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Ones To Watch (No 18): Brawther

How often do you randomly stumble into a club and hear music you actually like? The answer for most of us is not often, and that probably explains why, on that rare occasion when it does happen, it ends up being a memorable night. For young Parisian producer Brawther it was an evening hosted by Nottingham’s DiY deep house party collective, long admired in underground circles on British shores and beyond, that served as a turning point in his musical existence.

As a teenager he took part in an exchange program that saw him spend regular summers with a host family in the Midlands. Apart from making lifelong friends and partaking in the finer aspects of English culture, most notably pork scratchings, one night Brawther unknowingly walked into a DiY party at Nottingham nightspot The Bomb; or at least, almost 10 years later, he’s pretty sure it was – and all evidence suggests he is correct. The producer, who was up to this point fascinated by the leftfield electronica of Aphex Twin et al, fell suddenly and irrevocably in love with house music.

As well as discussing his own productions as Brawther (and the now idle Izmo alias), in this Ones To Watch interview we uncover his previously secret Paris Underground Trax alias, which caused a wee bit of a stir in 2010, elevating the My Love Is Underground imprint to a ‘buy on sight’ label for house music lovers the world over. A chance internet meeting with Chez Damier and a subsequent release on his Balance imprint proved the catalyst to a steady yet remarkable rise that has seen Brawther signed up by London types Smith and Priestly’s Secretsundaze booking agency and – soon – revamped record label. We caught up with the young Frenchman to discuss his musical beginnings, the Parisian house scene and what’s next for My Love Is Underground, including plans for a London party.

How did you get into music and production? Where did it all begin?

I started when I was about 15. Me and a friend were both introduced to experimental music like Aphex Twin, and all this ambient, IDM kind of stuff. When I was younger I used to listen to everything, hip-hop next to hardcore, whatever. When you’re young, you listen to the radio, your ears are open – I didn’t have one set genre. I met a music loving friend, we started making tracks, and at first it was very industrial, experimental stuff. For a few years I was really locked into that – I didn’t know house, I didn’t know much other than this out-there music, and my early productions reflected that.

Was there a specific moment or event that turned you onto house music?

Well for a period of 10 years I would travel to England every summer. It started when I was really young – it was an exchange program during the first years – and so every year I would go to this family in the middle of nowhere in Lincolnshire. And every year I would discover new music. I was mates with the sons in the host family, they became my best friends, and I would hang out with the same crew every summer. And as we got older we started going to clubs, and because I was the youngest of the crew I would be at these hard house parties when I was 14. It was funny because even though I would listen to more advanced music – my first club experience was hard trance, hard house, all that shit basically (laughs). But then when I went to a DiY night in Nottingham at The Bomb club, at least I’m fairly sure it was DiY; back then I didn’t know. What happened there really changed me. The vibe was insane, I had never experienced anything like it.

When did this happen?

It was back in 2001.

And what was it about the party that appealed to it?

It was the people; it was really pumping. There was an energy in the crowd. There was something really tribal about it – the essence of the music touched me. I wasn’t high, I wasn’t anything. From that day I knew I wanted to make something like that, to be part of that environment.

Where to from there?

From there I stumbled on some Masters At Work compilations, and I discovered Pepe Bradock. I saw Ark, who used to be his partner, in an interview on TV, there were a couple of records they did as Trankilou, which was their collaboration, and from that point I started looking back into the big names in house. After that I discovered Kerri Chandler, and more and more. Even to this day, I’m still discovering. I love to dig deeper into what I like and be surprised again and again.

Indeed – there’s so much to explore. You came to England quite a bit; did the culture rub off on you?

Definitely. I really like England – it’s funny because most English people tell me that English people are horrible – but I must have been lucky because the people I was hanging out with were sound. And because I was on holiday I always had a good time. I’m also a fan of pork scratchings – a traditional English dish! The English cuisine is very different to France. Pork scratchings and beer – I love it (laughs).

“There was an energy in the crowd. There was something really tribal about it – the essence of the music touched me. I wasn’t high, I wasn’t anything. From that day I knew I wanted to make something like that, to be part of that environment”

You have a few productions out their already, including a few releases on Chez Damier’s Balance Recordings? How did it come about?

I had one release in 2007 on 9TS Records, French label, and I was also preparing an album for Little Angel Records. The album had been dragging along for a while, so I started on some other productions. I contacted four or five labels and either got turned down or no reply. So I decided to contact Chez out of the blue – I wasn’t expecting anything; Chez Damier for me was just a legendary name. But I heard he had Balance going again, I thought, why not, let’s try it. I contacted him on MySpace, and we really connected. He seemed intrigued and we became very good friends.

How did that boost your career?

