Artist To Artist: Deft & Lewis James
Listening to London-based producers Deft and Lewis James’ ‘Teleporter’, it’s easy to hear how this collaboration came about.
Both artists have an innate talent for sound design, for atmosphere and intricate flourishes — characteristics you can hear throughout their individual outputs. While Deft’s creations have made homes on Hooversounds, Wot Not, Brownswood and Critical, Lewis has notched up records for Original Cultures, Astrophonica and Medallion Sound as well as Exit and 1985, two imprints that Deft has also released music with.
Their coming together on Deft’s own B4 Music was in the making for some time — and the results are pretty mind blowing. Moving through different tempos and paces, the EP sees them both explore new terrain whilst still retaining each of their signature styles and fusing their shared love of bass, footwork, hip hop and DnB.
Off the back of the release the pair have a reflective conversation about keeping the creative juices flowing during lockdown, the musical heritage of Croydon and what their follow up release might sound like…
Deft: During the pandemic and lockdown, I thought that my creativity would spark more as we’d had more time at home to be so, but it had the opposite effect and killed it. How has it been for you and how have you kept the juices flowing?
Lewis James: I think what really swept the rug from under my feet was the fact that I always thought I made music for myself and just do what I like etc., but when covid hit, the context disappeared. Not being able to interact with or gauge a reaction from a real audience suddenly made me feel like I didn’t know what I was making anymore. It took me a long time to settle into making something I wanted to hear in this new context. I feel like I am getting there with it now, it really has made me dig deeper and focus more on making sure that my interest in being creative survives. Ultimately the rest will either come back or it won’t but as long as I continue to be interested in what I am doing then I am much more likely to keep doing it. I am maybe simplifying a bit here but still…
Deft: Would you say your creativity is constrained by how your music as Lewis James is consumed?
Lewis James: I consciously try to make sure this is not the case. I always try to make something I want to hear before thinking about what is going to happen to it or what it is going to become – and especially I try not to think about who / what label will put it out. That one is the killer, it can really squash the life out of something if you’re changing it because it doesn’t sound like stuff that it is on ‘x’ label.
Deft: You’re an AAA Game Sound Designer and Composer, how much of this world (techniques, the idea of narrative/consistency, routine, methods etc) leaks into your music?
Lewis James: There is a lot of crossover between the two, one feeds the other and they kind of balance each other out. I think I am really lucky with that to be honest, making my own music always feels like a kind of release from what I do at work, but making music and doing sound design at work has taught me how to give a structure to that sense of release. Almost all of the technique and skill set is equally applicable in both worlds.
Deft: Narrative is quite an important part of the music-making process for me, and so is paying homage to my influences too – something I think we’ve done well with on ‘Teleporter’. What stuck out the most to you whilst we were writing it?
Lewis James: Tricky one – the samples I made that you chopped up to make the melody of Wolf 503b really made me think, it has a lot of what I love in there but also something really new — it was like hearing something I know well in a new light. Almost like meeting a good friend after having not seen them in ages and they are totally different haha. I feel like narrative and bangers are mutually exclusive in some / most cases. By and large with the kind of music we make the aim is usually either a song has a story, or it just melts your face off from the get-go and that’s what it is. It is hard and often unnecessary to do both. I think that is something we’ve done well on ‘Teleporter’; being clear with the intent of the music.
Deft: What do you want to do for our next record? 😛
Lewis James: Get silly but also possibly try and write something minimal and elegant?!
Lewis James: Do you hear music in your head before you start to make it or does it come to you through the process of making it?
Deft: Recently it just comes from the process – I’m working much more with the flow of it all rather than having an intention. It’s made writing Deft stuff a bit more fun and I’m not overthinking it as much – whatever sounds good I just go with it. I’ll hear a sound/loop/sample that will spark the process off and I’ll go down the rabbit hole. I think because of this I’m slowly adopting the ‘less is more’ approach.
Lewis James: You have a really distinctive, personality-based sound, is that something you intentionally went for from the start or did it come over time?
Deft: I think my process is always driven by a sense of narrative – even if I don’t start with one or purpose, through my process it just creates itself and I just run with it. Making music is a very personal process for me, and I’m very emotively driven too, so the output is often very natural. I do wish I could make very functional dance music though!
Lewis James: What kind of effect has being from Croydon had on you as a musician? There are so many great producers from there.
Deft: I don’t think the musical heritage of Croydon has had much of an impact on me, but it was definitely the people around me that had more of an effect. It was only after I moved out to go to uni that I realised what had been going on. In my late teens, I had a very brief stint with some local Hip Hop producers and MCs, and I remember being very dismissive when I was played some DMZ in a studio session around that time too…
Lewis James: What was a eureka moment for you with making music that gave you the confidence/motivation to pursue it further?
Deft: When I first met other people that were doing the same thing, like-minded people both in attitudes towards life and music, that’s when I thought to myself that this is something I want to carry on with; I want to meet more people that love this process and see how they relate to it and what it means to them too – it was something quite special when I was in my 20s. Having these connections the older you get (with circumstances changing and life happening etc) make it really special too.
Lewis James: What mc or vocalist should we ask to do a tune on the next release?
Deft: I’ve been listening to Boy Harsher a lot recently, I’d reckon we could make some very dark vibes with the vocalist Jae Matthews – it wouldn’t be silly or elegant though!