As PEAKING LIGHTS, husband and wife duo Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis have been bubbling up in the underground for a while, and it seems that the wider world has finally caught up with them. They’ve been making music for years as parts of various outfits (including rumours of a Goth band in the early ‘00s), but this incarnation of their shape-shifting output is where they’ve found their comfortable groove. Whether it’s in the deliciously languorous dub of debut 936, or what they approximate as synth pop across much of new album Cosmic Logic, the pair have transmuted beautifully from album to album, giving each their own personality, but always with a unified fuggy, dubby feeling.
No matter what the packaging is, the music that spews from the Coyes-Dunis household defies simple descriptions. “It just comes naturally. It’s trying to play back all the things we are influenced by and not having to be influenced by just one type of music,” Coyes tells us across a crackly transatlantic Skype line, refusing to let Peaking Lights’ aesthetic become something that’s easily pinned down. As with all aspects of their oeuvre, the duo actively avoid pigeonholing by eschewing the traditional trappings of psychedelic music, seamlessly assimilating disparate sounds into a new and unique whole. When proffered that their music is best listened to on headphones while walking around, allowing yourself to float away on the sonic landscapes into the little-remembered crevices in the mind, Coyes resolutely agrees. A perfect example of this is Telephone Call, something approximating a psychedelic take on dancehall and bubblegum pop, which will have you out of your chair and bouncing about in seconds.
This aversion to sticking to one idea and one sound runs through all of their music: Peaking Lights exist as a resolutely analogue-sounding band working in a digital world, whose music is best enjoyed as a whole piece. “Obviously we’re not fully analogue,” Coyes quips, “but the idea is that we mix the two. We mix the analogue and the digital and we try to make it its own thing. Both sound great, and each sounds good for their own reasons. We try and interpret them in a way that makes sense.” Moreover, they are almost quintessentially postmodern, cherry-picking musical ideas and aesthetics from the later 20th century through to the modern day. The discussion between how different music is now in the computer era compared to how it was in the days before we began pressing sounds to 12” records provides a tension that the band thrive on. “When we started off recording it was on half-inch tape, and as we built up our studio and got more gear we’ve gone [towards] using digital. There are great things about editing digitally, but then we’ll still bounce things to analogue to get things to saturate. It’s pulling and pushing in production to make a cohesive whole.”
Intriguingly, this is how dance producers have worked for a long time, but Peaking Lights are clearly not a dance group. Or are they? “Part of it is that we are very influenced by dance music too – yet another thing we’re influenced by! We enjoy working from a home studio where we make the sound blocks. There are oscillators and weird sound machines that we source a lot of the sounds from, so a lot of it is homemade. There’s quite a bit at the production end of it that makes it actually sound musical.” Being a husband and wife team affects the way they think about music, and even the way they make it. Add into this equation an infant son – who already has a taste for dub reggae given the guest gurgles he contributes to Beautiful Son – and I wonder how large an impact the family unit has on the way they make music? “Having a child makes you massively more… more focused,” confirms Coyes. “In our case, that also means we are more focused on music and its power. And more intent on making music that makes people happy.” This also gives them an excuse to work from home, in the studio that the pair have been adding to over the past 18 months. The setup, Coyes agrees, is liberating. “Making music this way affords so much more control.”
Even in the 21st Century, where the internet means a producer in Toronto can make music that sounds like it comes from Croydon, music can still take on the sound of a place. Peaking Lights’ Cosmic Logic adheres to this notion, simultaneously hyper- and hypo-localised: it takes in sounds from across the globe, yet could have been made nowhere else but California. “I mean, we definitely have that solid West Coast thing going on. We take on a range of influences still, but it still has that feeling, that laid back thing. Music from the East Coast is more… punchy, but music from California is more relaxed.”
Liverpool and the surrounding areas have always had a strong connection to otherworldly music, from its much-vaunted 60s boom through to its modern day, electronic equivalents. “I definitely connect with the music being made here,” Coyes tells us, as he reminisces about his visit to Liverpool last September. “Forest Swords is just great, but I’m from a generation that still remembers The Beatles and how they started psychedelic music within the public consciousness. When I was wandering around the town I got a strongly working-class vibe and, with that blue-collar feeling to the city, it’s not really surprising Liverpool has had a long history of psychedelia, a necessary form of escape from working-class conditions. It’s a reality of life. I myself am sober, but I’ve had experiences, and I think that’s important to expand your view of the world and open your eyes to see the world in new ways.”
Peaking Lights are known for hypnotic, almost hypnagogic, live sets that sweep their audience into a zone others can rarely manage. Happily for us, Coyes and Dunis can induce these zen-like states in their mesmerising DJ sets too. As Peaking Lights Soundsystem, they helped to close the first night of last year’s Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia. “I loved that night so much. Because we were closing it, everyone was wasted. And because it was mostly disco and old house – real outsider dance music – that we were playing, it was a lot of fun.” Looking ahead to their October show at The Kazimier, Coyes confirms that they’re “working on something special, but we’re going to be playing mostly new songs off of Cosmic Logic. And possibly some even newer songs.”
For a band who have never made a normal song in their career, this can only mean great things. Enjoy the cosmic party.
Peaking Lights play The Kazimier on 25th October as part of Liverpool Music Week.
Cosmic Logic is out on 6th October on Weird World Recordings.