From MC to Producer: Why Future Dwellers is a landmark LP for Tali

Photography: Jamie Lees


“I’ve got a lyric on my lip. Once it starts it just don’t quit.” The apt opening words to a tune that sent New Zealand’s Tali into the drum and bass stratosphere in the early 2000s ring true today. No longer do the mere two letters ‘M’ and ‘C’ denote her role in the music scene today, however. The multi-faceted vocalist, MC, producer, DJ, songwriter, and composer is on a mission to explore every avenue of her talents, most recently in the form of her first ever self-produced drum and bass LP Future Dwellers.

It follows on from a career rammed with LPs, EPs, singles, and collaborations, yet marks a new sonic territory for the artist. There are still trademark motifs from the likes of her bouncing debut LP on Roni Size’s Full Cycle Records (check the vocal-led groove of Crystal Clear featuring Elipsa), yet it separates itself in its wholly authentic attempt at owning her own sound. For one, the album contains several fully instrumental tracks, allowing her production skills to surface from behind the scenes, and her composing talent to rise to the forefront.

It’s worth nothing the sheer tenacity of breaking through as a female MC in the even-more male dominated industry of the early 2000s. Would the scene be a different place today if norms weren’t challenged in its formative years? Perhaps it would, but importantly it shows that talent is talent, and we all need to work towards an equal playing field to help foster this. It’s certainly a future that this album – and all of Tali’s career – pushes towards.

The 11 track album features everything from downtempo, atmospheric jungle, soulful liquid, and garage, and features collaborations from Ruth Royall, Luca George, Jaz Paterson, Elipsa, INF and Pharaoh Swami. Read our full chat below:

I want to start this where we left off in your last UKF interview at the beginning of 2021. You mentioned that your goal was to work on and release more of your own productions… you’ve only gone and put out a whole self-produced album! How does it feel?

It feels amazing and momentous. Both joyful and anxiety inducing! This is something that has been brewing for a long time, and something that – because of the pandemic, but also because of really solid advice from colleagues – I have been careful not to rush and to take my time with. I feel extremely proud of it because I feel like I have given this album the time and patience it needed to truly develop and become fully formed. It just feels ‘right’.

When did you start producing drum and bass?

I started producing my own drum and bass during lockdown, but I’ve been producing other music longer than that. I started to learn to produce back in around 2006, first with Reason and then Pro Tools. An old boyfriend taught me how to use Reason so I could create sketches of song ideas that could later be developed, and Pro Tools so that I could be independent when it came to recording and wouldn’t have to rely on other producers or studios. It literally cut my delivery time in half and was so liberating. I then went on to self-produce an album Wolves a few years after I moved back to NZ. Again, it stemmed from wanting to take control of my narrative and also learn new skills.

I was very nervous about putting this new album out as I’ve never put out my own productions in this particular genre, and had certainly not originally conceived it would be a whole album!  I had to take a step back in the end and ask myself why I was doubting my abilities. I’d just been commissioned to compose music for an American documentary. I’d just made a three-track demo for an up-and-coming singer called Sophie May Brown. I’ve just composed the music for Coruba Rum on TV. I’m classically trained, I’ve been in the industry for 20 years.. Why am I so scared?

Why do you think you were?

I’d say it’s because I’ve been gaslit in so many ways by the patriarchy. I’m sorry to sound like a total feminist, but I am! There have been so many situations over the years where I’ve been made to feel like I’m not good enough, or that my worth isn’t enough because I’m a woman, and because I’m ‘just’ an MC… or that I wouldn’t be considered a ‘producer’ because maybe I’m not technically as good as Alix Perez or The Upbeats. Other people in different industries have no problem with my abilities, so why am I questioning myself as a producer? Of course I can make drum and bass! I wanted to create and present this album in such a way that no one could doubt my abilities. I got the best engineer I know in New Zealand on it (Tiki Taane), and one of the best mastering engineers on it too (Benny Tones). I know that composition wise it is fully formed, and as a result people have been giving me great feedback.

I have been so conditioned to think that when you’re a woman, you’re not good enough. There are so many white dudes putting out average drum and bass, and I bet they don’t question themselves nearly as much.

