Casting a spell: Faery’s psychedelic selections are eye-closing and mind-opening - Music - Mixmag

Casting a spell: Faery’s psychedelic selections are eye-closing and mind-opening

In a world where techno has trended towards getting harder, nastier and more in-your-face, Faery’s deeper cuts flow against tide. She speaks to Mixmag about her journey and shares an 80-minute trip of a mix

  • Words: Isaac Muk | Photos: Daniela Maria Geraci
  • 26 January 2023

One afternoon in 2006 when Faery (real name Freya Caldwell) was an eight-year-old child in Brighton, she sat in the front room of her family’s pink house with her father. A lover of rock ‘n’ roll and guitar bands, out of his record collection he pulled out one of his favourites – Pink Floyd’s legendary psychedelic rock album ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. After dropping the needle, and the album started to run, he asked her to take a seat on the settee and quietly left the room, not to return until it finished. “I think I did enjoy it,” Faery recounts. “But I never listened to Pink Floyd again after.”

She instead found herself drawn to a different, yet not completely divorced sound. “I was always more into avant-garde pop – I loved Björk, Kate Bush before she had her TikTok comeback, David Bowie, one band I did like was Talking Heads,” she says. “They were all these artists that were using electronic music in their work, but because it wasn’t packaged that way it wasn’t until I was like 16, 17 when I realised electronic music was a thing.”

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When she did, Faery quickly fell in love with dance music and started DJing herself, joining a female and non-binary DJ collective in Cambridge called Playtime. “I would always play back-to-back with one of my friends, and we were really into industrial techno and would hammer it,” she says. “Gristly and raw – we were mainly booked for warmup sets but we were still committed to that sound.”

But nowadays her style has evolved. Still techno-leaning, with flickers of trance and ambient, her sound has become deeper and more psychedelic – perhaps that afternoon with ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ had more influence than she gives credit for. As a long-time avid online mix listener and recorder, the past 12 months has seen her bookings diary bulge. From her first solo gig on a 50-capacity party boat in the latter half of 2021, she’s gone on to support deep techno icons and key influences Peter Van Hoesen and Donato Dozzy at London’s Village Underground and Amsterdam’s De School.

With the only way pointing up for Faery, we caught up with her to chat about her journey so far, her love for electronic music radio, and the 80-minute techno-slash-ambient Impact trip she dropped over to us. Read and listen below:

When you were getting into DJing and electronic music, did you ever have a dancefloor epiphany?

There were probably a few, I’m don’t know if there was exactly one. But I remember seeing Helena Hauff and being right at the front. She was playing all night at E1, so she was playing for six hours straight – it was my first time seeing someone play vinyl and I remember being like: “Wow, this is insane.” Then when I went out, I started really watching what people were doing – the kind of mechanics of it, and then that was the point I was like I really want to learn how to [DJ].

How did you start getting into the deeper end of techno?

That was really in 2020, when I was furloughed I had this huge amount of time that I’d never had before just to dig through so much stuff. I started finding this whole other world of music – I remember the first label I listened through the whole thing was Hypnus. To this day [Hypnus artist] Luigi Tozzi is still one of my favourite artists – his ‘Deep Blue’ series is really special.

I think then it just sort of clicked for me. Before that I really struggled to record mixes, because my taste was a bit too diverse and it made it feel messy and disjointed, but when I found it, I just obsessively made loads. And even though I don’t really play industrial stuff now, I still love tracks that feel quite raw and rough around the edges - so I suppose I can trace my taste through that aspect of sound.

With a lot of techno seemingly getting harder and more industrial, why do you think you went the other way?

I think I’m always really drawn to texture when I’m looking for music. I think for me the really hard stuff is almost like a textural overload – and it reaches a point where it feels like: ‘Where can it go from here?’ Everything’s at the upper limit. What I think deep techno does so nicely is that it explores so many varieties of textures, and it has this physicality to it. I really like sounds where you can almost put your finger on the material it could be coming from or what environment they exist in.

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What sort of materials do you associate with it?

I love sounds that sound like they are scuttling and rattling, or like ricocheting – when I look at how I organise music there’s a kind of materiality to it. Like some tracks [I label] as misty or foggy, or the ricochety stuff which is a lot of half-time drum ‘n’ bass sort of stuff.

You’re quite involved in the Rapture Network trance and psy scene, what is it and why is it so important to you?

Yeah, Rapture Network is really important musically to me. It came at the perfect time – I’d just moved to Bristol and it was immediately lockdown, so I was kind of in this new city and the only people I really knew were my housemates. I was suddenly in this situation where nothing was happening and I just felt very detached from any kind of community. I was releasing mixes and was chatting to a lot of other people and started chatting to my friend Auratekh on SoundCloud, and he mentioned: “Oh, there’s this little group I have – I’d love you to join.”

It’s this amazing community on Facebook, people of all ages, from all around the world. It’s mainly around trance but we refer to it more as ‘rapture’ – anything that’s psychedelic and deep, and also this newer fast, 160 BPM psy-influenced techno. So it’s this community of people who love this sound that’s not quite trance but not quite definable yet either.

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I feel like it’s a sound that’s starting to become quite popular.

Yeah, I think there are certain settings where it becomes really apparent that it is popular, but in a nice way, like it hasn’t lost its spark. At Positive Education Festival [in France] – which is one of my all-time favourites and I was so lucky to play there – they have this room called Scene 3 and it was just a home for this sound. There were four days of programming and all these artists playing one after the other, with a beautiful flow between them, just perfectly mapped out.

