Interview by Magdalena Roe

We spoke to DJ and producer Wallis, fresh off the release of her latest EP ‘Protect Me from My Friends’ featuring four tracks characterized by their melancholic, eerie, and romantic tones, showcasing Wallis’s deep and conceptual approach to music. Her EP invites listeners on a journey of self-reflection and emotional exploration, as each track blends melodic vocals with her signature energetic sound.

‘That EP is about an event in my life that triggered deep feelings of helplessness and sadness. It marks a completely new chapter for me —a turning point that has stayed with me ever since and will hopefully continue to manifest in all my upcoming music. Over the last couple of years, I have worked tirelessly to push myself beyond what I thought I knew, reinventing my sound and delving into deeper emotional depths. I hope people will hear that evolution in my music and that it resonates with them.’ 

While talking with the talented and visionary artist who has been honing her unique vision of sound and sound design for years, we discovered her approach and techniques that incorporate multiple layers and conceptual depth, elevating her productions to top-notch standards. And who better to explain to us what it means to be a producer and artist in today’s music industry staying true to yourself and your sound in an environment that moves so fast.  

Photography by Dave Waldorf

Can you tell us about your journey into electronic music? When did you first discover your passion for this genre?
Since I was a child, I have been obsessed with music and, albeit unartistically, danced a lot. I actually have two scars from falling while dancing in strange places as a child, which required emergency room stitches. This must be what led me to start hitting the clubs at 16 with my sister’s ID and becoming very, very obsessed with electronic music. My friends and I started organizing our own parties in Paris, where I would DJ.

How did you get into producing?
It was a really natural evolution from DJing. Back then, the amount of music and the access you had to it were very different. You went to record stores to find new music. Those were the fairly early days of YouTube when not all music was available on it. We also didn’t really know what any DJs or producers looked like—unless you attended their events—because Instagram didn’t dominate society as it does today. The world of computer music was already in full swing but still didn’t compare to the accessibility people have today through countless online tutorials and ‘plug and play’ plugins that give you instant, amazing results. There just wasn’t as much being produced and released every day back then. Listening to techno, I remember always thinking, ‘I wish this track did this here, did that there.’ I’m a firm believer that if you want something, you should make it yourself, so I ended up cracking Ableton and making the tracks I wanted to play. (P.S.: I now own a legal Ableton license. Don’t sue me, Ableton!)

What has influenced your sound since you started? What are your biggest inspirations musically speaking?
I have too many favorites to list. I don’t really limit myself to genres; good music is good music, end of story. Different genres serve different purposes. I used to be such a hater when I was growing up, really looking down on everything considered ‘commercial.’ However, working in the music industry taught me to realize the amount of work that goes into being a commercial success, the sacrifices one must make, and I respect the hustle. From a producing standpoint, it’s also not easy to produce good pop music, or music in any genre. I often tend to overcomplicate things, and I sometimes envy the ability to turn off overthinking and find simple but efficient sounds to convey a message. This is something I am working on. In the end, you just want to share emotion, and music doesn’t need to be complicated. So, even if the music isn’t always for me, I am still curious about what is being released, what everyone is doing, and what lessons can be learned from it.

You’re especially known for your live sets, top-notch productions, and experimental studio techniques. What’s the most exciting part about producing in the studio? Can you talk us through your creative process when producing music or preparing for a live set?
My process for producing is ever-changing, depending on what I’m trying to achieve. Currently, I write tracks in EP form, making it so that each of the four tracks is a different version of the same idea. I tend to be very conceptual in my music lately, so I have the EP concept already in mind, and it guides my editing choices. If the music I produce doesn’t fit the vibe of the EP I want, I delete everything until the vibe is immaculate. I also tend to record a lot of stems into my computer, and then I arrange, edit, and do more sound design on those stems on the go. When you tour as much as I do, you spend a lot of time on airplanes and in airports, so I try to make the best of it and do some work during that time, instead of entertaining myself with movies or wasting time scrolling before boarding (although I do waste more time than I care to admit scrolling). Also, making music makes traveling ten times more fun.

What’s the most exciting part of playing live sets?
I like the risk and the adrenaline. Playing live sets is like gambling. There are a lot of unknowns joining the equation before the set even starts: potentially poor sound systems in the club not allowing you to level things properly or pinpoint your sound design, airlines losing your luggage with your gear inside, random equipment failures, and so on. It’s so different from doing a DJ set, where you know the equipment works, it’s technically easier, and your adaptability is immense. During a live set, you can only play what you are good at producing. It’s not so easy to switch things up entirely if the crowd isn’t responding when you are doing a synthesis-based live set and creative sound design on the go. Sometimes it falls flat, and it feels absolutely devastating because you’re putting yourself out there in ways you are not with a DJ set. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I question myself and wonder why I keep doing them. But when everything falls perfectly into place, there is no better feeling. No DJ set can compare to a solid live set; you can really knock everything out of the park while playing something so unique and personal that nobody has ever heard before and nobody will ever hear again. It’s pretty magical.