You’ve challenged this from the very beginning of your career in drum and bass. You entered the scene in a time where female MCs were virtually unheard of and even looked down upon. Do you think it’s a different ballgame getting noticed now? I guess for one thing, people are much more accepting of female MCs.

100%. Obviously, there’s still going to be haters, and people that are like ‘I just prefer a male voice’. These people will always be there, but the climate has changed. We’re all about diversity and equality now, and that it’s not a big deal to have four females on a line-up instead of just one. It shouldn’t even be a question! There are still some festivals in the UK and America that could up the ante a lot, and I’m surprised that people aren’t calling them out more. If you do a festival In New Zealand now and you don’t have at least three to four females on the line-up you will get publicly called out. Diversity and equality are kind of seen as trendy things at the moment. I just hope that it gets to a point where it’s not a trend but everyday life.

Definitely. There’s a lot of progress to happen, but steps are being made… slowly. 

For sure, one of the rhymes I always say at shows is ‘peace, love, unity, respect. We’re almost there but we ain’t there yet’, and the whole crowd starts chanting along to it.

Love that.

I had it hard though. There were lots of us girls like Lady MC, Chickaboo, Jenna G, Deeizm, even Riya and Collete Warren. We all had it way harder than newer female vocalists like Katie Koven, A Little Sound or Charli Brix… and good! I’m glad that they don’t have as many issues to deal with. I don’t want my sisters to have to put up with the shit that we did or have to feel the way that we were made to feel. They shouldn’t have to, and we didn’t deserve to either. If there’s anything that I can say or enact to make sure that they don’t, I’ll do it.

You’ve certainly celebrated the female talent on the album. The track with Ruth Royall is one example, and a great one! Tell me a bit about this collab. 

I met Ruth through a Zoom mentoring session where she wanted some advice, and I spoke my thoughts on the music industry – we got on so well. I made the track initially through the pandemic. Everyone was pretty down in New Zealand because we were still locked down, while you were all pretty much back to normal again in the UK. I asked Ruth if she’d sing on the track and she was down for it, saying that we needed to lift the scene up and make people feel good. What’s interesting about that track is that it came from me freestyling the line ‘my remedy’ over an Etherwood track from an old Soulside Sessions mix I did with Emma G.

The vocal was going to waste really, so I had the thought of trying to make a track with that Etherwood vibe. I decided to get my friend Julia Deans to play electric guitar on it, and then Ruth singing on it. It’s a really strong female collab.

Amazing. It feels like a lot of the album is inspired by certain artists or certain eras of drum and bass. The opening track for example gives me massive Photek vibes!

Oh my god, I love you right now! Seriously, that was EXACTLY what I wanted to make with that. I wanted to make a track that was like Photek meets Doc Scott if it came out on Metalheadz in like 1997. I wanted to make something that Goldie would play!

It’s pretty different to everything you’ve done before.

I wanted to write music that I like. My Love & Migration album on Fokuz for example, while it was very much dictated by me and I had a lot of control over it, I still never had 100% creative control due to working with producers such as Anthony Kasper and Satl. You have to let that producer be that producer, otherwise they’re going to make something that doesn’t sound like them. With this album however, I have 100% control over what I want to make.

It goes back to what I said earlier about females in drum and bass. There are lots of women who now DJ, produce, sing and MC, and it’s fucking incredible! We want to be in control of how our stories are told now, of the way our performances are told. So, how do you do that unless you are the one in control? If I want to make an album that wholeheartedly represents me, I have to do it myself.

Tell me a bit about the name Future Dwellers.

It’s a few things. First, in New Zealand, we’re ahead of all you guys! We’re well in the future, and constantly in the future compared to the rest of the world.

Can’t argue with it!

It’s also a reflection of where we were in the pandemic. It took me three years to write this record – all during Covid. There were patterns we all got into in lockdown. You get up in the morning, workout, have breakfast, and so on. For some people it was great and for others it was really hard. The overarching theme that I spoke about with people though, was that even though we were being told to live in the present, we became a very hopeful species. People started being all ‘2021 is going to be different!’ ‘2022 is going to be different!’ We were living in the future despite existing in the present. We got hope out of the little things or the idea that we could plan for something tomorrow, or plan for something next year. When the bubble started opening up and we could travel again, we started making these future plans. We were future dwellers, living in hope that things would change.

