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Recognise: Malibu

As Malibu, the French DJ and producer Barbara Braccini writes diaristic ambient music with a distinct sense of melancholy. As dj lostboi, she’s more playful, repurposing pop anthems into ethereal epics. Alongside a blissful Recognise mix evoking the vibe of “long summer nights”, she chats to Heléna Stanton about these projects, field recordings, the influence of vaporwave, film scores and trance on her sound, and her monthly NTS show, United In Flames

Barbara Braccini explores the space between ethereal ambient music and deconstructed pop. As Malibu, the French DJ and producer crafts diaristic songs with a distinct sense of melancholy, filled with environmental sound design. It’s a sound she has manifested across two mini-LPs to date, released via the UNO NYC label. Under her dj lostboi alias, she takes a more playful approach. Across a series of self-released EPs, she has breathed new life into tracks by the likes Grimes, Nelly Furtado and Charli XCX, repurposing their recognisable melodies and vocal hooks into alluring tracks that transcend their pop foundations. By artfully balancing tranquil moments and vibrant crescendos, Braccini has etched a unique sonic identity; her overall sound evokes a sense of serenity, like the brief moments between crashing waves.

Malibu embraces and alters the sounds of the world around her, using a database of samples and field recordings as the foundation for many of her tracks. In ‘Lost at Sea’, from her 2019 release ‘One Life’, she deftly mixes the rhythm of gentle waves into those of rainfall. This interest in elemental audio first emerged in her formative years, listening to music with friends in the small French town she grew up in. “There was this one mix by [English electronic artist] Palmistry for Dis Magazine that me and my good friend were obsessed with,” she says. “So much to the point it might have been our awakening to [underground] music when we were 19. It was so melodic and collaged. It didn’t necessarily invent the wheel, but for me that was my wheel. I realised after that that music can exist a certain way in a soundscape.”

Braccini was also influenced by the hauntological electronic sound vaporwave, having been drawn in by its "vastness and nostalgia”. In the track ‘Cherisoa 94', from 2022’s ‘Palaces Of Pity’, the genre’s subtle impact is sensed as she sings, "Can you feel it? When I look at you, I feel it too. Feels like love” over resplendent keys. Her croon conjures a wave of sentiment, lingering on the mind like memories of companionship. Malibu's nostalgic palette seeks to embody the “lush strings and pads” of classic trance artists like Chicane, she says, as well as the composer Thomas Newman’s “mastery of ‘90s soundtracks”, including The Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty. 

In 2017, Malibu made her label debut with the track, ‘Held’, on the illustrious Berlin imprint PAN’s ‘mono no aware’ compilation. Across six minutes of crackling sound collage and divine strings, Braccini grasps at feelings of loss and despair, captured in her whispered lyrics: ‘‘As my breath kisses the window, the big fire is howling, my guts scream out my sorrow.”

After establishing her beguiling sound here, Malibu remained near-silent until the release of ‘One Life’ in 2019. The five track mini-LP further showcased her affinity for atmospheric vocals and enchanting synths, while confronting similar themes. She returned to UNO NYC again in 2022 with 'Palaces of Pity’, a reflective collection of emotional sounds and samples. Braccini describes the narrative arc of these records as “chapter 1 and chapter 2”, with both being informed by the loss of certain friendships in her life. “Chapter one [‘One Life’] is much more angry,” she says. “Whilst chapter two [‘Palaces of Pity’] is three years later, my emotions have shifted. I'm less angry, but it's still about grief... You still feel harsh emotions but it’s more distant and detached.”

A grainy digital camera photograph of Malibu performing live on a smoke-filled stage

‘One Life’ opens with ‘Nana (Like A Star Made For Me)’, which pulses between gusts of abrasive wind and murmuring chords, creating a melancholic-yet-lush atmosphere. In ‘Camaruge’, Malibu crafts a cinematic masterpiece that ebbs and flows – a dance between her echoing vocals and the gentle embrace of lullaby-like strings.

The title track of ‘Palaces of Pity’ lingers in a state of peaceful motion; its captivating composition unfurls with a celestial grace that enchants the senses. The melodies, touched by a bittersweet nostalgia, extend an irresistible allure, like a soft, distant echo calling from an unknown realm. The nine-minute concluding track, ‘Iliad’, draws parallels to its titular Homeric epic, set during the tenth year of the Trojan siege: a symphony of resilience in the face of unyielding conflict. 

