJ would, because we’re not really into this thing of tracks ending. We don’t talk on the microphone, we’re not trying to hype up the crowd by telling them that they should be hyped up or anything like that. We like to keep the set flowing from beginning to end, and create more of a journey with it, and keep the dance floor going. We create sections that are just beats of tracks so we can beatmatch and be able to do drastic key changes, but just keep it musically sound.

Personally, I don’t care if people consider it a DJ set or a live set. We’re playing our own music, we do it in a way that’s probably not done by a lot of people with Traktor and Ableton synced up together. I’ve never seen anybody do that. I know I’ve heard of people doing it usually on one laptop. I think we’ll probably switch over to Ableton Live fully in the near future because it works better with things like syncing visuals and having everybody with a click track in our live shows. You know, in-ear monitors and stuff like that as we bring in more live musicians and have performers that need to be hearing what’s going on. It probably would make sense to go to Ableton Live completely, but there is something nice about Traktor. It is a really nice-sounding piece of software, but it’s limited as far as what you can do with the live setup.

Armani: Ableton’s great for the adding of sound on top, and third-party effects, and easy MIDI mapping. So, Ableton has its benefits, but honestly, Traktor sounds a little better, so it’s really nice that we’re able to use both. We will probably use Ableton for the live show when we have musicians joining us, but I think we would continue this setup when it’s just the two of us because it works really well for us, and it sounds really good.

You’ve mentioned your friend James Lumb and his Neve summing amp which you’ve used in the past to render out stems of tracks for a warmer sound. Any plans to revisit that, since you’ll be in Atlanta this weekend?

Treavor: I’m sure we will. James is a genius. You know, James is one of the people that started Moontribe with me in 1993. He was a part of the band Electric Skychurch, that was hugely famous in the ’90s and early ’00s. He’s just one of those guys who’s really great at what he does, and he’s a good friend. So, yeah, maybe on the next album we might run it through him. We’ve learned a lot since the time that we did the last album too, so we could probably get even better results out of it. It probably will happen again, possibly on the next album. He’s so good at what he does, and it really creates a warmth and a sound quality that’s hard to match.

Is there anything you see in the scene that folks should have an eye on? Any undiscovered artists or trends?

Treavor: There’s so much music out there right now that’s really incredible. My favorites seem to change from month to month. There’s this whole slower house music thing going on right now that’s really fantastic. There’s an electronica thing going on that’s really unique and fun, there’s great techno, there’s good downtempo. It’s actually impossible to keep up.

What other projects should people pay attention to by either of you?

Treavor: Well, we’re playing at Red Rocks in Colorado next weekend, on May 6. If we had a list of goals, that’s probably number one or two as far as venues to play. That’s a big accomplishment that we’re really happy about. As far as projects go, both of us have our other projects that we’ve been working on. Amani just released a new album under his Liquid Bloom project. I just launched a new project called PheuZun, which is a more electronica project for myself.

We are working on a new album right now. It’s the next in the series for the downtempo dub albums. It’s called Breath. We’ve done a ton of tracking for it with many different musicians. Our main vocalist Meagan Chandler has done a bunch of songs for it. Deya Dova’s also on a song. Hannah Thiem (HÄANA) is playing violin on quite a bit of it. A new flute player named Lynda Arnold has recorded on four of the tracks so far. We’ve recorded our percussionist, Gayan. We’ve recorded so many people, it’s crazy.

We’ve tracked a lot of people on the album so far and we have a bit more to go. We’ve finished one of the songs on the album just recently, and we’ll play it at Sonic Bloom and at Red Rocks, and maybe even this weekend. Possibly, it’s an ambient track and it’s a bit long, and I think feels better when we have our live musicians doing their pieces on it, so maybe not so appropriate for the venue gigs with just us two, but we’ll see. Maybe.

Amani: Well, we run a label, Desert Trax. We have over 75 releases on that label. We started in 2005 and it’s kinda been just a side hobby of ours, and this year we’re really putting more energy into it. We have a Bandcamp page for it, and we have about 15 releases coming out throughout the summer up till about October.

We have a big release schedule with Random Rab (read our review of his recent show in Atlanta), Erothyme, Kaminanda, Moon Frog. Moon Frog’s coming out on May 1. It’s on the Bandcamp exclusive right now. A couple months ago, we put out a Wolf Tech EP that’s really good, if you don’t know his name.

I do have the new album on Liquid Bloom called Regenerations, and tons of remixes of that coming out. Treavor’s doing one with Perfect Stranger, and AtYyA did a whole album of remixes. He remixed every track on the album, all nine of them. There’s another EP with Tribone and Symbolico and a bunch of other more psychedelic artists. They’re doing kind of a DMT interpretation remix EP. I also have a Bandcamp for that Liquid Bloom project up now.

Treavor: And I just moved back to Los Angeles, which has opened up a crazy amount of doors as far as producing music with different people. I’ve been working with a guy, Edo Lauren who is the only person that I’ve worked on music with longer than Amani. Edo and I first made a song together in 1994 or something. He and I have two projects together. One is just as Edo and Treavor Moontribe, which is techno and we have or first techno track coming out on Desert Trax in mid-May. We just started a psytrance project called Broken Formulas, and we have our first song almost done already.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody work as fast as Edo does. It’s kind of mind-boggling to sit in the studio with him and watch him work. I’m trying to have him slow down so I can learn his tricks. He was a part of a psytrance project called Quadra back in the day, and another project called Save The Robot that was really huge. So, that’s really exciting, and the next FuZen track is a collaborator with Origin, who just had an EP on Muti Records. It’s kind of a half-time drum & bass thing that the FuZen project has started out with. That’s really exciting because he’s kind of a drum and bass pioneer and expert that just has been around forever so I feel like that’s going to be really fun as well. It’s a crazy amount of stuff going on, but our focus is moving back to the new Desert Dwellers album a lot this year. Hopefully, we’ll have it done by the end of the year and be able to release it early next year.