#PHANTASYMIX 39: Ambient Babestation Meltdown

Ambient Babestation Meltdown, otherwise known as Rachael Williams, is a true character. Her sets gravitate towards records old and new that pulse with energy, irony and intelligence, a sort of thinking-person’s party DJ, yet far less annoying than that might sound. As one half of DiASKi, alongside Joe Brooke-Smith, she produces sci-fi tinted trippers that will soon emerge on a debut record from DBA, and recently provided some different dystopian flavours to the newly maskless masses at Gala Festival.

Williams is also booker at Rye Wax, the Peckham party spot and record store, which ensures she has a unique and even tastemaking eye on the state of the UK underground. As such, Williams’ contribution to #PHANTASYMIX is a seamless blend of fresh cuts from the likes of Jordan Nocturne, Traxman and Laudanum aka DJ October (covering Edwyn Collins!), sat alongside rich electronic treats and cult classics including A Split Second’s ‘Flesh’ and John Carpenter’s iconic ‘Prince Of Darkness Theme’.

After delivering the mix, Ambient Babestation Meltdown briefly spoke to John Loveless about her musical heritage and selection. We can also highly recommend her excellent recent interview with writer David Jesudason, in which Williams thoughtfully discusses her Anglo-Indian/Burmese heritage and the knotty tangle of racism and misogyny still lurking in UK dance music.

For the uninitiated, where does the (incredible) name ‘Ambient Babestation Meltdown’ derive from?

It’s not just a made up name! I actually have a personal connection to it, and it’s a very real part of my identity. When I was in my early 20s, a very long time ago, I worked for an adult entertainment channel doing their marketing. I should note, this wasn’t for Babestation, but one of their competitors. And when the “talent” wasn’t available, the sound guys would get me to fill in for the girls in the vocal booth doing voice overs. I’ve got quite a deep register when I put my mind to it, and I can do that hotline voice well. 

Back in 2018 I made a joke to Sam from X-Kalay Records that I would perform with this voice live over an ambient set for him, and the project spiralled out of control from there. It’s been cathartic to take a part of my past and re-contextualise it within my work, and it’s led me to start producing and using my own voice on tracks, so I can’t help but think what a wonderful joke-turned-reality!

You are also a part of the duo DiASKi, who performed live for the first time at the recent edition of Gala Festival. The project is largely inspired by science fiction literature and film. What are some of your personal favourites? And what was the most dystopian moment you managed to conjure at Gala? 

Joe Brooke-Smith, my sci-fi production partner-in-crime, is as big a nerd as I am, so we work well in the studio bouncing ideas and concepts off each other. A lot of crisps and hummus gets consumed.

The last two films we watched together were The Fly and The Wicker Man. I’d actually forgotten how creepy The Fly is and how awful Jeff Goldblum’s character is to Geena Davies. Like, girl DUMP HIM AND RUN. She was too hot and her outfits were too great for that fate (by which I mean The Fly 2). Did you know that’s where the line “be afraid, be very afraid” is from? So mad that’s part of pop culture parlance without the connection to the film.

Gala Festival was not very dystopian haha! I’m looking forward to people hearing the record when it’s released next year on Don’t Be Afraid, and then also wanting to book us (please book us!).

This is a super interesting and very unpredictable mix, relying on flow and selection as much as mixing. Is this accurate to a typical ABS set, or a chance to showcase the more eclectic span of your record collection?

I would say yes this is pretty typical. The first step when I’m working on a mix is ensuring I include tracks I love or I’m currently finding interesting for whatever reason. Then it’s working on the flow. Beatmatching is just one tool in my toolbox and it’s maybe less of a priority to me than it is for other DJs. I also find that if I’m hyper focused on long blends, it’s much harder to weave in the samples and have them sit properly in the mix.

