Loraine James grew up in Enfield, North London and was drawn into the world of music making through her mother’s eclectic love of music, and she thanks the multiculturalism of her city, for “broadening her ears” in her teens. She took piano lessons as a child, while classes at college, and later on Westminster University’s Commercial Music course, facilitated her encounter with the basic tools for digital production, her musical approach displays voracious musical curiosity and an exciting, peerless approach to making music.
Her wide exposure to Jazz, electronica, UK drill and grime, reassembled through her intuitive skills and intimate, almost diaristic approach to music making can be heard on the colorful mix-up of her Hyperdub debut album For You And I, released in late 2019. Loraine took advantage of the Lockdown to work on her next EP, Nothing for Hyperdub in 2020 as well as self releasing EPs on bandcamp and using a steady flow of remixes, from Jessy Lanza to Gordi and others to sharpen her skills, as well as starting a monthly show on NTS radio and performing at Adult Swim’s annual music festival.
Loraine also completed and delivered her third album, Reflection, for Hyperdub, made in the summer of 2020. It’s a turbulent expression of inner-space, laid out in unflinching honesty, that offers gentle empathy and bitter-sweet hope, pared down and confident, leaning further into pop music her own way and taking the listener through how a tumultuous year felt for a young, Black queer woman and her acolytes in a world that has suddenly stopped moving.
Loraine James is a London-based electronic musician and DJ; Vegyn is a London-born, LA-based DJ and producer. To celebrate the release of Loraine’s new album Reflection — out today via Hyperdub — the two artists hopped on a Zoom call to catch up.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Vegyn: How are you doing?
Loraine James: I’m alright, how are you?
Vegyn: I’m doing… I’m doing, as I say to my manager whenever he asks me that question.
Loraine: Yeah, you are doing — you sent me some stuff the other day.
Vegyn: Yeah, me and my friend John Keek have been making loads of stuff for the past couple of days, and that was one of the things that I’m working on that one. I’ve been trying to figure out how to introduce it in the most jarring way possible — because it feels so crazy when it’s all on top of one another, like that’s how we’ve been working, basically. We’ll make an A loop and then a B loop, and then think about, “OK, let’s just make as much as we can, have as many layers as possible, and then think about the arrangement of everything later.”
Loraine: Sometimes I get so overwhelmed if I see, like, 15, 20 [layers]. I’m like, Shit, man, that’s a lot.
Vegyn: Yeah, it’s good though, because this is kind of a new way of working for me. I’ve always really been trying to plot out the structure of the track as I’ve been making it, and this, in a weird way, is kind of nice. Because then you end up just focusing on what’s important, like the melodic melodic nature of both of these loop, to the point where both of them are fire, and they run into each other really nicely.
I don’t know, I just feel like the structure’s whatever. You could very easily turn it into a pop song straight from that, or you could like turn it into something weird. I’ve been doing my drums and stuff last for that same reason too — to me, the rhythm section in general is like the genre, right? It helps to define the context of the music. Until you decide the tempo or the drums or the bass, or what any of those are actually going to sound like, the main melody itself can kind of exist as anything.
Loraine: I’ve been loving the melodic stuff you’ve been sending. I kind of don’t want to touch it — it sounds really warm and full already.
Vegyn: Thanks. I feel the same way about your compositions, too, so I think that’s a mutual admiration thing.
Loraine: Yeah, I was like, This is nice!
Vegyn: I want it to bang though!
Loraine: They can bang in a soft…
Vegyn: A holistic bang.
Loraine: [Laughs.] Yeah.
Vegyn: The holistic bang is very LA.
Loraine: How is LA? Is it warm there?
Vegyn: It is warm, it’s pretty nice. I’m coming back to London this weekend for a month, which will be really nice, especially because it’s been so fucking long now. It’s been like seven months since I’ve been back to London. I miss it.
