Baltra's Art of Being
In the wake of Baltra's new album, Ted, office hung out with the artist for the day to chat about creativity, fashion and what living in NYC is like these days.
Where are you from?
I'm from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was born there, and I reside in New York City. I've been here for nearly 15 years.
Do you think the city has changed from an artist's perspective?
Oh yeah, 100%.
Is it better or worse?
It's way worse. I think it's forced a lot of musicians to either move away from New York City or be pushed further out into different areas. The cost of living has become so high—it can definitely fuck with your creativity. It's do-or-die. I guess it's been that way for quite a while, or maybe it's always been that way, but it's more apparent now.
I personally find that there's cooler stuff going on now than in 2004. The city's gotten a whole lot worse, but it's also gotten a little bit better.
I think we had to go through that period to get to where we are now. People had to get tired of where things were going. I think that era pushed people to become more inspired, to get more creative.
You've been DJing in NY long before Bushwick turned into the new Meatpacking/club row. In the past few years there have been so many dance music oriented venues springing up all over Brooklyn.
Yeah, it's crazy. I used to play a semi-illegal party a few years ago before Elsewhere opened. It used to look like an airplane hangar- it was massive. The party was actually in the concrete yard in the back. You had to walk through this warehouse space that could've fit 2 or 3 airplanes. I'm pretty sure that is now Elsewhere—they bought that illegal rave space.
What are your thoughts on all the new venues and the current state of dance music in NY? Do you think that there's a new sense of community?
Yes, definitely. I think it's great. It's not easy being an artist in New York in 2019. More venues just give more opportunities for up-and-coming artists to play. I think it's also cool to see a combination of local homegrown talent and artists from abroad being put on bills together-artists that are really killing it in different ways, that are on the cusp and cutting-edge of whatever style of music they're doing. I really think having more venues available for club nights are keeping the city alive.
Your name is associated with lo-fi house. How would you describe that sound to someone who's not familiar with it?
Again, this goes back to talking about a certain era in time, where shit was just getting corny or going too extreme in one direction. For me, it was the music. It just became so overproduced and lacking in ideas and creativity that I became more interested in what the antithesis was. People tend to think that the definition of beauty is something being perfect. To me, it's not. I like when there's something unique and maybe off. That's normally where I find the beauty in things. I guess that's how I became interested in playing around with sounds that weren't considered high fidelity or perfect. Also, I didn't and still don't really have the technical wherewithal to produce really clean music. It became an aesthetic that I am now associated with. I like the juxtaposition of the raw and the clean. Lo-fi house is just low fidelity sounds—a lot of field recordings, fucked up stuff...you're either recording it through cassette decks, or analog tape, or whatever software that makes it sound like that. It’s got a sort of nostalgic feel; it's got an attitude!
Is this your first full length?
It's tricky. 'No Regrets' was seven songs but to me, it felt like a long EP, rather than an actual full length. I originally put it out on cassette tape and then the label ‘Of Paradise’ in London reached out about essentially doing a reissue, but on vinyl, so we did that. This album that I'm releasing in July has fifteen songs.
Congrats! It's a beautiful record. I was super happy to hear some drum and bass on there; some minimal and ambient stuff too.
Thank you! Yeah, it's just a lot of shit that I love.
Tell us a little bit about what informed this album.
I didn't want to have any sort of limits, or things that I felt like I had to have on the album. I kind of wanted to go and break outside of the realm of just being considered a lo-fi house producer. I really wanted to take full control of how I am categorized, too. I think in the media it's easy to hop on the train of a buzz-word, whatever's of the moment. For me, though, it's much more than that, you know? I'm not just trying to make trendy music. I’m just trying to make music that I am proud of and can stand behind, that's hopefully exciting to the listener. So, on this album I incorporated a lot of things I didn't really do prior to this; things like field recordings and instances where you'll hear a sound only once in the song, which is not really typical in house or techno music.
