Liam Lakeway Ralph is one of those joyously unclassifiable artists. One minute he’s slapping us with slithering, snake-like D&B on labels like Unchained, the next he’s tearing apart our souls with heavily emotional grime-inspired beats on Sweet Box, the next he’s shredding up the breaks with junglist switches on Cocobolo. And that’s just this year alone.
Lakeway’s sound is a bewitching brew that shouldn’t make sense technically. Especially when you consider the majority of fans will have first heard him on the more commercially-minded Hospital Records sub-label Med School (RIP). But when he brings it all together in a mix like this – especially with his strong love for rap, and that equally impossible to classify sound associated with Lucky Me, Hudson Mohawke and Rustie – it’s an overwhelmingly powerful experience that makes total sense.
Joining dots from the grizzliest gully breaks to the most sparkling, ethereal cathedral-sized euphoria, it’s the definition of selection eclecticism but held together with a consistency and signature that he’s been making his own since he first emerged 10 years ago and really honed when he broke through on labels like Diffrent.
It’s a sound we’re set to hear him refine, hone, develop and amplify in a major way in the near future as he builds up to his debut album I’ve Missed The Sun. An outrageously wide-armed and vibrant session that’s gone through many changes since he first started writing it back in his Med School days, it marks the end of a series of scary, frustrating and at points terrifying circumstances he’s found himself in.
You see, Liam Lakeway Ralph is also one of those one of those scarily lucky cats… One minute he was left floundering from a pretty brutal label closure, the next was faced with complete rave shutdown during Covid times, the next he was suffering bleeding on the brain and seizures with doctors throwing around scary words like tumor!
For a while it was one of the most terrifying situations you can imagine. Fortunately he’s fully recovered, back in good health and more inspired than he’s been in many years. Everything you hear on this mix, his forthcoming album and future releases on the likes of Unchained, Samurai Breaks’ Supersonic Booty Bangers and his spiritual home Diffrent is the sound of a man who isn’t just back on his A-game but on another entire cosmos of inspiration and appreciation.
Press play and hear for yourself as he whips and flips an unruly heard of heavers from Hudson Mohawke to Danny The Ill to Jubei & dBridge to Vovking to Cid Rim into a seamless and breath-taking blend. Joyously unclassifiable from start to finish.
How are you man?
I’m coming off the medication now and I feel so much better. I was getting worried I was depressed or had some other issues, but as soon as I came off the medication I felt I could do so much more!
Wow. You’ve had a hard time in the last few years!
Yeah I wouldn’t recommend it! We still got don’t really understand the reason for it. Stress, probably. One doctor said occasionally in young men it can happen but people don’t really know why.
You were faced with your own mortality. Must have been terrifying!
Totally. The most terrifying thing was how they phrase it. Like, ‘You’ve got an abnormality on your brain – it might be a brain tumor.’ It’s like, ‘Okay, do you actually know that? Because don’t say it is if there’s a chance it’s not!’ Turns out it wasn’t. I think it was probably stress. Med School closed down and I lost a lot of momentum there, then Covid happened… It was a weird one! But I’m still here.
Wow man. Were you able to think about things creatively? Or did it change your priorities?
Not really, I carried on doing what I was doing because otherwise I’d get really bored. I literally have to write. Whatever I’m writing is an extension of how I’m feeling at the time.
So your forthcoming album is a like a diary of you going through that?
Yeah in a way. It started when Med School shut. Then I rewrote a lot of that over lockdown and then a big rewrite after all the medical stuff. It’s been through so many iterations! I need to get it sent off to mastering before something else happens!
Haha. When’s it coming out?
Early next year. The music is pretty much there, I just need to tweak the sequence and flow of it. I want it to be one of those ‘sit in your chair and have a spliff’ type of ones. There’s a few bangers on there but it’s a nice balance. In a way it’s a bit of a full stop or an accumulation of the styles I’ve been exploring. It’s the best versions of that sort of vibe.
Like a line in the sand. Tying up loose ends.
Yeah I think so. After the Med School stuff, lockdown and the health stuff. It’s the final page before the next chapter. A bit of a book end of this part of the Lakeway journey.
Must be cathartic! What’s it like to listen back to?
It’s an interesting one. Every time I listen to it I think, ‘Oh man, I’m not opening the project again’. It’s going to take me a while to have that listening vibe. One thing, when I went through it with the Diffrent crew they said, ‘This is wicked but it feels like you’re catering to a particular type of audience which you don’t need to.’ I think it took me a while to stop catering to that Med School crowd.
I loved Med School. You and Bop were my favourite artists on the label and it was because you didn’t cater to that audience. You’re part of a really impressive alumni who’ve all gone on to great things.
It was interesting man. Playing the Hospitality nights was great and that’s what would drive a lot of inspiration for the tunes – making things that would go off at the next Hospitality gig. That’s why lockdown had benefits – we were all writing what we wanted to hear instead of making bangers for dancefloor.
The mix is a reflection of that too. Such a brew!
