As bass music continues to thrive here in the United States, Liquid Stranger remains one of the genre’s most prominent DJ/producers. With his experimental and expansive production approach, he’s cultivated a loyal fanbase since he launched his dubstep persona in 2003.
Additionally, the Swedish-born/Oklahoma-based talent has run his Wakaan label since 2015, and it has blossomed into a true powerhouse imprint with releases from the likes of LSDREAM, Champagne Drip, and Lucii. Its popularity would later lead to label’s gathering, the Wakaan Music Festival, which kicked off 2019 in Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains.
This past spring, he dropped his 13-track studio album Balance, a mind-bending musical journey that bounces between melodic bass, chiptune, hip-hop, and ragga genres.
Still buzzing off his recent sold-out “Balance” tour dates, an album that’s still making waves, and his Wakaan Music Festival set to return to The Ozarks in late September, Martin Stääf connected with DJ LIFE to discuss his evolution as an artist and much more.
DJ LIFE MAG: You’re a seasoned veteran in the bass scene, someone who’s released plenty of tracks over the years, which includes EPs and albums. Where do you think Balance stacks up to the rest of your discography?
Liquid Stranger: If you’re referring to the intrinsic value of this recording compared to my others, I’ll have to leave that up to the listener. My intent was to make a recording that had an even distribution between harder bass songs, and the more whimsical, melodic songs I write. I also wanted the record to be energizing, positive, and humorous. I decided to include a variety of mutated genres, such as dubstep, house, trap, hip hop, and electronica.
DJ LIFE MAG: Balance is masterfully crafted and articulately put together. How important is it for you to put together a precise tracklist to deliver a cohesive listening experience?
Liquid Stranger: I feel it’s very important to arrive at a cohesive end-product, but the way there is not so obvious. Basically, I just start writing a myriad of drafts and see where it goes. For this album, I think I wrote something like 60 drafts, and then my friends helped me pick out the most promising ones. I’m an “idea person,” meaning it’s easy for me to write, and come up with themes and such. What I’m more challenged by is the sound engineering aspect, where I really push myself harder for each record I do. It usually only takes me a few hours to come up with a solid theme/basic arrangement, and then weeks, if not months, to perfect the mixdowns.
DJ LIFE MAG: You invited listeners to “Take A Trip,” reuniting once again with LSDREAM for that epic collaboration on the album. What’s it like working with him and how did that collab come together?
Liquid Stranger: Sami [Diament] is one of my best friends, and we made our collabs while he was staying at my house, which makes the process very fun, feeling less like work and more like hanging out. It’s an honor working with him because he is extremely talented. Sami is also one of the hardest-working people I know. We both write very fast, and it never feels like we are running out of ideas.
DJ LIFE MAG: If you had to pick one, what would you say is your favorite track of the album?
Liquid Stranger: For me, it’s probably “Busy.” I just enjoy working with melodic, childlike music that is totally free from expectations on how it has to sound – in terms of tempo, rhythm, and overall feel.
DJ LIFE MAG: How has it been to play these tracks out live during your Balance tour and get immediate reactions to the album at every stop?
Liquid Stranger: Testing songs out is super-helpful. I’d even go as far as saying it’s a crucial litmus test to see if the song actually holds up. This is something I usually start doing long before we even decide if the song is even going to be released in the first place. Due to the pandemic, and me not playing as many shows, I didn’t have as much opportunity to put this material through the wringer, which actually worried me quite a bit.
DJ LIFE MAG: What gear and programs are you using these days when it comes to production?
Liquid Stranger: I use a combination of analog vintage synths, acoustic instruments, and software. It all ends up in my DAW, [Steinberg’s] Cubase. I’m always checking out new equipment, and lately I’ve been really interested in gear that enhances the perceived sound quality/mixdowns. My studio is quite modular, and I can easily shift from using synths, to playing a hang drum, recording a vocal, or jumping into arrangement. It’s very important for me that the workflow is lightning-fast. Inspiration is like a soaring dragon – you have to jump on as it flies by.
DJ LIFE MAG: How would you say your sounds continue to evolve?
Liquid Stranger: I believe music is an emotional language. Now, if you want to speak with a strong voice, you have to have something of value to say. For music, that means gathering powerful life experiences. I try to keep my life diverse and interesting, having many hobbies unrelated to music – such as crafting, martial arts, ancient history, psychology, spiritual growth, hiking, botany, etc. – and it definitely helps me stay inspired and not go into writer’s block.
DJ LIFE MAG: Wakaan has not only become a true powerhouse as a record label, but has cultivated quite the loyal community of music lovers. How would you describe its journey since its 2015 inception?
Liquid Stranger: The decision to start Wakaan came out of a deep depression, where I had lost my mentor Harley Reagan, and felt very isolated and lonely. I was looking for a purpose bigger than myself. A way to connect with other producers, and share resources. I didn’t really have many expectations, but more so just acted on gut feeling. Since then, we’ve gone to release over 200 records, and helped build a very vibrant community of bass lovers all over the world.
DJ LIFE MAG: For anyone who may not be familiar with Liquid Stanger and the Wakaan community, how would you explain it to them?
Liquid Stranger: Wakaan is a collective for free-form music. We build artists, by sharing our infrastructure and network of connections, putting on shows, and releasing records and other forms of related art, such as clothing.
DJ LIFE: Tell us about SSKWAN, the new sub-label that’s more about downtempo music.
Liquid Stranger: We wanted to expand the collective to include more melodic, soothing, organic songs. I feel it’s very utilitarian music, that many people can find a place for in their lives – for example, when driving, meditating, or relaxing. That’s what the brother label SSKWAN is about. One of my long-term goals is to help make the U.S. climate for downtempo shows as vibrant as the climate for full-on dance shows currently is.
DJ LIFE MAG: Who are some producers who have your attention these days?
Liquid Stranger: We have a lot of exciting records coming up. The full-length from TVBOO is very good, plus a new Sully EP as well. We’re also stoked about new material from Shlump, LUZCID, and the huge SSKWAN compilation we are finishing up. I’m also really into what Xotix and Runnit are doing at the moment.
DJ LIFE MAG: Balance has been released to the world, Wakaan is pumping out the wonkiest tunes in the scene and Wakaan Festival is set to return in September. Is there anything else up your sleeve for 2022 and beyond?
Liquid Stranger: Since I got home from the Balance Tour, I’ve been writing a lot. I think I have around 20 decent drafts for a new body of work. I’m also going to pursue some more collabs this year, but can’t talk too freely about that yet. Lots of show bookings as well, so you’ll see plenty of little me in 2022.
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