Brother Nebula first burst onto the scene in 2018 with his debut release on Legwork titled A Brief History Of Lasers. At the time, there wasn’t much information regarding the identity of the unknown producer except for a collaboration with San Francisco-based maestro Solar earlier that year. The only thing fans had to judge him by were his tracks and clear penchants for crafting atmospheric breakbeat tunes. The mystery surrounding the artist was almost inspiring – especially during a time when musicians are expected to share more of themselves than ever.
Brother Nebula would continue putting out records under this curious cloud of secrecy – later joining forces with the likes of Nick Höppner’s Touch From A Distance for his Going Clear EP. However, near the end of 2020, as Brother Nebula was set to share his full-length album The Physical World, rumors started to circulate on who the musician might be…
Although it might not come as a surprise to some, the man behind all the haze is veteran producer and mix engineer Lance Desardi! In this special edition of MIXED BY, Mr. Desardi puts together a selection of some of his major influences while sharing details about his unlikely journey in the music industry – a journey that transformed a budding DJ from Dallas into a guy Defected Records run to when they need to finish a track. For all you aspiring producers out there, this is one you’ll want to read from start to finish!
How’s everything going Lance? Can we call you Lance? Although you have been producing under the pseudonym Brother Nebula since 2018, few actually know you’re the person behind the moniker. What was the reason behind keeping your true identity a secret for so long?
Hi, thanks for having me here. Haha – yeah, that’s my given name, so I guess I’ll let it slide… I’ve been doing music for a long time (20 years and some change), and I’ve done a lot of different styles and flavours over the years. I’ve always enjoyed exploring my influences – of which I have many, both in and out of the dance world, but at the time of starting working on the Brother Nebula sound- which would be around 2016 I guess – I was feeling a bit like using my name would bring a lot of pre-conceptions about what the music might be. So I thought I’d start fresh and try to do something from the ground up. It was actually a great exercise, because it proved to me that I could do something new again, and wasn’t a complete charlatan… At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
The point of the exercise was never to be the ‘secretive old producer under a new moniker’ thing, I just wanted it to come off as a completely new artist. I honesty didn’t have any plan to tell anyone for this album, but shortly before someone I was working with let the cat out of the bag, and it seemed pointless to try to fight it, as the internet is undefeated in these regards.
Having been a mix engineer for the likes of Defected, Classic, and several other major imprints, you’ve had the opportunity to work on some of the biggest tracks in dance music the past decade. What have been some of your proudest tunes to work on in your career?
Mixing is great for me, as I get to work with amazing artists, but it doesn’t come with any of the personal baggage of trying to write great music – they’ve done that bit already. Recently I’ve been working with Honey Dijon, Luke Solomon and Chris Penny on Honey’s upcoming album, which is so much fun, as we’ve all been friends for years, and they’re all hilarious. I’ve also had the pleasure to work with people like Hercules & Love Affair, Horse Meat Disco, Shapeshifters and others. One of my favourite things to have mixed recently is Ben Westbeech and KON’s project The Vision – that record is an instant classic as far as I’m concerned.
What was your experience like coming of age in the Dallas music scene? What was it like back then? And how does your upbringing influence the sounds you choose to produce today?
It was a good place to come up as a young DJ and producer, because the scene there was so small, but of a very high quality. My friends and I started a little sound system in the suburbs of Dallas, and then we met Mike Constantino and JT Donaldson, and I moved on to DJ and work with the Hazy Daze Collective from there. I was basically the DJ they would put on at 9 in the morning when everyone else was too, uhh… tired to play records any more. Those guys really taught me everything I know (mainly not to take any of this shit too seriously), and helped me get on my way to doing this thing for so long. Thanks Mike, Sean, JT and the rest, I literally couldn’t have done it without you… Or, this is all your fault!
What were you listening to back in those days? Can you share 5 of your favorite dance songs from that time in your life?
I got started listening to electronic music through a friend of mine called James, who’s a couple years older than me and always turned me on to cool stuff. We met through a love of skateboarding, but he was really into music and originally got me into industrial stuff like NIN, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb – that kind of thing, and then 808 State, LFO and Warp. It then snowballed from there into Detroit 2nd wave like Kenny Larkin, Carl Craig, DBX etc, on to Chicago house like Relief and Cajual Records, Sound Patrol/Derrick Carter, Prescription records etc. Here’s a list of 5 I still love from my early days:
Johnny L – This Time – Craig Remix
Kenny Larkin – Azymuth
Dave Angel – Beyond The Heavens – X-Mix 3 Compilation
K.O.T. – Zestland Camp #1
Chez Damier – KMS 49
Your debut album came out at the end of the year. Congratulations on its release! Titled “The Physical World,” the LP features a cosmic arrangement of breakbeat originals that harken back to a golden era of 90s house. If there is one thing you can tell our readers before they take a listen, what would it be?