There’s so much good music coming out of London — truly genuinely exciting, good, kind of alternative shit. LA is good because of the scope of the artists that you can work with, and there’s more money to be made or whatever. The chances of getting in a room with a kind of top tier artist just doesn’t really happen in the UK. I feel like it’s weird here, where it’s such a thing of proximity. Before I came out here, I was like, “I’m gonna be out in LA!” and, you know, just didn’t really hear much back from folks. And then as soon as I got here, it was like, “Yeah, pull up!”
But how have you found work during all of this? How have you managed?
Loraine: 2021 has been a hit and miss in terms of being productive. I’m just kind of over being in one place — a no inspiration kind of thing. I mean, I get it here and there, but sometimes I won’t make anything for a month or whatever. I’m trying not to beat myself up about that, because I don’t want to force it.
Vegyn: You’re pretty Ableton-focused as well, right?
Loraine: Oh, yeah. I started out on Logic, and I still have it on my desktop, but I’ve just not opened it in about a year or so. As soon as I started doing live stuff, Ableton is more catered to that.
Vegyn: I’m fully Logic up to the eyeballs. I mean, Ableton is so sick, I just struggle to wrap my head around it. But I’ve seen those videos that you put up on Twitter of you making things, and I love that it is kind of like they are like captured performances. It’s like directly reacting. Whenever I’ve thought about making a Vegyn live show or whatever, it just becomes the most complicated—
Loraine: Is that ever gonna happen?
Vegyn: Maybe not now, I don’t know. I mean, I would love to do, it’s just really hard to figure out where to start. But I feel a bit more confident now that all this stuff that I’ve been working on recently, and the things that I’ve just put out there, are a lot more dance focused, as opposed to more kind of ambient or beats-y kind of things. The tempos at this point on the newest stuff have been a little bit more streamlined.
I was talking to someone the other day and he was like, “I played your track on KISS FM, and I was mixing it and then the BPM started changing — you fucked my whole shit up, man. It’s a terrible mix.” [Laughs.] Yeah, I don’t know. My club music is not actually like club music.
Loraine: I feel that, too, with my stuff, that it’s not like straight-up club music.
Vegyn: But it fucking bangs, though, Loraine. Maybe it’s just a thing of how we perceive our own output but, yeah, even your simple stuff is so good. It’s so weird and interesting, and genuine too. I miss that sort of thing — I kind of feel like everyone out here is making, like, tight beats, and everyone in the UK is making — you’re like, Woah!
Loraine: [Laughs.] That’s not a UK thing at all, man.
Vegyn: I guess the tight beats are in the UK too, you just have the Drill tight beats. Whatever, I’m just jealous. I just wish I knew how to program those kinds of skippy guys.
Loraine: A lot of the time I get booked for club stuff, so I always find myself finding only, like, three stuff out of an album to play, because everything else is quite wishy-washy.
Vegyn: I think that’s pretty natural, though.
Loraine: That’s why I also made the Bandcamp-y, stuff, which is a bit more clubbish. People wanna hear, like, random a capellas, flying-around-type thing.
Vegyn: Well, that’s the benefit of the live space as well. You don’t have to clear anything, so can just band the hardest, most uncleared sample. Like, “Let’s get some Prince on this one.”
Loraine: Yeah, I’ve done that many times. It’s just nice to not have to think about that. It stresses me out to have a whole song outlined, and then towards the end you find out you can’t clear it.
Vegyn: Or you can clear it, but it’s going to cost you. You’re like, Cool, I can clear it, but I’m never going to get paid off of this record.
Loraine: Yeah, man. I’d rather just throw it in a mix or whatever and not think about it.
Vegyn: Yeah. When I was making Diamonds Cut Diamonds, I was like, OK, no rules, sample whatever, it doesn’t matter, just think about making an album rather than worrying about clearing anything. Like, let me just make the best possible music I can with no rules. And then at the end it was like, OK, what samples can we remove, what can I replay, what can we clear? And then I basically ended up giving my advance to Three 6 Mafia. [Laughs.]
What’s been your process for making at the moment?
Loraine: I don’t know, the same shit of listening to something and being inspired by it. Even the new Playboi Carti-type shit — having that sort of in mind, opening up Ableton. And then it’s just nothing of the sort.
