meta-scriptSibling Duo Lastlings Talk Debut Album 'First Contact,' Sci-Fi Inspiration, Sending Memes To RÜFÜS DU SOL & More |
brother-sister duo Lastlings, aka Josh & Amy Dowdle, pose together in all-black


Photo: Jessica Aleece


Sibling Duo Lastlings Talk Debut Album 'First Contact,' Sci-Fi Inspiration, Sending Memes To RÜFÜS DU SOL & More

Lastlings discuss getting back on stage in Australia, the vision and process for creating 'First Contact,' working together as siblings, their friendship with RÜFÜS DU SOL, and more

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2021 - 05:10 pm

Lastlings, made up of Josh and Amy Dowdle, create moody, synth-filled music inspired by sci-fi soundtracks and other dimensions. The Japanese-Australian brother-sister duo, on production duties and vocals/lyrics respectively, began dropping tracks in 2015 when they were still teenagers. 

Since then, they've toured with fellow synth-loving Aussies RÜFÜS DU SOL, remixed for them and are signed to their Rose Avenue imprint, fostering a mentorship that has grown into a true friendship (meme sharing included.) That relationship has been major in growing their recognition and fanbases in Australia, the U.S. and beyond.

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Lastlings released their emotive debut album, First Contact, in November 2020 on Rose Avenue and Astralwerks, which has spawned remixes from LP Giobbi, CRi, Tim Englehardt and others. Their trippy, otherworldly visuals and their name came from an essay Josh wrote in high school about the last humans on earth. caught up with Amy and Josh over Zoom to learn more about getting back on stage in Australia recently, the vision and process for creating First Contact, working together as siblings, their friendship with RÜFÜS DU SOL, and more.

You wrapped up a real life, in-person Australia tour in May. What did it feel like to get back on stage after everything that was last year?

Amy: It felt really good. We missed playing shows so much. I think our first show of the tour was the first one we've played in about a year and a half. It was really awesome to be back on stage and to see people coming to our shows again.

The first few shows of the tour were actually seated and then I think the second half of the tour was standing, which was really cool. We're so lucky here in Australia that we get to actually play shows.

I was watching a Boiler Room or something for a real festival in Australia and people just looked so happy. It's nice to see people being happy and dancing together safely.

Josh: Yeah, especially where we're from, on the Gold Coast, it didn't really feel like there was much of an effect there. We had a little bit of a lockdown, but we were really lucky that we could still leave the house and go to the beach and all that kind of stuff. People in Melbourne had it way tougher, they went into lockdown a few times, [where] they couldn't leave the house or the five-kilometer radius.

And I think once it started to open up in Melbourne, that's when all the bigger events started happening down here and everyone was just like gearing to go out and have fun. And I've actually moved down to Melbourne from the Gold Coast and Amy's almost here, she's going to move to Melbourne as well. We're really excited for this next chapter.

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I want to talk about your album that came out last year. What was the vision for First Contact? What was the timeline for its release?

Amy: It's about all the moments you experienced in life for the first time and how they shape us as people. When we first started writing it, I think we wrote this one song that never actually made it onto the album and it was called "First Contact" at the time. We were like, "Oh, actually that'd be cool as an album name."

Josh: But yes, since then that song went to the back of the line and I still haven't finished it yet. And it's since changed names, but hopefully, it might make its way onto the second album. We didn't start writing First Contact as a like, "Oh we're going to write this album now." We started writing singles, and I think the first song that we finished was "Deja Vu" and that was ages ago, has to be two or three years ago.

That was the first one that we finished together, and then all the other ones we demoed out and then we went to America and we finished it. We stayed at the Rose Avenue house where RÜFÜS DU SOL was finishing their album [Solace] and we've worked a lot with Cassian, who's worked a lot with RUFUS. We were just really lucky to pair up with those guys and they helped us a lot with getting songs to another level. We learned a lot and they were really, really helpful with the album.

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So did you finish it before the pandemic?

Josh: Yeah, we finished it right before the pandemic, and we actually went to Japan to film our album teaser content and all of our press and promo stuff. We wanted to go out with a bang with this album, and Japan is such a beautiful place. We went over there literally right before COVID, it was right before Christmas actually.

And then COVID hit, so we couldn't really tour the album or didn't know what to do, so we had all this content backed up. So we just drip fed it all throughout 2020. We were lucky we could make that trip before COVID hit.

I was reading another interview, did you record some of the album or work on it in Japan?

Amy: Oh no, a lot of the lyrics were written in Japan. After I finished high school, I went to Japan with my mom. I used to sit up in my grandparents' top bedroom and it looked out onto all the other buildings with snow on them. It was a really good place to write, so I wrote a few of the songs there. Then, when Josh was 18—Do you want to tell the story, Josh?

Josh: I was 21. I went [to Japan] for four or five months and during that time I downloaded my first music software and was learning while I was traveling. And I know it sounds like a made-up story, but I was sitting on the bullet train one day and I open the software for the first time and literally I was going past Mount Fuji. It was a really beautiful, picturesque moment. The town that I was going to stay in got snowed in, so instead I stayed in a little hostel, just myself and the caretaker.

I just had nothing to do other than learn how to use the software, or read or walk out and go eat this special noodle there. It was just a really cool little town and I had to spend two or three weeks there snowed in because I couldn't leave. I couldn't go back to Tokyo, so I had no choice but to learn some music production.

That's so cool. Did being in Japan and the atmosphere there give birth to some of the songs?

Josh: Yeah, it's just a very inspiring place. And all the architecture, just the purposefulness of Japan and how much care they put into everything is very inspiring too.

Do you feel like the creative energy when you were working or writing in Japan felt different than when you're writing in Australia, than when you're writing in L.A.?

Amy: We [were] inspired by [the] snow [in Japan] a lot because we just don't have that here in Australia. It's just dry. We have a lot of other beautiful things.

Also, Blade Runner inspired this album a lot, it's one of our favorite movies. There's this scene where he's walking in the snow and it reminded us of Japan a lot. And we just don't have that in Australia, we don't have snow here. We do in one city but it's like the only place where you can go to here that actually has snow.

Josh: There are heaps of places that snow in Australia.

