Photo by Bob Hansen
In what feels like the blink of an eye, FaltyDL has established a large and rich discography that falls vaguely into the canon of dubstep. But FaltyDL’s records have always sounded too deeply tied to the individual making them, one Drew Lustman, to be taken purely as genre music: his tunes engage UK hardcore in a way that only a twenty-something New Yorker moving with the city’s ultimately jarring ebb and flow could. Spurred on by You Stand Uncertain, FaltyDL’s latest full-length and perhaps his best and most varied material yet, I made the trek to Lustman’s home studio on the eve of its release to meet the man behind the tunes. In advance of his June 2nd performance at MUTEK 2011, we spoke about his production ethic, his local and national scene, and his favorite spots for sushi. He also compiled LWE’s 83rd podcast, a blistering 42 minutes of music which leaps across styles and tracks like a sonic gymnast.
LWE Podcast 83: FaltyDL (42:40)
01. Scuba, “Feel It” [Hotflush Recordings]
02. Todd Edwards, “Show Me A Sign” [i! Records]
03. Todd Edwards, “Every Day” [i! Records]
04. Warrior One, “Lord Of Bashy” (Doc Daneeka 2 Step Militia Remix)
05. FaltyDL, “You Stand Uncertain” [Planet Mu]
06. Piece of Shh, “Diablo Riddim” (Zomby’s Acid) [Svetlana Industries]
07. Gold Panda, “Snow and Taxis” [Ghostly International]
08. Boddika, “Midnight Sun” [white*]
09. Zed Bias, “Music Deep Inside” [Swamp81*]
10. El-B, “Express” [Tempa]
11. C.R.S.T., “Walk On” [Well Rounded Records]
12. C.R.S.T., “Need You” [Well Rounded Records]
13. Ghost, “Lyrical Tempo” [Ghost]
14. Zed Bias, “Raving Bully” [white*]
15. Millie & Andrea, “Ever Since You Came Down” [Daphne]
16. Sicko Cell, “I’m The Information” [white*]
17. Radiohead, “Feral” [Radiohead]
18. Addison Groove, “This Is It” [Tectonic]
19. Kp & Envyi, “Swing My Way” [white]
20. The Bug, “Skeng” (Autechre Remix) [Ninja Tune]
21. Africa HiTech, “Glangslap” [Warp Records]
22. Squarepusher, “My Red Hot Car” [Warp Records]
23. Machinedrum, “TMPL” [LuckyMe*]
24. Spac Hand Luke, “Like A Machine” [Rephlex]
25. DJ Roc, “One Blood” [Planet Mu]
26. Amen Andrews, “Screwface” [Rephlex]
27. Vex’d, “Lion V.I.P.” [Planet Mu]
* denotes tracks which, as of the time of publishing, are unreleased
How long have you been producing? I think I read that the name FaltyDL dates back to when you were 12 or 13…
Drew Lustman: The name comes from when I had an AOL email account, so that must have been the mid-90’s, or whenever AOL was big. I literally just picked out of the blue “FaltyDL,” and I didn’t spell it right. And naturally I was thinking of a producer name in 2004 or 2005, when I was just starting to make music, and I was like, “Fuck it, go with FaltyDL, try it.”
Were you in New York when you started making music?
No, I was still in New Haven, Connecticut.
… because one of the things I wanted to ask you about was that your music, to me, sounds unmistakably New York in a number of ways. There’s this level in which you’re pulling from all of these classic New York sounds — the garage influence, house. There’s also something of the cosmopolitan nature of New York, because you’re bringing in a lot of sounds from other places like the UK. And then there’s the workaholic nature of your output: you have this sort of “i-banker”-style release schedule. All these things add up to something that’s unmistakably New York. What do you see as the influence of this city on your sound? Did you come here to make this music, or did you get here and this music just happened?