For this mix, I knew I wanted to focus on horror movie samples, and that concept spread to the tracklisting, as I then decided I wanted the whole mix to feel like the soundtrack to a camp 80s slasher. So I wanted all the music to be evocative of that. For example, the last track really feels like the music when the credits would be running. And the psychedelic sludge of the Zmatsutsi track from the excellent Leeds based Space Ritual imprint, with the Videodrome sample running over it, just really has that horror movie dread moment where everything has turned to shit and you’re now in some Freddy Kruger dreamscape you can’t escape from.

I also really love the middle stretch before that with the unreleased Laudanum (aka DJ October) cover of Edwyn Collins, and just having that slide into proper 80s goth and then into John Carpenter, it really just makes me think of all my fave cheesy and camp horror films.

This concept even extends to the images, which were shot by a friend of mine who directs zombie films, Andy Edwards. We met over a decade ago at a screening of all Twin Peaks (series one and two screened over a weekend at the Battersea Arts Centre) and have been horror movie pals since. Some of my faves we’ve seen have been Viy, and Santa Sangre. He also shot my first “babestation” style press pics and I knew he’d be perfect for this. To be honest, it’s not the first time he’s covered me in fake blood for a photoshoot, and somehow I doubt it’ll be the last.

Viy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaVWeY_oDKw
Santa Sangre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpl8bWYk5RU

Before you collected such a broad range of music, what were your entry points to club and alternative culture?

So in my late teens I was super into metal and post-hardcore. Bands like Fugazi, Botch, Quicksand, Deftones, stuff like that. And I still listen to all that! I would go to a midweek metal clubnight when I was 18 and dance with my mates and go to silly house parties. When I moved to London around 2008 there was a bit of an italo revival happening, as well as the tail end of electroclash, and my first job upon moving to the city was working at the Old Blue Last. Which at that time was the epitome of sneering cool. I don’t think I truly found my feet musically until I landed at Dalston Superstore in 2012 and was working for Dan Beaumont and Matt Tucker. I definitely owe them a lot in shaping me into the nightlife person I am today.

Do you think musical tastes are generally more fluid and less prone to tribalism now than in your youth or earliest days in London?

I’d love people to be more accepting of multi-genre sets but I don’t think we’re at that point yet where someone perhaps a bit less known can get away with it. You often need to be pigeonholed to get booked, so being more musically fluid feels like it’s only acceptable/lauded if you’re a top tier DJ. There’s definitely a sense that unless you’re on NTS, or had a viral Boiler Room, or part of the jungle revival in-crowd, then crowds aren’t interested. Musical tastes change, and the gate-keepers change, but the structures we have in place do not change.

One thing I will say though, that now there are a lot more opportunities and support for younger DJs. I’m glad to see more collectives pushing forward and bringing up folk with them via workshops and bookings.

You probably have a good eye on the state of underground culture, as your day job is working for Rye Wax, something of a Peckham institution that has naturally seen itself through a difficult 18 months. What are the initial feelings as the club (and yourself) dip a toe back in nightlife?

I do feel sad that there was so much talk about the landscape of clubbing reflecting on its issues over lockdown, that didn’t materialise into accountability or widespread change. All the talk of booking local artists and more women just saw a really cynical uptick in young local women suddenly getting agents. And it’s a difficult thing to talk about because obviously these DJs are all incredibly talented, but from the perspective of a booker, I can’t help but correlate those lockdown conversations with agents needing to make up for lost income from their international acts. So the idea of “support local scenes” gets co-opted. And it means it is still up-and-coming grassroots promoters who lose out. A lot of these kids barely break even these days, and that situation isn’t going to change.

There is so much work to do, because the issues in dance music are structural. There’s no quick fix and there are no easy answers. When people have lost income, they are focused on their profit, and that means that enacting real tangible change is on the backburner in favour of a quick buck. I wish I had the answers! All I can do for now is work on my own little corner of nightlife and hope that the changes I make can ripple outwards. And even if I only improve things for a handful of people that will still be a worthwhile endeavour.

John Loveless, August 2021.

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