Amy: Really? Not like in Japan.

Josh: Yeah, not in the main towns, but yeah like it snows in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.

Amy: Yeah, but not like as much as Japan does, it snows everywhere in Japan.

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Can you talk a little bit about the meaning and inspiration for the "Out Of Touch" music video?

Josh: [Chuckles.] So, we were meant to film it as like a three-part music video with "Out Of Touch," "No Time" and the interlude. We filmed it in South Australia because it was the only place we could travel to, there was like a travel bubble I guess you'd call it between South Australia and Queensland, two States in Australia. We found a Screen South Australia photo gallery, where you can see where lots of different film sets and locations [were shot].

We went there without really scoping them out and it kind of backfired on us a little bit because we got there—it was just the weather. I think because they had the most rain they've had in like 40 years. So a lot of the places that we wanted to film at, like the salt flats—there's really beautiful salt flats that are really reflective—they were just completely muddy and gross. And we went to two of those, they were both just completely ruined. Then we went to the sand dunes to film and it was like 60 kilometer winds and the whole trip we were just getting absolutely ruined by the weather.

But it was like one of the most fun trips ever because we normally shoot with our friend Dylan Duclos and our close friend Rico Zhang was over from China, where he's a director. So we all collaborated on the idea together and went over and shot it together. We didn't get as much as we wanted out of it, but it turned out great in the end.

Amy: We pretty much just got one video out of what was meant to be three videos.

Josh: Yeah, we had to come back and reshoot a lot of the stuff in Queensland to actually finish the "Out Of Touch" video. And all the set builds, like the big monolith and the stuff we stand on, my dad and I had to rebuild them when we came back to Queensland and we had to get a truck and lug them around. There was so much that went it, it was a very D.I.Y. shoot, so we were cutting off on the corners and building a lot of this stuff ourselves and pulling in a lot of favors, basically.

What was the initial inspiration for the visuals—when I'm watching it, I feel like there's imagery and stuff that probably means something, like the burning tree?

Josh: It ended up becoming more of an arty conceptual piece more than something that had a clear narrative. Because when we had it in the three-act form, it was the Lastlings—which are us—we go and collect our army from this kind of research facility, then we take them back because that world is going to explode or deteriorate. That was the first act and then the second one was a limbo of the Lastlings walking through a dream-esque land. And then the third act was the resolve, when Amy collects everyone and takes them back because the world is going to explode.

Amy: And there are all just these different Amys. It's like "Rick and Morty." [Laughs.]

Josh: It became a really ambitious thing with time constraints and the weather and everything just kind of fell to bits at the end, but we managed to get enough footage for "Out
Of Touch" and make it a really nice, interesting piece.

You know when you watch something and you're like, "Is there something more? What does this mean?" I'm glad I wasn't really missing things, but it's super cool and it feels cinematic.

Josh: Yeah. There wasn't too much symbolism and stuff, like you said with the fire, and all the portals and stuff. But I think the moments in themselves are really cool because we got to explore some VFX stuff and really just flex on a lot of our own movie inspos that we love; there was a lot of Blade Runner references.

Even random movies like Prometheus, with the color grading and all that kind of stuff as well. It was almost like a homage to all of our favorite sci-fi films. Even the big planet in it kind of looks like the Death Star from Star Wars. And the monolith, it was like the ones in Space Odyssey.

What's it like making music together as siblings?

Amy: Sometimes we do fight but then we can be really honest with each other [about] what we like and don't like, too. And every time we're on tour and stuff, we're always so comfortable because we always know that we have a good friend there with us. Some people tour by themselves—I've asked people this as well, and they've said that sometimes they get a bit lonely or they wish they had someone close with them. So it's nice to have a brother there with you when you're on tour and stuff.

Josh: Yeah, for the music-making part, we're both very different. Amy does the lyrics and the singing and I do most of the production. So, we work kind of separately most of the time, like I'll do an instrumental or a bit of piano or just an idea, and then Amy generally writes some lyrics over that. And at the moment, it's kind of hard because we're not living in the same city, so we kind of have to send stuff back and forth and record it in our own time.

What was your workflow on the album?

Josh: I think Amy wrote most of her lyrics when she was in Japan and then I did a lot of the instrumental stuff. I made a lot of instrumental demos with ideas on them and then I kind of gave them to Amy and then she could recycle lyrics from her Japan trip or write new ones. It's a very collaborative process when most of the time it doesn't really start with us [together], but usually, it starts with me with an instrumental, then Amy writes on it.

What kind of music did you guys grow up listening to? Was it like a musical house and everything?

Amy: Yeah. I grew up listening to a lot of classical music and mom used to listen to a lot of J-Pop and so I listened to that too. And a lot of indie rock music when I was in my teens and then I started listening to electronic music when I was 18 or 17. I listened to a bunch of different stuff.

Josh: Yeah, we both started playing classical music when we were younger and then I quit. And it wasn't for a few years until I got into rock music, like Led Zeppelin and the Chili Peppers and all that kind of stuff. I think I did like one classical guitar lesson, and I hated that and quit. I taught myself electric guitar, then played in a band with a few friends. I think all my music interests were kind of around the music I was playing at the time. So like I said, Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, is kind of the music we were playing in our band and Arctic Monkeys. Then I kind of moved on to more synthy stuff, more electronic stuff.

I think DJ Koze was my first introduction to electronic music. I think the DJ Koze remix of "Bad Kingdom" by Moderat was one of the first songs that I heard out in the club randomly one time that I'd actually really liked. Because the rest of them—it was just a kick drum really. That song really stuck out [to] me. I really loved electronic music from then.

I love that track. I think it was summer 2014? I just remember having it on repeat, and every time a DJ would play it, I was just like, "You're my favorite DJ."

Josh: Yeah, it was so good. And then like everyone started to rinse it; it just got so overplayed, but it's still such a good song. There were just a few DJs on the Gold Coast that would kind of ruin it; they'd play it too fast or just play it at the wrong time.

It was one that my friends and I would always play when we were DJing together. That's right, I started DJing before I started making music. My friends and I got one of those little [DJ] controllers when we were like 18, teaching each other how to DJ, it was so cute.

