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Laurie Charlesworth

Q&A

We Need To Talk About Spectral

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We Need To Talk About Spectral

Photo Credit- Khali Ackford

‘We live in a world where urgency culture can be so toxic. I hope that my journey inspires other artists to take their time.’ – Spectral

Nowadays, you are an anomaly if you are taking your time. Drop culture, quick-hit videos on the gram and a saturated market have driven artists and labels to release more frequently than ever before. The fear of being drowned out is rife, and if you’re not releasing every few months (at least), there’s a risk you’ll be left behind… or so they say. Spectral, however, sees things quite differently.

Three years after her stint as one of the first ever EQ50 mentees, Spectral, a producer and DJ from Bristol, has just dropped her debut EP on Critical Music. After being paired with Critical for the mentorship, the relationship between the label and Spectral soon began to flourish.

The EP is part of Critical Music’s ‘Binary’ series, which has given some of D&B’s most promising new artists a platform to showcase their skills and future potential.

For its 27th instalment, Spectral showcases a tantalisingly dark 4 track EP. We needed to know more so we pulled her for a good ole natter, and her low-down on the project.

Spectral – you just had your debut EP out on Critical Music, as part of their Binary series. It sounds wicked! 

Thank you so much! It’s very surreal to be honest. When you’ve worked on a project for so long, you’re so close to it. It’s been such a journey, lots of emotions. Lots of highs and lows. After this long time I’m finally ready to let it go. It’s like my little baby! 

Talk us through the curation of the EP and the tracks featured.

The Binary series is for new producers coming up on the label. Kasra suggested that I should start to work on it during my EQ50 mentorship in 2021, which is where my journey as an artist really began. At that time, I was relatively new to electronic music production and didn’t have a huge back catalogue of tunes ready to go, so it was a very daunting project, to say the least. It’s been a journey finding my sound and growing into the producer that I want to be, all whilst working towards a career defining goal like the Binary series, so I wanted to take my time. The project needed to confidently hold its own alongside the rest of the roster, which is full of giants and the best of the best, in my opinion. Part of the curation was just feeling the inspiration that came with performing on the same lineups as so many of my idols over the last few years. I remember having 4 tracks at the start of 2022 and not wanting to play them or push them as much as I wanted to play and push other people’s tracks, so I knew I had to scrap most of those and keep going! 

Did any of those original tracks make the cut?

Only one out of four of the tracks ‘Submerge’ is an original, the other three were written in a huge creative explosion at the end of 2022, so the last year has solely been about the mixdown side of things, which I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times that I thought the process was actually going to kill me. I had people telling me that if I wanted help, I could get help, and that lots of artists have tunes mixed down for them, but I didn’t want to do that. No disrespect to anyone that does, but on a personal level I would not feel authentic if I’d let that happen. I knew that I could do it if I kept working, and Kasra never put any deadlines on me so there was never any external pressure. I’m proud of the final four tracks, there is a lot of variety in there which is important to me. When I am DJing I will almost always start with some 140 and then work my way up through 160 before getting into the drum & bass. I try to cover a lot of ground sonically. Although this EP is just drum & bass, I still needed it to feel like a journey, in the same way my sets do. My favourite track is the last one, ‘Ikigai’. The name is a Japanese word and actually translates to ‘reason for being’ which defines all of the emotion poured into the project.

So much consideration and thought went into this project – it’s no surprise you were emotional letting it go!

I wanted the project to be right. My journey as an artist has changed a lot since I joined EQ50. Back in 2020 when I applied for EQ50, at that point, I was new to everything and hadn’t even done that many DJ gigs. I was very much deep, dark, minimal drum & bass. That was what I wanted to do and that was who I was at the time. As the years followed, I realised that as a person who loves electronic dance music, that’s not all that I’m about. I realised that you don’t have to put yourself into a box, you can go on stage and play loads of different genres and people love that. I needed to feel proud of it and I needed to feel excited about it. It’s been an absolute labour of love and as I said, it’s taken 3 years to come into fruition so it’s a really big deal for me. 

How has your relationship with the Critical progressed since the EQ50 mentorship and how have they helped with the release?