Yeah it’s everything I love. I did think about drum & bass heads enjoying it as well, though. So it’s a balance of what I find to be the most interesting things happening in D&B but lots of that kinda Lucky Me sound people like Cid Rim. I’ve been caning the new Hudson Mohawke album of course.
Yeah man! That kinda Numbersy sound and Rustie. That was huge 10-12 years ago, which was probably the first big movement that really moved you and got you into producing, right?
Definitely. Grime, too. I kinda see grime as a gateway genre. I started there then went through the whole Gobstopper Records stuff, Mr Mitch, then ended up with Rustie, Hudson, then Yung Lean, Spooky Black… That’s a nice little rabbit hole and when I saw grime that’s the area I’m talking about.
Totally! I love the contrast even with the most traditional forms of grime. You can have really hard bars but the production is often really pretty!
This is it! I’m sometimes thinking, ‘Grime really shouldn’t be this emotional! Why am I crying on the dancefloor?’ That’s the vibe I love and want to make: euphoric and emotional but heavy.
You had any gigs lately?
I’ve played in Bristol a few times. One for Jungle of Eden much earlier this year and one for Bristek on Samurai Breaks’ Samurai Breaks Presents line-up. They got a label Supersonic Booty Bangers and I’ve got an EP coming with them.
Yeah I’m really enjoying working with them. It’s great to have a chance to really experiment and push things. That night was very freeing and loads of fun.
Yeah man! Different to the rigid nature of D&B. Especially a few years back. It’s become more varied and exciting now.
I agree. I think lockdown was that influence. No one was dancing, everyone was listening and it helped the wavier side become more prominent.
Definitely. Tell us about that EP on Supersonic Booty Bangers!
It’s very much going for the 160 fun and silly squarewave madness. It’s not meant to be intelligent or crying on the dancefloor, just funny silly bangers.
The other side of Lakeway!
Ha, yeah! It’s hard to mix the two but I think at the end of the day I don’t like repeating myself. I like doing different things. I did a remix of Samurai Breaks and T-Man’s Can’t Get Stuck. It was very jungly, which I loved, but I don’t want to put something like that out next.
You get bored if you don’t.
This is it. I don’t have any templates. I just open Ableton and see what happens and hope I do more than stare at the screen for an hour.
Haha. Where else do you find inspiration?
Definitely film soundtracks like Annihilation, Ex-Machina things like that. I haven’t watched any films in a while. I’ve been playing a lot old 8-bit Pokemon games and I love that old sound and those melodies. It’s very nostalgic but I think that vibe can be run with in heavier music, too. It can be hit and miss. But when it works, it works. So yeah, a mixture of films and games inspire me. People have said, ‘You should make game music.’ But it’s like, ‘Mate, the music industry is hard enough!’
Ever had any offers? You can make actual money in game music!
You can! There was the Forza Horizon thing which was great. It wasn’t like doing a full soundtrack but being sync’d is cool and a nice way to utilise your music. I had music on a Canadian comedy. Sync is where the money is and it can be handy if you’re not getting many gigs in.
Well I hope this mix you’ve done gets some gigs in. It should do! This mix and interview kinda announces your album and marks the start of an exciting new year.
Definitely. I see coming off medication as the final part of all that shit in my life. I need to tidy my life up a bit but yeah I feel really inspired. The last time I felt like this was the start of the Med School era. It does feel really exciting.
I’m buzzing for you! That’s inspiring. What’s the album called?
I was thinking about Drop Out but maybe there are too many negative connotations so we’ve gone for I’ve Missed The Sun. I’ve still got to come up with the artwork. I need to speak to the guys at Different.
It was Dexta who linked me and you up pre Med School.
Yeah the OXT EP. The first big release I really did. That was a reflection of what I was experiencing then as I’d had to leave uni because of my mental health. There’s a running theme here…
It’s important to be open and honest about these things!
Yeah. And with what I’ve been through, there is no support group for your brain exploding! Dre had a brain aneurysm and he’s alright. That was a lot harsher. It’s rarer so there aren’t many people to talk. It’s a rare thing.
When it’s rare it must be isolating. Do you have any advice for people who might be going through similar experiences?
It’s not something you can give advice on. It’s a weird thing. My main advice in life is drink lots of water and try not to get stressed. And to be fair I was very stressed – I’d become obsessive about keeping the music going, I was having nightmares and waking up in cold sweats. I’d wake up and get Ableton on the go and not give myself any time.
Seeing it more like a chore, I guess? That starts to attach a lot of negative energy to the creative process…
Yeah definitely like a desperation to keep things rolling. I should have been like, ‘Chill out mate, everyone else is in the same situation.’
Alot of people went through that and their bodies reacted in different ways
Yeah and for me it snowballed and snowballed into a physical reaction. Stress is the biggest enemy.
It is. You must be sitting on a whole load of WIPs and ideas.
I do man. I’ve got a lot of things I want to finish and develop. I loved releasing music with Unchained and want to work with them again. Same with Super Sonic Booty Bangers.
All the shades of Lakeway!
Yeah totally and it doesn’t matter what I make, I’ve got someone to send it to but don’t feel like I’m catering to anyone, it’s very natural.