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In Session: Parris

The boundary pushing producer enlightens with his pop-meets-the-studio mix, and talks about needing space for experimentation

  • Megan Townsend
  • 18 November 2021

Parris has had less of a meteoric rise, but rather a slow burn. As the release of his highly-anticipated debut album ‘Soaked In Indigo Moonlight’ approaches — which includes track of the year material singles ‘Skater’s World feat. Eden Samara’ and ‘Crimson Kano’ — it looks like the ‘producer’s producer’ could be finally breaking away from the label and into mainstream recognition.

The London-born sonic trailblazer has spent years honing in his sound, traversing a mixture of hard bass, sombre, empty moments and sunshine pop riffs. Growing up in the melting pot of cultures that is Hackney and Tottenham, Parris found an easy liking for the area's massive dubstep and grime scenes, and of course Rinse FM.

As soon as he was able, Parris, AKA Dwayne Parris-Robinson, embedded himself within club culture - insisting he would head to FWD>> parties at Plastic People and Dance Tunnel “week in, week out”, taking in performances from the likes of Loefah, Ben UFO and Youngsta — experiences he credits with wanting to both produce and play music himself: “I used to go and just watch DJs and I'd always be at the front left every week just listening to music, I never missed a week. I'd always go by myself.”

Read this next: Parris announces new album ‘Soaked in Indigo Moonlight’

He soon found a job as an assistant at Youngsta’s label Tempa, where he released his first EP alongside WEN, ‘Caught’ in 2014. He’s gone on to have releases on Idle Hands, Hemlock, Ancient Monarchy, Trilogy Tapes, Wisdom Teeth and more, all the while building up a steady following of music heads eager to hear what direction he’s going to take next.

Despite not playing many of his own records during his sets, the heady mixture of pop, grime and drum ‘n’ bass present in his production carries through into his DJing. He’s become a club favourite with regular slots everywhere from New York to Tokyo, including slots at Dekmantel Selectors, KALA, Waterworks, Wigflex and more.

‘Soaked In Indigo Moonlight’ is both a clear departure for his sound and a realisation of Parris’ journey so far. Inspired heavily by the likes of Charli XCX, Lana Del Rey, Frank Ocean, Kwengface, Digga D, Lil Peep, Denzel Curry and more, Parris said on the record: “I wanted to make an album that was about the connections that fuel life, about relationships, about play, about the possibilities of rhythm, about joy and serendipities, and who knows what will happen but let us see? So here is that story, here is that place.” The 10-track album is the first full-length record to be released on the imprint he recently founded alongside Call Super, Can You Feel The Sun.

We spoke to Parris about his need for trust in collaborators, why accessible music is important and how the pandemic brought him space to try things out.

Read our Q&A + listen to Parris' In Session mix below.

You have been coming up behind the scenes for quite a while, quite a slow-burn to prominence, do you think that's given you time to hone in your skills?

Yeah, I do, I feel that because my early records didn't really peak - they've always been seen as "headsy", none of them have really blown up - it's kind of afforded me the space to work out what I wanted to do musically. On my earlier records, I was just really working out what I wanted to do. I couldn't have dealt with the kind of situation where it's like "wow this record has really blown up so everyone is watching what I'm doing." Anything I didn't enjoy in a certain place I could just move over, coming out of this "bassy" world too - there's more room to move around.

So you think it afforded you more time for experimentation?

Yeah! These things all roll into the club too you know? it all kind of connects. Whatever music you create it's what [promoters] at the club book you to play, so having time to work out what music I want to play outside of what I want to release is good. But also I never felt in a rush, when you have a big record people are looking for you to capitalise soon - but when it's this selection of slow-burning records people just wanna hear what you've got coming next. I didn't put out any solo records for two years but I was kinda fine with that because people are basically fine to get a record from me anytime you know so there's no rush. Now the pandemic has happened and I've had some time to finish some stuff off.

How do you think 'Soaked in Indigo Moonlight' is different to your other releases? is this a culmination of everything or have you gone in a different direction?

I think it's the first one. I guess for me, when I decided to do the record, I hated the idea of prolonging this period of creating it. I'd watched so many friends take years to do it and I was like, I do not have two years to write a record. Absolutely not. I also never really knew what labels I wanted to work with. Running the label (Can You Feel The Sun) with [Call Super], I send him all my ideas so it made sense for us to do it together - but because we had a label, again it meant I had the freedom to work out what I wanted to do. I felt like, the things I'm the best at with my music is having a lot of space, having a good melody and having lots of rhythm - and I wanted to explore those things in extremes and see how far I can take it. It just needs good ideas. It doesn't have to be a six-minute track that does loads of things, it can be a 3-4 minute idea that does something really well and precisely. It was about taking all these ideas I had on other records that had been stretched out over 6-7 minutes, but honing them down into smaller pieces and doing something different with them. So like 'Frozen Hailstones Underwater' is me taking my melody and space but, taking it to its absolute extremes - with very little going on. With 'Crimson Kano' is kind of like, I'd written tunes in three fours before and doing that but showing the switch and how you can do rhythms in different ways. So it was quite nice to have an album to explore what I do a little bit more than I would on a 12".

