Photo credit: Hermon Mehari
Hugo LX is always on the move. The nomadic French-born DJ and producer has spent his life living in cities across the world, something that has helped him along his path of musical discovery.
As a producer his beginnings are firmly rooted in hip hop. At the age of 11 he started taping samples and crafting his own beats in his bedroom, and by the time he was 19 he could already count Large Professor and Diamond D as collaborators. This was a launch pad for his future forays into soulful electronic house, notably a handful of releases for Chez Damier’s Balance, MCDE Recordings and Mona Musique, and further down the line collaborations with DJ Spinna and Karizma.
There’s a relationship between his approach to producing and his obsession with collecting records. Growing up in the 90s he began to recognise the samples used by hip hop producers from the dusty records he found at home, passed down from his mom’s first love. That period of his life also opened his eyes to jazz, via his father’s collection, which then led him to funk and disco, and then on to electronic and dance music. Hugo hails this evolution and the connection between genres as a real lightbulb moment during those formative years.
In this interview we dive deep into his relationship with records alongside a vinyl-only mix of his favourite slow jams.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
I can definitely say family had a role in my musical eduction. Two persons in particular, both very remotely! The first one being my mom’s first boyfriend, who had graciously left her a great amount of LPs, centred around two labels: ECM (he had nearly everything from the early years to the mid 80s) and EMI/Odeon, which was one of the main distribution network for music in Brazil during the 70s. I spent nearly everyday of my very early teenage years spinning those records. That’s the time I really started to explore one musician’s legacy in particular – Egberto Gismonti’s, one of the most brilliant composer, arranger and instrumentalist of his generation. I remembered the day I found out « Coracoes Futuristas », with his face on both sides of the gatefold cover. It just changed my life. Everything was in it. Joy, sadness, contemplation. It was spiritual, yet grounded.
My rare visits to my father were also filled with good music, and I remember his apartment being filled with albums: Wayne Shorter, Coltrane, Soft Machine, Wyatt and the whole Canterbury scene. That definitely gave me something to study. ‘Footprints’ was a song I heard quite a bit. Of course jazz led me to soul, then led me to funk, then disco, R’n’B and electronic/dance of course. It just has the same drive!
On the other hand, it was the 90s and quality hip hop and dance were still on TV and radio, and these guys definitely sampled the music that I heard previously. It just all connected in my mind.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
Buying CDs and records was the real party in my childhood, probably the most rewarding feeling, especially as we were anticipating albums after singles dropped on the radio. I can definitely remember the joy of playing them (to death). It was also the fuel for creation, the inspiration, as I started doing pause tapes and beats very early. I went on to trying sampling very quickly. I guess sampling led me to unexpected discoveries, but also sometimes shortened my sight of music, searching for samples to a point I wouldn’t even listen to the song’s craft. I might not be the only one to say that.
Today I’m probably more balanced and I enjoy every record I buy to the fullest. It means not buying too many, as my attention span is probably shorter now.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I have bits of my collection in every city I’ve resided in. That means in a few places, including a storage room at some point. I’ve also lost and sometimes found records again. Some really crazy stories!
I recently moved in to a flat where I plan to stay for a bit. I then shrunk my collection drastically and gathered around 2500 records here. Mostly essentials, samples I currently use and things that I play the most at gigs. When I get over that threshold, I sell this wax or offer the surplus to young aspiring DJs who will probably give them plenty of love!
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I like basements, thrifts shops and flea markets a lot. Salvation army stores in the US, some book shops in Japan, too. It requires patience though, but rewards you greater. Plus that’s the only place where you actually “dig”. I definitely don’t consider record shopping a part of digging!
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
There’s plenty! First of all, a shout to my first mentor and producer extraordinaire Cris Prolific who helped me find many Hip Hop LPs I was coveting, but also introduced me to his musical spectrum, from Caribbean music to soul, detouring by electronic. I spent days listening to tunes with him at the shop he was working at. Before that, I was spending my Saturdays at the now defunct 12Inch record shop. Probably my favourite shop memory – it was such a beautiful space, you would bump into all your favourite dance DJs. They had a studio downstairs that was occupied by DJ Deep. If I’m correct they were developing the first E&S DJR Mixer prototype at that time. Both sellers, Luc and Manu, eventually became friends a decade later.
My time in Japan also led me to meet other passionate record fiends. My good friend Alixkun comes to my mind, as he’s probably one of the most impressive record excavators there! I’d also like to give a shout to DJ Paulao, one of nicest dudes I’ve had a chance to meet and a never ending source when it comes to Brazilian music and culture, and one to the homie, Sean Rowlands, who always laced me up with some good wax in New York! Last but not least, I also used to work in a store, Heartbeat Records in Paris, with the incredible Melik. He’s definitely the man to know if you search for good grooves, early soulful electronic, or rare Japanese jazz and soul nuggets.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?
