Name: Lilly Palmer
Occupation: DJ, producer
Current release: Lilly Palmer's current track "Vertigo" is out on Spannung.
Recommendations: The Enneagram (book) and my new release 'Aether'
If you enjoyed this interview with Lilly Palmer and would like to dive deeper into her work, visit her facebook account, instagram page or soundcloud profile for more information.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started DJing about 5 years ago. Up until that point, it really took me a little while to realise that it was my dream job and the more I immersed myself in the world of the DJ scene, the more addicted I became.
I had been crazy about techno long before I started my career as a DJ. Friends of mine introduced me to minimal techno at the age of 17 and I was immediately absolutely fascinated and enchanted by the energy and the continuous hypnotic rhythms that never seemed to end.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
When I started my DJ career, I lived in Zurich/Switzerland and artists/DJs like Adriatique, Shiffer and Reto Ardour definitely had a musical influence on me. So it was no surprise that I played softer sounds when I began to spin.
It was nothing like to what I play today. Starting out in small bars and playing warm ups in various clubs in Zurich I quickly gained experience but at the same time I felt that I had to change my style to a much harder sound to satisfy my own longing for this incredible energy (laughs). I always thought, as long as I 100% feel and love the music I am playing, I will reach my audience with it.
I think we are all constantly influenced by external things and circumstances but you should always stay authentic and choose the style you love and stand for the most.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Creativity comes from within and without; it is a combination of your dreams, thoughts, visualisations and everything you experience through your external world. Tastes are associated with sounds, numbers can shine as colours and bad memories can create good things. What I create is who I am and everything I have experienced.
What were your main creative challenges when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time?
Unfortunately, it is the case that women have a harder time gaining respect at the beginning. Everything we do is scrutinised 100 times more critically and that scared me for a while because I am a perfectionist and didn't want to allow myself even the slightest mistake. Now I'm much more relaxed. Thanks to my experience I've gained good confidence and understand the business mechanisms better. And as my manager always says: "I love to see hate comments under your posts, if the hate ever stops I will worry because that means what you do has become boring." (laughs)
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I was forced by my parents to learn at least one instrument. So I decided on the piano and took lessons for about 5 years. Later, I got interested in electric guitar and dabbled in that for a while too ... Actually, I can't play either anymore, but learning both instruments laid the foundation for understanding the structure of music and also for a sense of rhythm.
In terms of studio work, I first looked around at various studios and then developed a feeling for which software suits me best and which plug-ins I like to work with most. My boyfriend Egbert was extremely helpful here. He's a great teacher and I'm learning more and more and getting better every day at expressing myself with my sound.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you perform?
The Sync button. A local DJ colleague of mine used to sit next to me at every one of my gigs just to watch whether I'd use the satanic sync button or not. It spurred me on so much that I knew my mixing had to be so good that I would never touch it again. Today I'm glad that I don't need it anymore, but sometimes I can't believe that we still have discussions about it (laughs).
DJing is a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation. How would you describe your approach to it?
The first thing I do is check the location and time for my performance. A dark, sweaty club requires a different energy than a cosy beach festival in Tulum. Then I organise all my recently collected music into playlists and also go through older sets, picking out as many tracks as I can find that might fit. I like to keep my sets pretty energetic, even if I have to give people a melodic break from time to time. (laughs)
The bottom line is that I know my music so well that I'm in control of the energy I want to create at any given time and it feels awesome.
How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? Is there a sense of collaboration between you and the dancers?
I’d say 70% is what I really want to play and "show" the audience and 30% is what I think they expect. That's why longer sets are usually easier and more interesting, because you can try out more. In my productions, I am guided exclusively by what moves and drives me musically and fits my sound.
In a song or classical composition, the building blocks are notes, but in a DJ set the building blocks are entire songs and their combinatory potential. Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening and perhaps also, if applicable, your work as a producer?
As you get more experienced as a producer, you definitely start listening to music in a different way, you can't help but analyse every little piece of a track you hear. Even if it's not electronic music, you just think more about how it was made. I know from my studio and life partner Egbert that he has this so intensely that sometimes he can't enjoy tracks anymore, he just hears them technically. I'm also not allowed to show him tracks after 6pm because then they stay in his head and keep him awake at night.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My schedule is definitely not fixed - yet my days during the week usually run quite similarly. We get up, have a coffee and check the news. After that, from about 9.30 am to 2 pm, we either go to the studio together or Egbert works on his music alone. If that's the case, then I take care of all the social media, emails, make phone calls to my team and plan upcoming trips and gigs or I’m on the road, airborn or waiting on airports. Sometimes and in between I also have to take care of the household. (laughs)
Later in the afternoon we always like to spend time in nature, we live by the beach in the Netherlands so we like to take long walks in the dunes or go kite surfing, it really clears your head and relaxes you. After that it's time for dinner and I still have to work on social media occasionally, reading blogs on current music industry topics like the whole NFT hype. Luckily I like all that, so I don't mind being on the phone a lot either.
Can you talk about a breakthrough DJ set or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I've always worked towards that special 'breakthrough' moment - I believe that you can only be very successful if every aspect of your career is on point. It's a whole package: your skills, your talent, the passion, your timing, your team, your image, your ability to be patient and disciplined, your resilience ability to get back up after failure, your relationships, your looks, your marketing and among other things: a little bit of luck. Even though my manager and I strongly believe that you can increase the chances of being lucky by working hard and creating a lot of situations in order to enjoy "luck" in the first place.
For me, this was definitely the case two years ago at a boutique festival in the Netherlands called "Hrfst". On that day, everything was just perfect. I was in an extremely good mood, the set I played was exactly what I and the audience expected, the weather was excellent and I had a very good set time. One of the most important things nowadays (and you can like it or not) is to have a video of that moment. I was "lucky" enough to have great footage of my performance that went viral on social media! Even now, 2 years later, I get tagged in reposts of those videos...
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I have quite a lot of experience with guided meditation and can definitely feel the benefits of it. Music, together with breathing exercises, is one of the best tools to reduce anxiety. Especially during stressful journeys, it helps me to listen to very calm ambient music, I really like to listen to "low-theta frequencies, also for falling asleep.
Being "hurt" by music is rare, of course there is music I just don't like, but you can turn it off or leave the room. But a really painful experience I might only have when the monitors are too loud (laughs).
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
This is a delicate issue. I think you should always be careful and inform yourself before you use cultural signs for your art. On the other hand, I also think that our society has become very fussy about everything you do, sometimes a bit too much. There should be room for humour and artistic interpretation, for example.
I just don't like it when you use cultural or religious things for your art just to provoke; it's usually very uninspiring in my eyes and only creates feelings of hate. If you create things out of the feeling of love, it should be okay in the end, I think.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I think you can take a political role as an artist, but you don't have to.
For me, my goal and vocation as a DJ is to give people a great time, not to save the world. That doesn't mean I don't care, for example I care a lot about nature and animals and I express that occasionally. The problem with that is that you can never get it quite right and you always get a backlash when you say something.
For example: Yes, I still take a plane to travel the world, even if part of it is to destroy it. It's just not the best job to take on roles like that. (laughs) I would never expect other DJs who travel to countries with certain problems to try to solve something every time, that would just be too much and it's not our job. I try to compensate with other actions like recently on Bonaire, where Egbert and I collected rubbish on the beach all day, or by supporting charities. This is not meant to absolve myself of responsibility; it is a sign that I am fully aware of this responsibility.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
All your emotions, of course. I love how I can take my audience on a journey with techno: A lot of happiness, a kind of relief from anger, stress relief, hope, melancholy and sadness, love, peace and the feeling of pure joy and contentment.