René LaVice: “I wanted to prove!” (UnCut)

Categories Interview

René LaVice, the London-based Canadian DJ performed in Budapest during this summer, at a really special dnb bbq. We were chatting about his homeland, his reasons for leaving as well as multiculturalism, playing in rock bands and making his first mixtape by a one-to-the-other tape recorder

So it’s your first time in Budapest but not the first in Hungary.

That’s right. I did VOLT Fesztivál last year. It was very cool, very exciting indeed. I remember playing an interesting set when the sun was coming up as about halfway through it. So I changed the direction of what was going on. That was a cool atmosphere, I remember that well.

What would be the three words you immediately associate with Hungary?

Excitement, culture and curiosity.

In what sense?

Rubik’s cubes. I just got one and I love it! (laughs)

How about culture? Did you see many attractions?

No, not really. Hungary’s got its own culture for sure but it’s also got the own culture for drum and bass – 20 years, almost as old as England’s. But it’s through the filter of Hungarian culture. There are things I can learn from it, I can also bring my own influence from Canada and England and see how that blends in. Here’s the cultural exchange that happens when you come here, as opposed to just feeling you just fell off a Viking ship and you’re just going nuts.

What would be the Hungarian flavour in your opinion?

It’s hard to pinpoint down but it’s definitely the techier stuff the guys (Chris.SU, Jade, Mindscape) make here. They have a real identity. It really stands out, you can tell one artist from the next. They have the sense of handcrafting. It’s what you get with certain cultures that have been immersed in the music for a longer period of time. Genres have only existed in a culture for a few years. A lot of artists can sound the same but you can definitely tell them apart.

Do you happen to know the golden era of Hungarian drum and bass?

No, not really, I’m still learning.

You’ve been missing a lot then! 🙂 (René was so excited about my recommendation of Free my Soul that he decided to include it in his upcoming podcast.)

Yeah, I know. I will catch up. I’m not an aficionado of Hungarian culture yet. One of my friends had a Hungarian girlfriend years ago but beyond that, I don’t know a lot about it. That’s why these trips are interesting for me, every time I come, I learn that drum and bass is so much more popular than I previously thought. Then I also learnt that this producer I really like is from here, well, I didn’t know that. During this trip, I learnt about Rubik’s cubes. (laughs) I’m sure it’s going to be ongoing, just how I learnt slowly about the English culture through drum and bass; it’s going to be similar. That’s my life: it takes me around the world, I learn about different cultures in a very settled way, where I just get used to it. Not getting thrown into it, cracking open a history book and learning everything. I like this sort of wandering in, discovering things – that’s cool. By this time next year, who know what I’ll discover? (laughs)

Meaning that we’ll have you back next year?

Yes, definitely! If not for a show, then as a tourist.

Having mentioned cultures, one thing caught my attention. You decided to leave Canada because you’ve had enough of that attitude you’d experienced there.

You know what? Just to clarify: maybe I sounded a little bit overly negative in the interviews because I was more talking about one track than a road. And the thing about life is that you have a lot of bad things happening all the time AND a lot of really good things happening all the time, and there are some boring things in the middle, regular day-to-day stuff. The track that I wrote (Wave) was talking about the bad stuff… It had energy in the background, I wanted to tell it all and to tell to fuck off, get over all the obstacles and negativity and the attitude of “people from here can’t be great, people from here can’t be famous, people from here can’t achieve great things, people from here don’t matter to the rest of the world, people from here don’t inspire others !” and just push all that out of the way. I wanted to say that I didn’t care about it anymore and I’m not going to listen to it. I’m gonna show you! I’m not going say it to anybody that I’m planning to do it because I wrote that song when I was in Canada but I didn’t release it until after I did it. I wanted to prove!

Yes, I was sick of that attitude, I was done, I couldn’t take it anymore. Well, the walls were crushing in, my close friends, promoters, other artists were just crazy and the media wanted safe music. Safe for people with kids, dancing around in the kitchen. Nothing edgy! You know, on BBC, there’s more edgy music, it’s amazing.   But there’s also a lot of positivity in that and I wouldn’t be the person I am right now if I wasn’t for that. There are really positive things I’ll never forget about Toronto, which is why I still go back and do shows, and it’s really great.

