Anna Lunoe lost her hearing. Now she's back to make you dance

Written by Travis Holcombe

Anna Lunoe stops by FREAKS ONLY with an exclusive mix. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Anna Lunoe is quite possibly the hardest working woman in electronic music.

Between her weekly show danceXL on Apple Music, a just-launched podcast called Create/Destroy, DJing nearly every major festival in the world, producing music, and raising two little kids, it's difficult to imagine how one person does it all.

Her new single, "Back Seat" (feat. Genesis Owusu), leads off this FREAKS ONLY mix and represents something of a turning point for Lunoe. Since work began on the track, the DJ-producer has given birth to her second child, experienced and overcome a prolonged bout of deafness, relocated her life from LA back to her native Sydney in the midst of a global pandemic, and faced down her own doubts about her future in music.

Lunoe stopped by FREAKS ONLY to share an exclusive mix, discuss the tumultuous past few years, and jump into the wayback machine for her recollections of the Australian music renaissance that she was a part of in the late ‘00s.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

KCRW: How do you find the energy to do all these different things, and do you find it difficult to switch gears? 

Anna Lunoe: “What I will say is I've been doing all of them for a long time and I don't do everything at once. I've got a really strong schedule and I do a monthly calendar and I'll go week-on-week off on some things, or month-on-month off with certain things. The music that I'm releasing now I actually finished two or three months ago and then I switched gears to finishing the podcast and I did all my podcast interviews.

I'm in a weird time right now because I'm editing and releasing podcasts and releasing music. It's a little bit of a juggle right now, but generally, I find myself working on one or two projects a week but always radio, every week radio. That's sort of built into my life, kind of like brushing my teeth. When you do something consistently for a very long time, it becomes second nature to a certain degree.

The rest, I just sort of move the little puzzle pieces, and sometimes it all blows up in my face and it's a total disaster.

Do you find it hard when you're doing the radio show, where you're a listener, and it's more of a passive experience, whereas when you're producing music you kind of need to block everything out?

I've never really had the luxury of blocking everything out. Ever. I remember when I started making music and turning off my critical mind and starting to be really soft with myself — that took a long time. I think that was one of the reasons why I found it really, really challenging to start making music and quieting the voices of the critic in my own head, which is something that I talk a lot about on the podcast, actually. So that's ultimately part of the narrative of why I'm now doing a podcast about that exact experience, because it was really challenging to navigate the two worlds. 

Now, I find it a lot easier because I am really driven by 'done is better than perfect.' I'm really driven by putting limitations on myself, and being like, 'Okay, today's the last day on this, so what're you gonna do, Anna?' I don't try to be perfect at any of it, and I think that's why I can do all of it.”

“I don't try to be perfect at any of it, and I think that's why I can do all of it.”- Anna Lunoe

How long had you been DJing before you started producing?

I started DJing in 2006. Before that, I was on the radio, actually. I started doing community radio in Sydney on a station called FBI, which is much like KCRW in spirit and in concept. I started volunteering at the radio station and doing all-nighters, and then I started DJing because we would get sent emails from the management like, 'This art gallery is opening, they're looking for someone to play music,' and it was like $20 an hour or like $40 and free drinks, and I'd be like, 'Yeah sure, I'm in.’ 

Through doing that, I started learning how to use equipment and the idea of DJing got exciting to me. And then I started going more and more down the DJ road. That would've been 2006, and I didn't start properly releasing music until 2009.” 

TH: You came around during a time that's a bit of a renaissance in Australian music — at least from the perspective of someone living in America — like Tame Impala, Flume, you, Jagwar Ma, Cut Copy. Everyone started popping off globally in the late ‘00s, early 2010s. Is that fair to say from your perspective, and if so, what do you think led to this fertile, creative happening in Australia?

 I know exactly what it was. There was a really incredible scene going on in Sydney in 2007, which is partly what got me so into DJing. It was all around Modular Records. Modular Records was releasing Cut Copy, Presets, Tame Impala, Wolfmother. It was all the same family. I was signed as a DJ to them and it was such an exciting time, I can't even explain it. Every weekend, going out and feeling so invigorated. I mean not even every weekend — every night. There was a whole scene around it and it was like existing in a vacuum and nothing else mattered. 

It all had a lot to do with FBI, that little radio station that I was working with. It had a lot to do with a few really interesting characters getting a little bit of power and a bit of money. The internet [was] becoming this interesting connecting point, and mp3s and burning CDs and being able to be a DJ when you don't have to buy records — all these interesting things gave the youth a lot of power. There was just a combination of talented, interesting kids who found a little nest to exist in, and a lot of infrastructure started to form around them. And then by 2010, they were ready to go out and see the world.

Are there any acts from that era of Australian music that you feel like never quite got the acclaim that they deserved? 

“I feel almost like it's naughty to say… I'm sure that these people chose to do whatever they went on to do, but I will say that there was an artist in Australia called Muscles and he was the biggest thing. He was the all-singing, all-performing, one-man band dance band from that era. He was playing every big slot at every festival and the world was looking really, really exciting for him.”


Anna Lunoe and Genesis Owusu team up for their new song “Back Seat.” Photo courtesy of the artists. 

A big part of the reason you're here is to celebrate a new single called "Back Seat" that you're releasing with Genesis Owusu. I understand this one has been germinating for a while. Can you talk about the process that went into this track?

