On the up: Eli Walks

Electronica, hip hop – and a dash of heavy metal

On the up: Eli Walks

Eli Walks with his gear. Photo by James Hadfield

Eli Walks wears his influences proudly. He just happens to have quite a lot of them. On ‘Vertex’, the standout track from upcoming debut album Parallel, an opening barrage of distorted boom-bap beats segues into a synthesizer melody that sounds almost like '80s futurist Jean Michel Jarre – at least until it gets spliced and refracted from speaker to speaker. After a brief lull, the song shifts into a third section, this one accompanied by a searing synth lead that's like Deckard pulling off a guitar solo while flying in his hover car in Blade Runner. Or something thereabouts.

It's the work of Jeff Lufkin, a 28-year-old Okinawan-American producer who exchanged the sun-kissed climes of California for the urban dirge of Tokyo three years ago. ‘I think if I was in Cali, it would've been more party-ish,’ he says of the album, which is released via the Motion± label on March 14. ‘I was really into writing hard beats that were a lot more like, "Yeah, let's go out to a club and dance." I think here, it's more moody.’

Music is a family obsession for Lufkin: his elder sister, Olivia, has had a moderately successful career as a J-pop singer, while middle child Caroline is an indie-electronica chanteuse and touring vocalist for post-rock group Mice Parade. When he was still a heavy metal-fixated teenager, it was his siblings who introduced Lufkin to electronic music. First Olivia got him hooked on seminal trip-hop act Massive Attack, then Caroline gave him a copy of electronica duo Autechre's Tri Repetae album for Christmas and leant him some Boards of Canada. ‘Probably within a year of that, I was already going to [electronic music fest] Electraglide, going out to watch Squarepusher or Kraftwerk,’ he recalls.

There are frequent nods to the Warp Records school of electronica on Parallel, be it Plaid's melodies, Aphex Twin's splice 'n' dice head-fuckery or Chris Clark's sonic crunch. Yet the album also at times resembles the rewired, psychedelic hip-hop propagated by Flying Lotus's Brainfeeder label and the Low End Theory crew in LA. ‘A lot of my listening is in that zone,’ Lufkin concedes, admitting a particular affection for Clark. The adolescent metal phase played its role, too: ‘That's where I think the hard beats come from – directly from, like, pounding at the guitar.’

Whatever the origins of Eli Walks' music, it seems to be doing the trick. Lufkin got to perform at the last Brainfeeder party in Tokyo, and supported genre-mashing German electro duo Modeselektor twice when they played here in January. This weekend, he'll be hanging with a rather different crowd, when he appears alongside abstract electronica heavyweights including SND and Aoki Takamasa at the BRDG#5 all-nighter in Shibuya.

‘I try to imagine myself at a club – what am I into right now, what would I want to go see right now – and that's usually what I do,’ he says of his live sets, which he plays using just a laptop and a couple of MIDI controllers. ‘One of my sets coming up might be completely ambient or something, [but] up until now, I've made stuff that constantly has something going, a pulse. I like to dance to the music, and have little drop-offs and then come back in with the beat.’

While Parallel demonstrates an admirable concision – it clocks in at 35 minutes, and most of the tracks are the length of a pop song radio edit – Lufkin says that he's more inclined to sprawl when playing live: ‘There's maybe two songs where I think about, "Okay, you can totally go off on this for, like, ten minutes. They would probably like that." I think about this stuff, but honestly it all hits me at that moment. I'll be standing on that stage, and if I'm in the mood for doing, I'll do it.’

Eli Walks plays at BRDG#5, WWW, March 10. Parallel is released on March 14

By James Hadfield
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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