When you and Call Super decided you were going to start up Can You Feel The Sun, you came up with the idea for the album pretty soon after right?

It all started completely by accident to be honest. We wrote two tunes together in 2018-19 and we just didn't really know where to put them, so we said "let's just do it ourselves." When it came to the second record we nearly did it on another label and we changed our minds, so having a second record in the bag already mastered and ready to go, we were kinda like "well maybe we can do a record label." We had a chat about it and we decided it didn't really make sense to have one-offs without any consistency to our output - we might as well just do it properly. It sort of accidentally rolled into becoming a label. Also, again I send [Call Super] all my tracks as I'm making them, so if I'm going to do that and he's hearing all my ideas then I might as well do it on the label we share together. Hence why I was like, might as well do an album then. Before the label, I hated the idea of doing an album, I was like "fuck albums." Now I'm like, ok it's not that bad... I mean I don't think I'm doing another one ever again any time soon [laughs], but it's not that bad. I just don't have two years of this in me, I don't have enough gigs to be like "okay I can do two years of working on an album and I'll be OK." I think my most used line of quarter-to-2020 was "no guys, gotta go home, gotta write this album." I actually did it though!

How important were the collaborators for the album? and how important is collaboration for you in music in general?

I always think collaboration is interesting because you're sharing a vision with someone and you've got to trust what someone does. You can't have an ego when you collaborate with people, the one thing I've learned with working with Call Super for example, is we never put any ego in it. Whenever I collaborate with someone I tell them when I sent them my stems, rip my work apart if they want, re-do it - do anything with it. I'm not precious about my work, you want to find something mutual with a collaborator. Every part of this record I've worked with someone who's a friend, if I'd been at a big label it would have just been randomers. I brought in a lot of people that I trust, and It's nice that I'm going to own it and I don't have to split it.

Read this next: Parris releases new single from his forthcoming album 'Soaked In Indigo Moonlight'

Do you think lockdown changed your attitude towards what you wanted to put out?

I don't think so, if anything it was just the time to actually write music. I didn't really have the "pivot away from the club" thing - if anything I wanted to write club music the most. I didn't really understand my place in the club and where I wanted to be club-wise so It kinda meant that I struggled to write club music - whereas now I have a much stronger idea of what I want to play so that helps. The pandemic and lockdown just afforded me time to work on tunes really, I wasn't out gigging for anything. Since everything has opened back up I've been fitting in a part-time job, in-between trying to write tunes, in between trying to gig, in between travelling, in between life, its sort of like - you can't juggle all this.

Do you think your approach to playing out is different to when you're producing?

It's definitely different, I rarely play my tunes in the club. I do have another track coming out on another label that I have been playing in my sets - but thats because I wrote it as a club tune. It's one of the only tracks I've ever written with the intention of playing it in a club though. I don't really think of my tunes as tunes when I write them. Sometimes I have an idea and I'm like, I'm going to do that and thats it. I think quite a lot of the new album is quite fast because I never really get to write fast stuff, just because I never play stuff thats 150/160 - but with the album, I had so much space I could just play around with tempo really. But I've never played my tunes in clubs and I've not seen them as club tunes, but I am trying a little more right now. I'm trying to write a tech-house tune at the moment.

You've said that when you were making the new album you were inspired by hanging out and skating - are hobbies and "life" where you find your inspiration? or is it the music related to those things? or is it a mixture?

It's a mixture for sure, sometimes I do things with my music that's just for the jokes. For example 'Laufen in Birkencrocs' started when I went to Berlin, it was all a bit of a joke as I was going to get a Birkenstock tattoo for the lols. That's how my head works and then someone always goes "maybe you should think about that." [Call Super] was like "do you even own a pair of Birkenstocks?" and I said "no," and he said, "well maybe you should get a pair of Birkenstocks before you get a tattoo of them." It's so funny to be inspired by these funny little moments. I never used to write tunes that had any personal relation, but it's nice having a cheeky little personal reference that means something to you, you know. I think music is always personal at that moment. It's quite nice to have an idea in your head and you're like "I want it to sound like something significant" because then it's connected to what that moment made me feel. To have those references Is quite nice from time to time. An idea for a track doesn't always have to be connected to a moment of course, sometimes it's just an idea - you wanna try something out, I think the album is a mixture.

You've also said pop music is a big inspiration to your music, how does it work its way into the music you create?

I think it's just understanding that the purpose of pop is that it's meant to be popular, it's meant to be big. Taking pop elements and making it interesting, like something like 'Skater's World'. I love the idea of being able to listen to something over and over again and not get bored of it, and pop has that ability. It's difficult as a music producer because you have to listen to your own music about 300-400 times before it even comes out. I also think as I've got older my tastes have changed too - when you're younger you think your music has to be headsy and then you just reach a point where you don't wanna bother anymore if it's popular. I reference people like Charli XCX and Frank Ocean, or Lil Peep - that is still pop music but it's doing something unique. You have SOPHIE, Arca and pc music that take references from pop and they take them into this new territory - stuff like that shows you that you can be fun, and still be interesting. As I've learned to produce music and go further on this journey I think those things are becoming more important to me. I want to make things that are challenging but also accessible - it's a bit different, but people can still get down to it.