Photography by Dave Waldorf

What are the obstacles you face as a producer?
A few years ago, I think my music lacked emotion. I was very disconnected from myself, rarely allowing myself to feel anything, and you could hear it in my music. I worked a lot on reconnecting with my emotions and am now much more aware of my feelings. I try my best not to bury them, and you can hear it in the music. Emotions are the main drive behind my music. I actually work my best when I am at my worst. When something hard happens in my life, I cynically tell myself, ‘Hang in there, at least your music is about to slap.’ These days, my main production obstacle is my inability to be simple and normal. I overthink too much. I am really working on simplifying my arrangements, not overcomplicating the sound design, and making it enjoyable for people who aren’t obsessed with production technicalities. I tend to get lost in the technicalities because the first thing that happens when I hear music is that I dissect how it was done. If I can’t tell how everything was produced, I’m usually so curious and impressed. Maybe unconsciously, I think that if people can tell how I produced everything, I haven’t done enough.I am really working on catching myself when my brain starts going off in that direction. I make efforts to stop myself and stay grounded to create something that I am proud of but that is also enjoyable for everyone, not just the very few music nerds who will appreciate the complexity of the music because they can’t pinpoint how I did it.

What vision do you have for your own record label JELL? In what sound direction are you heading with it?
At the moment, I plan on releasing mainly my own music on it because it allows me to release my EPs exactly when and how I want to. For example, my next EP on Jell is music that needs to come out in autumn/winter because I wrote it with that weather in mind, and I think people will relate to it better in that season. Another label might have imposed a date or artwork or had a say in the track names, order, etc. There is actually a particular track order on that EP because if you read the tracks one after the other in the correct order, it forms a little text that says something about the concept of the EP. Those are the types of details I cannot control when someone else is releasing the music, and it’s hard for me to give that up. Eventually, I want the label to be a small family of highly unique sound designers who write emotional tracks. I want the tracks on the label to sound like no other.

Your live sets are known for their energy and innovation. How do you prepare for a  DJ set, especially at festivals like Awakenings or Awakenings Upclose?
For a DJ set, I tend not to prepare too much. For the B2B with Perc at Awakenings, we had previously met in London to rehearse a bit and get a sense of what we could expect from each other and feel the vibe. However, the set itself was completely improvised. I find that for B2Bs, it’s best not to really know what the other artist is going to play so that you can be genuinely surprised by some of their tracks and play your spontaneous reaction to them.

What’s the best part of playing at big festivals like Awakenings or Awakenings Upclose?
This is my third Awakenings, and honestly, that day is always really nice because so many people gather together to listen to music and have a good time. The energy is so fresh; it’s just great to walk around, feel the vibe, and visit all the stages to see what’s happening. You also run into many friends and other artists. It’s a great place to catch up with people you may not have seen in a while. I’m always so excited to come and end up never having enough time to do everything I wanted at the event.

You’ve just released your new EP ‘Protect Me From My Friends’. What was your main inspiration, and how does the sound differ from your latest EP?
That EP is about an event in my life that triggered deep feelings of helplessness and sadness. It’s about coming to terms with reality, with the true state of my life back then, reflecting on morals, being more alert, and contemplating perspectives for the future while moving forward. It marks a completely new chapter for me. This EP truly marked a turning point in how I approach writing tracks—a turning point that has stayed with me ever since and will hopefully continue to manifest in all my upcoming music. Over the last couple of years, I have worked tirelessly to push myself beyond what I thought I knew, reinventing my sound and delving into deeper emotional depths. I hope people will hear that evolution in my music and that it resonates with them.

Photography by Magdalena Roe

If you had to describe ‘Protect Me From My Friends’ with a movie, a feeling, or any event in your life, what would it be?
There are actually a few movie samples inside the tracks—I can’t wait for movie nerds to notice. Some from niche movies, others from not-so-niche ones. The track ‘Teenage Apocalypse’ is even named after a movie trilogy, and the EP cover is inspired by a scene from one of the movies in that trilogy. I wrote the poem on the EP cover with that inspiration in mind, although the poem itself is about my own EP and has nothing to do with the movie.

Looking back on your career. Is there a particular moment or achievement that you are most proud of?
Actually, my proudest achievement is still ahead. It’s already accomplished but not yet public. It’s something I had been eyeing for many, many years and worked really hard towards, so I am kind of proud that I managed to achieve it. But perhaps this isn’t a healthy way of thinking because it shows I keep moving my goalposts, always thinking of what can be done next, instead of appreciating what I have already accomplished and what it took to get there. I’ve achieved so many things that were once my absolute dreams, and it’s easy to get used to them and not appreciate how much I once longed for all of this. For example, I remember playing my first Awakenings; I was so happy I nearly cried. And then there’s the booking agency that represents me today, Elite; it was my absolute dream agency as early as 2016. It’s easy to forget how far you’ve come when you’re always focused on the future, and that’s not healthy. But the future, especially in music, is also exciting, so it’s hard not to focus on it.

What is there to come from you in the future? Any other new releases or projects you’re excited about?
I have 3 EPs on the way after this one. The first one will be released on my label Jell in autumn/winter—because, you know, it’s wintery music that needs to come out during the cold months haha. I’m excited for each EP to be released. They each tell a story about me and my life at different points in time. Listening to them back-to-back is interesting because you can really hear my sound design evolving and perfecting itself, and how the tracks reference each other and paint the picture of how I felt when I wrote them. I hope people will be able to relate to those emotions somehow. I’ve really turned a new leaf production-wise, and I’m so intrigued to see where this music takes me.

Photography by Dave Waldorf