Years before I knew him, I heard about him – this guy from France who made these incredibly sensual and deep records that each found their way as the “secret weapon” in the bag of hundreds of underground DJs.
And for a long time that was all I knew about Brawther, this guy who gave me hope that somewhere in a world of gigantic festivals and dumb crossovers, the underground was still alive and thriving. Brawther’s records came out (almost) exclusively on vinyl, on an incredibly prestigious set of labels like Balance and My Love Is Underground. The sound reminded some of Kerri Chandler, Prescription Records or classic MAW, but the real throwback was the way this mysterious man built hiendls reputation – first among DJs by making battle-tested tracks, and only later among everyone else.
Now Brawther’s making his US debut with a string of dates in New York, Detroit and in Chicago in this Valentine’s Day, February 14th at SmartBar (tix) as part of the Savages residency with Harry & Jpeg. I’m pleased to introduce you to an extraordinary producer – a man who has done his part in keeping the torch burning in the underground.
I haven’t seen many (or any) interviews you’ve done, so I want to just get started with the absolute basics: can you tell me how you got your start in music?
When I was about 15 years old, one of my mates had a rudimentary home studio with a guitar, drums, synths and some other bits. We used to have a lot of jam sessions, experimenting but most of all having fun. We were into various styles of music but I guess “industrial” would be the best way to define what we were trying to achieve. We were getting more and more into the music of Aphex Twin and the Warp- and Rephlex-affiliated artists and for a few years that was my bread and butter.
I only got into House Music after experiencing a few key nights during my yearly summer holidays in the UK. I remember coming back from a DIY night at a now defunct club called “The Bomb” in 2001 in Nottingham, and being totally wowed by it. I couldn’t put a finger on the music I heard, but the energy and atmosphere that reigned over that small, low ceiling room was straight up tribal. That’s the moment I knew I wanted to be part of this culture, whether being on the dancefloor, making the music or performing it. From then on, I had the difficult task to figure out how to catch this feeling again and where to start from. It took many years.
From the outside, the Paris scene seems incredibly lively and interconnected. Probably 3 or 4 of the best deep house labels in the world are active there right now (among them, My Love Is Underground, KV, etc.). In your opinion, why do you think this happened – all these folks with a sound that has a lot in common with one another?
You are using very strong words with “best labels in the world”! I’ll leave one to be the judge of that.
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″] “I’ve always been working with feeling. If you feel it, it’s House Music. Super corny, I know, but what that means is just how the saying goes: ‘House Music is a Feeling.'” [/quote]
That said, Paris has always been a city heavily involved with House Music. From the production side of things, we have even contributed to taking the music from the underground to the mainstream with Daft Punk, or being recognized amongst the closed and skeptical world of Jazz and World Music with St-Germain. Although these two names resonate around the world, they are a prime example of French artists who understood and embraced “real” House Music long before their famed successes. Parisian crowds have also benefited early on from domestic DJs who built their legacy on championing the best in House and Techno – DJs like Laurent Garnier or DJ Deep to name a few. Until today, House Music never really left the French musical landscape despite having a lot of trends that came and went away. The last 20 years are proof of the French being consistently receptive about House Music.
About five years ago, my close friend Jeremy (a.k.a. Underground Paris) launched his “My Love Is Underground” label, with the simple aim of releasing our friend network’s musical output. We pretty much all met online, either via a music forum or discogs! We all loved old New York and New Jersey House from the ’90s – people from early 20 year old crate diggers to 40 year old afterhours veterans.
The music of these cities had a really strong hold on the dance music scene in Paris since the beginning. The so-called scene became less and less interesting for us when most New York and NJ producers switched to making Afro-influenced House or House remixes of current R&B songs. Digital sites like Traxsource were becoming really popular and the music more and more generic.
When the first MLIU release hit the street, we didn’t have a distributor and started to sell it directly to the customers. Quickly, all the dormant record collectors and bedroom DJs who loved the old U.S. House sound got wind of it and soon after Jeremy broke his first distribution deal. From this moment on, the label grew bigger and made a serious buzz around it, good or bad, often being a victim of its own success. The whole ’90s craze was definitely ignited by MLIU and some artists of the label went on to have their own labels too. For a lot of people, even outside of France, MLIU filled a gap and gladdened the hearts of those nostalgic of early ’90s House. It also brought a lot of attention to a forgotten musical genre to a whole new generation.
That’s the common denominator between the folks you appear to refer to.
But you’ve moved to Leeds recently, is that correct?
Yes it’s correct. It holds a place dear to me because after that turning point at “The Bomb” that I mentioned, Leeds is where I had my other significant experience in 2003. I had the chance to attend a night called Back To Basics where one of the residents, Tristan Da Cunha, tore the place down before Derrick Carter. It was many years later that I actually met with Tristan, when he came down to London to our self-organized MLIU label night.
Fast forward a few more visits to Leeds, and I was playing at Basics increasingly. It was time to make the step and get the full taste of the Yorkshire way of life! I never got excited with Paris. I’ve lived there all my life but the real fun was always in England.
Your sound has always seemed, for lack of a better term, more “authentic” than a lot of records I hear that just kind of ape or mimic the style of a specific ’90s hit. What sort of influences are you working with when it comes to production? Like, what records by other people do you wish you could have made?
A lot of my music friends used to tell me that some of the demos I was sharing with them used to remind them of “X” or “Z”, when I had never heard of them. If I ever consciously tried to sound like someone else, I always found that it sounded nowhere near as good, not to mention being uninteresting. Making House Music has been a process that has grown in parallel to studying the genre and researching about it. My scattered memories of the music I heard in England were like a compass. Every time I heard something that made me feel the way I did during those nights, it drove me a step closer to my goal.
