A warm and vibey mix from one of France’s busiest D&B exports
2023 has been one of Speaker Louis’ most prolific years to date. Month after month we’ve been bombarded with dispatches on labels ranging from Hyperactivity to Program, Deep In The Jungle to Jungle Cakes, Dub Shotta to Liondub International.
More music is set to follow before the year is out, too. Releases from the Frenchman-in-London on the likes of Four Corners and Fokuz are imminent and plenty more is planned moving into the new year.
To mark this moment, and reflect on his journey so far, we asked Speaker Louis (who’s real name in French does actually translate to Louis Speaker) for a mix and jumped on a call for an interview to find out more about where he’s at, how he got here and where he’s heading.
Not just an exceptional drum & bass producer, he’s also the bass player in the French fusion band La Phazeand a doctor-level academic! Press play on the mix and read on to find out more…
You just did a La Phaze gig over the weekend. How was that? And how is your dual identity going in general?
It was good thanks. I just got back actually. It was the last gig of the season and had some really cool underground punk rock vibes. It was in the mountains, very DIY, we were between a few different punk bands. I loved it. I love playing all the types of shows we do; we get to play big festivals in between big electronic acts, we play more underground shows like the one we’ve just done. And kinda all things between.
In terms of size and scope, La Phaze is kinda bigger than Speaker Louis in many ways…
Oh for sure. They’re way bigger than Speaker Louis in terms of audience size, too! They were really big before I joined and actually I was a big fan in the 2000s. They were playing around the world and associated with bands like Gogol Bordello and Asian Dub Foundation. At the time that whole fusion vibe worked well in France. Electronic and guitar stuff. Now it’s not so fashionable but La Phaze were born in the late 90s when a lot of bands were doing this type of stuff like Rage Against The Machine and The Prodigy. But that’s not such a thing now. They have a very loyal fanbase though so are always popular as a live act.
How did you join the band?
They split up in 2012 while I was starting my electronic music journey. Then one day they posted on social media saying they were interested in hearing from other musicians so I sent them some things. Then at some point around 2017 the singer called me and told me they were thinking of starting the band and would I be up for doing the electronic side of things. I had no idea what that role would entail but I was like, ‘Sure, I’m in!’
So just as Speaker Louis was beginning to bubble?
Very very slowly bubble, yes haha. I was doing a kinda live thing with a bass guitar and MIDI controllers and synths and things. It wasn’t brilliant but it was actually perfect for them to see how I could fit in the band. I think it was only meant to be for one tour but it worked really well so I became a permanent member of the band.
Have you written any new material with them since joining?
Yeah we released an album in 2020. It was quite complicated as it was finished before lockdown and we’d started performing some of the tracks live. Covid hit, we wanted to postpone the release but the label wanted to release it so it came out September 2020… But the tour to promote it didn’t happen for another year. We’ve been the new tunes on tour and we’re writing new material now which has been fun.
Awesome. How much time do you have for Speaker Louis, then? I know you’re also a maths teacher, too..
Yes I teach maths in UCL in London.
Oh damn! That’s high level maths. That’s quite a big career…
Maths and education are something I love and it is a huge part of my life, yes. And yes it is hard to find time, for sure. I’d say La Phaze only takes up time during festival season and occasional weeks where we get together and write. Like with everything, it’s a big game of planning what I can in advance! Speaker Louis takes up a lot more time on a daily basis but I make it work. You could definitely describe me as busy.
You’ve been very busy! You’ve released on Hyperactivity, Engage, Program, Dub Shotta, Jungle Cakes, Fokuz and Four Corners this year. A lot of releases! More than usual…
Yeah it’s been good! I’ve ended up releasing something every month this year, which has been cool. A lot of that is happy accident, other things are planned in advance. I’m happy with how it’s gone but I don’t think it’ll be quite as prolific moving forward but we’ll see.
It’s such a fine line isn’t it? You only want to put your best stuff out but you want to have a consistent presence. Some of my favourite Speaker Louis tracks have come out this year though. I’m A Mood is vibes!
Ah thank you! I really appreciate that. That came on Hyperactivity who I release a lot with. Brk the label owner is a good friend of mine and he plans stuff well in advance. I love what he does with the label. I have to shout Grimesy for that tune. He and Slay started it and I finished it off.
I love it. I also love the DJ Vadim remix and the dual language rap. The first non-English rap I ever checked as French. MC Solaar. Have you done a dual language record before and how do you feel about dual language?
Oh thanks for bringing this up! This was such an exciting project for me. I’ve always wanted to do dual language stuff and have experimented with it in the past but not at this level. I really feel it can work if there’s a good MC and if the producer is good enough.
