What you need to know about Hugo LX is that he’s making some of the best dance music in the world right now.
In the last few years, the Paris-based DJ and producer has built an incredible catalog, featuring releases on some of the best deep house labels in the world — labels like NDATL, People Of Earth, Balance, MCDE Recordings and Mona Musique. He’s remixed artists from Satoshi Tomiie and Rick Wade and Karizma; his remix of the underground stomper “Brother Sister” by Cho & Random Impetus on Menace was another great track released in 2022.
Because this was the year that, quite suddenly, Hugo LX was everywhere, in the playlists, the mixes, the promos, the charts — just a huge wealth of warm, organic, soulful deep house tracks of the highest calibre.
his was no overnight success story. Hugo told us he’s been trying to produce music “in any form” for the last 20 years. “My first productions credits on releases date back to 2007,” he says, “but I think I’ve really found my own sound only 5 or 6 years ago. It took a lot of experimentation and detours.”
As 2022 wound down, Hugo LX launched a new label with an invigorating, fresh sound. The Platinum Wave is a “freeform dance music project,” he tells us, featuring his favorite instrumentalist. The five track vinyl EP is the debut release from his new imprint Doma Music, in stores now.
For those who want the executive summary: Hugo LX makes incredible music, and if you’re a DJ or a dancer or a nodder or a listener, he has a body of work that I really want you to know about. For those who want more, we talked about his life in Kyoto, some mutual friends and how — and why — he came to make music the way he does it.
Photos by Marco Miraglia.
So your first couple of records were on Balance and Courtesy of Balance. Were you one of Chez Damier’s protégés that are dominating basically all good deep house sectors these days?
There is a little story here. Back in 2011, I’d been gifted with what I still consider one of the greatest opportunities of my life — a chance to study and work in Kyoto as an architect. Once there, a friend of mine had recommended that I meet this guy Alix, a real house music fanatic living in Tokyo. We quickly got along well and started record shopping and partying regularly. I remember he kept referring to a certain “Sammy” who would stay at his crib while touring. It struck me one day — like a ton of bricks — that this Sammy was none other than Brawther. At that time, my once semi-promising career in music production wasn’t really going anywhere. I had no new record in sight, and many of my friends, including Paris dance music staple DJ Nick V, insisted that in complement of attending house dance parties, I should definitely try my hands at house music production. So I dusted off the old machines, crafted two dozens of tracks, burned a couple of CDs and handed them over to Alix, Sammy and Nick. That gave birth to my first three or four releases — these batches included the Low Altitude EP, and cuts like “Drifting Away,” “NY Collage” and “Breakfast at Ronny’s.” The following year Sammy introduced me to Chez, who offered me to produce a single, then double EP — this one eventually became The Sanctuary LP, a tribute to my late friend Quentin, my dance floor buddy who had been robbed of his life shortly before. It was produced in a heartbeat, probably a way for me to cry it out through music. Ultimately, these two releases connected me to a lot of other music fanatics, which I’m very grateful for.
Tell me about your background. Are you a native of Paris, what’s your family like and what do you do for fun?
I spent my early youth with my mother in the suburb of Paris. I guess it wasn’t the most pleasant of times for her, and once she found an opportunity to work in the west of the country, we packed and moved there. Family really wasn’t a happy thing for me at that point and it’s worth noting that before the 2000s and the internet, rural France could be a bit of cultural desert. Thankfully there were great night shows on the radio, especially on weekends. I would record it on tape, mark all titles and references, and try to find a few of them in Paris while visiting.
The demo game is not for everybody. You don’t want to change your sound to please labels that would not sign you anyway. So sometimes, you just have to do you.