Do you remember your first electronic song or producer that you liked, Amy?

Amy: I actually think it was RÜFÜS. I would have been 15 when they put out "Take Me." I didn't even know that song was them when we were touring with them. I went back and found it and I was like, "I really liked that song when I was really young. My friends and I used to always play it," which is funny. I think that song and then also probably Flume when I was really young, he was probably one of the first electronic artists I started listening to.

And then it just started to evolve and then I went to a festival in Melbourne with Josh and a bunch of friends and I watched Fatima Yamaha and that was like the reason why I wanted to start listening to more electronic music.

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And what does your relationship with RÜFÜS feel like for you guys?

Josh: It's really good. They're like really chill and really, really nice guys. So, it was really easy to get along with them when we were touring together. And even when they were giving us feedback for some of our songs as well, they're really great guys to work with. So we've become friends as well, it's really cool, we send each other memes and stuff. It's great.

That's awesome. Yeah, they're so nice. They seem like brothers—once you tour in a van around America together, you become brothers.

Josh: Totally, totally. Yeah we were lucky to go and stay on their tour bus as well when we were doing some of the American shows, which [was a] really cool experience. It's such a weird concept to do a tour bus because in Australia we kind of fly everywhere because the cities aren't close enough together.

Amy: So fun! [The buses] are so small, like little capsules. It's like staying in hotels in Japan, but on a bus.

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You recently put out the Bob Moses remix. How do you usually approach a Lastlings remix?

Josh: I usually start with the vocals and with some chords and tend to stay in the same key as the remix. With that song, I wanted to preserve the vocals as much and not drop the pitch down and stuff because he has a really, really nice voice. There's a Four Tet remix, of Eric Prydz's "Opus"—I don't know why that was the inspo for it, I think because it has a really massive build. But yeah I just wanted to make a nice long, slow-burning remix that had a bit of a nice build-up in the second part.

But yeah, I don't know. I just kind of use my Prophet-6 [analog synth] to get a bunch of nice atmospheric sounds and then just start building around that. And then, I normally do all the melodies and all the chords and stuff first before I do the drums. I know a lot of other producers start with drums, but I do it the other way around.

That's cool. I really liked that remix, it's nice.

Josh: Yeah, that was fun to make. I actually did another version of it first—I made four or five different remixes, but that was the one that I ended on.

Are you a perfectionist?

Josh: Oh, very.

Where did the name Lastlings come from?

Josh: Lastlings was a short story I wrote in high school about the last beings on earth. It was a dystopian story. All the trees and nature had grown over the cities and stuff. Have you seen "Love, Death & Robots" on Netflix? It's really good. In the new season, there was a city and I was like, "Oh my God, that's exactly the city that I had in mind when I was writing the story."

You guys are sci-fi nerds, I take it?

Josh: I like sci-fi. I always get asked that, but I guess I've seen a lot of them. I do love it. I just love really fantastical worlds and stuff that probably will never exist. The more we get into the future, I'm like, "Wow, maybe some of this stuff is actually real."

Amy: Yeah, every story I read in high school was fantasy or sci-fi.

Okay, broad question but I always like to end on a positive note. What's your biggest hope for the future?

Amy: I have so many wishes, I just want the world to be less f***ed up.

Josh: Pretty much. I really want Coronavirus to f*** off.

Amy: That's a lot of F words. I would like future generations are more open-minded—I think there's time [for all of us] to be more open-minded as well.

Josh: Yeah, I wish we had a more unified world and everyone was on the same wavelength.

Amy: Hopefully it's like that in the future.

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Moby performing on stage

Photo: Mike Formanski


"Let Yourself Be Idiosyncratic": Moby Talks New Album 'Always Centered At Night' & 25 Years Of 'Play'

"We're not writing for a pop audience, we don't need to dumb it down," Moby says of creating his new record. In an interview, the multiple-GRAMMY nominee reflects on his latest album and how it contrasts with his legendary release from 1999.

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2024 - 01:29 pm

Moby’s past and present are converging in a serendipitous way. The multiple-GRAMMY nominee is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his seminal work, Play, the best-selling electronic dance music album of all time, and the release of his latest album, always centered at night. 

Where Play was a solitary creation experience for Moby, always centered at night is wholly collaborative. Recognizable names on the album are Lady Blackbird on the blues-drenched "dark days" and serpentwithfeet on the emotive "on air." But always centered at night’s features are mainly lesser-known artists, such as the late Benjamin Zephaniah on the liquid jungle sounds of "where is your pride?" and Choklate on the slow grooves of "sweet moon." 

Moby’s music proves to have staying power: His early ‘90s dance hits "Go" and "Next is the E" still rip up dancefloors; the songs on Play are met with instant emotional reactions from millennials who heard them growing up. Moby is even experiencing a resurgence of sorts with Gen Z. In 2023, Australian drum ‘n’ bass DJ/producer Luude and UK vocalist Issey Cross reimagined Moby’s classic "Porcelain" into "Oh My." Earlier this year, Moby released "You and Me" with Italian DJ/producer Anfisa Letyago. 

Music is just one of Moby’s many creative ventures. He wrote and directed Punk Rock Vegan Movie as well as writing and starring in his homemade documentary, Moby Doc. The two films are produced by his production company, Little Walnut, which also makes music videos, shorts and the podcast "Moby Pod." Moby and co-host Lindsay Hicks have an eclectic array of guests, from actor Joe Manganiello to Ed Begley, Jr., Steve-O and Hunter Biden. The podcast interviews have led to "some of the most meaningful interpersonal experiences," Moby tells 

A upcoming episode of "Moby Pod" dedicated to Play was taped live over two evenings at Los Angeles’ Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The episode focuses on Moby recounting his singular experiences around the unexpected success of that album — particularly considering the abject failure of his previous album, Animal Rights. The narrative was broken up by acoustic performances of songs from Play, as well as material from Always Centered at Night (which arrives June 14) with special guest Lady Blackbird. Prior to the taping, Moby spoke to about both albums. 

'Always centered at night' started as a label imprint then became the title of your latest album. How did that happen? 