For the Vadim track, Big Red needs all the props. He’s a legend. His band Raggasonic were part of that fusion I mentioned before. He’s done so many things, including drum & bass, so his voice was very easy to fit into the track. I want to do more. I think drum & bass is so far from the mainstream in France I don’t think it’ll ever be that popular but artistically I find it very exciting. When La Phaze started in the late 90s they had jungle beats and lyrics in French so they were pioneering that way back then.
That’s fascinating. Do you feel listeners are more open minded about other language rap and lyrics now?
It really depends on where it finds its place. In France there’s always been a space for it and a history of mixing things up both musically and linguistically. In general, in the English speaking world, it’s harder to make something work that has foreign lyrics. There’s a great example of something happening in drill too like Freeze Corleone and Central Cee’s Polemique where the first half is in English and the second in French and that’s so inspiring to see. So who knows?
I hope there’s more of it. I think our perspectives are very different as non-English speakers have to pick up some English and are always exposed to it whereas native English speakers don’t. There’s some horrible imperialist history and laziness / complacency behind all of that too of course. You probably learnt a lot of English through music?
Absolutely. I learnt it all from songs and films. I didn’t learn any English in school. The history is interesting in terms of musical scenes, too. Most French people will be exposed to the English version of the music first. So like when hip-hop came along in the 80s people were first listening to US hip-hop and thought you could never have French lyrics but then MCs found their own way and there’s a lot of creativity in how they appropriated the style and put their own stamp on it and actually on a wider note, I love lyrics in general because they help to create a cultural identity. Instrumental music can lose its identity or be a little faceless in that way.
Yeah I agree! So when did Speaker Louis productions start to develop their own identity?
I think I’m still in early stages of my career and finding my sound now! I try to be as natural as possible and not force a sound or anything but I have started to find a sound which does feel very natural to me and that’s what I’m focusing on.
I think I can hear a Speaker Louis sound. You’re very soundsystem influenced because of everything we’ve just said. I love the unpredictability too – you’re very diverse but there’s always a dubby / system undertone.
For sure, that’s a fair description, thank you!
You started with breaks didn’t you? The earliest track of yours I could find online was Willie The Pimp
Oh god that tune is too old! It needs to be erased from history! The point of that tune, and that sound, was to go with live performances. Before I moved to the UK I was exploring all kinds of musical ideas and projects and the main thing was to perform it live. I would have a bunch of machines and a bass guitar and doing a bunch of things on MIDI controllers. I guess the style was glitch hop and it did lead to drum & bass pretty quickly. But the craft of making drum & bass came a lot later and over time. All that came into place when I moved over here.
Did music, work or love bring you here?
I’ve always loved the UK in terms of art and movies and music, and I would come over regularly for gigs and stuff. A lot of my favourite things in culture all come from the UK. Drum & bass, punk rock, films. Then I got an opportunity to work here and do a PHD.
Oh damn! Are you a doctor?
Technically I am yes. I don’t talk about it too much or use that title but yes I am. This was around 2016 when the Brexit stuff happened.
Oh man don’t get me started! You were over here becoming a doctor in the thick of that nightmare?
Yes. It got pretty stressful. Around 2018 or so politicians were arguing about what to do with foreign nationals and it was very uncertain for a while. But UK people – not the politicians – always made me feel very welcome. I’m very happy with my life in London.
That’s so good to hear! Your mix is good to hear too. Quite a few cheeky dubs in there if I’m not mistaken!
Yes. There’s a few tunes in there that will be released soon. There are a few tunes that I’ve made but not signed yet, I’m just trying them out. So it’s all in the mix!
Loving it. Are you going to keep the monthly releases going?
I got something for Four Corners and Fokuz coming out right now but December is actually free release-wise. I do have a bootleg I’d like to release though so maybe I’ll do it then. Who knows what will happen? I have finished quite a few new tunes and sometimes it’s nice to have that immediacy and get things out nice and quickly after they’ve been made.
That’s actually the beauty of this culture and something I love about this music in comparison to band stuff – being that flexible and immediate
Absolutely. Being able to test things in a club and see the physical reactions is so important too. it’s also very important to know when a tune is finished and to stop working on it. Don’t just leave it sitting there, it needs to come out.
What else is coming out from you?
I’ve got a collab with Dr Meaker which will come out in 2024. There’s some things planned with Hyperactivity which are a bit too soon to mention, and some bookings of course. I’m not rushing anything and I’m working on some things I really care about. They’re so new they’re not even I the mix but that’s where my focus is right now and I can wait to get them out into the world!