Interview: Louis La Roche
While MySpace might be a dirty word to everyone but Justin Timberlake, its importance in shaping the modern music industry model cannot be understated.
For some, it was the platform that launched superstar careers, it helped others move from amateur to professional through new-found remix opportunities and live show demand, and for the average punter it opened the door to the idea of streaming music for free, discovering new acts at home and connecting with like-minded fans around the world. For Louis La Roche and his French-influenced House – it's not just a clever name – it meant a quick rise to success at a young age."I put some tracks on there," he says, "lots of people blogged about them, I had a couple of plays on international radio stations and one thing led to another."
Four years later and armed with a catalogue of remixes for the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Gorillaz, Riva Starr and Duck Sauce, he's about to release his debut album. We grabbed him for a chat in a central London studio.
We're guessing you play instruments based on the way you were treating piano roll. Did you start by learning one?
Louis La Roche: "Not really. I mean, I do play instruments but I don't know how to read music or chords – I wouldn't know what chord I'm playing but I know that it's a chord. For remixes, you might play the original track, find out what goes well with it and just build it from there. I'd probably say I'm less of a producer and more of a programmer. A lot of the things I use or don't use are not necessarily what most producers would use. You see producers chain multiple plug-ins and each one has a defined purpose, but I think I'm still learning."
"When I first started making House music and sampling, it automatically sounded French without me trying, which is why I came up with the name Louis La Roche."
So what was the first piece of software that made you think, this is for me?
"It was just a love of music. Dance music was a huge part of the mid to late-'90s. Every time you turned on the radio you'd hear Stardust, Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy – they were all really big and so Dance music automatically became a huge part of my life. I never really had the guts to learn an instrument.
In the early 2000s more people were buying computers and the internet was getting bigger and when I first got a production programme, which was eJay or something, I learned how to use a sequencer and tried my hand at different programmes like Reason, FL Studio and Cubase. FL stuck with me so I used that the most. It wasn't until I was about 16 that I got my music heard. When I turned 17 it got really big and I got management and a booking agency."
You've clearly been influenced by Daft Punk and you were actually mistaken for Thomas Bangalter onYouTube. [Louis' track Love was falsely credited as Bangalter and raked in over half a million views].
"I don't really know where that came from. I mean, they were huge when I was growing up and I have a love of House, but my parents were really into Soul, Disco and Funk so I guess it's a mixture of all that. All the stuff I liked growing up, like Roulé and Crydamoure, sampled old Disco records, so I always loved that sound. When I first started producing, people like Mylo were big and I started writing music like that. But when I first started making House music and sampling, it automatically sounded French without me trying, which is why I came up with the name Louis La Roche."
Why did you get into FL Studio?
"It gives you a limitation and I like that. I'm sure you could do more detailed things in other DAWs, but I like being in the box and being forced to look at things differently. For sampling, it's perfect – it handles audio better than a lot of DAWs. I much prefer sampling to using MIDI; The Avalanches and DJ Shadow have the kind of sound I love – all samples and nothing recorded. What I do isn't Hip Hop but it's done in the same way.
"For me it's all about finding a DAW with speed. I find with FL, you can have a rough idea down in a few hours. I use a lot of samples in my work and FL's step sequencer is like no other DAW. It's perfect for sampling and it also works like a sampler or an MPC. I guess that's why FL is so popular with Hip Hop producers. I generally think that working in Windows has its benefits too – more third party plug-ins, for a start. The only downside of using FL is the way it records audio. It's more complicated than it needs to be so I use Ableton when recording vocal, bass, guitar and so on. Ableton is very much a 'plug and play' DAW when it comes to audio, but maybe Image Line are looking into improving that."
You had management and a booking agent at 17 – that's pretty young. How did that come about?
"Like I said, it was back in the days of MySpace [laughs]. They both approached me and that was a great position to be in. I got a lot of support from Radio 1 DJs Jaymo and Andy George – they'd just got the slot and they gave me loads of airtime. They passed it on to other people at Radio 1 and I started doing gigs when I was 18. Suddenly I was playing with people I'd always looked up to."
So you didn't study production?
"I went to the British Academy of New Music and found myself studying how to make a career out of music while it was actually becoming my career. It was all happening so fast and I had to choose one or the other, so I quit the course to focus on music full-time. You don't need a piece of paper though, I don't think it's important."
"I hate the fact that people feel they need to spend a lot of money to make a good track, because they don't."
It was a magic moment for the internet and MySpace when the idea of coming through those channels was new and exciting. Now everyone has an online presence. Is it as simple as: make good music, put it online and people will find you?
"More people are posting more music and that's great, but they're not spending enough time on the track itself. People will have an idea and then throw it online and it's just that – an idea. They'll send it to different labels and artists – and I always do listen to them – but often they don't spend enough time on it. If you take your time, and work on your track for a month or two and test it, play it for friends, get feedback and then when it's truly finished, put it online, then hopefully it will speak for itself and it won't need to be sent to 5,000 people."