One day, national station Europe 2 started a soulful dance music show on Saturdays, presented by a DJ called Domenico Torti. I’ve discovered so much music thanks to this show: Chicago house, NY garage, Detroit techno, a bit of Italo, some electro, some hiphop. I one day decided to reach out, and sent Domenico a letter. He invited me to the show in Paris, also took me to the great and now defunct 12inch record shop — where DJ Deep and Jerome Barbé were then developing the first E&S mixer. I would spend the whole afternoon there, sit in a corner, and watch my favorite DJs have their weekly record fix. I remember The Detroit Experiment album came out that day and flew off the shelves. And that signed MAW poster on the wall.
It was fantastic. I was 12 years old and it all made sense to me — I wanted in! Although my main talent was drawing, I decided to try myself at music.
What do you think was your most formative music experience?
Before anything, the limitations. I had no musical training, which meant no instrument. So I started making “pause tapes” beats which was really fun, but also very basic. The inspiration was basically boom bap hiphop and dance loops. I was sampling anything, even TV. It made my interest for recorded music even bigger, by searching for the perfect loop I ended up studying the most incredible music. My main inspirations were Wayne Shorter, Egberto Gismonti, Robert Wyatt, Junie Morrison and Q-Tip — but how could I make it all fit into one loop? I’ve learned later that I couldn’t, and shouldn’t, but it makes sense now how this music shaped my preferences in terms of production.
When I first heard your records, I figured I must have seen your name somewhere and forgotten it. It was hard for me to believe that you were scoring all of these really great remix opportunities right out of the gate. It wasn’t just the opportunities — your sound was mature, it didn’t leap from idea to idea or stuff a track with like 15 different changes or effects, which you often see with producers on their first few records. How long were you making music before Low Altitude? And what were you using to make music on those first records? Is it the same gear/software you’re using now?
I’ve been trying to produce music in any form for roughly 20 years now, and my first productions credits on releases date back to 2007, but I think I’ve really found my own sound only 5 or 6 years ago. It took a lot of experimentations and detours. One very precious gift I’ve received in my career has been the mentoring, which isn’t a thing in France as much as it is in the US. In 2004 — while buying hiphop records at Gibert chainstore in Paris — I’ve met one extraordinary producer named Cris Prolific, who was working with all my favorite MCs from Detroit, LA and NY, had produced some of my favorite French hip hop classics, but was also in touch with the Broken Beat movement in London. Cris, who is a master at creating sampled based sound textures, suggested I buy the same Ensoniq EPS16+ sampler he was using, and taught me a lot about it, in complement to all the great production advice he would always give me. This was my entry to sound machines. I also started using the SP-1200 a bit later (in a bizarre twist of events, one unit ended up at my place and never left since — thanks Yann!). I would make these boom bap beats every day all day. Added Logic Pro to the equation a few years later when I started to experiment more, but that is basically the full set up to that day. Logic for production and mixing and if available, the SP for drums, and the EPS for sampled textures. I was also extremely lucky to have one of the finest pianists in town (and beyond), Florian Pellissier, to contribute to my music with his solos, especially his signature Prophet 10 phrases, and teach me a few things about synths.
Countless blessings, all time greats like Karizma or Satoshi Tomiie giving me these opportunities. It definitely motivates you to step your game up.
Spinna is another name that comes up — are you close or do you just have a musical affinity? You had that Astral Flight record with him on Kai’s NDATL, then transcenDance on WonderWax and then the remixes you both did on that amazing Brother Sister record.
Spinna is one of my favorite musicians on this planet. He is a phenomenal DJ, producer, record collector and I’m very proud to call him a friend. I discovered his music in 2001 thanks to his remix for French sister duo Les Nubians, which was a hit here. Then his album Here To There came out two years later, in the Beat Generation series, following Dilla’s Welcome 2 Detroit and Pete Rock’s Petestrumentals, and it is safe to say this album changed my life, in terms of production, innovation and mainly because of its openness — an album that proved that separating hiphop, bruk, house, jazz and soul was irrelevant.