I realized pretty quickly that I just wanted to make music and not necessarily worry about being a label boss. Why make more busy work for myself?

The first few songs were this pandemic process of going to SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube and asking people for recommendations to find voices that I wasn’t familiar with, and then figuring out how to get in touch with them. The vast majority of the time, they would take the music I sent them and write something phenomenal.

That's the most interesting part of working with singers you've never met: You don't know what you're going to get. My only guidance was: Let yourself be creative, let yourself be idiosyncratic, let the lyrics be poetic. We're not writing for a pop audience, we don't need to dumb it down. Although, apparently Lady Blackbird is one of Taylor Swift's favorite singers 

Guiding the collaborators away from pop music is an unusual directive, although perhaps not for you? 

What is both sad and interesting is pop has come to dominate the musical landscape to such an extent that it seems a lot of musicians don't know they're allowed to do anything else. Some younger people have grown up with nothing but pop music. Danaé Wellington, who sings "Wild Flame," her first pass of lyrics were pop. I went back to her and said, "Please be yourself, be poetic." And she said, "Well, that’s interesting because I’m the poet laureate of Manchester." So getting her to disregard pop lyrics and write something much more personal and idiosyncratic was actually easy and really special. 

You certainly weren’t going in the pop direction when making 'Play,' but it ended up being an extremely popular album. Did you have a feeling it was going to blow up the way it did?

I have a funny story. I had a date in January 1999 in New York. We went out drinking and I had just gotten back the mastered version of Play. We're back at my apartment, and before our date became "grown up," we listened to the record from start to finish. She actually liked it. And I thought, Huh, that's interesting. I didn't think anyone was going to like this record. 

You didn’t feel anything different during the making of 'Play?'

I knew to the core of my being that Play was going to be a complete, abject failure. There was no doubt in my mind whatsoever. It was going to be my last record and it was going to fail. That was the time of people going into studios and spending half a million dollars. It was Backstreet Boys and Limp Bizkit and NSYNC; big major label records that were flawlessly produced. Play was made literally in my bedroom. 

I slept under the stairs like Harry Potter in my loft on Mott Street. I had one bedroom and that's where I made the record on the cheapest of cheap equipment held up literally on milk crates. Two of the songs were recorded to cassette, that's how cheap the record was. It was this weird record made by a has-been, a footnote from the early rave days. There was no world where I thought it was going to be even slightly successful. Daniel Miller from Mute said — and I remember this very clearly — "I think this record might sell over 50,000 copies." And I said, "That’s kind of you to say but let's admit that this is going to be a failure. Thank you for releasing my last record."  

Was your approach in making 'Play' different from other albums? 

The record I had made before Play, Animal Rights, was this weird, noisy metal punk industrial record that almost everybody hated. I remember this moment so vividly: I was playing Glastonbury in 1998 and it was one of those miserable Glastonbury years. When it's good, it's paradise; it's really special. But the first time I played, it was disgusting, truly. A foot and a half of mud everywhere, incessant rain and cold. I was telling my manager that I wanted to make another punk rock metal record. And he said the most gentle thing, "I know you enjoy making punk rock and metal. People really enjoy when you make electronic music." 

The way he said it, he wasn't saying, "You would help your career by making electronic music." He simply said, "People enjoy it." If I had been my manager, I would have said, "You're a f—ing idiot. Everyone hated that record. What sort of mental illness and masochism is compelling you to do it again?" Like Freud said, the definition of mental illness is doing the same thing and expecting different results. But his response was very emotional and gentle and sweet, and that got through to me. I had this moment where I realized, I can make music that potentially people will enjoy that will make them happy. Why not pursue that? 

That was what made me not spend my time in ‘98 making an album inspired by Sepultura and Pantera and instead make something more melodic and electronic. 

After years of swearing off touring, what’s making you hit stages this summer? 

I love playing live music. If you asked me to come over and play Neil Young songs in your backyard, I would say yes happily, in a second. But going on tour, the hotels and airports and everything, I really dislike it.  

My manager tricked me. He found strategically the only way to get me to go on tour was to give the money to animal rights charities. My philanthropic Achilles heel. The only thing that would get me to go on tour. It's a brief tour of Europe, pretty big venues, which is interesting for an old guy, but when the tour ends, I will have less money than when the tour begins. 

Your DJ sets are great fun. Would you consider doing DJ dates locally? 

Every now and then I’ll do something. But there’s two problems. As I've become very old and very sober, I go to sleep at 9 p.m. This young guy I was helping who was newly sober, he's a DJ. He was doing a DJ set in L.A. and he said, "You should come down. There's this cool underground scene." I said, "Great! What time are you playing?" And he said "I’m going on at 1 a.m." By that point I've been asleep for almost five hours.

I got invited to a dinner party recently that started at 8 p.m. and I was like, "What are you on? Cocaine in Ibiza? You're having dinner at 8 p.m.  What craziness is that? That’s when you're putting on your soft clothes and watching a '30 Rock' rerun before bed. That's not going out time." And the other thing is, unfortunately, like a lot of middle aged or elderly musicians, I have a little bit of tinnitus so I have to be very cautious around loud music.

Are you going to write a third memoir at any point? 

Only when I figure out something to write. It's definitely not going to be anecdotes about sobriety because my anecdotes are: woke up at 5 a.m., had a smoothie, read The New York Times, lamented the fact that people are voting for Trump, went for a hike, worked on music, played with Bagel the dog, worked on music some more went to sleep, good night. It would be so repetitive and boring. 

It has to be something about lived experience and wisdom. But I don't know if I've necessarily gotten to the point where I have good enough lived experience and wisdom to share with anyone. Maybe if I get to that point, I'll probably be wrong, but nonetheless, that would warrant maybe writing another book.

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Sofia Ilyas Q&A hero
Sofia Ilyas

Photo: Grace Phillips


Beatport's Sofia Ilyas On Creating A More Equitable & Connected Music Industry

"What I love about the music industry is there are so many gaps, and so many observations you can make and sort of insert yourself in and create something quite special itself," Sofia Ilyas of carving out a career as a music professional.

