Listen to a live DJ set by the Desert Dwellers above.
Desert Dwellers consists of Amani Friend and Treavor Moontribe; together they are one of the most pioneering and prolific downtempo artists hailing from the United States, having released over a dozen full length albums, several DD remixed albums, as well as countless singles, EPs and remixes for labels like Black Swan, Twisted, Six Degrees, Iboga and their own label Desert Trax, to name a few. After the huge success of the “DownTemple Dub” series, and blowing up the past three years at some of the most prominent international music festivals including Lightning In A Bottle, Symbiosis, Wanderlust, Shambhala, Eclipse Festival Australia, Envision, Beloved, Sonic Bloom, and Earthdance, Desert Dwellers have just finished a 7 week tour across the United States opening for world renowned Twisted Records artist Shpongle, and are gearing up for a very big festival season in 2014 including Boom (Portugal), Atmosphere (Israel), Coachella, and countless others across North America.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the Desert Dwellers in NYC while they were with Shpongle for the “Museum of Consciousness” tour. We talked about spirituality, psychedelics, music festival culture, and more.
Jeff Bausemer: How did the two of you meet?
Amani Friend: During the 90s, we were both heavily involved in organizing outdoor electronic music gatherings. Treavor was based in LA organizing the Moontribe full moon parties in the Mojave deserts, and I was based in the high deserts of New Mexico working with the Cosmic Kidz collective. The two of us first met at the 5 year anniversary Moontribe gathering in 1998, and after that we pretty much immediately started working in the studio together, originally producing up-tempo electronic dance music under the name Amani vs Teapot for several years. Treavor would travel to NM to play gigs and would stay for a week or so each time to work in my studio. Our first official Desert Dwellers album was produced in 2001, which we gave away as gifts at Burning Man. It was a collection of dubby-ethnic-downtempo tracks such as Point of Awakening, Saraswati Mata, and You Can See Forever. These initial DD tracks were later remixed by Rara and myself, which resulted in our classic album DownTemple Dub Flames.
Treavor Moontribe: Moontribe had its 5 year anniversary gathering in the forest a few hours from Los Angeles in 1998. A nice contingent of folks from Santa Fe, NM had come out for it and when I returned home in LA I found this strange bald headed skinny alien dude asleep in my bed. Of course I jumped in and cuddled up with him and we’ve lived happily ever after….
If you could come up with a new word to describe your music, what would it be?
Amani: A new word, like never existed? How about; illuminorganica or shaktilectronicawhomp or globalbassadelic. There are also established words in the collective noosphere such as downtemple-dub, sacred-bass, psy-step, and I’ve heard someone calling it yoga-whomp recently.
Treavor: A new word? Like a word never been used before? How about blahblueblaztorblah?
You’ve just finished touring with Shpongle for the “Museum of Consciousness” tour. What’s been the biggest take away from the tour?
Amani: This tour was really a dream come true on so many levels. The music of Shpongle made such a huge impact on both of us in the late 90s, and paved the way for that unique style of ethnic-psy-dub. So for me it was an honor to share the stage with Simon 42 times, and to also be able to spend time and get to know him better in person and talk about the evolution of electronic music tools since the early 90s. The entire crew was amazing to get along with, and that made the tour so easy and fun for all of us. This was also the first time Treavor and I have done a tour like this in a bus for 7 weeks on the road, and we both loved it. Our usual touring method involves traveling to far away festivals through a lot of airports, hotels, and major sleep deprivation … so for us, this was such a major insight into how artists are able to sustain such intensive tours like this. It’s a heck of a lot easier than what we have been doing.
Treavor: That being a truly famous person like Simon means you will get many interesting gifts every night, be stalked by many interesting and/or scary people and be the target of angry haters who feel you “just don’t sound the same anymore MAN”. But seriously, I realized that I’d like to do 3 tours like this a year instead of flying as much as we do. Only if we have that same bus and crew or ones just as awesome which could be hard to find. It was really special!
How have psychedelics influenced your work?
Amani: Psychedelics have opened people’s minds and opened new doors of perception in humanity … now people can be open to this strange music we like to make! Personally, I have been creating this hybrid ethnic-dubby-sacred sort of music way before I even knew about psychedelics, so I guess that inspiration just comes naturally for me. I have also found a lot of ways to have regular “peak experiences” and release natural good chemicals in my brain, such as meditation, exercise, traveling, and awesome sex; all of which keep my creative vision vibrant.
Treavor: Why does everyone think that drugs have had any influence on our music? Our music is not so influenced by drugs….but if you take LSD nearly every weekend when you’re a teenager we’ll see where that leads you!
What was your most powerful psychedelic experience like?
Amani: Drugs are for druggies!
Treavor: I’ve never done drugs…
Many of your songs feature mantras and other references to yogic and Hindu terms. What is your relationship to spirituality?