We connected in real life for the first time while he came to Paris for one of his parties in 2008, and really bonded while on an extended digging session in Tokyo a few years later. Interestingly, I think that at the time he didn’t know I was making music too, but someone got him onto Low Altitude when it came out, and that’s when we decided to collaborate.
These sessions with Spinna taught me a lot. Especially not to overthink the music. Oh and it was incredible to work at The Thingamajig Lab in Brooklyn. I remember seeing pictures of it back in 2004, in this book called Behind The Beat, and to finally work there, it was mind blowing.
And speaking of that — the second volume of the Astral Flight is nearly ready and we should release this one anytime soon!
And shouts to Kai Alce. He is a legend, a keeper of this culture, and does the best of jobs with NDATL. It’s been a honor to release on such a label.
Let’s talk about the new project. What is “The Platinum Wave”?
The Platinum Wave is a freeform dance music project, that will feature my favorite instrumentalists. On this first volume I’m surrounded by my friends, trumpet player Hermon Mehari from Kansas City, mega guitarist Christopher Johnson from Underground Canopy, and pianist Tony Tixier. While this is nothing so new compared to my previous records (on which Hermon and Christopher regularly appear) I tried to changed the composing process this time. Gave them three some drafts and stems to mess with. Thus they are not soloists anymore, I compose the beats around their phrases.
This idea came while I was facing a big creative block last year. Produced only ten track all year long — these five and the ones on transcenDance. The Platinum Wave is like minded people from the same generation all gravitating around beats, dance music and improvised music, and hopefully we will all shine brightly.
Are the players all based in Paris or is it recorded remotely?
All of them are and that’s another thing. I think France suffers from not shining as bright as the US or UK. Music is probably not in the culture as it is there. Nevertheless there are incredible musicians in the city hailing from all parts of the world and carrying huge legacies. These guys on my records are all top tier jazz musicians but they are actually more than that. Hermon’s music is infused by his Midwest culture, his Eritrean roots, yet to me he is Paris best ambassador, and that’s ultimately what makes his sound and playing so rich and personal. Tony has played with so many greats from Andrea Bocelli to Mino Cinelu, he’s able to play hard bop and pop equally good, but he’s also a very singular artist — if you listen to his albums, it is very special, the way he expresses his Caribbean identity through jazz. And Chris is low key one of my favorite beatmakers in town. He makes dope beats, then five minutes later plays sublime jazz guitar. He is a now a member of the Underground Canopy band, that I consider a Paris beat musicians all star.
My statement here is simple. We have some of the greatest in this town, and maybe we could start feeling proud of the scene.
When you know most pressing plants are experiencing huge delays and you see the number of questionable ‘edits’ and other barely licensed reissues in shops, and their only purpose is to support some individual DJ careers, then you question the real role of a music imprint.
You have a new label to showcase this release. Tell me about Doma?
Doma took 6 long years to take shape. We worked hard with my partner Cyril Noel on this one, with great help from my friend Mido who owns the fantastic Menace imprint.
Here’s the thing, there are many great labels in dance music so we didn’t want to do something that’s been done a hundred times. And there are only so many notes in music. The intent is to make fresh and innovative music, but not by hunting demos, rather by commissioning producers and musicians to work on it. One of the next releases is a one-shot, one-take collaboration between two legendary Japanese musicians. The result is as great as it is surprising. If we produce something original then I’m happy. It might not be for everybody but I really think that’s the only way to make dance and electronic music stay original and relevant.
You’ve worked with some of the best record labels in what we like to think of as the “real” deep house world. What did you learn from some of them?
Very different and miscellaneous experiences. Have worked for very grassroots, nearly direct- to-disc indy labels, and some more traditionally organized structures. I don’t think there’s one absolute truth.
The reality of the market is this complete saturation, with an overabundance of releases. When you know most pressing plants are experiencing huge delays and you see the number of questionable “edits” records and other barely licensed reissues in shops, and their only purpose is to support some individual DJ careers, then you question the real role of a music imprint.