GRAMMYs/May 7, 2024 - 01:42 pm

Given that Beatport Chief Community Officer Sofia Ilyas has dedicated the last 15 years or so of her life supporting burgeoning artists, subgenres and underrepresented groups, it's somewhat surprising that she grew up in a household without music.

As a teen, a Sony Walkman with a radio and mixtapes featuring the likes of Radiohead were a lifeline to a world Ilyas' family didn't want her to participate in. She was even kept home during school field trips to the National Gallery museum in London, where she's since hosted her Piano Day music and art event, and will soon be curating a room for their 200th anniversary celebration.

Ilyas has had to sacrifice a lot — namely, a relationship with her strict Muslim family — to carve out a career in music, and hers is a story of patience and resilience. After leaving her home in Cardiff, Wales for London to pursue higher education (against her family's wishes), she found solace and connection in live music. She'd hang out around the sound booth and introduce herself and ask questions about how things worked. Slowly but surely, she befriended people that worked at labels and venues, and even artists — Four Tet grew to know her by name after she kept coming back to his shows.

After years of being a part of the London scene as a dedicated fan, at age 30, Ilyas became co-manager of indie record label Erased Tapes, where she helped popularize neoclassical music and one of its purveyors, experimental German pianist Nils Frahm. Alongside Frahm, Ilyas launched Piano Day, where a diverse range of artists help them celebrate the past, present and future of the instrument alongside contemporary dancers and painters.

Now, as the first Chief Community Officer at major dance music platform Beatport, Ilyas is building community within and across disparate global electronic communities. She aims to bring more women and people of color into the mix.

"We're living in a time where people are feeling incredibly lonely and disconnected from community," Ilyas tells "I [want to] facilitate people to come in to hear from each other, especially women, in a room that feels safe to hold discussion." recently caught up with Ilyas for an insightful, engaging conversation on her work to support women and people of color in electronic music, making piano cool, her hopes for a more equitable music industry, and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

You recently hosted your Piano Day annual events in Melbourne and London — tell me your vision for Piano Day.

When we launched Piano Day in London with Nils [Frahm], it gave me an excuse to try my own events. I had the artists performing in different corners of the room and a painter in the middle, watching and being inspired. I've always looked at different arts and wondered why they can't also be present in the music world and why we can't support each other across various industries. I've had a contemporary dancer at almost every event I've done in London. Piano Day was my way of having my own event that I could own and really show off my curation. Even with the first event, people were saying the space was beautiful and the curation was so good. I felt really validated.

[For Piano Day,] I always ask artists what they can do that's a little bit different, beyond performing their album or recent EP. I had one artist who had never played piano before, and he made a few mistakes and everyone was applauding him like it's okay. It's really important to me that Piano Day offers something that maybe the audience will never see again and they feel they've experienced something very special. An even bigger extension of that is the lineup that I curate for the National Gallery; coupling a piano player with a dancer who had never met before, and multiple artists only ever played piano maybe three times. I love that the artists have felt safe to trust me and that it's the type of event where they can take a risk.

I'm always looking for acts that are open to trying something a bit different and to be challenged by the fact that it's solo piano predominantly. And to also be inspired by the space, the National Gallery is such a prestigious, iconic venue. It's quite an unusual event because you've got people who've come to see the artists and regular visitors who have just come to see the paintings and they happen to stumble across what's happening. What's even more special for me is the audience is full of children. [I've been wondering] how we can do more music events that kids can come to, because I saw how inspired they were.

You'll be returning to the National Gallery in May to help curate their 200th anniversary event. How are you thinking about everything it stands for while bringing it into the future with music and women and people of color?

I've always had an attachment to the Gallery because there were school trips to it and my parents would never let me go. So for them to email me, "Hey, we've been to a couple of your events, would you like to bring Piano Day to the National Gallery?" I was just overwhelmed and hugely complimented.

I went to each room, sat down and thought about the feelings [it brought up]. I ended up landing on the blue room, it's got a lot of English paintings in it. I liked the idea of English artists against old English paintings, sort of breaking that mold of stiffness and classical looks to be like, this is now the future of London coming into the gallery. We placed the piano right in front of this really famous huge horse painting to really make that statement.

I am very mindful of having a diverse and interesting lineup. I always have one artist that starts the event that is a nod to the traditional kind of way of playing [piano]. It usually evolves to some artists playing the neoclassical sounds and then it moves into more the dance element and vocalist and then it ends on "this is the future" type of thing. I always like having that momentum.

Let's talk about your new record label RISE. What's your vision is with it and who are the artists you're currently working with?

I started Rise last year for artists that want help to get to the next level and get the attention of the label they want. I wanted to do a label that was within my bandwidth because I have a full-time job. If there're artists that I can help get from point A to B, then they go on to C, that's a great thing. I have Frank Hopkins on the label, who's an electronic artist, and Kareem Kumar, who's a Black artist who is known for playing in the streets of London. [Kumar] has built an incredibly huge audience on socials that has been a real inspiration to so many youngsters during COVID. They played together for the first time at the National Gallery, where Frank added some really nice ambient sounds and Kareem played the piano.

Too often, labels are quite a stiff experience, they want to assign that artist forever. If there are any artists that want help on press releases, overall branding and PR, that's exactly what RISE is there for. We can help them release some records, sort their online profile and offer guidance to basically uplift the artist so they can get the attention of booking agents, a label etc.

I see the future of labels where they are this sort of incubator-type of model, where they help an artist and the artists can grow into their own team or go off into another label. I envisage more labels existing like mine, where they're helping the artists onto that next level.

What do you think needs to shift for the music industry to be more supportive — financially and otherwise — of artists, particularly young people of color?

One thing that could be great is the labels that are doing well commercially — I'm sure they do this to a certain extent — choose two artists every year for an incubator program and make it more visible. Right now, most labels' A&R is a very closed thing. I think [it would help] if the labels made a very clear way of sending them demos. I know it is difficult because these days, even [people at] labels are so overworked and they don't have time to think about things like this. Maybe a music organization or a body out there could pick this idea up and take it to some of the major labels.

On the live side, [we need] more community spaces where an artist can come by and play regularly to fans and bring their friends and family around. Most venues are so hard to get on the bill, [so there's a need for] smaller 100-capacity-or-so spaces that open the doors more to local artists. We rely on the same names over and over again, whether it's festivals or local clubs, etc.