That’s a great question. That’s a great analogy too, with the i-banker thing. One of the biggest influences, I think, of being in New York for me, or any major metropolitan city, is just — the rate at which people create and work in the city is incredible. Everything is so fast, and everyone is so prolific at whatever they do. But yeah, I basically feel like if I spend a day and I don’t do something towards my musical output or whatever, I feel like I’ve wasted a whole day. And it’s really tough. I’ve had to sort of relax and chill out and be okay with not making music all the time, because no one wants to hang out with someone who can only talk about one thing, you know what I mean?
So no, I didn’t come here to make music; I came to New York to go to City College. I did about a semester and a half, maybe two semesters at City College. I was 24 when I moved to New York, or 25? 24, 23… I don’t remember. It was my third attempt to try to go to school, and I was like, “Nah.” I thought I could do it, but really I just wanted to come to New York. And as far as talking to my folks and my friends in New Haven, I was like, “I bet I could go there and go to school,” and they were like, “Yeah, that’s great, go to school.” So I moved to New York and was like, “Eh, screw it, I’m not into the school thing.” But I was going for a sonic arts degree, and I was in these really boring, dry classes just talking about sine waves and partials, which is super interesting, but I’d rather just play with that and experiment and figure it out on my own. I sort of hate being in a classroom, although I love learning and I love teaching, and I respect teachers so much. I have taught in my life, and I respect learning, and I respect passing down knowledge. But [this school experience] was so boring and dry for me. I’d get home at night and be like, “Ahhh, I gotta make some music!”
[From there,] FaltyDL just took off and in 2007, 2008 I started making a lot of tracks. Part of that was just living in New York, too, and having friends that were busy in the arts scene. I have a friend who’s a sculptor who was always taking me to all these shows. And I was seeing how much stuff was actually happening here, and it was incredible. So New York was a catalyst, but I wouldn’t say I came here specifically to do [FaltyDL]. It was a pleasant surprise, coming here and finding out that I could do that.
So you do have some formal training in music?
… but not in production.
Not in production, no. I mean, again, a semester and a half of sleeping in classes was pretty much my [education]. Like, I basically taught myself all the programs that I use, just by trial and error over the years. I probably do some things the long way, and I probably do some things the short way, I’m not sure. But yeah, I grew up taking the Suzuki method [music lessons where ear training is emphasized before music reading, the idea being that music is learned similarly to how language is learned]—
Me too, actually, with piano.
I did that with flute at first and then with the bass. I’m so glad I did that, because it developed my ear really well. And I still definitely use that.
You say you do some things the short way and some things the long way. I mean, whatever you’re doing is working, so let’s talk about your workflow. How do you get started on a track?
I get started with any number of things. The big thing, usually, is just the motivation to create, like, “I need to be making something.” So that’s what gets me to the computer. And then it’s a sample: I’ll find a sample I really love, or a part of a song, and I’ll say, “I really want to use that!” So I’ll start [in earnest] with a sample. I used to start with drums, and I used to start with synths and bass and stuff like that, but now I start with samples, and I think my music has become a lot more organic in the sense that there’s a lot more sampling going on. I’m not into [doing] all that much synthesis, I’m not really into that aspect anymore.
So I’ll sit down with a sample, and I’ll start playing with it on my keyboard: I’ll start messing with a filter, I’ll start messing with the pitch, I’ll find a point that sort of loops it, I’ll find the BPM where I can get a tight loop with it, I’ll find parts of the sample that I want to accentuate with a drum hit here and there, then I’ll find another sample. Honestly, and I’ve said this before, at the point at which I start and am happy with the sample I’m working with, I almost have this sort of artistic blackout, like I don’t really know exactly — I feel like I’m almost possessed, like it’s just happening and I’m like sitting there watching myself make this beat. Hours can go by, and I’ll be done with the track later that afternoon. Or, it can be really frustrating and I’ll get nowhere, and I’ll just end up looking on the Internet and answering emails and talking shit with friends, you know what I mean? But for the most part, I’ve been able to be really focused.
Where do you go to look for samples?