The festival was in a warehouse complex in St Etienne, an industrial city not far from Lyon, but this third room is the perfect size – it has that big warehouse feel but it’s small enough that it feels tunnel-like so it’s perfect for the deep stuff. And the lighting design – the guy who does it was trained under Monolake so it was just really incredible.

Any other artists who you would say are pushing the psychedelic, trancey tech sound really well?

Spekki Webu and Woody92 – I remember I saw them for the first time play back-to-back in 2021 and I had never heard anything like it before. They just have this sound that is entirely their own and they have such a synergy between them. Often I find with B2Bing it’s almost like a dilution of the two artists that are playing – it can sometimes feel like each of the artists can go in different directions they want to go in, but with the two they just seem to push each other forward.

So you’ve gone from playing very small spaces to some of dance music’s biggest in the past year. How’s that journey been for you?

In a way the rooms gradually got bigger, which was nice. Each room felt a bit like a step up but it’s felt manageable. The first one I ever played was on a boat for a Whomp party in 2021 – it was the first one where I didn’t know everyone there. I still get nervous before I play but I’ve got to the point now where it feels manageable, and I know I can do it. Especially for De School, when that email came through I sort of yelped. I was at my desk doing some work and I saw the email notification pop up and I think it said something like “Faery // De School” and I went: “Aaah”.

How was De School?

That was a really amazing experience. It was one of those gigs where I felt I wasn’t quite with my body. I was warming up, and I love playing warm up sets – I wanted it to be quite dark and spooky because I was playing before Peter Van Hoesen and he plays the best dark tunnelling techno. So I was playing these ambient, weird vocal tracks and slowly built it up. I was actually quite going for it at the end, and I was a bit worried I’d maybe got a bit too intense for Peter but he went for it too so it was absolutely fine. And it was really lovely having three hours – it was just a really nice experience.

How do you prepare differently for these different kinds of gigs and spaces?

Weeks, sometimes months before, I will start making playlists so when I’m digging through Bandcamp and I find a track that I’ll think: “Ah, that will be perfect for this event.” I’ll pop it in a playlist, or I’ll have a notes section on my phone with different things and ideas, and then before I will go through it all and organise it.

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When I’ve seen you play, without sounding too cliché the one word I think of is “hypnotic”, and I know others have said that about you as well. What would you say you are trying to evoke in listeners and dancers?

I guess I do like that hypnotic title. I like to imagine a set as almost like casting a spell, it’s about doing something with the space of that room that lifts people out of the everyday. Some of the best sets I’ve seen in my life when it starts, you can quite rationally think about what you’re enjoying about it, and then there’s this moment when you can’t think about it anymore, it sort of wraps around you and takes you with it – often with those sets they can be two hours long but it can feel like 20 minutes.

Tell me a bit about your Netil Radio residency

I really love radio, I think it’s actually been quite instrumental in my journey in music. I did 1020 Radio [in Bristol] and I really loved that – I think having to make a mix every month is a really great exercise. Even when you’re not really feeling it you’re held accountable to that process. It also helps you distill the music you’ve been discovering each month in regular intervals, like I can find patterns in what I’m listening to.

I was already aware of Netil because a lot of my friends have shows there and I really rate Miro, the guy who runs it – he’s a really lovely presence and he has such good selections. He cares a lot about the politics of radio and the history of it as a radical communicative too, and I really respect that. And it just felt like the right station because there’s so many artists on there, and it’s very organic.

So what’s next for Faery?

I’m still loving making mixes, I’m working on a few at the moment that I’m really enjoying and I have some gigs coming up that can’t be announced yet, but last year was just so crazy I’m still absorbing it in a way.

And finally, tell us about your Impact mix.

This mix is loosely based on two of my favourite sets I played last year - one was the set I played at Above Below Festival where I had the best time closing the festival in full vortex mode, going from driving deep techno into dark, spiralling d'n'b; the second was a set I played at Fata Morgana Festival in Normandy - that was a really special set for me, it was one of those ones where everything felt flowy and even though it was 2 hours it felt as though just 20 minutes had passed.

I love building things up quite slowly, what I tried to do in this mix is start off with sparser, ricocheting, percussive tracks and from that lighter stuff I like to gradually get into what I like to call “thick techno” – chunky deep stuff, and then I always like to bring it back down again so I have tracks that are ambient, but they are really intense so they are kind of like peak time ambient. I think it’s nice when things are getting intense to strip everything back and then you can go back to that process of building things back up again. I also find these to be an amazing tool for shifting tempos and for entering new territories – for this mix I decided on fast, skittering psy-influenced techno, but I also love going into d'n'b at this point too. I think the thing I love most about this new, psy-esque fast techno is the way its intensity comes from its speed rather than a huge amount of weight to the tracks.

Isaac Muk is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow him on Twitter

Biosphere - Rotation
Loek Frey - Atone
DJ ojo - Exit Strategy
Varuna - Reer
Andrea Riffo - Roxe Elixir
Diffused Signal - Qose
Terrain - Choices
Pianeti Sintetici - Kacnea
Repertorem - Descencion
Asllan - Birth
D-Leria - Junglism
Svreca - Peels A Tangerine
OCHERii - Lapanim
main(void) - Inertial Frame
Svreca - Sleepless (Voices From The Lake Remix)
Doctrina Natura - Szkolna
Paleman - Visible
Notzing - Zulaw II
Aa Sudd - QPP
Ruben Ganev - Control
Spekki Webu & Altjira - Aalto's Labyrinth
Loek Frey - Decipher
Peace Regime - untitled
Sunju Hargun - Mai Chau

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