It is a bit of a process with this one, culminated by the pandemic and a really wild pregnancy between the start and finish of it. I had a session with Channel Tres and I just made this quick 120 demo — quick bassline, quick something just to start with. And then he came in and we had a play around on it, he liked it, and he had a vocal idea for it, and I continued to work on it.

It was summertime, so I was touring for a lot of the time, and then I started getting very pregnant. I hadn't told anyone, but I was secretly pregnant. Around like six months it started to become very obvious and I got very sick and I was struggling to work, and I really wanted to get the song finished so that I didn't end the pregnancy without this stuff done because I knew that I'd have to take a break.

So I called on my good buddy, TEED (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs), to help finesse the beat a little because I felt like the groove could've been better. We got it to a point where I was happy with it, then we had to just leave it because I got really sick and I actually went deaf for two months. Basically, the tubes in my ears were blocked by a lot of swelling and I couldn't hear anything until the end of the pregnancy. 

Is this something that happens with pregnancies?

“It is actually reasonably common because there's a lot of swelling with pregnancies and your body just has a lot more fluid in it. When I went to the ear specialist, I was screaming, 'Help me! There's something wrong!' And they were like, ‘Yeah, your ears are blocked. That's what happens when you're pregnant and you get sick and your body doesn't have the space to clear out pipes. So that's what's going to happen and it probably won't come back until after you have the baby.’

I was like, alright, so that was that and I basically was bedridden for two months and I couldn't really even speak or talk because the echo in my head was too enormous. I just had to go into some kind of Zen meditation for two months with a little toddler, which wasn't easy. And then I had the baby early and the pandemic started. So then COVID hit and I lost childcare, and then I had to move countries because I didn't have any support or childcare and I couldn't do anything.

I moved back to Australia and I tried to rebuild my life. I didn't really get anything done until December of last year, when I could start to function again. That's probably the most inactive I have ever been in my life since I left school. Then I started to get going again at the end of last year, and this year has been really cool. I picked up the demo again. I thought it was done, like I thought I'd just quickly mix it and put it out the way it was. I was actually going out to the studio to mix it, and my dad drove me to the studio because I didn't have a car yet, and I played him the demo and he was like, 'It's too stiff. It needs live bass.' My dad was a bass player, so he's like, 'It needs swing, it's too machine-y. Do people like this?’ 

And I was like, ‘Oh god, Dad.’ After a day of thinking about it, I was like, I'm back in Sydney, why don't I get my old mate Touch Sensitive from the ‘Real Talk’ days. [He] loves to lay down a bassline. He can copy my bass with a bit of swing, and I'll layer that in and see what happens. And I thought, 'Okay Dad, fine.' So I emailed Touchy, he sent back some bass, and then I had this fun bassline.

So then I wrote some chords as well. I'd written a vocal on it as well, and I thought, ‘This vocal is actually the most uncool part of it right now, so I need to upgrade!' The song was taking on this whole new vibe, and my assistant at the time was working with Genesis Owusu, so I sent it to him and their team loved it. So that came through in May this year and then I quit.”

In that period of time, after your pregnancy when you moved back to Australia and weren't able to work, was there anything positive about that? Did your juices get fired up again, not being spread so thin?

“Definitely. In my heart, I know that it was a very necessary moment because I had toured nonstop for 10-plus years. I'd had two children in three years. I've maintained all of the other commitments that I had before I started having kids and I added more in, so it was just an unsustainable workload and mental space. I think it's for the longevity of my career and for the betterment of me as a human that I was able to stop, even if it was forced, even if it was uncomfortable.

There was a lot more time with my kids, there was a lot more time with my family, and a lot more time to recenter and to take stock of who I am now being back in the place where I began, but a different person. Ultimately, I'm excited now to see who I grow into over the next 10 years.  

I had a moment where I confronted the idea that I was done with music. You get told that you grow up, you get a job, and you stop being an idiot running around the world playing techno. You sort of face that monster and think, okay, well is this the world telling you that it's over? And I said no. I decided that I wasn't ready to stop and I think that realization in itself — to be given every opportunity to give it up and to decide in your heart that you're not done — I think that was a conversation I needed to have with myself, and I'm excited for the next 10 years.”

Anna Lunoe's new single featuring Genesis Owusu is called "Back Seat" and is out now on NLV Records.

Stay up to date with all of Anna's goings-on at @AnnaLunoe on Twitter and Instagram. 

TRACKLIST:

Anna Lunoe - Back Seat (ft. Genesis Owusu)
Tokimonsta - Naked (ft. Channel Tres) (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs Extended Remix)
Dusky - Eros (Extended Mix)
Salute - Joy (Extended)
Dateless - Cuando Mueves (Gettoblaster Remix)
Ashnikko & Princess Nokia - Slumber Party (Anna Lunoe Remix)
A-Trak & Wongo - Groove Society
Purple Disco Machine - Dopamine (Anna Lunoe Remix)
Dance System & Heavee - Get Down 
Karma Kid & Luke Fono - Life of The Party (ft. Cakes Da Killa) 
WK7 - Do It Yourself
Alan Fitzpatrick vs. Patrice Rushen - Haven't You Heard (Fitzy's Fully Charged Mix)
Kryptogram - Woman Like You 
Blu De Tiger - Cotton Candy Lemonade (Anna Lunoe Remix)

Playlist

[PLAYLIST GOES HERE]

Credits