Photography by Alan Weedon
As a DJ and electronic dance producer, Jennifer Loveless is a fast-rising star
Her latest release, Water, brings together a host of musical influences to yield an eclectic mix of synth-driven electronica that will have even the most recalcitrant toes tapping. On the eve of her relocation to the UK for the European summer festival season, the Melbourne-based producer and DJ sat down with Mixdown to discuss her finely crafted electronica, creative processes and latest release, Water.
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Raised in Toronto, Jennifer came from a musical family. At the age of three she started to learn piano and by the age of 15 had completed her eighth grading, which despite her protestations to the contrary, is an incredible achievement at any age, let alone a teenager! During childhood, there was a lot of familial pressure to perform together with her siblings at school and community events. Jennifer jokes that they were being raised to be the next Jackson Five by her father. The constant pressure to practise and perform took its toll and Jennifer decided to give up on piano altogether later in adolescence.
Some years later, in an effort to connect with her Chinese heritage, Jennifer left Toronto to explore her family’s home in Guangzhou. It was there she discovered Ableton Live and started to learn music production. As an artist, now, she is grateful for the time she spent with music as a child which provided her a strong foundation as a producer and DJ. “It’s amazing to have all that knowledge in my back pocket. It’s in my body so much that it becomes intuitive,” she says.
Her diverse cultural background manifests in her music as it morphs effortlessly through mood and timbre. That said, her sound is unashamedly dance-focused and devoid of world music tropes. Rather, it blends huge beats, derived from acoustic samples, with a dense tapestry of synth-driven basslines, chords, and melodies to realise textures simultaneously organic and electronic.
Her most recent release, Water, was inspired by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet documentary series. She explains, “I became obsessed with underwater life and the cultures and behaviours of the different fish and marine life”. In terms of terrestrial influences, she cites DJ Koze, Moodymann, Matthew Herbert, and K-Hand.
When producing, Jennifer employs a unique workflow. Her DAW of choice is Ableton and interestingly, she combines old school MPC beatboxes with hardware synths, preferring to capture performances as audio, rather than sequencing in MIDI. Personal hardware favourites include the legendary Teenage Engineering OP-1, Yamaha TX81z, and the Akai MPC 1000. This preference to work with hardware sequencers like the MPCs, rather than sequencing MIDI directly in Ableton, sees Jennifer writing beats on the MPCs then recording them into a beat-matched Ableton Live session as audio. Once these beats are recorded, Loveless spends time writing basslines, chords, and melodies on her hardware synths, before committing these sounds and performances directly to disk.
For her, the endless options presented by software synths and plugins, impedes the creative process. Rather than searching through endless software instruments and presets for “that sound” in her head, Jennifer looks to hardware synths to create sounds and as soon as she hits on something workable, hits record to ensure the inspiration keeps flowing. “Even it wasn’t exactly the sound I was thinking of, as long as it’s close enough, I’m like, ‘oh! This is the character now. I can’t go back and change it.’ Otherwise, I end up in this self-hating mode, pathetically looking for this “thing” and after a while I can barely recall what I was looking for.
“Then, if I do another take it will be missing this little swing or something that I did the first time. So, unless I’ve recorded it too hot, I’ll use EQ to make the sound work and use Ableton’s warp to bring a few stray notes into time and make the take work. For me, that’s the nicest on my brain. So, it’s largely hardware sound design with sample packs for the beats via the MPCs. I want to work quickly.”
On her latest release, the first track is driven by an infectious bassline coupled with a huge beat. The bottom end is seriously impressive. When asked about the genesis and development of the track, Jennifer offered the following: “On my latest release, the first track ‘Out/Under’ was mostly just me, building up a beat without a computer, on the MPC. From there I jammed along with a bassline and once I was happy with it, I started up Ableton, record-enabled all the tracks and went for it.”
As an artist these days, the number of hats to be worn can be dizzying. Songwriter, performer, producer, mixer, mastering engineer, the list goes on. Jennifer is comfortable drawing on collaborators to assist as required so she can focus on the writing and production. The mix for ‘Out/Under’ is fantastic and the balance between the huge kicks and bassline, perfectly executed.
To clarify the process used, Jennifer happily shares: “If I don’t get ideas down as soon as I have them, and I fuffle-about too much, I just forget them. My fastest way of working, because I’m a piano player, is to just play it out, rather than sequence or program those ideas.
“When it comes to mixing, like on this track, sometimes I’ll reach out to my friend Corey and use him to fact check my mix. He does the mixdown and I’ll often sit in to see if what I did worked or didn’t work, and he’ll help me make it translate to a big club sound system. In the end there’s just not enough time in the day to do all these things, well.”
Part of the translation process, to sound huge on a club system, sees much of her output mixed almost completely in mono, with only effects and decorative ideas venturing into the outside of the stereo image. “I think that’s the rule. To make it as mono as possible as so many of the club systems are still mono.”
When asked about favourite plugins, Loveless looks to keep things simple. “I was late to the plugin game. My partner introduced me to them a few years ago,” she says.
“I have the Abbey Road J37 tape plugin by Waves that I really like, and there’s one by Nicky Romero called Kick Start which is a sidechain compressor. I throw that on everything. It’s just got the one knob, and some shaping options, that allow you to decide what kind of cut you want. The simpler the better for me.” For Jennifer the music always remains the focus, “I don’t want to spend more time updating software than making music!”
Live performances see Jennifer taking different approaches, for different occasions. For a straight up DJ set, Jennifer is most conformable behind a set of decks but for more creative outings she’ll leave the decks behind and pack the MPCs, for a “more ambient sound”. She explains further that “some of the tracks have beats that I have built up in Ableton and I’ll then sample them back into the MPCs for live gigs.
“I’m kind of obsessed with not having a laptop on stage. I know it can be slower to work this way and sometimes I think that I’ll change and use the laptop, but I haven’t gone there. Yet.”
When asked if her favoured pastime is the act of creation, buried deep in a studio or laptop creating, or on stage performing, Jennifer provides some surprising insights into her creative process: “I actually really hate working on the go. I love having a studio setup. I feel that I can’t hear properly unless I have a good set of speakers, rather than listening through headphones, and so much of my process involves hardware synths so I need a space.
“But which one do I like more, producing or performing? It’s weird, when I’m focused on producing, I couldn’t possibly touch DJing but if a show is booked and suddenly I’m forced to switch brains, I’m in DJ mode. Once I’m there, it’s really hard to switch back to producing. I don’t prefer one over the other, though. They both have their benefits. I like producing as I don’t experience the nerves of a live performance. After Covid and coming out of two years of not playing much, I think I’ll build my tolerance for live performance again!”
In a crowded space, Jennifer has carved out a unique and evolving sound that is imminently danceable. Combining her skills as a musician and a unique workflow, her music allows her to create music that is both familiar and sonically challenging.
Jennifer is set to base herself in England for the European summer festivals for the rest of 2022. Her latest release, Water, is out now via Butter Sessions.