Everywhere. I mean, someone will link me to a YouTube thing, and it’ll sound great. And then I’ll be looking on the side of YouTube, and I’ll find another thing. I’ll go somewhere, and then I’ll go somewhere else, and then I’ll go to another link, and I’ll find something. My iTunes library is — I don’t know how many songs I have in here [starts clicking around on his computer], I think I have probably… 160 gigabytes of music, which is a lot of music. I used to have more, actually, but my last computer crashed. So I’ll go into my own library. I recycle a lot of samples, too. Because I write so much music, a lot of it doesn’t come out, so I’ll go back to a song that I started one day, and I’ll be like, “Oh, I still like that sample, but the rest of the track is crap,” and I’ll work from there.
You’re just producing music now, right?
Yeah, I’m just producing and playing gigs. That’s been pretty much the last eight months or so. I’ve been really lucky to go on a lot of tours that have been incredibly life-changing musically and also financially; it’s been able to help me do this.
Let’s go back, then, and talk about how You Stand Uncertain first came together. When did you start working on it?
Start and stop point is really difficult, because… I’m making tracks right now that may get released in four years. The way that I’ve done the two albums with Planet Mu is that I’ve just sent as much stuff as possible over to [label head] Mike Paradinas. When he starts to feel like there’s enough tracks to get together for a release, whether it’s a single, an EP, or an album, we’ll start the email conversation. He’ll say, “I want to release this, this, and this, maybe we can do this,” and usually they grow into larger projects like albums. That’s how the first album started: one track grew into a single grew into an EP grew into an album pretty quickly. Some of those tracks were made months before it was released, and some were made years before it was released.
So when you started working on the tracks that eventually became You Stand Uncertain, you didn’t yet have an album in mind?
I try not to — well you know, actually, about halfway through, I did. You know, my sound is always changing, so I start to get a bigger picture of, “Oh, these tracks actually go together. These are album tracks, not singles; this isn’t just a dance floor thing.” So yeah, at one point, I started to feel like these [six or seven tracks] were actually gelling together, and then I get into that mode where I want to make a lot of things like that. But I try not to focus too much on working towards an album or anything else, because I don’t want to stress myself out too much with worrying about where it’s going to land.
That said, I really wanted You Stand Uncertain to sound like an album. I enjoy an album that you can just put on the record player and walk away and listen to the whole side and then flip it, you know what I mean? I didn’t want it to be a collection of dance tracks, and I think we really did a good job of curating it this way.
With the new record, though, you managed to make something that is really cohesive. When I listen to it, I hear something that thematically totally goes together, that makes sense as a unit. And from a production sense, it seems like a real step forward for your sound. So as you were sending tracks to Planet Mu, were they saying, “This stuff is different. Let’s do something big with this stuff”?
I mean, it just happens really naturally. Mike will start to say to me, “I really like the sound of these tracks,” and he’ll throw out a few adjectives, and I’ll throw out a few adjectives about what the tracks sound like to us, and that encourages me to do more like that. [The album] is definitely a new direction for me, and I think, for me, a new standard of production. In two years I might think that this is crap, and I’ll be doing something totally different. But this is where I’ve been for the last 12 to 14 months, so for me it’s not that new. Like, the tracks I’m actually making right now I think are even more developed in some ways. It’s hard to go back and recreate a sound; I couldn’t go back and make tracks like I did on Love Is A Liability.
Were there any big influences on this project? Was there anything in specific you were listening to as the album was coming together that you think colored your work on it?
Yes and no. There was stuff that I was listening to that got me in the mood to make music. But the stuff I think [the album] actually sounds like is dusty old rave records and weird IDM stuff. There are a lot of funk samples, like Herbie Hancock is someone I was listening to at the time. But what I was listening to was albums. I was listening to things that inspired me to create a body of work, not a single track. Like I’d listen to albums and be like, “This track is great, this track is great,” and they’d all be amazing, but I wouldn’t be like, “I want to make an album like this one track.” I’d want to make an album that was cohesive like that album was.