Records will find their way to me. Or I will found my way to them. I just don’t stress that.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
Shopping with friends is fun, and highly instructive! I like to trade tips with my friends Theo Mamies and Eliott from Melodies International. I always have a great time shopping with DJ Spinna and Ge-Ology, that’s actually how we connected during my time in Japan. They both taught me a lot. Searching for funk 45s in London with Suspect, that was a lot of fun too. And recently I got to shop quite often with Danilo Plessow, his curiosity and knowledge of music is just really impressive, always learning a lot.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
Checking the latest arrival section first. Asking at the counter what’s good lately. Good communication with sellers can definitely help, sometimes it even rewards you with a few bonuses. I try to avoid crowded hours, and to be quick. Meandering isn’t too good, you’ve got to stay focused and cover the most possible. Or just play it very relaxed and listen to what the seller’s playing. If everybody feels good, some magic could eventually happen!
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
It sure draws my curiosity. Sometimes typos on the label more than the sleeve cover. It’s something I can’t explain. I love playing records with nice looking labels. And a cute looking 7 inch definitely catches my eye!
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
An interesting fact, I actually scrapped the first attempt and made a brand new mix. I went through a rough patch these last months, and subsequently played more aggressive tunes while touring. While I do love me some good musical beatdowns sometimes, I felt I could get back to slower tempos and silkier sounds. Then, I recently interrupted a set and flipped the script, getting back to the hundred BPMs area, slow love jams only, and next thing you know, several couples started making out on the dance floor – that was just the most rewarding moment in a while. I love a dance floor that’s smooth and comfortable for everybody. I then came back home and gathered some of my favourite love jams and started it all over again.
As for the mix itself, I tried to sequence them the way an opening or a closing DJ would do – oh while we are here, opening is a true art! Let’s keep it alive! – progressing in tempos an intensity, then dropping again. Variations is something I definitely enjoy in a DJ Set or even a radio show. Most of those songs aren’t necessarily rare, but all are quite emotional to me, because of the chords, the lyrics, the tension, the overall poetry, or just because I bought most of these records while being quite young! I’ve always been a sucker for love jams. I often close my sets with them. A good love song at the right moment is definitely worth a thousand roses.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
I included some real favourites here. ‘Take a Time Out’ by Wendell Harrison is a cult Jazz RnB groove, while Pucho’s cover of Naima is definitely a masterpiece – a splendid cover of an already perfect tune. Just check the Rhodes solo. There’s also a new disco section in the mix, which highlights a few of those records I bought around 2002/2003, I’m thinking of Next Evidence, Ernest St Laurent or Georg Levin. It was an interesting time in dance music, creatively and production-wise, and most of those records are still very cheap, despite their quality.
Finally what’s coming up on your horizon that’s getting you excited?
I’m just coming off a couple very rewarding gigs, in Denmark and Spain, and both had a thing in common – quality warm ups. That really inspired me!
The spring will be very interesting. First of all there will be the Japan Connection Festival in Paris, which Kuniyuki and I have curated. I’m so happy we could bring people like Dip In The Pool, Fumio Itabashi, Satoshi Tomiie, Toshio Matsuura, Sauce 81 and Soichi Terada plus DJs I’d love the world to discover, such as Yukari BB or Shotaro Aoyama. It will be a beautiful moment of music!
Then, embarking for a trip in Northern America, with the focus of finding good records there. Will detour in New York to produce a follow up to our Astral Flight EP with DJ Spinna. Then I’ll return to Japan for a bit, before summer and festival season kicks in! And I’m very much looking forward to the We Out There festival this summer in Abbots Ripton!
Daybreak Ltd. – Sonya
Minako Yoshida – Tornado
Roland Vazquez Urban Ensemble – Stephanie
Valentine Bros – Let Me Be Close To You
Roy Ayers – No Stranger To Love / I Want You
Wendell Harrison – Take a Time Out
Pure Pleasure – By My Side
Bobbi Humphrey – Uno Esta
New Birth – Keep Doin’ It
Moments – Rain in My Backyard
Samuel Jonathan Johnson – Sweet Love
Next Evidence – Morning Breeze w/ N’Dea Davenport
Shuya Okino – Still In Love w / Navasha Daya
Patrick Gibin – Cloud Nine w/ Mark De Clive Lowe & Javonntte
Georg Levin – I Got Somebody New w/ Clara Hill (Brooks Dubstrumental)
Ernest St Laurent – Perfect Love
Evans Pyramid – No I Won’t
Terumasa Hino – The Planet Is Ours
Pucho and The Latin Soul Brothers – Judy’s Mood / Naima
Weldon Irvine – I Love You
Peter Brown – For Your Love
Pamoja – Oooh Baby
Inside Out – Take A Chance