Amani: Growing up in Santa Fe I was exposed to almost every tradition of global music and spirituality under the sun, often times coming from very authentic lineages and wisdom holders. I was first exposed to Indian music, yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism in 1996 when I dated an amazingly talented East Indian dancer named Yamuna. She is the one who does the “bol” vocals in our tracks actually (like in Tala Odyssey). Her family was extremely affluent in the classical music and dance traditions, and also adept students of Tibetan Buddhism. I was around them for two years picking up as much as I could both in terms of music, and also yoga and meditation. In 1998 I released my first CD Biodiversity, and I collaborated a lot with Yamuna and her father Steve (Sitar) on the project. When the Desert Dwellers albums were produced years later, we would often bring in a lot of original elements from that first East Indian collaboration … so the roots of Desert Dwellers began amidst powerful lineages of spiritual music.
(Treavor) For me personally I’ve always just liked the way those things sound. Chanting always sounded great in electronic music to me ever since I first discovered it. I was already into artists like Ravi Shankar and Zakhir Hussein well before getting into techno anyways. My relationship to spirituality is indescribable with words, but perhaps you can read my aura and know for yourself!
Amani, you grew up in Santa Fe, and Treavor, you’ve been calling it home base for some time now. How has living in Santa Fe influenced your music?
Amani: In Santa Fe, I have had the honor to collaborate with so many skilled musicians and vocalists over the years on so many different projects: Yamuna Wali, Steve Landsberg, Ricardin, Sarah West, Michael Kott, Mirabal, Michael Stearns, Meagan Chandler, and Nicolle Jensen are all based in New Mexico, and have all contributed so much to the music of Desert Dwellers and Liquid Bloom; I am eternally grateful to all of them!
Treavor: Santa Fe has been a 2nd home for me since the late 90s and most of our music was written in the hills outside of there. I moved there mostly because our travel schedule became so intense that it made sense for us to live in the same city. Being that Amani probably won’t ever live anywhere else, and I was sick of paying insane money to live in LA, Santa Fe was a no brainer! Its not the most exciting city on earth, but its beautiful, a great place to focus and get some R&R. We did play a party here early this year and it was WILD so the place does have some rich vibes when harnessed.
What’s it like to live there?
Amani: People often say there isn’t a lot going on here … that is definitely true in terms of the nightlife (and that hasn’t always been the case). But the fact that social activity is chill and more relaxed here has just led me to have more time to be creative and get work done. I have lived here my entire life, and I can attest that there actually are a lot of good things going on here under the surface, especially in the realms of world music, spirituality, and outdoor activities.
What do you think the relationship between psychedelics and spirituality is?
Amani: Both are providing the participants with new perspectives that are outside of one’s normal mode of perceiving the world. They both help one see where we are inter-connected and united, and strip away the layers of conditioning that have resulted in a society of people that are only concerned with their own welfare. I think people can use both of these tools on their path if they want to, psychedelics giving you a massive surge of “peak experience” energy, and the spiritual traditions then grounding that energy into a daily practice you can offer the world.
Treavor: It’s all in your mind man…and didn’t we answer this already?
What has been your favorite music festival experiences and why?
Amani: I have three favorite festival experiences. The first was in Egypt when we played in front of the great pyramids for Great Convergence (2012). I felt so blessed and lucky to be able to follow in the footsteps of a rare group of musicians able to offer their sounds to that space. That moment was surreal, as we all knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Another similar moment was the Solar Eclipse in Australia (2012). The Eclipse was one of the most amazing things my eyes have witnessed. The third moment was at the most recent Symbiosis (2013). That entire festival was amazing in terms of the music and stages, but the moment that stood out was when we played at sunrise and there was this incredible mist everywhere, the only time during the whole festival. The mist held our performance in a deep atmosphere of mystery that complimented our music perfectly; and just as the sun rose and the mists broke we ended with some really uplifting music … is was so perfectly timed!
Treavor: In the USA it’s Symbiosis because they have the most diverse line up of truly psychedelic artists. Outside the USA my favorite has been Universo Paralello in Brazil.
What about music festival culture bothers you?
Amani: I think music festivals are one of the most interesting things mankind has created, and I am always grateful they exist. I know there are areas where they can be better, and I am sure they will continue to evolve and be more sustainable as we all continue to co-create together.
Treavor: No comment.
Jeff: What do you think the next wave of music festivals will look like?
Amani: They will continue to improve and expand, and become more efficient at the same time. I think it’s possible that certain groups of people that put on these festivals will start buying their own land and start creating permanent stages and structures, leading to people always living on that land, building spaces to work and live, spaces to garden and grow food, and allowing them to become more sustainable and self sufficient … like groups of humans living together in festival pods around the world, interchanging people and resources.
Treavor: I just hope that they continue to exist as long as I’m alive and just get better and better in many ways. I’m pretty stoked on how it is right now so if it just gets better and better I’ll be a happy camper!
Visit the official DD website at www.desertdwellers.org to see their full music catalog and awesome line of merchandise. Also take a moment to like their DD Facebook page as well at www.facebook.com/