Anna Lunoe: “When I’m structuring a track, I get a cup of tea, put it on, and dance”
The acclaimed Australian producer, DJ and radio host is a beacon in the dance scene and her new EP, Saturday Love, is sure to shine, too.
Image: Danny Drax for MusicTech
Anna Lunoe has a magpie that comes to visit her when she’s making her high-octane, super-bright, festival-smashing tunes. “It comes round and plants itself in the bushes and trees outside my studio and checks on me,” she says. “It’s funny.”
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Studies have shown that birds listen to music – or at least that their brains light up in a similar way to humans – which might explain the magpie’s regular appearance outside her home studio. “Maybe he’s been trying to contribute this whole time,” she says, “and I just couldn’t hear it because of my loud music.”
She’s a portable producer, building her new Saturday Love EP in Ableton Live with just an audio interface, Dynaudio speakers, “a couple of keyboards” and a few plug-ins. Spectrasonics Omnisphere is a favourite – “that’s where I get all my synth and sound stuff,” Lunoe says – along with U-He Diva and the Soundtoys bundle for effects. “For Saturday Love, a friend of mine had given me this sample pack of old sounds,” she says. “A lot of the drum grit comes from old drum samples I’ve collected over the years.”
The synth sections are a combination of old samples, Omnisphere and Diva. “Something I’ve enjoyed messing with recently is finding really big rolling drum samples, then once I had the kicks and the low end rolling, throwing something fun and bright on top – that’s been the key to these songs.”
She takes a similarly low-key approach to vocals, which are recorded with a bit of assistance from iZotope Nectar 2. “At some points, I’ve had a more complex set up but really I’m an efficient and unfussy producer,” she says. “It’s been liberating to not overcook the songs. Especially with having kids, I give myself limitations for how long I’ll work on a track. I spend an afternoon writing four different basslines, then I’ll send them to three of my best ears and ask, ‘which one’s the best?’ Sometimes I disagree with them and I’ll go with my gut, or I’ll be like ‘great! they picked the same one as me’. It settles my thoughts and I can move on.”
A recent Instagram post showed this part of Lunoe’s process. In it, she played a voice note from her friend and sometime collaborator Orlando Higginbottom aka Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs or TEED, in which he reassured her that the bass worked and reminded her to own her considerable skills (“you do know about bass, you dork”).
“He’s a really good friend of mine,” she says. “I’ll often ask his advice. He’s a collaborator but also a great friend. It’s easy to get heady about something, especially at the end of the process when you’re really nitpicking about a mix. Especially with low end.”
They first met in New York in 2011, when she was a supporting DJ on the Brooklyn stop of TEED’s tour to promote his debut album Trouble. Now they’re extended family, including going on holiday together. “He’s literally babysat my kids. He’s one of the people I speak to most. We catch up every week. We’ve moved past club friends into solid friends for life.”
It’s no surprise, then, that TEED was one of her interviewees on the Create/Destroy podcast she released in late 2021 as a side hustle from her weekly Apple Music show, danceXL. It presented eight 60-minute conversations with artists including Chris Lake, Banks and TT The Artist, whose recent Dark City Beneath The Beat documentary showcased Baltimore’s musical histories.
“I’ve been having conversations like that with artists for my whole career,” she says. “The interviews I do for Apple Music might only be five minutes on air but they’ve been hour-long [recordings] because we get carried away chatting. The whole point of [the podcast] was to share those conversations. They’ve been therapeutic, eye-opening, heart-warming – and that’s what I wanted to share.”
Lunoe got a lot of heartfelt messages after the podcast went up. “There were people saying it was what they needed to hear at the time. I travelled so much for so many years and had so many moments of insecurity creatively – I know how powerful it is to hear the right podcast at the right time. I know what it’s like to desperately need the information you’re getting.” Usually, she tries to get at least two moments in the week when she goes for a run and listens to a mix or a podcast (last week she managed Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden’s KH BBC Essential Mix but didn’t have time for anything else).
Her danceXL show, which she’s been hosting since Apple Music 1 launched in 2015, keeps her seeking new music – as does the demands of major festival gigs. “It’s been great to have a reason to always be looking for new music every single week. It’s intricately linked to everything I do.”
Anna Lunoe was born and raised in Sydney. She started out on radio, presenting her first shows with youth broadcaster FBi Radio. She was spending as much time as possible in the clubs, on the dancefloor at nights in the late 2000s and early 2010s which celebrated the blog-powered era of indie bands moving into the electronic space. Her family were on board with her choices and the opportunities DJing offered. “My family are pretty eclectic in their own pursuits. Everyone has a business of some kind, whether that’s a food-oriented thing or a product-oriented thing. My mum is the one who wants stability but I was always on another path,” she says. “I don’t think anyone expected me to be an accountant. They were pretty chilled.”
She signed to Modular as a DJ around 2008 alongside label mate bands like Cut Copy, The Presets and Midnight Juggernauts. “There was a very global club sound coming from the internet and [online] message boards,” she says. “It was a community I was on the outskirts of, and I started going to club nights centred around that melting pot.”