With your work as Beatport's Chief Community Officer, what are you actively doing to bring in and celebrate more women and people of color in dance music?

I've always been aware of diversity and my color and who I am in the music industry. Especially when I was around all those white male composers who knew everything about production and I knew nothing, that was very daunting. Even things like drinking — I don't drink and the amount of times it feels uncomfortable to be in the music industry. Many people in South Asian communities, especially Pakistani, grew up in a non-drinking culture, and we should have awareness to make those people feel comfortable otherwise they're never going to join the music industry.

What's been incredible is that Robb [McDaniels, Beatport's CEO] and the team have been, "You own it, you do what you believe." In the first few months, I hired a DEI consultant named Vick Bain, who was an amazing mentor for me. I'm a real big believer in experts. I was able to really upskill myself very fast through having her around.

Putting aside diversity, we're living in a time where people are feeling incredibly lonely and disconnected from community. That's why I'm doing panel events with DJ sets with Beatport. I [want to] facilitate people to come in to hear from each other, especially women, in a room that feels safe to hold discussion.

How have you taken it upon yourself to bring more women and artists of color with you along the way, and do you make space and advocate for people?

It's always something that's on the top of my mind because being a South Asian woman in music is already quite difficult at moments. You look around wondering Is there any support for me? And with my journey of having walked away from my family, part of me is already exhausted from that experience and existing in the music industry in an environment that often feels very alien to me.

Just being a woman in a C-Suite position isn't not easy. I've never been in a role where the focus is to champion women and that's why I'm so grateful for Beatport.

Throughout my career, I've always given out a lot of free PR and guidance, and quite often that's been for women. I've always wanted to be available and I'm always happy to give my time. If anyone reads this, and they want to email me and ask me any questions, I'm always really happy to help.

What's some advice you have for young women of color that want to work in the music industry but don't know where to start?

What I love about the music industry is there are so many gaps, and so many observations you can make and sort of insert yourself in and create something quite special itself. Once you start getting to know your local community, [you can get] so much support from others. I made a lot of my friends by going to vinyl markets and going up to my favorite labels and saying hi. When I was trying to work in the music industry and sending a ton of emails, I got nothing in return. But as soon as I started being a bit more active in the live [music] side, I met so many people.

Don't think you need to do it alone. For so many years, I kept what I was experiencing to myself and I would always present this polished person on Instagram. Lately, I've started really opening up more about how I feel. When I turned 43 recently, I posted on Instagram about how I sometimes overwork to avoid [loneliness]. I was surprised by how many people, especially men, messaged me and said I feel that way too. I'm learning to be more vulnerable.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. You just have to get over ego and fear. I can't sugarcoat it; unfortunately, there are [some] people who are going to make you feel really stupid for asking. Lean on your friends and know you're on the right path. Know that we need more women and more diversity in the industry. Look at people that inspire you. When I used to look at Four Tet, I'd be like, Oh my God, an Indian man on stage, that's so cool. So, look for your inspiration points and be vulnerable with your friends, because it is going to be difficult sometimes. And you can definitely email me anytime. [Chuckles.]

What does a more equitable music industry look like to you?

Well, that's a big question. I think [it would involve] everyone being more conscious. Whether it's a booking agent or a label looking to sign someone, if everyone is thinking around diversity and consciously looking and making their spaces more open to women. I always think about open doors. How can everyone open their doors more while considering the space people are entering into. It's one thing opening your door but it's another thing if that person enters a space and doesn't feel safe.

For me, a place where everyone's consciously thinking about this, and it isn't just on the organization or a few artists or someone like me in my role to try and figure it out. I think if everyone was conscious of it, things would just happen more seamlessly.

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DJ Deorro performs  during the Mextour Live Concert at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles in 2023
DJ Deorro performs on stage during the Mextour Live Concert at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 14, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Photo: Omar Vega/Getty Images


8 Essential Latin Electronic Releases: Songs And Albums From Bizarrap, Arca & More

Electronic sounds can be heard throughout Latin music and will be recognized in a new Field and Category at the 2024 Latin GRAMMYs. In honor of the new Best Latin Electronic Music Performance award, read on for eight Latin electronic music essentials.

GRAMMYs/May 2, 2024 - 01:22 pm

Electronic music is embedded within the diverse world of Latin music and, for the first time, will be recognized in a new Field and Category at the 2024 Latin GRAMMYs. Within that field, the award for Best Latin Electronic Music Performance was created to shine a light on DJs, producers, and artists blending proudly blending electronic music with the sounds of their cultures.

Electronic music embodies various subgenres like house music, techno, trance, electronica, and many others rooted that have been popularized by DJs and producers. Latin artists have long enriched those subgenres: Mexico's Belanova globalized the electro-pop wave, while Bomba Estéreo blended cumbia with electronica in Colombia. 

The explosion of EDM in the 2010s also allowed the careers of Latinx DJs to flourish. Mexican American DJ Deorro has showcased both cultures during sets at music festivals like EDC, Coachella, Tomorrowland, and more. Arca's music pushes the boundaries of electronic music through a Venezuelan and Latin American lens. More recently, Colombian producer Víctor Cárdenas bridged the gap between EDM and reggaeton with the global hit "Pepas" by Farruko. Since then, electronic music has seeped through the work of Latin hit-makers like Tainy, Caleb Calloway, Bizarrap and Diego Raposo. "Pepas" and many of Bizarrap's music sessions crossed over onto Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Songs.

"That’s something that’s very big for us," Deorro tells about the new category. "How beautiful that this is happening, because it shows that what we’re doing is working, we’re breaking down doors, and we’re creating more opportunities for artists like us in the future." 

In honor of the Latin Recording Academy's new Field and Category, here are eight must-hear Latin electronic music essentials.

Belanova - Cocktail (2003)

Belanova revolutionized the Latin music space with their 2003 debut album Cocktail, an atmospheric LP that seamlessly blends Latin pop with electronic music. In the dreamy deep house of "Tu Ojos," singer Denisse Guerrero sang about getting lost in her lover's eyes. The trippy techno of "Barco De Papel" was reminiscent of the music from Madonna's Ray of Light album. Electronic music on the ambient level wasn’t common in Latin music until Belenova changed the game in Mexico, which later reverberated into the rest of Latin America and the U.S. 