Multiculturalism is the flip side to all of that, since we have a very strong belief, we constantly tell ourselves that we all need to love each other, each other’s cultures and understand them. You’re just supposed to tolerate other people, who have different skin or religion, so you’re just hiding your emotions. But in Canada, from a young age, you’re supposed to experience other cultures — not like celebrating a religion for real, lets’s say, but you experience Hanukkah at a friend’s house. In schools, we’re taught about African culture and a lot more. When you grow up, you’ll have the idea that we’re all the same inside. So some of that is I think why we think that we have celebrities and we’re very anti-celebritist, whereas Americans do love celebs. I want to find the balance in the middle: we’re all the same, we’re all beautiful people but we can also celebrate success and have a little bit of ego. Because Canadians don’t think they have a culture, “we’re just nothing”. Nononono, that’s just because you’ve been taught to suppress your ego so much. You forget but there’s a major hockey league! Winter sports, surviving the elements… These all belong to multiculturalism.

So your stress is on the different angle now.

Yes because that’s what we’re all good at: respect each other. But at the end of the day, I’m an artist and I can’t be anything else. I’ve built fences for a living, been a firefighter for a while, I’ve done all these things. They’re all really fucking hard. And I always got to the point where I thought I had to quit, I had to try other things, if I didn’t, I would have kept on thinking about it until I had gone crazy. Canada just wouldn’t let me the opportunities to do that. I was working as hard as I possibly could to make my own opportunities. The only way that it really happened was to move to where they were… which is like “why, actors move to Hollywood?”, it’s just the reality of how it is with certain things, so I can’t hold that against Toronto! It’s the same as if you wanted to be an actor from Missouri and you needed to go to Hollywood… although I have no idea where Missouri is, my geography is so bad. (laughs) It sounded as it was far away. (laughs)

After having moved from Canada to the UK, can you recall any points that were “cultural shock” for you?

I’d say the amount of underground music that’s in mainstream culture, which is a paradox. Also, how small everything is — literally, I mean: all the buildings are probably half or maybe quarter the size and everything is very, very old. In Canada, pretty much every building is new; there are only a few ones that are culturally preserved for heritage sake. Most of the buildings are new condos or new houses, whereas here it’s normal that a house is 500 years old.

Your roots are French, right?

Yes, Canada is bilingual. Basically we learn both French and English. The closest thing I can compare it to is Belgium because they speak three languages there: some people speak all three, some only one or the other, it’s regional. Canada is a fairly unified country but linguistically, it’s a little bit divided between Quebec, which is a very large, French-speaking province, and for example, Ontario, which is listed as bilingual as well but mostly English. Nobody actually speaks French, we just know the language generally since we learn it at school and we have it on all the packaging. I’m from Toronto, which is in Ontario, so that is an English-speaking province merely. It’s a very culturally diverse place, we have people from all over the world — one of the most cosmopolitan places, I think. London is very similar that way but in some ways, it’s even more diverse than London.

In what ways?

We have a different neighbourhood for every culture. There is Chinatown, a few blocks away, there is Greektown, then you go a few blocks more, there is Little Italy. Little blocks of heritage, little neighbourhoods that are special to each culture and enjoyed by everyone. It is not that there is the inherent Canadian culture and everything else is just an intrusion! It’s all blended in and we share because that’s what makes the culture. As for me, it’s quite normal to be a mix of cultures or races when you’re from Toronto. I’m part French and part Turkish but I was born in Toronto, that’s why my name is, that’s the way I am. It’s not confusing to me but I guess, for people who aren’t used to that type of thing, it might be a bit problematic. Other parts of Canada are more homogeneous, I think, more of a rural type of existence, more traditional. Toronto is a huge melting pot. There is always a crazy festival, you always have something to do or celebrate — that’s what makes is great! You cannot make plans, though. (laughs) There’s always a celebration you might be interested in.

So your dad is French, your mom is Turkish. Do you speak these languages?

Yes, a little bit but I couldn’t hold a conversation. I spent the majority of my life in Toronto, where everyone speaks English.

I’ve known about your being a firefighter but what else did you do before your DJ career?

I did tree planting, worked in a coffee shop, some general contracted stuff, a lot of videography, chiefly weddings, a little bit of hip-hop DJing, played in bands.

In rock bands, right?

Yeah. That never paid any money, we got $40, so we could have some beers but that was all.

And you were the drummer.

Yes, I was the drummer but I also played a little bit of bass sometimes.