Well something definitely happened with the first record. When it got out, a friend of mine told me Giles Smith had used the track as the opener in his Resident Advisor podcast. At this stage I didn’t even know who Giles was; I didn’t know Secretsundaze. So I contacted Giles and he was super friendly, and I ended up joining his new agency, and also agreed to do an EP for him on his label, which should hopefully drop in the coming months…

You’ve worked under two alias so far – Brawther and Izmo. Izmo seems to have disappeared – are you just focusing on Brawther now?

Well. I produced the second My Love Is Underground 12” – as Paris Underground Trax.

Oh, wow. That’s been on regular rotation in the Juno office for some time now. How long have you been keeping that under wraps?

A while now (laughs). Jeremy (aka Underground Paris), the owner of My Love Is Underground, is a long time friend. We had the idea to create My Love Is Underground for a while, although before that it was going to be called Deep Underground Records. Jeremy is the owner but I’m officially co-managing things. I had these productions sitting around, stuff I did a while ago just for Jeremy, as he’s really into the 90s house sound which I love too. The aim of the label was, and still is, to showcase our friends’ music. We have a group of friends in Paris and across France who are all influenced by old school house. The long term goal isn’t to go about finding old artists like Jerzzey Boy or Nathaniel X, who have both done stuff for the label. But we tracked them down because we love their work and wanted to know what happened to them.

But the future focus will be mainly on French producers?

Yes. The next EP is by Kool Vibe, who is a veteran DJ & clubber from Paris, he’s in his 40s, and that’s going to be his first ever record. We have a few other friends who are going to release EPs too. It’s not about trying to have current producers who are doing well and can make old school sounding stuff, for us it’s about showcasing our friends, and that’s how it’s going to stay for now.

“Parisian DJs have always had a tradition of following New York, but it evolved in a way that left the underground somehow”

What kind of crew of producers and DJs do you have? There don’t seem to be many deep house producers coming out of Paris these days.

No, there is nothing much going on to be honest. Even with our crew, we all met through the internet. We live in the same city, but we first met on the internet which says it all (about the Paris scene) really. The house scene in Paris is kind of dead; you’ve always got the same DJs who are like the dinosaurs – they always put on the parties and play current stuff. Parisian DJs have always had a tradition of following New York, but it evolved in a way that left the underground somehow – everything went digital and all of the soulful house became kind of watery, with R&B vocals, and lost this underground vibe. I think we got bored of hearing the same old R&B remixes. Paris is a big city, so you have great acts that come to play, of course, but there is no underground scene to speak of. It became less interesting and the crowds stopped coming. Even us, we do productions, we DJ aboard, but the opportunities are limited. There’s no real club culture in France, although I can see that changing with the next generation – they are trying to pick it up, they’re more interested in quality music.

Was this reflected by the Paris Underground Trax release – was their much interest from France or did it all come from elsewhere?

The record was really a surprise for me. I never thought it would do this well, to be honest with you. Even when I made those tracks, I was skeptical about them, I’m very critical about my work. But Jeremy saw something in them instantly, so when we did it, it was a big success. In Paris, in one of the latest vinyl shops alive – Betino’s – they sold more than 100 copies of the record, which had not been seen for a really long time!

Was Jeremy fielding a lot of requests about the producer behind the Paris Underground Trax release?

Actually people were assuming Jeremy produced the record because his nickname is Underground Paris. And with Paris Underground Trax, people just assumed, naturally I guess. But he has a big following on Facebook and he made it clear it wasn’t him. But we’ve had interest from all over the world; Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Finland, Sweden, Berlin, South Africa. It’s been great to see. I seem to recall reading some feedback on one of the MLIU releases stating that Kerri Chandler is a fan of the label. I knew the first one (Nathaniel X) was played by DJ Spinna, I know Kerri liked it a lot. To be honest I haven’t been following the feedback too much.

Why did you produce this release anonymously?

Well the concept was to make low profile release, and then sit back and remain a spectator to see what the release would become. I felt really comfortable being in that position. It’s different to the sound that I produce under Brawther. I love doing the 90s sound; for me it’s not that difficult. It’s raw and I like it. But I’m really trying to make a lot of deeper techno and house as Brawther, that’s more my thing, so I didn’t want to mix up the names. The reason I want to reveal it (the alias), is that Jeremy and I want to start putting on label nights, and I thought the moment was right. When you listen to Paris Underground Trax and my Brawther stuff, it’s clearly different. It’s not easy to pick that it’s me. I also want people to be aware that I’m not trying to fit in just one box. These days I’m even concentrating on a lot more techno, but I can flip the game anytime I want.

And what have you got coming up production-wise?

Yeah, it’s kicked off really well man. I have an EP coming out on Balance in the coming weeks – it’s a remix release. There are three tracks of mine and one Chez Damier remix of my track. It features my reinterpretation of the classic KMS054 release by Ron & Chez D from back in 1994. Then in a couple of months I’m also going to release an EP on Secretsundaze’s imprint, which will be the first release of the relaunched label. I’m also going to put out a limited edition release for our upcoming My Love Is Underground party in London in May – really excited about that too.

Interview: Aaron Coultate