The trio — which includes guitarist Ricardo Arreol and keyboardist Edgar Huerta — later delved into electro-pop on 2007's Fantasía Pop, which won a Latin GRAMMY for Best Pop Album by a Group or Duo the following year. 

Arca - Kick I-II (2020)

Venezuelan producer/artist Arca is a pioneer in the Latin electronic music space. Arca first began producing her experimental electronica in Spanish with her 2017 self-titled album.

Arca then masterfully mixed the diverse sounds of Latin America and beyond with EDM throughout her Kick album series. 

For Kick I, she combined Venezuelan gaita music and reggaeton with a cyberpunk edge in "KLK" featuring Spanish pop star Rosalía. Arca then blended electronica with neo-perreo on Kick II's "Prada" and "Rakata." Both albums garnered Arca GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY nominations. 

As a trans and non-binary artist, she is also breaking boundaries for the LGBTQ+ community in the genre. Arca is just not creating more space for queer artists in Latin music, but also in EDM at large by embracing the totality of herself in song.  

Bomba Estéreo - Deja (2021)

Bomba Estéreo, which is comprised of core members Simón Mejía and Liliana "Li" Saumet, has masterfully melded the music of Colombia’s Caribbean coast with electronic music. Since breaking out in 2008 with their sophomore album, the group has often reimagined the African and Indigenous rhythms of their country like cumbia through dance music. Bomba Estéreo’s folkloric approach to EDM has led to collaborations with Bad Bunny, Tainy, and Sofi Tukker.    

In 2021, Bomba Estéreo released its most ambitious album Deja, which garnered a GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY nominations. The title track put a funky spin on the band's signature electro-tropical sound. House music collided with the Afro-Colombian rhythms of champeta in "Conexión Total" featuring Nigerian singer Yemi Alade. Their album that was based on the four classical elements was a breath of fresh air in the Latin music scene. 

Bizarrap - "BZRP Music Sessions #52" (2022)

Argentine producer Bizarrap launched the BZRP Music Sessions on YouTube in 2018, first remaining behind the console for freestyle rapping sessions with local acts. The sessions quickly went viral, and have featured increasingly larger names in music.

Over the past five years, Bizarrap worked elements of electronic music into his hip-hop productions. In 2022, he fully delved into EDM with his global hit "BZRP Music Sessions #52" featuring Spanish singer Quevedo. The traptronica banger peaked at No. 4 on Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Songs and earned Bizarrap his first Latin GRAMMY Award. 

Since then, his music sessions have become a global event. Bizarrap later infused electro-pop with a trap breakdown in "BZRP Music Sessions #53" with Shakira, which garnered him two more Latin GRAMMY awards. 

Javiera Mena - Nocturna (2022)

Javiera Mena first debuted as an indie act in 2006 with Esquemas Juveniles. With that freedom as a producer and artist, the Chilean star pushed Latin music into the electronic space with her 2010 album Mena

She fully immersed herself into Latin electronica on her latest album, 2022's Nocturna — an album filled with nighttime club bangers that invite everyone to dance with her. Mena also proudly sings about being part of the LGBTQ+ community in the alluring "La Isla de Lesbos" and the fierce house music of "Diva" featuring Chico Blanco. Considering the influence of queer artists in the formation of electronic genres like house, it’s refreshing to see an artist like Mena remind people of those roots and bring that into Latin music.  

Deorro - Orro (2022)

Mexican American producer Deorro has established himself as one of the world's top DJs, and is known for mixing both of his cultures into his music festival sets. Even before the música mexicana explosion last year, he was one of the first mainstream EDM acts to bring the genre to music festivals around the world through his songs and remixes.   

With his debut album, 2022's Orro, Deorro fully bridged música mexicana with house music. He collaborated with Latin acts like Mexico's Los Tucanes De Tijuana and Maffio in "Yo Las Pongo," which blended the band's norteño sound with EDM. Deorro also explored cumbia with deep house in the sweeping "Dime" featuring Los Ángeles Azules and Lauri Garcia. In his recent sets, he is spinning a fiery remix of "Ella Baila Sola" by Eslabon Armado and Peso Pluma

Sinego - Alterego (2023)

Sinego first broke through in 2019 thanks to his house bolero sound like in "Verte Triste," which put a refreshing spin on an age-old Cuban genre. With traditional genres within the Latin diaspora often falling to the wayside as the years go on, he is reintroducing them to new audiences through EDM reimaginings.   

For his debut album, 2023's Alterego, the Colombian producer pushed his electronic music to another level. Sinego traveled to different Latin American countries and Spain to record with local musicians, reimagining genres like cumbia, tango, and mambo through Sinego's EDM lens. With the sultry "Mala," he blended Venezuela's variation of calypso with house music. He also gave Brazilian samba a house music makeover in "Boa Noite" featuring Tonina. 

Diego Raposo - Yo No Era Así Pero De Ahora En Adelante Sí (2023)

Dominican producer Diego Raposo has helped Latin acts like Danny Ocean, Blue Rojo, and Letón Pé embrace elements of electronic music. In 2018, Raposo released his debut album Caribe Express, which demonstrated his knack for mixing the sounds of the Caribbean with EDM. 

Raposo took that inventive mix into overdrive with last year's Yo No Era Así Pero De Ahora En Adelante Sí. The otherworldly "Si Supieras" featuring Okeiflou blended house music with reggaeton, while "Al Contrario" with Akrilla aggressively mixes drum 'n 'bass with dembow. Rapaso also channels Dance Dance Revolution-esque electronica in the spellbinding "Quédate" with Kablito. 

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Curtis Jones, aka Cajmere & Green Velvet, performing live. Jones is wearing dark sunglasses amid a dark background and green strobe lights.
Curtis Jones performs as Green Velvet

Photo: Matt Jelonek/WireImage


Dance Legend Curtis Jones On Cajmere, Green Velvet & 30 Years Of Cajual Records

As Green Velvet and Cajmere, DJ/producer Curtis Jones celebrates everything from Chicago to acid house. With a new party and revived record label, Jones says he wants to "shine a light on those who sacrificed so much to keep house music alive."