Drum and bass… 🙂

There you go, right. (laughs) I wasn’t really a good guitar player. And I also sang in rock bands because I wasn’t a good guitarist. I would sing because I like writing songs, so I write a fair bit and play the drums. But then they didn’t know how to sing, so we’d get somebody else at the drums or I’d sing and drum at the same time. I’d be part three or four bands at the same time, none of them going anywhere or doing anything good, really. (laughs) It was just a way to play music. I remember I had my first band practice or band session — a jam session, me and a few friends at my basement. It gave me an awesome feeling of being able to play current music with other people — that’s cool. Before that, it was just singing with the family at certain occasions.

My family, especially on my dad’s side is very lively and big, and we like singing songs together. I learnt to play the piano, classical music but I kept on asking my teacher I wanted a bit more new, so I started jazz but still, it wasn’t giving me the charge that I wanted. I was into writing my own songs as a teenager: explore the world as every average adolescent. My dad gave me a tape, The Wall from Pink Floyd, which was interesting but I was exposed to a huge variety of music, actually. The Art of Noise, which is 80s but it was floating around in tapes in the 90s, too, was a milestone. I was wondering how all those crazy sounds were made — I was told it was a synthesizer, so that was the point where I became interested in this instrument. “How do I recreate the sound that I heard? I want to do it in a way that I hear it!”

That was the time when I started to make little tapes on my sister’s tape deck because she had a one to the other, so I’d make a kind of mixtape. I also had a musician uncle with a huge variety of gear, microphones and stuff, so that was the time when it started to blend together. That was the time when I discovered iMovie on my MacBook, which I got as I wanted to edit skateboarding videos. So I was already trying to make films by the time I was 14. So using a MacBook allowed me to record audio, so I used dat or mv files for band practices in order to be able to remember what we played. I think I made my first beats on that programme but also kept on messing with a programme called Sound Studio. Then a skateboarder friend of mine, who made skate videos, was trying to get rid of his version of Logic, as it didn’t suit his needs. He also knew that it was super professional but simply didn’t want to bother with it as he was into video making. At that time, Logic was sold for $1200, he sold it for $200, so I bought it immediately because I wanted to do sampling.

I was already doing turntablism and scratching, so I wanted to be able to record it. That was the time when it all got very exciting for me. People in bands just tend to lose their motivation after a while and I remember it really pissed me off. I was the really ambitious one, wanting to do something more with it but it was just me… not everybody has this goal. Some just simply want to play the guitar and have some fun but I’ve always had more serious motivation.

That was the time when I decided I wanted to focus on electronic music, since I could do it by myself, so if I relied on myself, there was nothing to hold me back, no excuses after all. I worked at other jobs, too. I worked in a movie theatre, an organisation dealing with sound art. It was a nonprofit, artist organisation. We did all these crazy things like electroacoustic music… I could talk about that for days. All in all: some good jobs and some shitty jobs.

But definitely a huge variety of jobs. 🙂 Was it done on purpose that you wanted to try yourself? Or was it about not fitting in? 

The latter, really. Some people fit: they have a peer group, spend time together, go everywhere together, becoming acquaintances. I’ve just never fit anywhere. It was the same with school, they were pretty open-handed, didn’t tell you to do one thing or another. I was really confused, being interested in a lot of things, I’ve just always been really curious, so I ended up doing all these crazy jobs, chopping down trees half way through the country.

In Wave, you sang. 

Yes, there are a few others but they’re not the same. I was just yelling some shit in other tracks. (laughs)

Are you planning to sing more? Especially based on your rock band singing experience?

Yeah, sure. I just keep making things. I’ve made 10 new tracks in which I sing. I’ve shown them to people, but they were like “it’s cool but not a banger”. So I keep on making different versions right now, I’m trying to figure out what to do.

Because the thing is with drum and bass music right now that it’s going through a whole “drop phase”, where everything has to be a big club smasher.

Which is fucking great, I love that shit but I’d like to do a variety where I can make a track with a hard drop but otherwise sensitive, musical in the intro and builds up. I try to find the balance. I’d like every track to feel real good live, a really good experience, pretty epic. Tha’s what I like about going to a show: you discover something new about the music, there’s a bass you haven’t heard before, for example. So I keep working on them. I let some of them be just songs, album tracks, just listen to them, not expected to smash. Maybe I just do another version, a remix. There are a lot of ways. I just keep moulding it, finding when it feels right and then I pull the trigger.