In the intricate fabric of her creative journey, Malibu navigates a labyrinth of emotions. She writes through sporadic periods of intensity, delving into the depths of her own emotions. In these moments of introspection, she revisits and contemplates her work meticulously, refining each layer and sound within her tracks, assembling a sonic tapestry that can take “months and years” to weave. “I don’t like to talk if I have nothing to say,” she explains. “So it might take me more time to write based on this. That's why it takes me like three years to write five songs. Malibu is more dark and immersive [than my other projects]. I think you have to be in a certain state of mind to listen to my work; you can’t do it randomly... When I create music, sometimes an emotion sparks the early drafts of a song, and sometimes it doesn’t go anywhere because I am maybe too clouded by [those] emotions. Then, when I come back to it, I can stand back and look at it with more clarity. I take so long to produce because of this. Malibu is my emotions.”

This slow emotional release stands in stark contrast to the work of dj lostboi, which Braccini describes as an entirely separate channel for her creative expression. “With dj lostboi, if I feel inspired I could make an EP in two days,” she says. “If I happen to have a few samples I like, it can be very fast. That’s what I like about dj lostboi, there's no pressure, I have fun doing it. Whereas Malibu is me, it’s like my diary, so there's going to be more pressure, the process is a lot more indulging.”

The most recent dj lostboi release, February’s ‘MUSIC FOR LANDINGS’, embodies this fast, free process, combining strands of ambient trance with eerie vocals and samples from artists like deadmau5, Tim Berg (aka Avicii) and Spectre, reworking them into a completely new frame of emotion. Braccini prefaces her dj lostboi releases on Bandcamp with an admission: “if you recognize a sample please let me know, i made these tracks a while ago and forgot.” “I like using tracks that everyone already knows and reworking them to a point where you can’t tell what’s there from the original track,” she tells us. 

Braccini deploys similar techniques in her monthly NTS show - United In Flames. Unorthodox and consistently captivating, each show plunges its audience into her realm: a lavish auditory landscape filled with innovative electronic experiments. Malibu recycles and reworks tracks in creative ways in her mixes, at times transforming them into something completely unrecognisable and new. “95% of the time I am not planning the mixes I do... Maybe I will discover three nice tracks that month, and maybe two of these won’t fit in the mix, so, in reality, I only have one new track that I’ve found. So I'm not digging for music but instead digging into what I already know... Honestly, I just sew it as I go”.

The key tools in Malibu's sewing kit are her additional USBs, which contain an abundance of short audio clips, samples and sound effects; she manipulates, blends, and mixes these through Logic whilst performing. “I focus on re-working what I have,” she says. “I love finding melodies and tracks that fit together. It’s maybe only certain sections of each track. For almost every track I use in mixes I end up remixing them, I have versions on versions of each track that I've altered”.

By creating abstract and elaborately emotional soundscapes for listeners in her sets, Malibu takes them on a journey with her. In her Recognise mix, she curates a sumptuous 45-minute trip, immersing us in the idyllic realm of “long summer nights”. With tracks from the likes of Torus, Evian Christ and Bladee mixesdwith her own additional vocals, samples and FX, it's an exquisite experience that embodies the essence of her sound. 

Braccini describes her creative process as Malibu as a form of “soul searching”, a deeply personal experience that she believes is distinct for every individual who listens. Ultimately, this is what makes her music so inviting. She ends on this note: “If someone is looking to immerse and look within themselves in some way, if you want a moment for yourself and to be completely shut off from the outside world and you just want to journey within – maybe that's the music for you.” 


gregorio allegri 'miserere'
malibu 'cheirosa ’94'
joker jam 'innocence (chill out intro)'
peter gabriel 'wall of breath'
malibu 'the things that fade'
chicane 'sunstroke'
evian christ ???
e+e 'outro, love cut'
pat_16120 '</3'
chicane 'lost you somewhere (heliotropic mix)'
fictivision 'symbols'
malibu 'iliad'
torus 'sound of the drums'
atlantis 'fiji (reorder remix)'
sonorous 'protonic'
bladee 'uriel outro'
peter gabriel 'of these, hope'
the future sound of london 'max'