Do you think dance music/underground music's attitudes towards pop are changing a bit?

I think so. I think it's because people are seeing you can do both, and in an interesting way. Even Bicep, don't make necessarily commercial music but they are charting - it does what it needs to do. I hope people's opinions do change. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying I'm trying to be Top 10 here - I just want to make fun music that isn't just for a dark room with 100 people in it. There's nothing wrong with that, so many scenes have come out of that, but as I've learned my place in music I just don't think there's anything wrong with making something that could be big. Overmono for example, have grown from underground and they are doing it how they wanna do it and it's working for them.

How do you think coming from Hackney/Tottenham and growing up in that area has inspired you?

I think it's also being from London in general, to be honest, you understand of having a certain kind of sound. When you look at dubstep and grime, these are genres that come from where I grew up - grime especially. But these people didn't have music knowledge, but through that created their own specific sound. You always knew who created the tracks because of how they sounded, this sort of sonic branding type thing, the way they created their music was so specific. Growing up around these scenes and communities you learn how to hear music in a very specific way and you learn that people have something about them that distincts their music from other people's music. UK music has a very specific sonic signature. I don't really know anything about dubstep and grime now, I knew about it then, now I have no clue that goes on - so I think it plays less of an influence on me now, but when my first record came out 5 years ago it made a very big influence. London is so rich musically, you're kinda like - why would I replicate the music that so many people around me are making, and they can make it better.

If I wrote a garage tune, you know the big garage revival right now, I'm kinda like "what am I going to do to separate this from the 10 years of garage between 95-05." You have to do something that separates you. You could go into Phonica right now, you have 150 records on those shelves - why is someone picking up your record instead of those other 150. So I am inspired by London, but I definitely try to do things a bit differently.

Read this next: Call Super has come of age with dreamlike, after-hours house and techno

Can you tell us a little bit about what you would listen to when you were growing up?

My dad used to listen to pop music and hip hop, whereas my mum used to listen to garage and R&B. I did a couple of instruments when I was younger, failed at them obviously, you know what they say about electronic producers [laughs]. I could never stick at it, obviously, I was 10 years old and I had the attention span of a tick. But that was what was around me really, in school people would play hip hop and grime - I mean I was in a school in Hackney. These things were around us a lot, they were coming up, I was about 14-15 and listening to 'Roll Deep' and stuff. I used to have cable - but you never got Channel U, It was such a big one. I used to go round mates houses who had Sky and I could watch Channel U! and actually catch up on what was going on. Yeah man if you didn't have Sky back in the day, I remember one of the first independent grime tunes was the JME 'Serious' remix and it was on MTV and I remember being around 15-16 and seeing that on MTV Base, and being like "Woah, JME is on MTV." It was mindblowing in those days.

You used to go to FWD>>, can you tell us about some of your favourite moments from the party?

I watched Youngsta quite a few times, he was always amazing, a technically gifted DJ, always on point selections. I remember watching Ben UFO doing a warm-up - 10-12, that says it all, the fact that Ben UFO was doing a warm-up, must have been 2012-2011. I used to go even when it was at Plastic People before they changed the soundsystem, when it changed and it moved over to Dance Tunnel in 2013. It was strange in those days, I remember watching Loefah when he was moving out of dubstep, and he was playing slow stuff and I was like what is going on. My memory is pretty bad, to be honest [laughs].

In the past few years of my life I just constantly have people like "I used to see you at FWD>>", even like this year! they'll come and say "I remember you at Plastic People" and I'm like "man I must have looked so dry then. The fact you all remember me, man."

What's next for Parris?

I have a tune on a compilation, then I have a Koreless remix - don't know if I should say this. I'm sure I can [laughs]. I have a record on Peach Discs too, then that's me for the whole of next year done. I have a party at The Cause this weekend with Call Super that has all sold out! very excited for that one.

Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, follow her on Twitter

Tracklist:

Madteo - Episcopi Vagentes
Samo, Powder and 5ive - MPC Jam
Love Letters - Duece
Facta - Untitled
Mandy, Indiana - Alien 3 (Daniel Avery Remix)
Untold - Motion The Dance
A Made Up Sound - Thin Air
Anunaku - The Spaceship
? - ?
Marcell Dettmann - Linux
Anthony Naples - Pez Anthem
Roza Terenzi and D.Tiffany - Chosen Family Feud
Love Letters - Press N Pull
Peach - Buttercup
Ploy - Rayhana
Barker - E7 - E5
Chaos In The CBD - Digital Sound
Nathan Melja and Florist - Wonderland (Florist Version)
K-LINE, Sonic Weapon - G.o.d Pt. I

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