The intent is to make fresh and innovative music, but not by hunting demos, rather by commissioning producers and musicians to work on it. It might not be for everybody but I really think that’s the only way to make dance and electronic music stay original and relevant.
One thing is sure, we have to be creative A&R wise, propose something a little extraordinary, market it in ways that are attractive and accessible to the biggest number, and I don’t mean paying for social media promotion to reach more. Simply, it has to talk to people. How do we hear about this new music? Will friends of friends be interested? How could club dancers discover your music even before it is played in clubs? These are the questions.
I’ve seen some great output recently. The latest Touching Bass compilation was a good example of that. It is actually more than a record, it’s a window on a certain scene and movement. This is brilliant.
On the other hand, most American dance labels just press records. And that’s a wise approach too, because why add unnecessary noise if the music is great and powerful already?
Oh, and last but not least, I’ve learned one thing. The demo game is not for everybody. You don’t want to change your sound to please labels that would not sign you anyway. So sometimes, you just have to do you.
This sounds like a real cornball question but as the head of the label, what is your digital strategy with Doma? Over the years of talking with Brawther for interviews, I’ve seen his views evolve and I get the impression that he’s put a huge amount of thought into it. So there are people who do vinyl only, vinyl and Spotify, vinyl first and digital later, or (increasingly, and mysteriously to me) digital first and vinyl later. I think it’s interesting to talk about the ways people are trying to figure out the mix of mediums.
The year is 2022 and it is increasingly difficult and expensive to produce vinyl — it’s a privilege when you can. These days most DJs play digital anyway, and while I sometimes deplore it, it made DJing affordable to a lot of gifted young DJs, and that the bigger picture.
The main motivation is, again, to grant the widest access to the music. Not everybody is a vinyl purist and that’s great. It’s also true that some of those major digital platforms have damaged the business for so long, but they are sometimes our only link to the non-musician world, if we are realistic. So digital is key, especially Bandcamp, and if we can press, we will, as much as possible, because a record remains — if executed properly — a beautiful and tangible piece of art.
In addition to that. I’ve been very fascinated by this new trend of editing the tracklist after the initial release. This is creative and exciting!
What are some of your abiding goals in the industry? Like, most people who are really good at this could apply those things and make more money doing something else. What are you here for?
It’s a good question. I frequently question my own situation in this music thing too.
Not everybody could possibly be Quincy Jones and once you understand this, that’s a lot of weight off your shoulders. So what keeps the flame burning?
Despite our era being quite dark on many levels, I’ve found myself really enjoying new music once again these last 5 years. What K15, Kyle Hall, Jon Dixon, Musclecars, Stefan Ringer, Earl Jeffers, or Meftah bring to this music at the moment — we are living a new golden age. Waajeed’s UMA project — that’s incredibly inspiring. And outside of our dance music world, all these great artists — Mndsgn, Kiefer, Sam Wilkes, Sam Gendel, Knower, Kaelin Ellis, Devin Morrison, Khruangbin, Hiatus Kayote. Georgia Ann Muldrow, there is just so much great music lately. That’s what inspires me.
In addition to everyone’s huge talent, energy, and boundless creativity, most of this music is able to exist thanks to today’s technology and a lot of possibilities that were hard to fathom even 20 years ago, especially in terms of accessing culture.
I don’t dare thinking my contributions are as important as those from the people mentioned above, but I definitely feel I have something to say and hopefully it will find some ears. And if what we do inspires a younger generation to grab the torch, then the mission will be complete!
#ListenUp Black Loops – Higher Remixed (2022)
Hugo LX & DJ Spinna remix the fiery Brother Sister /… (2022)
Groundbreaking fusion from Hugo LX on transcenDance (2022)
Going Free Form with Hugo LX on People of Earth (2020)
Silver Network Celebrates 20 Years with Paul Cut’s The Shadow (2019)