It was kind of like a soundboard of expression for how I've been feeling over the past two years after having lost my father. It's even cool for me to listen back and follow the journey of loss and mourning. I hope the album translates in a way that is super relatable in regards to loss and self recovery … not just in terms of losing a loved one or losing someone to their death, but just loss in any sort of realm. For me, the album turned into more of a coping mechanism. It was like an escape while I was going through so many emotions that I'd never experienced before- I've never really lost anyone. I mean, I've lost grandparents but I was very young when that happened. So this was my first monumental loss. It happened over a matter of months, and was very unexpected, so it was jarring … very surreal. I think the album was therapeutic for me. I wasn't exactly creating with any intent outside of making music.
I very often hear people describe your music as emotional.
It's a pet peeve of mine to hear club music that is completely emotionless. It's like, what are you even doing? I hear sounds all the time which don’t impact me at all. Then there could be a track consisting of just drums, but whoever made it is expressing something through it. I think every time I set out to make a song or sit down to create something, it has to resonate with me, otherwise I completely stop working on it. Some days, you have the creativity and some days you don't. It's natural, it’s human. I think that with music, there's the creative part, where you're just free to do as you wish, and then there's the aspect of composing it, of actually making a useful thing that someone can listen to and not just random sounds. It's like shooting a movie and then actually putting it together.
Your first single "Ahead Of Time" features Korean vocalist Park Hye Jin. How did you link up?
I heard her first EP and was really intrigued by it. I thought it was very cool and fresh. I was familiar with the label that she'd put it out on and having been to Seoul before I realized that we actually had a few mutual friends. So while I was finalizing the album, I reached out to her directly and asked her if she was interested in collaborating on a track. The original version of the song had an Aaliyah/Drake vocal sample and had gotten a really good response when I played it on a couple club nights. It turned out to be the track she wanted to hop on.
You just modeled for Raf Simons x Adidas. Describe your personal style! Are you into fashion?
Yeah, quite a bit. I wish I could afford all the things I want to wear. I try to make do with what I can and what I have. It's such a cliche to say "I dress the way I feel" but it's pretty true for me—I like to mix things up. I feel that with vintage sometimes it's pretty serendipitous when you come across an amazing piece. You can't just go to a store and buy it the way you would buy the latest collection off a website. When you find it, it's because it’s the right time and the right place. My brother’s a fashion designer and is five years older than me, so he always introduced me to fashion and styles of music. There was enough of an age difference and this was pre-internet too, so I was learning about things earlier than other kids my age. So yeah, I think I've always been pretty keen about fashion.
What's your favorite piece or item that you own currently?
I have a vintage Margiela trench coat that I really like. Also, my Saint Laurent chelsea boots are a staple. They can be dressed up or dressed down-—they're kinda for any occasion.
What is getting your attention right now, music wise?
There's so much music out there right now that it's difficult to consume it all, but I try to put my friends at the forefront. There are a bunch of outlets these days. Avalon Emerson runs a website called buymusic.club which is great for finding new stuff that's on Bandcamp or whatnot. But yeah, I definitely try to push my friends forward and support them as much as I can, no matter what genre. Sometimes I need a break from electronic music and I’ll just listen to hip-hop, indie—whatever's new there.
What's the best thing about living in NYC now?
For me, it's always been about the diversity in culture and the attitude in New York. I think that's still what draws me in and attracts me—what will always make me love NYC as much as I do.
Another city or place in the world with an interesting scene?
London—there's always great shit going on there. Also, the crowd is always great and super open in Berlin. I've been to so many incredible places. Tblisi in Georgia has a very cool rave scene—Kiev and Moscow, too. A lot of the Eastern European countries are amazing.
They are! I'm Eastern European.
Me too, actually. I have relatives that are all from Eastern Europe. I was wondering what kind of last name Baltra is. It's Lithuanian—it was shortened when my relatives came here. It's funny, whenever I travel to play, everyone will always speak to me in the native tongue. They'll think I'm from there, no matter where I am… Moscow, Lithuania, France, even Finland. Everywhere I play, people think I'm from there.
Being relatable can be a good thing!
Well, people say it's good to be from New York, but truthfully, the ravers don't really give a fuck where you're from!