How Anna Lunoe Changed Dance Music By Just Living Her Life
"I remember my tour manager fighting a club because they wouldn't get me any juices or anything, they were just going to give me a bottle of vodka as a rider. My manager was like 'Are you really just going to give this pregnant woman a bottle of vodka and some mixers? Like really?'"
In 2012, Anna Lunoe took the plunge.
Having spent years on Australia’s festival and club circuit, her reputation as one of the country’s most in-demand DJs well and truly cemented, she needed to shift perspective. So, with absolutely no plan, she packed up and shipped out to LA. And she’s never looked back.
“I knew that for my own personal growth I had to make a change,” she tells Music Junkee over the phone from the States. “When you get used to a certain environment you get a bit entitled to it, you expect and you hope that you will be on a certain stage at a certain festival at a certain time every year. It’s really dangerous to start expecting that.”
“Every little win felt like a huge win, because I was making a whole new lane for myself, winning over a whole new country, and it felt really exciting again. It reinvigorated me creatively.”
There’s also the simple fact that America offers up an audience that, try as we might, Australia just can’t compete with; Lunoe threw herself into the packed summer festival season, playing multiple festivals every weekend, raking in fans as she went.
“It’s just numbers,” she admits. “Australia has like three or four big festivals a year. Whereas in America there’s three or four big festivals every weekend during the summer. So you can play a Splendour sized festival three times a weekend, every single week, for three months. The pure volume of what’s available in North America is just insane, it’s a million times the size of Australia.”
The move opened up other opportunities: in 2015, Lunoe was tapped by radio powerhouse Zane Lowe to present her own dance show on Apple’s Beats 1. She launched HYPERHOUSE, growing it into a brand that now encompasses a record label, a livestream series, and regular stage takeovers at festivals like Holy Ship and HARD FEST. She then moved into presenting Beats 1’s Dance Chart, in doing so effectively becoming one of the globe’s most recognisable voices in dance.
And now, she’s set to become of the genre’s most powerful tastemakers as she steps up to launch the new danceXL radio station — based on the wildly popular Apple Music playlist.
“We wanted to do something that was a bit more open format to have more of a snapshot of what’s going on with dance music in general,” she says, her voice speeding up with excitement. “But the limitation with the dance chart is that it doesn’t change that often, so what we loved about the idea of doing danceXL was that we could constantly be feeding new music, and we could feature more artists individually.”
Dance has thrived more in the streaming boom than any other genre. It’s malleable, flexible — purpose-built to absorb and integrate new sounds. One only has to look at the top end of the charts to see evidence of dance’s cross-pollination. After all, what is Billie Eilish’s ‘bad guy’ if not a club track?
But by far the biggest impact — as with most genres — has been on discovery. In the old days (that is, 10 years ago) you would need to get into a club to be exposed to new music, or tune into one of the very few radio shows that devoted themselves to dance. Now it’s on demand, creating a new wave of artists who for the first time in dance history aren’t coming up through the club scene. Given the rate that clubs are disappearing from our cities, that can only be a good thing.
“It’s given these kids access to this industry and this community through play listing and through curation,” Lunoe says. “They may not even be old enough to get into clubs, but now they have full access to that from streaming.
“It’s been really interesting to see how it’s changed the artists that have gotten popular,” she continues. “A lot of artists that get popular may never have played clubs, they’re not from club culture, but they grew up listening to David Guetta on the radio. They learnt how to make dance music on their laptops on GarageBand, they got really good at it, and they have access to all this music through streaming, and now they can produce music that goes on those playlists — and then they end up touring in the clubs! It’s a whole different vibe.”
Lunoe points to Louis The Child as one of these acts — the Chicago duo began playing festival slots and club shows before they were even legally allowed in the venues.
If you caught Lunoe at one of her many gigs during 2017, there’s a fair chance you might have seen her perform while she was pregnant with her first child. Lunoe found out she was expecting right at the beginning of an Australian tour with her friends Diplo and Nina Las Vegas; not one to ever duck away from a commitment, Lunoe forged ahead through the tour. She announced her pregnancy publicly a month later, the day before a hectic Coachella set.
The idea of a woman working through a pregnancy shouldn’t feel revolutionary at all, but in the context of the dance industry — that is, being overwhelmingly male and existing in nightclubs — it did. Lunoe’s announcement was met with an outpouring of love and support from fans and fellow artists, and festivals and venues (eventually) caught on with how to cater for a pregnant DJ.
“I remember my tour manager fighting a club because they wouldn’t get me any juices or anything, they were just going to give me a bottle of vodka as a rider.”
“It was a hard time [before it was public] because no one knew and you had to manoeuvre to get what you need without people knowing what you’re going through,” Lunoe says. “It was easier when people knew, so we could push on people for things — like touring in American in summer we needed air conditioned trailers, we needed food.
“I remember my tour manager fighting a club because they wouldn’t get me any juices or anything, they were just going to give me a bottle of vodka as a rider. My manager was like ‘Are you really just going to give this pregnant woman a bottle of vodka and some mixers? Like really?'”
It was interesting to have those conversations, Lunoe remarks, because it was very obvious they’d never been had before. Festivals were the most accommodating: Lunoe had a medic backstage, who took her blood pressure and ensured her heart rate remained at a safe level, and she had ice packs at the ready so she could place them on her pressure points and cool down quicker.
Lunoe pauses for second before continuing, sounding pensive.
“I really thought that when I had a kid I would retire,” she says. “It was never in my head that I would continue DJing. It wasn’t that anyone had told me that I would have to stop, but it was just expected, in my head, that that would be the point where I’d have to give it up.
“I really thought that when I had a kid I would retire. It was never in my head that I would continue DJing.”
“But I worked on myself, and for whatever reason I knew I shouldn’t count myself out until I’d given myself a chance. I didn’t book any shows on the other side of it until I knew I was ready. I already had the summer festivals booked when I fell pregnant, so I didn’t have a choice but to do those gigs when I was pregnant. I just took it week by week — I knew that if I was unwell I could cancel, but I didn’t really want to cancel, I didn’t want to be a trouble.”
“But the public support was so heartwarming — all the fears that I had about people not wanting to see me just faded away. So that was really important — but I can’t take credit for any of that, that’s just what happened.”
She’s not alone in the Aussie dance world anymore — former triple j House Party host and producer KLP had her first child in March. If you happened to be at Set Mo’s Splendour in the Grass set, you might have seen KLP happily bopping along to the music side of stage, baby strapped tightly to her chest; halfway through the set, KLP handed her child to her partner and stepped out on stage to sing.
Lunoe laughs when I recount this memory. “When I fell pregnant, pretty much every female DJ reached out to me and was like ‘Oh my god, this is so cool seeing you do this — I want to have kids to but I didn’t know what it was gonna be like!’ And I’m telling you, there’s been a lot of babies since then, so it really caused a little bit of an EDM baby boom.”
“Honestly,” she says as we wind down our call. “I’m just out here living my life and just trying to be accepted for who I am and do my art and survive and thrive and do all the things I want to do in my career. People can always find fault with what you’re doing, but I live according to my own rule book and I hope that sets a good example for people that want to achieve and work hard and have a family.”
Anna Lunoe’s danceXL show is coming soon to Apple Music Beats 1. Her new EP, Right Party, is out now.