Love that, and your mum painted the artwork, right?

Yes, she did! She didn’t do the lettering, but did the pool, the bush, the mist etc. My graphic designer friend Kelly Williams did the lettering. He did such a great job at making the lettering look like it was part of my mum’s artwork and like it was on a canvas. It was great to collaborate with my mum on this. She’s in her 70s now and it’s nice for us to be able to do things like this together.

There are so many songs and collaborations that I would love to mention if I had time, but one I wanted to talk about was Kashmir Dreams. Am I right in saying this came to you in a dream?

Yeah, so you know sometimes you wake up and try to describe a dream to someone but the details quickly slip away? It was one of those. It was a very beautiful, peaceful dream. There were mountains in the distance, but it wasn’t cold. It was very warm. I thought maybe I might have been in the South Island of New Zealand. I remember hearing this chanting, and I couldn’t recognise the words or understand it. As you do, you go about your day and forget all about it. Sometimes though, something will trigger a memory from the dream. In this case, it was from a sample in a trance pack with the name Kashmir in it. I heard this vocal chant that now opens the track, and it literally transported me back to the dream. I don’t know if my dream was set in Kashmir. I’ve never been there, and I don’t know anything about the place, but it took me back to that place in my dream. It worked.

What other musical influences outside of drum and bass play into this album then? 

There are some tracks like Mansion that have a lot of techno influences. I love really hard techno, the kind that sounds like a metal pole being bashed on a rubbish bin. I also love cinematic music. I’ve been paying a lot more attention to soundtracks and the way they’re constructed since I got into the film world doing composing. When I started writing this album, I always knew that I wanted to write something that was cinematic, and that told a story. I’m classically trained so I love layering lots of strings and harmony lines. Working with my live band and playing with a string quartet also made me start thinking about how this would translate live. I started thinking about it in a much more creative and layered way than I ever have before with music.

There were times where I’d play a song to my DJ husband and he’d be like ‘this is great, but no DJ is going to play this because there’s no structure to this’. Even though I was stubborn and didn’t want to stick to the rules, I do want DJs to play my music. I want to hear Elements banging in a club. I want to hear Crystal Clear on a big system. There were certain things that I had to do to restrain myself and make it a bit more formulaic, while still keeping that cinematic, nuanced vibe.

There’s a fine line for sure! 

You want to stand out, but you also don’t want to stand out in a self-indulgent way. I’ve been accused of being self-indulgent before, in completely the wrong way. I remember someone reviewing a song on Love & Migration and calling it self-indulgent, and I was like… this song wasn’t even about me, did you even listen to the lyrics?! I was writing about someone else’s life. When someone says that it can be very hard to hear. While it’s not a priority that people like it or not, to an extent I do want to remain humble and make music that will resonate.

I did take some bits out completely as I thought maybe I was being a bit self-indulgent in some way. There was a track on there for example called Eastern Breeze. No one would have played it because it was literally just an orchestral track. In the end I thought ‘I’m not Calibre’. Not yet at least, maybe the next album haha!

I’m not sure I’ve ever liked the term self-indulgent. Music is an expression at the end of the day, right?

I guess all music is self-indulgent! To write about yourself is a slightly narcissistic thing, except you don’t (generally!) think you’re superior to anyone else when you’re making this music. You’re just trying to be expressive and vulnerable. It’s a fine line, and I don’t think people who don’t make music understand that.

What’s next in your production journey once you’ve processed the album release?  

I just saw Collette Warren the other day in LA and one of the things she said to me over dinner was that maybe I could produce a tune for her. That made me feel excited and hopeful that people will listen to the album and realise that I can produce and maybe they’ll commission me to write for them. Maybe I’ll be writing for the next vocalist coming up, who knows. The composing aspect is also something I hope takes off. It will be interesting to see what happens with this film, and if I can do something of this scale again. That’s where I’d like to go.

Who the heck knows what will happen though! I could be dead tomorrow! I just want to make music, keep exploring, keep producing and composing, and evolve as an artist. Keep learning, keep growing, keep evolving. That’s what I’m about.

Tali – Future Dwellers is out now 

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