When it comes to names like Baltra, DJ Seinfeld, DJ Boring and Ross From Friends, the paradoxically warm, but toxic label of ‘lo-fi’ house is immediately slapped right on their foreheads. While this description of their sound is almost entirely correct and in fact not really an insult in any way, it was the wave of copycat producers after them that sank their crackly ship.
While you’ll still see those named above beside each other on festival and club lineups, 2018’s lo-fi landscape is a lot more bare than it was in the beginning of 2017, when DJ *insert tongue-in-cheek phrase here* could get a headline set via one track that had been featured on Slav or Moskalus. People have left the murky drums behind, and disco edits seem to have taken the place of lo-fi house in recent months.
You’d imagine the drop off in interest in the sound would lead to a drop off in shows for some of its leading names, however each of the four mentioned have all reinvented themselves in their own unique ways.
Both Ross From Friends and DJ Seinfeld released huge albums to critical acclaim, DJ Boring has been a staple on Rinse FM and has worked closely with DJ Haus, developing a more refined house sound that has seen him on more diverse lineups in the past few months.
None of the three have undergone such a drastic repurposing as New York’s own Baltra. The DJ and producer’s track ‘Fade Away’ is one of the staple tracks of the lo-fi era and one that led to his name cropping up worldwide. Having seen his Irish debut in Factory in Galway this time last year; clad in a fur coat and black Nike TNs, sculpting an emotional journey through the depths of house music that was purpose built for a dark and dingy room, it was clear that Baltra was much more than a throwaway name in a sea of baseless gimmicks.
Since then, he has made trips to Russia and the Rinse FM studio, debuted a live set and reached the lofty heights of making a Boiler Room appearance in his home of New York City, this time in a Philadelphia 76ers jersey. The basketball team’s adopted motto ‘Trust the Process’ is one that weirdly resonates with Baltra, who is constantly at peace with where he is, but entirely ready to advance to the next level. His addition of live vocals to the eerie hit ‘Never Let Go (Of Me)’ brought the Boiler Room and all those watching at home to a standstill.
Just as we thought the world had forgotten about Baltra, he announced his homecoming to the realms of low fidelity, this time accompanied by the same pair of Nike TNs and an MPC.
“I only brought one pair of sneakers on this trip, I had to pack lightly, but fuck yeah I brought them!”
When we spoke before his DJ set last year, his live gear seemed like a daunting presence in the room, rather than the centerpiece it acted as now. Back then it were buried in his luggage, this time around he’s toying with his MPC to see if he can finish up a new track before his set. His new found confidence in his live set made his Boiler Room set one of the most unique in recent memory.
“If I make it through it live, I’m happy.
“The Boiler Room was really sick. The thing with the Boiler Room though is that it’s quite a production; so it’s a very different atmosphere than an actual club night. Firstly, it’s earlier and then there’s so much production going on that they have to make sure is perfect, with lighting and whatever. It’s a different mentality.
“There’s a huge bright light in your face when you’re playing, which isn’t exactly what I wanted in a club atmosphere.”
While said Boiler Room definitely carried a lo-fi aesthetic; with hazy visuals and minimal artwork, Baltra’s shows are no longer dripping in 90s nostalgia. The upcoming weekend would see him join DJ Haus and Project Pablo for an ‘XOYO Loves…’ showcase, two names that are commonly associated with jackin’ house and disco rather than the muddiness of lo-fi. Baltra’s style has diversified across break beats and trap styles, which mirrors the lineups he makes it onto.
“I’m really excited to see how Saturday plays out. My music now is just a complete expression of who I am and what I’ve become. Over the past year my father passed away so it has been a really hard year for me. There’s been a lot going on, a lot of different inspirations.
“It’s not really unexpected that I’d experiment in different lanes, there are times where I feel stagnant with production, where everything is just four to the floor and you’ve got your open hats. That’s cool, but sometimes I get bored of myself and it’s cool to switch it up.
“I hope that the music that I’ve made has gotten the audience and listeners because of the composition and the music rather than the style. It’s totally natural for any artist to push the boundary sonically unless they’re just mailing it in and doing it in their sleep. You have to respect whoever’s been there from day one and I certainly do and I hope that everyone that’s listened to me from day one has an open ear and that I do reach a new audience.”
While his live set has most definitely widened his audience and allowed him to factor in a huge variety of sounds, including live vocals, Baltra’s DJ sets are a cut above many of his contemporaries. With many of the internet sensations being producers first and then DJs by default after they’re first booked to play abroad, Baltra has always been a curator; one of the best and most underrated when it comes to house. His ability to blend in the emotions of his raw sound into the energy that naturally comes with club music is second to none.
“The shows have been 50/50 of late as regards DJ sets and live sets. Just when I start to prefer one over the other it gets flipped on its head. I try to keep my DJ sets really fresh; I played for four hours in Liverpool and started with some beautiful disco tunes and then took into a completely different realm with garage, breaky stuff, drum ‘n’ bass, trap and everything. I hit everything I wanted to and it wasn’t just the typical, expected set.”