I’ve always been working with feeling. If you feel it, it’s House Music. Super corny, I know, but what that means is just how the saying goes: “House Music is a Feeling”. But it’s only relevant to the person who feels it. I could feel a track and you wouldn’t. It doesn’t make the track good or bad, or House vs. not House – it’s subjective, just like being attracted to a woman is subjective.
Regarding your question about what record I wish I could have made, I’d say that I really admire some of the works of Cajmere. I remember hating “Dream States” which then became one of my favorite House records. He has a sinister sound – sleazy and unhealthy! Actually I wish I could have been a fly in his studio during the early years of Cajual. I also really like that he has his Green Velvet alter ego for the tougher stuff. Versatility is really healthy.
“Dungeon Meat” was a production alias, and then a label. Can you describe how it got started and what if any plans you have with it?
“Dungeon Meat” is a term that has many meanings. Initially it represents the genitals of women or men, but Tristan and I started to use the word “dungeon” to describe a kind of vibe that was sleazy, or an element of a track that sounded dark and dirty. It doesn’t just apply to House or Techno, but also Hiphop or Jazz. It always felt like the perfect name to use if we were to make music together or even take it further with a label, which we did.
In terms of the sound, it’s much different from what I do on my own. Tristan’s influence is truly great and we are able to put into music what’s in our heads quite effectively. It’s very club-oriented and that’s where the Meat part of the alias comes into play. Mr. Kenny Dope once said “The meat has to be hard,” and I guess we are trying to live by this saying!
As for the label, we have some exciting stuff coming from Point G a.k.a. DJ Gregory, who has given us a succulent EP. Larry De Kat from Slapfunk will also appear shortly after and some other juicy bits from Blunt Instruments and ourselves shall also be on the menu for 2015.
Some of your best records appeared on Balance. When did you make that connection with Chez? Has the Balance aesthetic and practices (in terms of promotion, style, the kind of low-key genius in marketing – all that stuff) rubbed off on you at all?
Chez Damier and I initially got in touch via MySpace. It was during a time where I wasn’t getting much love for my demos. In fact, I almost never got a reply from any of the labels whom I had carefully selected and contacted. It was one of those times when you start losing hope.
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″] That said, we need to live with the times, and vinyl will soon cease to exist. Most people are going to be using Spotify and iTunes to consume music. The rest will simply tune into YouTube to access a limitless open library, which is fantastic. [/quote]
I messaged Chez and luckily for me he happened to catch that message out of his jammed packed “10 messages a minute” inbox. After listening to my tracks (which later were all released on Balance), he replied to my message and asked me to call him. From this moment on, we started spending countless hours on the phone, every other day. We both love Kung Fu movies and he likes to think that I am like his disciple, which I am. Chez and I are brothers and I have learnt and will continue to learn greatly from him. His experience is second to none, from working as A&R for KMS in the early days, to being the resident of his own club, the Music Institute in Detroit in the late ’80s, living in France, and the next 20 years of an incredible life. Chez’s sense of strategy and mindset is one of the greatest tools that I have borrowed from him but his drive lies in empowering the people with his experience and wisdom. When I couldn’t find anyone in Paris to inspire me or willing to help new generations, Chez was like a messiah. I was like a disciple with no master, and he was like a master with a lack of students.
Have any of your records at all appeared in digital shops? And regardless of the answer, do you feel like this is good thing or a bad thing?
With Balance and MLIU we have never put out anything on digital. I did an EP for secretsundaze who did some digital but the statements show very little sale on digital vs. a few represses on wax. I don’t have any problem with the digital medium but I cannot speak tons about it because I haven’t dealt with it much. When you press vinyl, all you care about is shifting the copies and not having dead stock. Once the stock is empty, you just move onto something different, if you haven’t already. A few years ago, being a vinyl-only label meant that it was easier to stand out in a market that was becoming smaller. On the other hand, if digital availability was convenient and readily available, it was very difficult to stand out let alone exist. Nowadays vinyl has made an impressive comeback and it’s a challenge to stand out with dozens of releases almost every day!
With digital, it’s become even worse than before – the database is much bigger and unless they know what they’re are looking for, chances are that nobody will ever see your release. That said, we need to live with the times, and vinyl will soon cease to exist. Most people are going to be using Spotify and iTunes to consume music. The rest will simply tune into YouTube to access a limitless open library, which is fantastic. Vinyl has a cost, therefore it can not escape being a product. Music on the other hand is not a product unless it was intentionally made as such. This is another debate altogether which I’ll leave for now.
You have an album about to drop – can you tell us about it?
I’m actually putting out a special project on Balance entitled ENDLESS in April. It’s not exactly an album per se; it’s a selection of out-of-print and sought after tracks that were released in the last 5 years. Funnily enough, it feels that the way it has been programmed sounds almost like it was done for the purpose of an album.
I have always wanted to make a traditional album with all new music, and that’s one of my next steps for sure. During the last five years, working with Chez has been amazing. I’ve always had total freedom and benefited from his wise council and encouragements. This project is a celebration of these years working together and the journey through music. It’s going to be a slick triple vinyl set (and a CD!) that should hopefully find a good home for those who have missed the works the first time around.
You’re coming to the states here in February. Is this your first time? and what kind of itinerary do you have lined up?
It will be my first US tour. I’m playing Sublimate in Brooklyn Feb 6, TV Bar in Detroit Feb 7, Flash in Washington February 13 and SmartBar in Chicago on February 14. It’s going to be a sort of music pilgrimage. I can’t wait!