After learning to use Ableton during lockdown, London-based DJ and performance artist Rachael Williams, aka Ambient Babestation Meltdown, debuted her forthcoming collaborative EP live at London’s GALA festival in August this year. An introduction to her sci-fi-inspired project DiASKi alongside Joe Brooke Smith, the weird synths, transcendent pads and spoken word elements conjured a spiralling world of warped fantasy — something that Williams does with her solo sets and productions, too.
Williams, who is of Indian and Burmese heritage, was born in Croydon and grew up on the border of Wiltshire and Somerset. In the conservative town, Williams was happy settling in as a misfit, discovering rock bands and hearing experimental musicians for the first time. “My teenage years were spent sat under a half-pipe wearing my Deftones ‘White Pony’ hoody,” she says. “Not much else to do in a market town when you’re brown and weird.
“When I was 17 I discovered Atari Teenage Riot and Alec Empire and that felt quite formative to me,” she continues. “I actually had a fancy dress birthday party for my 18th and I went as Nic Endo. I’ve never really realised until now how important it was that I was able to see Eurasian women being musicians and making avant-garde noise.”
Moving to London in 2008 was a game changer for Williams. She caught the tail-end of the electroclash scene, and soon began discovering house and techno music at clubs in a way she hadn’t been able to in the West Country, before learning to DJ in her early twenties. “Those mad Eastern Electrics raves on Great Suffolk Street, seeing Marshall Jefferson in a grimy car park in Shoreditch,” she remembers, “and always having black knees where I’d been sat on some gross warehouse floor. I started writing for, and then editing a blog called We Are Not A Rockband, and it was just fun detailing all the exciting music I was discovering.”
Williams’ mixes as Ambient Babestation Meltdown are littered with obscure, engaging samples and inventive spoken word features. “I worked in the office of an adult entertainment channel on Sky,” she says, “I was looking after their marketing — it was a really bonkers job — and controlled the social media. When the talent wasn’t available, the sound guys would get me to fill in for adverts. I can do a sexy hotline voice pretty well.
“I’ve been dining out on these stories for years at after-parties,” she laughs, “and one day I made a joke to Sam Astbury from X-Kalay that I’d do a performance art set, DJ ambient music and do that voice over the top of everything. It was a joke that somehow became reality.”
Her Valentine’s Day mix recorded last year for London label Lobster Theremin is the perfect showcase of Williams’ ability to take an idea and transform it into something fantastical, creating textures and themes from layered vintage samples and spoken words. After researching lobster mating habits, she came up with sex jokes about them, peppering them throughout the mix of industrial, drone and ambient sounds. Her mind-bending mix for Dummy featured much of the same, exploring the idea of friendship through poetic interludes, contrasted by a backdrop of techno, electro and rock.
Sampling has always been part of the process for Williams, but its also recently become a cathartic and emotional outlet, too. “From the very start of Ambient Babestation Meltdown I’d been buying old BBC sound effect records and just layering them into my sets, along with my own voice,” she says. “I’d record mixes live in the Rye Wax Basement - it was good to have a crowd to bounce off.
“When the pandemic hit and I was stuck at home trying to replicate this, it just didn’t work. As difficult as it is trying to be weird, funny and sexy all at once, that’s a lot harder at home by yourself. Sampling has become a way for me to explore themes and ideas that are niggling at me. Sometimes I listen back and realise just how deeply personal it is - but in a super abstract way so it doesn’t feel as scary to share. My mix for Lezure on Clyde Built Radio is probably the most personal mix I’ve done. I sampled myself talking about difficult topics, and while it was an emotional experience cutting the samples from the source material, the end result was incredibly cathartic.”
Elsewhere during lockdown, with Williams unable to work her day job on the senior management team at Rye Wax in Peckham, she applied her creativity and love of curation elsewhere, scheduling the Rye Wax radio shows on Balamii and Noods, and starting a new mix series, featuring a “journeying playlist” from Glasgow’s Nightwave, and a “raï not rye” mix from Moving Still.
While still DJing disco under the stage name Rachael, as Ambient Babestation Meltdown, Williams has been made a resident at Man Power’s weekly night Us&Them, at World Headquarters in Newcastle. “I’ll be going up now and then to play weird, outsider dance,” she says, “and in October I’ll be playing with Bleaching Agent. I’m really excited to see what madness we can cook up in the booth.”
For now, though, Williams provides a one-hour mix of leftfield techno, '80s German Punk and rave tunes for the Fresh Kicks series — including a demo from Williams and Club Glow's Borai — layered with some outrageous and hilarious samples lifted from daytime TV segments. There's also an unreleased track from Minos & Moving Still, and some music thats been sat in the Don't Be Afraid vaults since 2005. "There were times over the pandemic that had this feeling of claustrophobia and crushing loneliness that made me feel like I was losing it a bit," she says. "After being sat at home watching endless television — and lets face it there is no stranger TV than daytime TV — I crowdsourced some real WTF moments, combined with some of my own knowledge (yes, I did watch Changing Rooms first time around), and wove these samples in with some really interesting tracks." Check it out below.
Eon 'The Spice Must Flow'
Sharif Laffrey 'Always'
DJ Naughty 'All The Boys Look Superchic'
Semtek 'R U Here'
Solitary Dancer 'Violence Of The Lambs'
Xao Seffcheque 'Sample & Hold (DAF)'
Alpha Sect 'Blood Calling'
Ambient Babestation Meltdown Vs Borai 'Hindsight (demo)'
Roe Deers 'S.A.T.U.R.D.A.Y.'
Minos & Moving Still '3eeb'
Theus Mago 'Pascuel'