Thanks very much! When I started formulating the project, I wanted to play with the idea of breakbeat stuff from my youth, but put through a lens that works for me. Dallas had a massive breaks scene; things like early Chemical Brothers, Bassbin Twins, that kind of thing, and – to be honest – it was never really my thing, but I think it permeated my consciousness; I’ve always found the rhythms and breaks interesting. I have always loved the IDM stuff, so I guess it’s some amalgamation of House and those bits.
Were there any difficulties you experienced while finishing your album during a pandemic? As a family man, we’re curious to hear how you balanced everything.
WelI, I finished the music well before the madness started, and was waiting to put it out because of said madness. I finally decided to go ahead and do it, as it’s not purely club music, so I thought it would still resonate with people a bit…. The UK locked down right when it came out, so that has been interesting, but the release has gone very well considering.
As far as balancing home life and work, that’s probably the hardest part. We’ve been locked down in the UK for a while with schools closed, so my wife and I have been juggling parenting duties while trying to get our work done. Anyone with kids knows it’s super tricky, but it’s surprising the things one can get used to, and it’s actually been really nice to spend so much time with our daughter. Lately I’ve been watching her in the day, and then I go into the studio around 3pm or so, and do the late shift at the studio. That’s why it’s taken me so long to get the interview done, so thanks for your patience!
I assume, as a mix engineer, you are quite serious about the gear you have in your personal studio. For the developing producers out there, what are some of your most prized pieces of equipment and why?
Yeah, I do a have a bit of a problem in this area… My wife finds it insane that I basically just read manuals all the time. Anyway, I run a hybrid digital/analog system centred around an old Chilton QM3 24 track console, which is a lovely analog desk with lots of vintage feel. It’s kind of warm and squishy; not as detailed as more modern stuff, so I usually run specific things though it, and sum my mixes in the computer.
My favourite keyboard in my studio is probably the Korg Mono/Poly, which I have the Mody/Ploy midi mod fit. It’s such a special sounding board, and you can get pretty much anything out of it. I also have the newer Minilogue XD and Monologue and they’re amazing. I’ve always loved Korg stuff in general.
For processing, I would have to mention the Empirical Labs Distressors. There’s pretty much nothing you can’t do with them in the studio – they’re that versatile. A stereo pair on a desert island for sure, although I hope the island has power.
Full disclosure though: with the way that labels and artists want quick turn arounds on mixes and revisions, I mix probably 85% in the box at this point, and a lot of songs fully ITB. It’s too difficult and time consuming to try to recall on the analog gear when working on multiple projects at once, so I use it mostly on my own music these days. Plug ins are so damn good now, that I don’t feel I’m losing much – if anything – in fidelity. Plug in compressors are usually a bit quicker than their real life counterparts, so you can different sounds from different things. I probably use the UAD Distressor more than my hardware ones! That’s all a very debatable topic though, and I don’t have a dog in that fight. I love anything that helps me make music.
What has it been like being an ex-pat in 2020 – arguably one of the most tumultuous years in American history? Do you have plans to move back anytime soon?
It’s been nuts! In the words of the great philosopher Forest Gump: ‘That’s all I really have to say ‘bout that’. I doing think we’ll be back there anytime soon, but who knows, I miss the Cali weather!
In your career, you’ve been fortunate enough to make many places your home – including cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now London. If you had to pick one as being your favorite scene, which would it be?
Oh that’s a really tough one – there’s so many amazing people in all these places. I think San Francisco will always be my spiritual home though; I was there for nearly 15 years, and it’s such a magical place, and the party basically never stops… Chicago is another one that looms large in my mind, as I have family there, and many very close friends.
What can people expect from the mix you put together for us today? We for one love the range and how diverse the collection seems to be.
That’s great, thanks for the compliment. I honestly struggled for a while for the Brother Nebula sound as a DJ. I wanted to mix all my influences together and just see what came out, but I had to figure out the best way to do that as a DJ. It kind of dawned on me to do it more in a hip-hop style with shorter mixes, and just banging stuff in and out. It’s a really fun way to play and makes it much easier to change styles quickly. As as the immortal DJ Harvey once said ‘selection trumps mix’ (I’m paraphrasing…) So basically expect everything.
Thanks again for having me here and doing a bit of research about me. I really appreciate you taking the time to do so.
Interview by Yassin