Being from New York and still based there despite his popularity in Europe is definitely a rarity among electronic music artists. Baltra’s insight into the current state of affairs in the Big Apple is most definitely invaluable, given how frequently he experiences club settings there, as well as in Europe. Being able to stay situated in the States is a luxury he acknowledges, after seeing so many producers abandon the US, leaving the electronic landscape largely barren.
“There are so many talented artists in New York, but unfortunately the Boiler Room offices there shut down right after that show. That was probably the last one that will happen! There’s so much talent, but a lot of talent leaves New York when things get good and that’s understandable too. Everybody there that is making music, travelling and playing gets booked over here [Europe] more often.
“There are only so many clubs in New York and in the States there aren’t that many destinations. You can’t go to a no name city in the middle of America and play a show like you can in Europe. People aren’t that interested or passionate in it.”
New York, like Dublin, London and a whole host of other cities, has long been held in gentrification’s stranglehold, with no breathing room for a burgeoning club scene. With that clamp down on venues always comes a host of smaller clubs; clubs the NY resident has firsthand experience playing in.
“It’s super expensive to live in New York City as an artist, unless you have another job. If you do have another job, you don’t have that much time to make music. Unfortunately, that’s how it is but there are a lot of people doing really cool things in New York that are trying to push things forward. There are a lot of new venues opening, that maybe fit 80 to 150 people. There’s a spot called Jupiter Disco that opened up over a year ago and I did a monthly party there over the summer.
“There’s another spot called Rosegold that opened up in the basement of a restaurant. There’s a bigger venue called Elsewhere, where they had the Boiler Room. They’re putting together cool lineups and it’s a bigger venue. It’s something that we need in New York; a bigger venue that’s not just about the bottom line and what money they make.
“Obviously, they need to make money to continue to operate, but they’re doing it with the best intentions. They really get it. [Elsewhere] opened up within the past six months and I’ve had the privilege of playing there twice outside of the Boiler Room. Once with Nick Tascar of Whities Recordings and I was there in the main room right before the new year.”
It’s definitely not all bleak, with institutions such as Tim Sweeney’s Beats in Space radio show enjoying its 17th year in existence.
“[Beats in Space] is like the Mecca of radio shows when it comes to electronic music in New York. His is at the top for sure, I got to meet him recently, he’s a lovely guy. There are so many new artists and OG legends like him or Jacques Renault, who runs Let’s Play House, these guys are all doing their thing and are really influential. The beautiful thing about what they’re doing is that they’re really keeping their finger on the pulse.”
It’s well-documented that Baltra and DJ Seinfeld are close friends, as well as DJ Boring, all of whom burst onto the scene around the same time. It’s forgivable to wonder whether there was a meeting of minds where they all opted to stick together on their journey through the ups and downs of electronic music.
“All of that happened naturally. None of us thought we had to link up or anything. We just naturally met and all our careers were taking off at the same time. We saw similar interest from promoters and listeners and it’s been really nice to chat to people about how things are, especially the travelling. It’s not that bad, but I’m out here for 10 days and I feel like I’m spending nine and half on planes and trains.
“Every trip I take I nearly miss every fucking train or flight. London is so massive and widespread. It’s very different to New York, where you can get everywhere in an hour or an hour and a half.”
Seinfeld’s album gave lo-fi house a stamp of legitimacy. The mention of an album was quick to come up in our last conversation, leading curiosity to question how far we were from a feature length collection of Baltra’s own tracks.
“I’ve gotten a little sidetracked, I’m working on another release and a few remixes before the album, but it’s going to happen. I want to use the album as a platform to do what I want to do. If I’m able to collaborate with artists that I admire then I’m open to that too. It’s a special outlet, you don’t have to start everything with a kick drum off top. You can tell a story with it.”
His wife, Angela, is a hugely successful photographer, having recently shot Rejjie Snow for Wonderland Magazine. Being surrounded by another creative mind must definitely make it a little easier to validate ideas.
“It’s cool. She hates my music but she gets what I’m doing. I have her as my harshest critic, outside of myself, and I think that pushes me to better myself. She has really good taste in music, more so down tempo stuff, but she’s put me onto some great stuff and really inspired my sound, even her work, talent and creativity.
“Normally I get really inspired from playing shows and touring, so when I get back to New York I find myself in a zone of wanting to create and create and create. This is the shitty part [Nods to the Akai MPC in front of him in the hotel room], the preparation. On the plane, I’ll be able to work through some ideas regarding drums, but there’s no real key to it all. I get the most work done when I come back from touring and DJing alongside some huge talents.”
Baltra’s fourth trip to Ireland will see him return to where it all began for him on this island, in the Factory of Electric in Galway. He’ll then make a stop off in Wah Wah Club’s basement for what will be a literal underground show for one of the most underground artists in house music at the moment. An artist that’s here to stay.
Baltra plays Electric Garden & Theatre and Wah Wah Club on April 18 & 19 respectively.