There's a lot of pressure on young producers to keep their name out there and continually producetracks. Do you think that contributes to the huge outpouring of music right now?
"For sure, but there are plenty of artists out there who practiced for years, learned different techniques and honed their craft and then started putting their music out there – Madeon is a good example of someone who's still young but didn't just put all his ideas online. He spent time getting his sound to a professional point. Don't post a track that you made a few hours ago – take your time, think about what the track needs.
"Because Disco and Nu Disco is now an established thing, people are turning to old Disco records to sample them and they think if you take a sample from an old '70s record and put a kick behind it, then that's a whole new track. But it's not. Even something like Anyway by Duck Sauce; yes it samples an old '70s track [Final Edition – I Can Do It] and it may sound like they haven't done much to it, but they know what they're doing. It's from two experienced producers who know when less is more and how to produce for the club. It's not just about the kick drum under the sample. The majority of demos I get fall into that trap."
How much does equipment come into it, then? How much can you do with headphones and a laptop?
"I hate the fact that people feel they need to spend a lot of money to make a good track, because they don't. If you know your system – even if it's just a laptop and monitors – how to EQ on those speakers, what sounds too trebly or what's too bassy on those speakers, there's nothing wrong with that.
"You don't need to spend thousands of pounds on a good pair of monitors. You've still got to learn those speakers all over again, and the room, and how those speakers affect the space. It's the same with headphones – it's just about learning what you've got. Technology and emulators are so good these days, you can get really close to a true pro sound with some basic plug-ins."
You started when you were 16 and there's a lot of young producers making their way to the top – that says a lot about the accessibility of production.
"For sure. Disclosure are two brothers – one's 18 and the other's 21 – and their tracks are great, really nicely produced. One's at college and the other was doing a nine-to-five but they found the time to get together and work on these tracks in Logic. They've just been picked up by a label and their Jessie Ware remix has been all over Radio 1. I've heard five or six new names this year, including Lenno, who's only 16, and they're making fantastic stuff."
Do you think that quick uptake is due to better presets, less expense, the accessibility of information thanks to the internet – or all three?
"I think techniques are more available. If you hear a new record with a synth sound you like, you can just Google it and find out what it is. There's even tutorials on YouTube explaining how to recreate it. Then thousands of people will do exactly that sound for the next six months. Modern Dubstep is all about how big your bass is and how crazy the lead line is, and not about being closely tied with Garage, having a lot of swing or being dark like in the beginning. The wobble bassline became a thing, then distortion and the Electro influence filtered through and before you know it you've got Skrillex!"
How do you stand out then, in any genre?
"It's as simple as not copying people. If you intentionally start out to make a track that sounds like Deadmau5, it'll either sound like Deadmau5 did a year ago, or people will only like it because it sounds like Deadmau5. When people come out with a new sound or melody, or part that everyone knows the track for, it's not because they wanted to sound like someone else it's because they spend time and effort designing a sound that's their own."
I guess that's just good writing...
"Definitely, it applies to songwriting as much as it does to producing. And actually, I think the skill of musicianship has definitely dwindled. How many talented musicians played on an album like Thriller? The best guitarists, the best drummers and amazing songwriters – they all came together to record the album. Even though that's Pop music, you can still hear when people carefully consider chords and keys in Electronic music. I think the reason Adele's 21 has done so well is because the songs are good. Even if the production was bad, it'd still do well because of the songs. I think people get mixed up between a good song and good production and they're not the same thing. People have got used to clean and over-compressed production and think that's the norm.
"When everyone is using the same detuned chord riffs, the same synth presets and samples, it just hits a dead end."
"In the past when a song was a hit, everyone wanted to work with the person who wrote the song and wanted them to write a track for their new up-and-coming act. And even though maybe the chord structures or song structures were similar, it was a totally new song. Now, people want to work with certain producers, who have a 'sound' and that 'sound' is what's layered across all of the tracks they work on, so they literally sound the same. Dubstep is the best example and maybe Dutch House too and a lot of it is NI Massive's fault. So many people use it for the same sound and you can tell straightaway. I like it when you hear a track and wonder 'how did they make that?' and you never find out. That's why I'm such a massive fan of Aphex Twin. Maybe we should go back to listening to a song as a song and not as a production."
There's a thin line though. You can make interesting, well-produced tracks that operate within the 'club track' philosophy with a DJ-friendly intro and crowd-friendly breakdown, no?
"Yeah for sure, there are just certain things that people overdo, like white noise that means there's a drop or a build-up, and that's fine because you might need those triggers sometimes. But when everyone is using the same detuned chord riffs, the same synth presets and samples, it just hits a dead end."