Mostly this involved going to a party called Bandits at Club 77 – “underground house and techno – a crazy rave,” Lunoe says – and Friday nights at Oxford Art Factory. At the latter, she’d see a live show, followed by a DJ, then a live show, and finally the DJs would take over at midnight and play all night.
“There were two major club messages I was getting,” she says of her early dancefloor experiences, “and one was ‘play everything all at once’. You can play hip-hop mixed in with grime, house, techno, Baltimore, UK funky, garage. Then you’ve got the band and indie side. They were the big inspirations for me.”
Another inspiration was the rich and varied grassroots community that allowed writers, fashion labels, crowds and dancers to emerge and evolve. “It was an exciting time to meet likeminded people who were inspired by the same things you’re inspired by.” The list of people she played shows with around this time – Diplo, Rye Rye, Boy 8-Bit, A-Trak, Fake Blood, Hoops, Uffie, Roshambo – gives a sense of what was bubbling.
She wasn’t fully on Diplo’s Hollerboard but says she “was getting the scene that came after that”. Her platform was Myspace. She connected with international DJs including Spank Rock and Pase Rock through the social media site and, whenever they came to Australia, they’d play together. “Through Myspace I’d go to America and play their local shows. Myspace was where I connected with other artists.” This included Baltimore Club legend Scottie B who connected Lunoe with local promoters including Puja Patel, now the editor-in-chief at Pitchfork.
These days, Anna Lunoe is better known as a big stage DJ, playing to vast crowds at festivals such as Big Day Out, Splendour In The Grass and Field Day. More recently, she played Ministry of Sound’s Testament event underneath Sydney Harbour Bridge celebrating music from the past and present – she played on the Saturday, showcasing the 2010s and on the Sunday repping the current musical landscape. So what connects that experience to the small clubs where she started out? “The connection is the spirit,” she says without any hesitation. “Wherever I play I try to anchor myself in the love and spirit that I feel when I’m in that environment. A big part of the culture when I started DJing was to come through with something surprising, something that no-one else was doing. That’s a big part of what I try and do, to bring some fresh energy that no one that day will have done.”
In March 2021, Lunoe went to the US, playing club shows up and down the east and west coasts. “It was great,” she says. “Before that I’d been in pandemic land. I hadn’t had the chance to explore my set and my sound, so having the ability to do that taught me a lot about what I needed from the records I was making.”
She’d made 90 per cent of the EP before leaving for the US, except It’s Alright, which she squeezed in the week it was due, and this was an opportunity to see how the new music sounded in the club. Not that everything she makes is club-dependent, though. “If they work in the club, great. I’ll make them work for me, because I know how to make it work. They’ll live in people’s lives in other places, streaming or on the playlist they listen to in the gym.”
At heart, though, this is dance music in its original sense, designed to make the body move. When Lunoe’s finishing a tune, she’ll test it out by dancing along at the back of the studio. “When I’m structuring things out, or when I want to feel how it moves from section to section, or if I’ve been labouring in a loop for a long time, I turn it off, get a cup of tea, put in on and dance.”
Part of this is about not looking at the screen. “There’s something about how you consume music when looking at an Ableton Live session. You’re disconnected, you’re visually reading the session as opposed to feeling the session. It was TEED who said to me to ‘always bounce out, and listen to it out of the session’, whether that’s walking or whatever. You always get a new perspective when you bounce it out and hear it in another place.”
She’s a high energy dancer, as anyone who’s seen her DJ or watched videos of her sets will know. “When I’m performing, I don’t even realise I’m doing it. Some nights I think I’ve been really controlled and tame and other people will be like ‘oh my god! You were going for it!’ I was trying hard not to be too over the top with my dancing. I’m quite free with it.”
When you’ve been doing it as long as she has, she says, self-consciousness fades away. “I left it behind. You know when you see a mum on the dancefloor and they’re really going for it? That’s me. But I’m a mum DJing [Lunoe has two small children] so it makes sense. I just really enjoy it.”
Producers and DJs with kids are common – but most of these DJs are men. And men are, frustratingly, less likely to be asked how they combine fatherhood with a job that demands late nights in dark clubs. Lunoe is relaxed about the subject of parenthood and raises it on a few occasions without us prompting.
“I’ve got kids and I can’t go out clubbing every weekend like I used to when I was younger. Now my work is to go and play in a club, and I will get what I need from that performance, to release myself from my week. It’s become this efficient two-for-one deal where I get to earn my money and also get my kicks at the same time.”
It’s the devoted clubber in her that’s driving her DJing, production, and multi-faceted musical life. “I do all the rest of the work so that I can really enjoy the moment. I’m prepared, I go into the gig knowing exactly what I’m going to do. There will be parts of the set where I’m like ‘this is for me, because I think this is the coolest fucking idea that I’ve got this week and I want to dance to it’. Even if no-one else gets it, that’s OK. I’m going to have a great time’.
Anna Lunoe won’t be the only person having a great time to the Saturday Love EP this summer. It’s full of cool ideas. It’s for dancing.
Anna Lunoe’s Saturday Love EP is out now.
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