When I applied for EQ50, you couldn’t select the label that you wanted to work with. It was just an application form where you would answer questions about yourself as an artist and why you wanted to do the mentorship. Critical heard the tune that I’d submitted and wanted to work with me, which was totally surreal as they would’ve been the label I wanted to work with if I got to choose. Once I was doing the mentorship, I wasn’t expecting Kasra to suggest I do an EP, as that wasn’t part of the project, so it was a big surprise. I thought that when the mentorship was over that that would be it, I certainly didn’t anticipate becoming one of the new core artists. I guess my passion and hunger shone through as I am part of the family now, which is a dream come true! They’ve been very nurturing with the release, never pushing any deadlines on me. It was very much when it’s ready, it’s ready. Kasra told me: ‘You don’t make good music when you’re stressed’ and he’s right, you don’t! I’m just so glad to have not had that pressure. It enabled me to have space to step into the sound I want and to go at my own pace. You can’t rush these things, I would rather take the time that I did to release something of high quality.

Looking back at the programme itself (EQ50), in what other ways did it help you?

It gave me a lot of confidence. I think when you’re picked for something like this, it forces you to change your perspective. You have to accept  that you are good enough for the opportunity. Thinking you’re not worthy will get you nowhere as a creative. It’s a really special programme, run by Sweetpea, Mantra and DJ Flight who are all so powerful and inspiring. As a young woman aspiring for a career in a male dominated industry, it’s really important to have these successful female role models around you. That in itself becomes a powerful driving force for your own success.

What have been some of the music related challenges that you’ve faced since that time?

I think the main challenge for me has been balancing working on all the necessary practical elements of production whilst trying to step into my sound and letting the music write itself. I have a big musical background. I’ve been playing classical piano since I was 5 years old, then I started singing and songwriting, playing the guitar. I went on to study popular music at Falmouth University when I was 18  so composition and musicality has never been a challenge for me, it’s more that there is so much  technicality that needs to be learnt when it comes to electronic music. You need a lot of patience and you have to train your ears, which can only come in time. It’s not something you can rush.

Do you think in the future you will want to do something with the songwriting again?

People ask me this a lot. I really don’t know. For some reason, I see them as totally separate artforms which I guess is silly because I know a lot of producers are looking for vocalists to work with and if I am a vocalist myself, why wouldn’t I use that within my own productions? To be honest, my songwriting, at that point in my life, was very much an outlet for my own feelings and in a way, it almost depended on me being in more of a sad state of mind. Mental health is something that I’ve struggled with on and off throughout my life, but quite significantly when I was a teenager. As I got older, I started raving then got some decks for a bit of fun and realised that I really loved DJing. I could pour that same passion for music into it, but it actually relies on me being happy, whereas songwriting was all about being sad and getting that out into the lyrics. Unfortunately I feel I had to put a pause on my singing and songwriting in order to be the happiest version of myself as I had a bit of a strange relationship with it. My tracks ‘Crazy’ and ‘Ikigai’ don’t have my own lyrics in them but on a personal level, I was still able to pour emotion into them, in a healthier way through the chords and melodies. I’m not having to transport myself back to this place where I’m writing lyrics about a particular thing, it’s more about the raw feelings that go into the track rather than words.

What advice would you give to people who were in your position a few years back but perhaps don’t currently have a mentorship or opportunity like EQ50?

A lot of people may laugh when I say this because if you don’t live in this way, it might sound a bit ridiculous but honestly, law of attraction is everything. I believe that the universe responds to our feelings so if you’re aiming for a career in this industry, obviously you need to work hard, but if you’re telling yourself and others that you’re not getting anywhere or it’s not happening fast enough then you’re blocking yourself energetically. Whereas if you’re consistently cultivating gratitude, in my opinion, you become a magnet for everything you want to achieve. I genuinely believe the reason why I’ve gotten this far and played so many of my dream gigs is because I’m using the law of attraction and having an abundance mindset. Success welcomes success. Try and feel genuinely excited for the people that are already doing what you want to do and it’ll come back in your favour. To reiterate, you still need the skills though!

Future plans for Spectral?

Keep writing more music, keep playing more shows! I really want to get to a point where I can do this full time without working alongside. This summer incoming is my third professional summer having bookings and doing festivals, but I still have a day job so I’m aspiring to be doing music full time within the next few years. If anyone knows my sets, they’ll also know that dubstep is a core part of my musical identity. I have been working on writing some, which will hopefully see the light of day at some point. My sound encompasses a variety of different speeds and flavours of bass music so I guess I’ll say you can expect to see a lot of different sounds within my production too, this is really just the start.

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