Ian Maleney talks All City Records, international crate digging and musical education with Arnaud Bernard, aka Paris producer Onra who plays Castlepalooza this weekend.
Paris might not be the first city that comes to mind when you think about futuristic disco and funky hip-hop, but it has produced one of the finest practitioners of the aforementioned music in the form of Arnaud Bernard, better known as Onra. Since setting out his stall with his appropriately-named debut A Hip-Hop Tribute to Soul Music in 2006, Bernard has developed a sound which brings together groove-ridden hip-hop beats and the smoothest funk imaginable in some sort of futuristic love-in. Despite bearing some solid comparison to both Prince and Flying Lotus, his ultra-modern disco is built on samples from old records, smoothly crafted to form something altogether new.
With Chinoiseries Pt. 1 in 2007, Bernard took this sampling technique to a new level of intensity, traveling to Vietnam and returning with a box of ancient LPs from which the entire album was made. His last record, Long Distance, an emotionally charged set of infectious slow grooves, was released on Dublin’s All City Records to much critical acclaim.
After years of touring worldwide his stage show has become a one-of-a-kind experience and is no doubt set to be one of the highlights of this weekend’s Castlepalooza festival.
Can you tell me a little about how you got started making music and what kind of sounds or records inspired you at the beginning?
I’ve started being inspired by all the good producers in Hip-Hop music, most of them from the 90’s. So, I was inspired by the same kind of records they were looking for samples in. Mostly Jazz, Soul and Funk.
How do you find playing at home in France compared to the rest of Europe or the US? Is the reception you get different in places like London, LA or New York that might have more established scenes for the kind of music you make?
It’s very different cause first I never play in my own city, for some reason. So whenever I do, it’s like an event. But reception-wise, it’s everywhere the same, it depends on the promoter and on the club to bring the right people at the venue, then wherever you play, if people are having fun, it’s all good.
You’ve worked with a lot of labels from around the world, such as our own All City. How do you find working professionally with people that live on opposite sides of the globe and do you think it has benefited you?
Yeah, All City is a great independent label. Olan, the owner, really pushes the beat-scene by constantly releasing experimental and upbringing projects. He also does a great job business-wise, so I’m comfy there. I just wanted to work with someone who knows about this kind of music and who has a real passion for it, no matter where he lives at.
The music you make seems at once very up to date and quite nostalgic. How do you go about finding the sounds that work for you? Do you have particular types of music or time-periods or genres that you come back to again and again?
Not really, I think a producer that works with samples, has to have a very wide range of tastes to find some original material in any kind of music. The time period would be between 60 and 00, almost any kind of music, from anywhere. There is good music in every genre.
With the Chinoiseries you went to Vietnam and brought back records to sample, does that kind of hands-on, involved sampling make a difference to you? Is it more inspiring than simply downloading a track and sampling that?
Well first, this stuff I sampled for this album does not exist in MP3’s. Or I just may not be able to locate it, as I don’t speak Vietnamese or Chinese. I think it makes it more original, more unique that I use it straight from a piece of art that is over 40 years old.
Is that kind of sampling a way working personal experiences and expression into your music?
Yes because, a sample is full of emotions, so you just have to find something that appeals to what you want to sound like that.
Has playing in countries like Vietnam and Thailand influenced the way you look at live performance?
In Thailand, I was only DJing, but I played the same records I would have played in Europe. In Vietnam, it was one of my first live performances, so it was still ruff on my side, but they enjoyed it.
You just realize that anywhere you go, there’s people to listen and appreciate the same kind of music as you.
The Red Bull Music Academy seems to make a big impact on people. Was that the case for you? What do you feel you got out of it?
I felt it was a great experience, it’s great to be part of the family now, I’ve made some really good friends there, I’ve learned tons of things, it opened me up a little bit more and maybe gave me more confidence in what I was doing.
Do you have an opinion on modern musical education in general? With kids learning to make electronic music from a much younger age nowadays, do you think musical education is keeping up with technological or stylistic developments?
It has two sides, but I would still recommend to learn music in the purest form, with a guitar or a piano, or any other real instrument. The software made for electronic music is very user friendly, so kids won’t need too much time to master how to use it. But it takes years to learn an instrument. Once you have this ability, you switched to electronic music later on, then you can really be the most creative possible. Creating your melodies and tweak the sound the exact way you want to.
Onra plays the Courtyard Stage at Castlepalooza this Sunday.