Vegyn: [Laughs.] But it’s cool when you have a starting place. A lot of times, I’ll think about a song, and I’ll write down all the things that I like about it, or I’ll just describe it. Like, Oh, it’s this tempo, the drums are double-time, the bassline is doing some crazy shit, blah blah blah. And then I’ll use those as my rules to make the track. Like, these are all the things that I like about this song, so let me just use this as the recipe.
Loraine: That’s actually a really good idea, writing it down and then using it later, and you tweak it whatever way you please.
Vegyn: I mean, sometimes it doesn’t work, but at least you get the ball rolling. I feel like that’s always the thing, once you don’t have a blank canvas anymore.
Loraine: That’s the hardest part — the blank canvas, just staring at it. It takes a hundred years to find the right kick that sounds exactly right, and then I’ve given up by that point.
Vegyn: Are you working in audio mostly, or you using MIDI stuff as well?
Loraine: MIDI. Sometimes when I’m stuck for inspiration, I’ll come back to audio and do some weird shit with it.
Vegyn: Yeah. I’ve been trying to work in audio more.
Loraine: External stuff or…?
Vegyn: I’ve got the OB-6, and I’ve got this one weird — it’s a Nord Lead keyboard. I got it off a friend, and I was actually like, Oh this is really good. Like, it’s really cool, it just doesn’t have a lot of name value or whatever. The Nord stage pianos are a bit boring, and they’re weighted so it’s more for an actual a keys player. But this thing has got really good pads, and it’s kind of got a warmth to it.
I feel like I’m engaging with the music a little bit differently when I’m working in audio. Because what I’ll typically do, or in this new style of working, if I’m not trying to finish a song I’ll just loop the whole track try things over the top. I’ll do 10, 12, 20 passes of it, and then just go through and find all the little bits that feel really good. I’ll go through each one individually and then be like, OK, this tiny section here is good, this piece over here really works. And then I’ll unmute them all and then see what it sounds like when they all play together. And sometimes you get some really weird shit but it sounds good.
Loraine: Sometimes I’m the opposite. Like I’ll do a take, maybe two, because I find when I do too many takes it just becomes a job. So even if there’s errors, as long as it’s not a shitty error, sometimes I just keep in there. I just press record and jam for three or four minutes and see what happens.
Vegyn: I like doing that with vocal performances from people, keeping in all their like, “Yeah, that’s good.”
Loraine: [Laughs.] Even when it comes to a live show, I don’t like to rehearse too much.
Vegyn: You’re so lucky. You’re like, “My process is my fucking live show, alright?”
Loraine: Nah, man, when I’m [playing live] I don’t even use any of this shit I use, I just use my laptop, that’s it. Sometimes I get a little MIDI keyboard, but most of the time I’ll just use the keys on the Mac and get on with it.
Vegyn: That’s so cool. I’ve thought about that with my live stuff. I’ll just mix everything, because when I think about all the live electronic shows that I really like, like Justice, Daft Punk, Flying Lotus — at least when I was much younger, all that shit’s running off tape. There was no live things going on there, they’re literally just pressing play. If that’s the case, then essentially you can just make an hour long mix of your own music, and when I think about that I’m like, Oh, that’s kind of fun. I’m not really a player — I can play keys, I definitely know a few of my songs and I would like to learn more. But I don’t think people are really expecting that of me.
Maybe now it’s different, because kids are more switched on now, but when I went to see shows like this, I just didn’t even have a framework or understanding for what a DJ was actually doing. You kind of just assume that they are playing their music live. Like, “They’re doing something…” And then I think if you’re doing a live show and someone is coming to see you for the second time, most of the time it’s probably because they want to see that same show again. You could do that for a year and then you can retire and make something else. But I’ve just never been a live musician — slash-musician, I’ve never even been that.
How should we wrap this up? Last meal on earth — what are you having?
Alright, Loraine, I’ll see you back in London soon?
Loraine: Yes! It’s gonna be a good one.
(Photo Credit: right, Alec Martin)