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 02:19 pm

Curtis Jones is a dance music legend, whose multiple monikers only begin to demonstrate his deep and varied influence in the genre.

Jones has been active as a producer and DJ for decades, and is among a cadre of dance music acts forging a connection between the genre's origins and its modern iterations. Crucially, he  joined Chicago house legends Honey Dijon and Terry Hunter on Beyoncé's house-infused RENAISSANCE, providing a sample for "Cozy." He’s also produced tracks with house favorites Chris Lake and Oliver Heldens, and DJed with Dom Dolla and John Summit.

Jones contributed to the aforementioned collaborations, young and old, as Green Velvet. He’s been releasing dance hits like "Flash" and "Answering Machine" under that name since the mid- '90s. He is also currently a staple of the live circuit, his signature green mohawk vibing in clubs and festivals around the globe — including at his own La La Land parties in Los Angeles, Denver, Orlando, and elsewhere.

Green Velvet is appropriately braggadocious, even releasing the popular "Bigger Than Prince" in 2013. But by the time Jones had released the heavy-grooving tech house track, his artistry had been percolating for decades as Cajmere.

Where Green Velvet releases lean into acid house and Detroit techno, Cajmere is all about the traditional house sound of Jones’ hometown of Chicago. When Jones first debuted Cajmere in 1991, Chicago’s now-historic reputation for house music was still developing. Decades after the original release, Cajmere tracks like "Percolator,” have sustained the Windy City sound via remixes by prominent house artists like Will Clarke, Jamie Jones, and Claude VonStroke.

"I love doing music under both of my aliases, so it’s great when fans discover the truth,” Jones tells over email. Often, Jones performs as Cajmere to open his La La Land parties, and closes as Green Velvet. 

But beyond a few scattered performances and new tracks, Cajmere has remained dormant while Green Velvet became a worldwide headliner, topping bills in Mexico City, Toronto, Bogotá and other international dance destinations. He’s only shared two original releases as Cajmere since 2016: "Baby Talk,” and "Love Foundation,” a co-production with fellow veteran Chicago producer/DJ Gene Farris.

This year, Jones is reviving Cajmere to headliner status with his new live event series, Legends. First held in March in Miami, Jones' Legends aims to highlight other dance music legends, from Detroit techno pioneers Stacey Pullen and Carl Craig, to Chicago house maven Marshall Jefferson. 

"My intention is to shine a light on those who sacrificed so much to keep house music alive," Jones writes. "The sad reality is that most of the legendary artists aren’t celebrated or compensated as well as they should be."

Given that dance music came into the popular music zeitgeist relatively recently, the originators of the genre — like the artists Jones booked for his Legends party — are still in their prime. Giving them space to perform allows them to apply the same innovation they had in the early '90s in 2024.

Jones says the Miami Legends launch was an amazing success."Seeing the passion everyone, young and old, displayed was so inspiring."

Curtis Jones Talks House, Cajmere & Green Velvet performs at Legends Miami

Curtis Jones, center, DJs at the Miami Legends party ┃Courtesy of the artist

The first Legends party also served as a celebration of Cajual Records, the label Jones launched in 1992 as a home for his Cajmere music. Over the past three decades, Cajual has also released tracks from dance music veterans such as Riva Starr, as well as contemporary tastemakers like Sonny Fodera and DJ E-Clyps. 

Furthermore, Jones’ partnership with revered singers such as Russoul and Dajae (the latter of whom still performs with him to this day) on Cajual releases like "Say U Will” and "Waterfall” helped to define the vocal-house style.

Like the Cajmere project, Cajual Records has been moving slower in recent years. The label has only shared four releases since 2018. True to form, though, Jones started another label; Relief Records, the home of Green Velvet's music, shared 10 releases in 2023 alone.

Jones says he's been particularly prolific as Green Velvet because "the genres of tech house and techno have allowed me the creative freedom I require as an artist."

Now Jones is making "loads of music” as Cajmere again and recently signed a new distribution deal for Cajual Records. The true sound of Chicago is resonating with audiences in 2024, Jones says, adding "it's nice that house is making a comeback."

Jones remembers when house music was especially unpopular. He used to call radio stations in the '80s to play tracks like Jamie Principle's underground classic "Waiting On My Angel,” only to be told they didn’t play house music whatsoever. In 2024, house music records like FISHER’s "Losing It” were certified gold, and received nominations for Best Dance Recording at the 66th GRAMMY Awards. Jones is embracing this popularity with open arms.

Read more: The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

"The new audience it’s attracting is excited to hear unique underground-style house records now. This is perfect for my Cajmere sets,” Jones says. "I never saw Green Velvet being more popular than Cajmere, and both sounds being as popular as they are even today.” 

While Jones is finding success in his own artistic endeavors, he points to a general lack of appreciation for Black dance artists in festival bookings. Looking at the run-of-show for ARC Festival, a festival in Chicago dedicated to house and techno music, legendary artists play some of the earliest slots. 

For the 2023 edition, Carl Craig played at 3 p.m on Saturday while the young, white John Summit, closed the festival the same night. In 2021, the acid house inventor, Chicago’s DJ Pierre, played the opening set at 2 p.m. on Saturday, while FISHER, another younger white artist, was the headliner.

In 2020, Marshall Jefferson penned an op-ed in Mixmag about the losing battle he is fighting as a Black DJ from the '90s. He mentions that younger white artists often receive upwards of $250,000 for one gig, whereas he receives around $2,000, despite the fact that he still DJs to packed crowds 30 years after he started.

Jones is doing his part to even the playing field with Legends, and according to him, things are going well after the first edition. "Seeing how much respect the fans have for the Legends was so special,” Jones says. "Hopefully they become trendy again.” 

The story of Curtis Jones is already one of legend, but it is far from over. "I feel it’s my duty to continue to make creative and innovative tracks as well as musical events. I love shining the light on new upcoming and emerging artists as well as giving the originators their proper dues,” Jones says. 

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