Turning back to filmmaking: you’re also very much interested in it. You’ve made some music videos for others but not for yourself. For instance, Patrick Chistopher — Way U love me (2011).

People always ask me when I’m going to make my own music video and I have tried already. But the label doesn’t like any of my ideas, they seem to be too crazy. They’re really cheap, too, none of them costs a lot of money. Obviously, money helps but I can make any of them under $500, which is super cheap. They still say “yeah but it’s too crazy, people might think it’s weird”.

Yes but it’s still you!

Exactly! I told them they would love it, they should just trust me. But I usually say “fuck it, I’m going to do it anyway!” and just surprise them. But I just got too busy, it’s too time-consuming. Film is extremely time-consuming and you may need other people involved and they often need to be paid as well. So it’s a combination of not enough time and the lack of money right now. But it’d be cool to get involved in that, too, just to prove people that I’m also capable of this as well as being able to create a little bit more personal video to the music.

How about making your own film? If you had to choose, which genre would you go for?

Waaahhh… that’s very hard. I think right now, I’d either do documentary or comedy. Or horror because a lot of it is very funny. My friend, Andrew Frade is a screenwriter and filmmaker, that I went to school with, well… I’ve just helped to produce his first feature film, called Wash Up. The story is about a hockey player, following dreams and finding a path in life. It’s pretty funny, corky and very Canadian. That just got finished and prepared right now in Toronto. Missing it because I’m busy but I’m very excited about it. So I recommend checking that out!

What was your exact part in making this film?

I’ve given a bunch of money. (laughs) Moral support from me, getting behind the project. Sometimes I also like to swing a sledgehammer around and people don’t tend to be used to that, so they get amazed. I just sat back, didn’t really have much input. I though what was happening was cool,  just gave them a little encouragement, a little push. That was my part; a creative way, to help them to get the creative freedom. I’m just really proud of them. Making a feature film is a real goal for me one day, too.

So you were the moral mentor.

Yes, and the excited guy. So vicariously, I’m enjoying the experience that they did it.

Your summer single with Current Value was released with an unusual title, “Calm the Fuck Down”. What’s the story behind?

We were in France, playing for Jungle Juice, were having dinner. Current Value and I had met for the first time for that event, we were just chatting, I told him I was a big fan of his music and to my biggest surprise, he told me the same. So we started sending to each other and it turned out we were into a lot of similar projects, which probably a lot of people don’t expect but anyway, we thought we could collaborate on something. The idea behind the track… when I wrote the intro riff, this tense, over-the-top, hands-in-the-air type of build-up but instead of doing what the expectations would have required, it flips and goes straight to the sub bass. The funny thing is that it makes people going nuts, so it’s quite ironic to call it “Calm the Fuck Down”. So the full story is that we were in a restaurant, I said something to the waiter about the escargot snails I was eating, I made a joke about it, and I think he got offended because he didn’t understand what I said. Then I started explaining in French but he couldn’t understand my accent, so he started to say really rude things about accent because it didn’t sound like proper France French. I started laughing, which was fuel to the fire, he got even angrier and that was the moment when Tim (Current Value), who was really calm the whole time, smiling, stopped talking and then he put up his hands and said: “Calm the fuck down!”. The guy was surprised, walked away super fast and then I burst out laughing.

So the full story is that we were in a restaurant, I said something to the waiter about the escargot snails I was eating, I made a joke about it, and I think he got offended because he didn’t understand what I said. Then I started explaining in French but he couldn’t understand my accent, so he started to say really rude things about accent because it didn’t sound like proper France French. I started laughing, which was fuel to the fire, he got even angrier and that was the moment when Tim (Current Value), who was really calm the whole time, smiling, stopped talking and then he put up his hands and said: “Calm the fuck down!”. The guy was surprised, walked away super fast and then I burst out laughing.

There is another release, “RAM goes to Let it Roll” and there are not many days in between them. Could you tell us something about it, too?

This is going to be my first time at Let it Roll, and I know it’s a very exciting, cool festival. The release is about getting people even more excited about it. It’s not a massive artistic undertaking, but I find it very useful as I could experiment. If it was my own EP, people would have thought it was my new direction. Whereas if it’s a compilation, I am free to play a little bit, not to be taken too seriously. I think the whole release is rounded and strong. Pretty techy but in that region, they like it, don’t they?

Eeeeer… yes, after all. Anyway. Let’s see some personal issues. What is your greatest fear?

