We first met Eileen Lewis aka Khromata in Copenhagen, where we'd all arranged to meet for the 20 Years of Iboga Hologram Party. After seeing her awesome set there, we just knew we had to get her over to the UK to play one day. It’s a cliché that music brings people together, but when you’ve got six progressive trance lovers representing five continents converging on Copenhagen for one very special event, in this case it was most certainly true. While many of the world’s psychedelic music fans descended on Goa for their annual pilgrimage in winter 2017, we battled the snow at Luton to fly north for the 20 Years of Iboga Records Hologram Party in Denmark – and one of the highlights of that weekend was definitely Khromata’s epic closing set at the afterparty.
Nearly three years on, we’ve finally booked Eileen to come to the UK to play in the second room at Tribal Village, but there’s a bit more to the story than that. Since then, Wendy Whitehead aka Malkpa and I (aka FlibbertiGibbet) have formed our collaborative project Amaluna, and the second room at Tribal Village doubles as the launch party for our compilation on Free-Spirit Records, Lunar Phase, which includes Khromata’s debut track, Is This Your First Record?
With the countdown to Tribal Village on Saturday 18th January at The Steel Yard well underway, we managed to speak to Eileen ahead of her flight across the pond…
Hi Eileen, welcome to HarderFaster.net! Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions ahead of your UK debut at Tribal Village at London’s Steel Yard on 18th January!
So, firstly for those on here who don’t know you, can you please tell us a bit about your background. When did you first get into playing music? Are you self-taught or have you studied music?
Hey! Thanks for having me! I first started DJing at the end of 2010. I had wanted to since 1997 at age 13, but never took the plunge, self doubt and fear held me back. When I did take the plunge at age 26, I never had anyone standing over me telling me what to do, I got a few tips from friends over Messenger, and locked myself away in my college apartment for many hours a day (much to my neighbour’s chagrin as shown by the campus police showing up often to stop the trainwrecks), and six months later I got my first gig. My formal musical background is playing as first chair clarinet in an orchestra, and music theory in university.
I also played the descant (soprano) recorder in a baroque early music wind ensemble, and taught myself the feadóg (Irish tin whistle), and I had a stint as a singer in a cover band in high school, but I don’t really talk about that. Hahahaha.
Can you remember the moment that you first fell in love with psy trance? Or was it a gradual love affair?
It was 1998, 8th grade in Bangkok, Thailand, I found a cassette tape on the benches at school. I popped it into my walkman to see what it was, and it was a bunch of electronic music, probably Sash! DJ Quicksilver, you know, your standard ‘90s euro-trance. But there was one track that stood out, it was this really crazy trippy stuff I had never heard before, and I became obsessed. I had no idea what it was, as there was no tracklist written.
As fate would have it, the next year, I went to Tower Records and went to the electronica section first as I always did. I found a CD with a cover I fell in love with; it had a dragonfly on the front. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I judged this CD by its cover and bought it because I thought it looked really cool. It turned out THE SAME SONG I fell in love with the year before was on there, and I now knew the name: Hallucinogen – LSD, on a Dragonfly Records compilation. (This led to a discussion at the dinner table, me asking my father what LSD was, him asking me where the hell I heard that.)
That was my introduction to Goa trance as a young teen in the ’90s, and well, here we are now haha. I even earned the name Goa Princess in high school. I’ve been a Goa/psy freak for 22 years now, still going strong!
What have been the highlights of your musical career to date?
There’s been quite a few and I feel really lucky. I’ve been direct support either opening or closing for a lot of my favorite artists over the years: closing for Astrix, opening for Liquid Soul, opening for Vini Vici, opening/closing for Perfect Stranger, opening for Captain Hook, opening for Atmos, opening for Mad Maxx, opening for Deedrah, Emok, etc. I’ve gotten to play some really cool international events and festivals, with Panama Tribal Gathering and Astral Harvest in Canada as highlights.
Playing the Iboga Records 20 Year Anniversary Hologram Show afterparty in Copenhagen (our epic adventure!) was pretty memorable. Having the honor of playing the first ever psy trance night at a big US festival called Lightning in a Bottle by The Do LaB (who have a stage at Coachella) was epic, a total mixed crowd going nuts to psy trance was quite the rush. Playing the midnight slot at Dreamstate Mexico at the Palacio de los Deportes in Mexico City. Five major Dreamstate events has been really cool. Being asked to be the Iboga Records label DJ is also definitely a highlight. I feel braggy right now hahaha. But yeah, it’s all been wonderful!
And are there any goals you still have for the future?
Pinky: “Gee Brain, what are we gonna do tonight?”
Brain: “The same thing we do every night, try to take over the world!”
But yes, of course! I try to live by show don’t tell, so in due time we shall see!