You Stand Uncertain is the first time you’ve worked with vocalists. How did that process work?
To be fair, I did do a track on my first album with a vocalist. I had complete control, though; she was like, “Here are some riffs, use them however you want, don’t even worry about crediting me.” And I was like, “Are you sure?”
But yeah… once we decided that this should really sound like an album, we talked about what could make it sound a little bit different and more developed than just an instrumental album, [and we decided] some vocals could really help. The first thought I had was this one woman, Anneka, who’s done some other tracks with people on Planet Mu, and I know she’s very approachable, very professional, and just sounds lovely. So that worked very naturally and very quickly. She recorded all these beautiful parts and harmonies, so it was so easy to figure out how to use them.
How did that start? Did she send you stuff first, or did you—
No, I sent her the tracks. I talked to Mike [Paradinas] about getting in touch with her, and he gave me her email. We didn’t know each other, but we have a lot of mutual friends through the label, so it wasn’t so much of a… we weren’t really coming from different worlds, we’re sort of in the same circle of friends, in a sense. So yeah, I just sent her like three tracks, and she was like, “I want to try this one,” and I was like, “Go for it.” It came back in my inbox like a day later, and it was sick.
Another thing I noticed about this record — and this has been a trend I’ve been hearing in your records for maybe the last six months — is that the tempos have come way down from where they were earlier in your career. For me, the anthem of this record is “Voyager,” which clocks in at 108 BPM or something.
Yeah, 107. That’s my favorite track on the album.
Mine, too. So is anything going on there? When you first started producing, you were doing stuff that was really fast, like breakcore tempos. And then you worked your way down to dubstep tempos, like 130 to 140. Now you’re all the way down at “Voyager.” Was going slower a conscious decision, or are you just continuing to find new ways into the pocket?
Yeah… to find something I can sort of swim around in. I think I just get bored at doing any one thing for too long. The other day, though, I went back and made a track that was at about 140, 135 or something. I’ve tried to make a few little juke tunes here and there, at 150. I did one that was pretty good with Machinedrum, actually. But yeah, I just found that 107 to 118 — like, you can just swing so hard in that pocket, or you can be really, really rigid too, and it’s just so much fun. My sets these days, I’m starting off at that tempo, and I’m really just getting into the groove.
What’s getting play in your DJ sets these days?
It depends on what time of the night I’m playing. Ideally, I get to play a lot of the slower stuff… I get to start around 110 BPM and play a whole bunch of house, into some Theo Parrish edits, into some Anthony “Shake” Shakir edits and all these different things that sound so fresh to me, even though I know they’re a little bit older. And then I work up to — well, it depends on who’s playing after me. I try to be pretty conscious of being respectful to the dance floor and what the people are there to do. I don’t want to just go out there and do whatever I want to do. I’ve done that before and cleared floors, you know? It’s like, “Oh, I’m gonna play a track that’s 130 and then a track that’s 180 and then a track that’s 110,” and it’s like, c’mon. Like that’s fun; if you’re going to make a podcast, then go for it. But like, you’ve got a responsibility to the dance floor. People are there to dance. So just something cohesive. The other night, I played from 3 to 4 AM, so I started at 125 and I ended at 170. It was great. In an hour, I got all the way there.
How about your live set? What goes into putting that together?
Taking apart and stripping down a lot of my tracks, finding loops that I like, playing them together and finding good combinations. I also take apart other people’s tracks. A lot of time goes into this, actually. Man, it was so stressful getting together my first live set. This keyboard [he pulls one out from under his workspace]—there’s a piece of scotch tape on every button, and most of what’s written on them doesn’t make any sense to me anymore. And that’s only like eight tracks worth of samples on that keyboard. I used to have a cheat sheet in front of me, too, because you can change the scenes on the keyboard, or go down an octave. So I’d have this other piece of paper in front of me, too, because I couldn’t have two pieces of tape [on a button], and it would say what was on that button two octaves down. It was so stressful trying to get through a live set. I’d see people do it so well, like SBTRKT’s set on — I don’t know what hardware he uses, but he attacks that thing. Gold Panda’s live set is incredible, too… he’s got a lot of synths up there, and he yells in the microphone and jumps all over the place. So I don’t know. I’ll get together something. As long as I can fit my entire live set in my backpack, I’ll be happy with it.