Forgetting things! I get very anxious if I forget anything, so I write a lot of lists.

On what occasion do you lie?

Only as a joke, to make somebody laugh. Never seriously. Every time somebody lied to me, it’d just fucked up so many things. On the long term, I think it’s much easier to have somebody upset right away, then everything ends up working better.

Which phrases or words do you most overuse?

Oooh… a lot! It varies week to week because I get really into saying something, like right now “eh”, it’s prompting someone to reply. “That’s a nice car, eh?” But sometimes it doesn’t mean anything. Still, it’s very Canadian.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Being able to speak more languages — as many as possible. I usually start picking up a language if I’m in a place for about 3 weeks. Then I can have really small interactions, maybe even some conversations. But currently, I’m just spending one or two days in a certain place, so it doesn’t really give you the time to practice. You also have to be forced to learn it whereas if you know English, generally everyone switches to it. It needs an extra effort to keep on replying on the given language, even if they speak to you in English. I’ve noticed in Paris that they’re really good at helping you to learn, they keep on talking to you in French.

I love travelling, I like to experience new cultures, that keeps life interesting. I think the key to having peace on earth is to understand other cultures, not just tolerate them and put walls around them. Speaking a language enables you to have some sort of insight into how they view the world, how they live their lives and be able to relate to that a little bit better. And it’s also fun to say goofy things in every language! Every language has its own sense of humour and for example, Japanese humour is very different from the North American, so that would be very cool.

If you could change one thing about you, what would it be?

I’d live in the moment a little bit more and be more organised. The latter would give me so much more time to get lost in creating music, which is what I really love.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Being born… (laughs) but that’s my mother’s, of course. It’s tough. I think so many things are just circumstantial and they don’t really matter. The point is that you’re enjoying what you’re doing right now. The only point in having a goal is to give yourself incentive to keep doing it but it doesn’t really matter the other day. I think making a vinyl record was pretty cool! I just wanted to do it before I died, I just put a thrill of doing it. It doesn’t matter at all but I just thought it was needed. And I really, really like vinyl, it has given me a lot of good times in my life. Just being able to look at a record player and have the fascination of the needle move and the sound come out of it. That’s cool and I’m happy I’ve done that and then again, again and again…

How often do you play vinyl?

I thought about actually taking bookings for solely vinyl sets but I’d have to double or triple my fee because of costs involved for moving records and also, I’d have to be really crazy. (laughs) But once a week or once every two weeks, I just pull out my records and have fun mixing. Not for any particular reason, just for fun. I pull out my hiphop records and my old drum and bass records, too. I still have them and I still collect them. I probably have way too many.

Way too many? It’s not possible!

It’s contextual. If you have a big house, maybe.

What do you most value in your friends?


Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Steve McQueen because he is cool and he’s got a cool jacket. (laughs) And he drives a Mustang. Well, I used to, anyway.

Who are your heroes in real life?

My mom, who is a tremendously strong and really inspiring person. I think Liam Howlett of The Prodigy. That sounds really cheesy to say that now because I know him but he is part of the reason why I make music. He is a very genuine person, he really doesn’t give a shit about all the typical industry lying and bullshit that goes on. He just does whatever he believes in.

What is your greatest regret?

Placing the trust in the wrong people or making myself vulnerable to certain people that I wish I hadn’t. But you can, and you actually have to learn from everything and move forward, so it’s just fine.  

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t really keep a lot of stuff any more. But probably my first skateboard, which amazingly I still have, it looks like a little banana board. Shaped like a little fish but yellow. It’s home made. My dad found it in the garbage one day and then gave it to me as a present. That was where I got the bug for skateboarding.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Right now? I’m happy right now. I don’t really live life for happiness, it might sound a bit weird but I’m more about to be fulfilled in life. I’m not from the USA, so I see things a bit differently. Happiness is transient, you’re only happy if you experience something better than we thought it was going to be. So it’s bullshit. You just have to appreciate it for what it is, appreciate the downtime as well. You have to look back and be grateful for things, Happiness is great but just appreciate what’s around you and move on! I think a lot of madness comes out of the obsession with happiness and perfection.

What is your motto?

My motto? I don’t think I have one… More bass! (laughs)

René’s latest EP, Richter Scale was released on 7th October. Interestingly enough, he had already made an allusion to it in July, in connection with a beer ad. 

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