After many years DJing, you’ve just released your first track on our Amaluna ‘Lunar Phase’ compilation, released on Free-Spirit Records. Did it take you long to learn to produce?
Yes! So, I actually started dabbling in production well before I started DJing. The year I found the Hallucinogen tape, the next summer 1999 I was using Propellerhead’s ReBirth which was a software emulator for the TB-303, TR-808 and TR-909, trying to make Goa trance, inspired by Shakta, Hallucinogen, and other Goa trance of the era. I did that all throughout high school, eventually turning to Fruity Loops, and moving into making drum and bass too. I (sadly) stopped producing for many reasons (school, life, etc).
When I came back to music I came back in the form of DJing. I wanted to produce, but made a regrettable decision due to some poor advice, my own fault in the end. Those years passed by and I was so busy with DJing and throwing events I had very little time to produce at that point. Finally, last year I was able to come back to producing, I dialed back throwing events. which just takes so much time and energy. So for me it’s been a very strange and long journey!
A little birdy told me it was a hard decision as to whether to release your deep down and dirty psy breaks track Is This Your First Record? or another awesome psy trance tune as your first track… do you find your love for multiple genres can make things more challenging, or overall does it open more doors – both in the studio and when planning gigs?
Excellent question, and a difficult one. We initially were going to release a psy trance track, but found a breaks track I had made was probably more fitting for the compilation style as a whole.
My philosophy in DJing is that I should be able to play anything that I love: the entirety of recorded sound is at my fingertips, what will I do with it? I try not to be too boxed in, although at the same time not all over the place, not an open-format style DJ either.
So! Yeah, it can get confusing… for many years people would come up to me before my sets at shows and ask what I was going to play tonight, they didn’t know if it was going to be psy trance (prog? full-on?), psy breaks, tech/progressive house, etc. So no-one ever really knew what to expect, and I’m ok with that!
My versatility has opened a lot of doors ultimately. I can open a party, I can play a peak hour slot. I get booked to play prog house sets at some festivals or breaks sets at some clubs. I wouldn't have it any other way!
Now with producing, it’s more expected you have a distinct sound associated with a project, and with a different sound, you have a different project name – which makes sense. I can agree with this, but in this case my DJ philosophy took precedence. Future tracks will be psy trance, though.
You’ve also run your own events, Khromata Nights, putting together some epic line-ups. What do you reckon the main elements to a great event are?
I started being a part of throwing events, both indoors and festivals, in 2012 with the crew Pulse SF in San Francisco. My involvement went from working the door, and eventually into many critical roles, from artist relations, to stage managing, etc. I eventually started throwing my own events and I’ve done seven so far.
The main elements to a great event are the obvious ones – well organized, good production, good sound, happy people, good music. If you can help be a part of creating that *it* magic vibe that people seek when they come out to have a good time... you know, when someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, thank you, I really needed this.” Seeing people’s happy smiling faces on the dancefloor makes it all worth it.
If I gave you a million dollars to book any line-up for a party or festival anywhere in the world, who would you book and where would it be?
First of all, thank you for the million dollars, how generous of you. Second of all, I would just book everyone ever, new and old, big time to amateur, dead and alive, and it would be in this psychedelic Utopia, and Terence McKenna and Alan Watts would come back and impart their knowledge on us, and there would be rainbows with pots of LSD at the end… I may have taken this fantasy too far, but I would have to sit and plan for such a festival, not enough time in this interview for it!!!
2019 has been something of a transformational year for you and I’ve certainly been inspired following your incredible journey from the other side of the world. Was there anything in particular that sparked this road to change?
Ah yes. Thank you, I’m glad to hear that, and grateful that I can be an inspiration. I’ve been pretty open about my journey. Many people have told me I’ve inspired them, which, a year ago, I’d tell you you were crazy if I was inspiring anybody on the health and fitness front, as that was not a part of my life then at all.
There wasn’t a defining, Eureka! epiphanic moment, rather a series of gradual changes I made over time. From stopping smoking cigarettes, to stopping smoking cannabis, quitting drinking alcohol, cutting back caffeine, exercising and playing sports regularly and eating overall much healthier, and seeing good results from all this.
I have garnered the nickname ‘Grandma’ by some as I’m not the party girl I used to be at events, but I’m totally okay with that. It’s nice not to have hangovers! And getting up early to exercise. Who am I?! Haha! But seriously, humbled I can even inspire anyone to improve on what they want. Best wishes to all!
Now we’re in a whole new decade, do you have any new year’s resolutions?
I’ve never really been a NY resolution type of person, I don’t feel a technically arbitrary date should dictate what I do. BUT… If anything, it’s to continue my self-improvement journey, and keep doing my best in everything I do. Be kind to others, be a good person, kick ass, take names, the usual.