Let’s talk a little about what’s going on in New York right now. There’s a lot of cool stuff happening, and a lot of collaboration: there’s Sepalcure, there are these Percussion Lab Radio sets where everyone comes out who’s in town, there’s whatever Dave Q is behind on a given weekend. What do you see as your place in this scene, and based on what you’ve seen in your travels, where is the scene’s place in bass music worldwide?
I think New York is huge, and there are scenes I have no idea about, obviously. There are scenes that I do know about that I choose not to be a part of, just because I’m lazy and I want to be home, and I want to hang out with my friends. Most of the friends I spend time with have nothing to do with music; they enjoy music, obviously — we’ll go out together — but they aren’t musicians. I think there’s a lot happening in Brooklyn… it’s fucking bubbling. However, I don’t think it holds a candle to the amount of energy in other cities in Europe, because here, there are fewer nights that I would choose to go to and have a good time at. However, the ones that are here I think are curated fantastically. Like everything Dave Q’s done in the past five years that I’ve gone to, I’ve just absolutely loved. And Twisup, his new night, is incredible. Percussion Lab Radio is amazing, too… I was on it last night with Daedalus and Machinedrum and Praveen [Sharma]. I think… [laughs]
I don’t know if I’m getting older, but I don’t really care so much about going out all the time and being part of something. I really, honestly, truly enjoy my time spent at home and in low-key environments. When I do go on tour, I get my fill of [going out and being part of a scene], and I’m good for about three or four months. I guess the long answer I’m giving you is that even though I am a producer from Brooklyn in this whatever-genre-you-want-to-call-it, I don’t have the best answer about how much of a scene there is here. I feel like there’s probably a lot — there are people who are a hell of a lot more involved and push it further than I do, you know what I mean? Maybe I’m copping out… maybe I’m not being totally honest. [Laughs] You know I wish there was more happening here, but again, there is a lot, I’m just not choosing to be a part of all of it. I think the quality is high, though. The quality is fucking high in Brooklyn, I gotta say that. If the quantity is not high, the quality is fucking amazing.
So you wouldn’t really see a need to defect to Berlin or London, because that would just mean more going out.
Financially, it would make sense for me, to be honest. If I lived in Berlin or in London, I would play more gigs, and I would get booked more because there would be no international flights involved. But my family and my roots are here, and I just love New York. Like, it’s fucking New York, it’s amazing, it’s the best city in the world. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.
Continuing on about scenes… you mentioned to me when I first got here that you were booked to play South by Southwest this year, and that you’re playing more in the states. It feels like there’s this new energy in the U.S. for dance music. Have you come across that in your travels?>
Uh… it’s interesting. It seems like my life is very focused on a particular type of dance music. However, [there are lots of] parties that have people like The Juan Maclean and LCD Soundsystem and Mark Farina spinning, and that’s been going on forever. So if you’re into a certain type of house scene… I mean, that’s been huge for a long time. When dubstep exploded over here, it was the crazy wobble stuff, which — shit on or not — [that music makes for] some pretty intense parties. And so I’d get booked to go play those at first. I’d go up there and do my thing, and I’d clear a dance floor.
Now I think, honestly, with a lot of the indie crossover albums — and I’m not quite sure what I mean by that, but I’ll use the example of the Caribou album Swim, and the last Four Tet album, and the Gold Panda album, and the Mount Kimbie album, and the James Blake album — there’s a real aesthetic to the sound that’s unique to all those albums: it’s something very tangible and tactile to a whole bunch of different audiences. And I don’t think it’s on purpose: they’re the work of just really genuinely brilliant musicians making amazing music for the sake of making music, and it’s received very well by a lot of different people. That opens the doors for so much different stuff, and it’s refreshing and wonderful, and I’m so grateful for it.