You’ve embraced social media since its inception and have some pretty serious followings over various channels. What tips do you have for up and comings reading this who struggle to get their voices out there?
I’m by no means an influencer or even have that massive a following on social media, but I tend to be pretty engaging with content. I think my draw is being authentic in what I say and what I do. For those that struggle to get their voices out there, I say just be yourself. You don’t have to post ten times a day, but relative consistency will go a long way.
What’s the psy trance scene in the States like at the moment? If I was to go over there for some parties and/or festivals, what would you recommend?
Since the US is so geographically large, each scene is its own, with unique characteristics and culture. There’s thriving long-established scenes in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Asheville, and the Midwest, and smaller underground scenes in places you wouldn’t even expect (I’ve played in Florida twice, Las Vegas, etc.), as well as up and coming scenes – the revival in Seattle, and a lot going on in Texas.
What the psy scene here has in common as a whole is that it has always been more underground in nature, but in recent years it’s gained more attention outside of the core UG scene, most notably with Dreamstate putting psy trance on a really large stage reaching a much larger audience than before. There’s been mixed opinions on that, but overall, I see it as a great thing. I’ve played at all of these different types of events in the States, and I love them all, from the underground parties and festivals in the woods to the massive stages in airplane hangars.
Musically, there’s a wide range of styles of psy subgenres represented across the country, from psy tech, psy prog, full-on, to forest, dark psy, hitech, psy core etc. The psy dub/psy bass and West Coast bass are its own huge scene out here. Sometimes we try and collaborate as we do share a similar ethos, but often times we find out that simply the trancers don’t like the bass music and the bassheads tend to not like most psy trance, unless it’s a minimal deep Zenon sound.
Different locations are known for their different sounds, for example, LA has the reputation of being full-on and prog land, and San Francisco preferring the darker sounds – although this is easily disproved by crews throwing darker events down in SoCal, and myself and my previous crew Pulse SF and my own nights throwing events focusing on the lighter end of the spectrum in SF.
(Feel free to ignore this one, but…) Do you reckon it’s any different being a chick behind the decks? What are your views on the whole DJane movement?
Yes and no. Technically speaking, no difference. How some other people and/or society treat and perceive you, there can sometimes be a difference, unfortunately. I find the DJane title to be interesting, it’s practically unheard of in the States, it seems to be much more of a thing in Europe. If someone wants to call themselves that, then that’s their call. I don’t feel the personal need to identify my gender in my DJ moniker. I’ve had people tell me at shows they didn’t know I was going to be a chick. Surprise! Haha!
When you’re not playing and producing music, what do you like to do to chill out?
I’m kind of a born-again fitness freak, so I spend a lot of time doing fitness stuff… runs by the river, HIIT boxing classes, nature hikes, general gym time, belly dance classes, and indoor volleyball, which is a huge passion of mine.
We’re super-excited to have you fly to the UK next week to play at the launch of our Amaluna ‘Lunar Phase’ compilation at Tribal Village. Have you had any clues about what you might play in your set yet? Why should readers come down to Tribal on Saturday 18th Jan?
The super-excitement is mutual!!! As far as what I will play, I don’t plan my sets but I do have a general idea of style, and even that can change depending on the situation haha! I am most well known for prog/prog-on/full-on psy style sets, even though I play different styles of electronic music.
For Tribal Village, expect deep but fun, techy yet groovy, progressive and super danceable music. Readers should come down to Tribal Village on Saturday, 18th of January to come see what all the fuss is about eh?! Haha.
Finally, is there anything else you’re planning on doing when you’re in London? Do you have any sightseeing planned?
Definitely all the embarrassing tourist stuff, and proudly, I’m that type of person. Throw in a bit of serendipitous spirit in there seeking the authentic local experience. A little bit of everything. Any tips feel free to comment below!!! It’s always been a dream since I was young to come to the UK. In Thailand we had a lot of British media influence; I really love British comedy.
Musically, many of the artists I’ve loved so deeply are from the UK (The Prodigy, Underworld, Goldie, Kosheen, Orbital, Autechre, Tricky, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, The Orb, Fatboy Slim, FSOL, Faithless, this list is LONG), so I had this dream to go there one day!!!
Thanks so much for your time Eileen and for all your support with ‘Lunar Phase’! We can’t wait to see you at Tribal Village on 18th January!
CAN’T WAIT!!!!!!! Thank you!
Khromata and Amaluna in Copenhagen
Advance tickets for Tribal Village featuring Khromata, Koxbox, Nikki S, Complicated, JourneyOM, 7th Dimension, DM-Theory, Robin Triskele, Bahar Canca, Florescence, Craig Fowler and Amaluna were still available from Access All Areas at the time of writing.