A lot of the stuff that’s gotten big has been the stuff that’s more difficult to define, you know? Like, it’s hard to say that Mount Kimbie is doing dubstep, or that James Blake is doing dubstep. It seems like the indie scene has just become more open to electronic sounds, and dance music just goes along with that.
You mean dance music follows that?
Yeah. Or that, if people are going to be listening to more electronic music, maybe they’ll be open to seeing a DJ instead of a band.
I think we have to stop saying who follows who, because I think at the end of the day, they’re all just musicians, and they’re all just producers. Take Radiohead… what was they’re ’97 album, was that Kid A or OK Computer?
’97 would have been OK Computer.
Okay. So what would they have been listening to when they made OK Computer? They were probably listening to Aphex Twin, Squarepusher… I don’t know what they were listening to, to be honest. So what follows what? What was Aphex Twin listening to? Probably nothing. [Laughs all around] But you know what I mean? Sure, everything’s influenced by everything, but the type of producers who I know are so dedicated and have such a deep feeling inside of themselves that they have to create music, that it comes from somewhere that is totally on its own. Sure, you’re influenced by things that you hear, but I don’t think that they’re necessarily all following indie rock.
I think we’re getting a little off-track, although I’m with you 100% on this point… these are really excellent points. I was talking specifically about audiences and how their reception has changed to dance music. My experience has been that audiences are more receptive to this music now, and I was wondering if that was something you’d noticed in your experience.
I think a big part of that is because the press and the scene say it’s okay to like that. And by that I mean, they’ve given a lot of coverage to it. You want to go out there and have something you know. If you’re listening to something that doesn’t have an easy 4/4 kick, that’s not super easy to dance to — if you don’t know the track inside and out because you’ve heard it on five different blogs and you’ve had it on your iPod for the last six months, you might not like it when you’re there at the club. I think the press is incredibly important in that it lets people hear things; it gives people time to sit with the album. Like for instance, let’s say you saw Mount Kimbie play their whole album, and you’d never heard it, and the press had never said anything about it… you might be terrified by it. I mean, it’s gorgeous, but you’d be like, “This is sonically beautiful, but I’m not sure I understand this yet.” Or you might get it, because it’s kind of tangible. But it helps to know something for awhile, to sit with it. And then you can feel like you’re having a more personal connection with the music when you’re at the club listening to it. I don’t even know if I’m answering your question yet.
No, I think this is really interesting stuff. But we’ve reached the point in the interview where I have to ask the token Falty-is-a-former-sushi-chef question. Where’s the best place to get it in New York?
Oh my God, so many places. There’s a few places right around the NYU area that I love. There’s one called Tomoe, which is on… shit!
Thompson Street, right? I’ve been there!
Incredible! Incredible! Affordable, incredible sushi! The place is no frills, but it’s like—oh, it’s so good. And then there’s Marumi, which is a couple of blocks away, around Houston and Bleecker. [It’s on Laguardia Place. – Ed.] The expensive ones like Nobu and Blue Ribbon are amazing, but you’re going to just spend so much money there. Oh! The best place is on St. Marks between First and Second Avenue, called Natori. I lived right down the street and would literally go in there four times a week, and they would be like, “Drew! What’s going on?” You go in there, and there’s a really cool waitstaff that comes and greets you at the door, and they bring you like five menus, like all these little laminated menus. And they always have crazy — like, they have alligator on their menu, and all these really bizarre things. But the quality of fish there is incredible. And they also play this epic muzak the entire time, like MIDI versions of crazy Frank Zappa tunes and Celine Dion songs, and then some Japanese girl band doing something like covering a Metallica song. Really weird music! But they’re not weird people. And I don’t even think they know how weird it is that they’re playing that music; that’s the bonus, is that this is just normal.