La Fine Equipe are not your average band. Formed of Blanka, Oogo, Chomsky and Mr Gib, these four Frenchmen are behind diverse projects from recording studios and labels, collaborations and compilations to production and live shows. Their common underpinning thread? Beat making. Over a decade on from debut 2008 album La Boulangerie comes their fifth and most ambitious album to date, 5th Season. In the intervening years, they’ve brought together 34 other beatmakers on 113 tracks with albums Fantastic Planet (2010), La Boulangerie 2 (2011), La Boulangerie, vol. 3 (2014); released over 75 LPs and EPs on their label Nowadays Records; and toured globally beyond their native France, taking in locations across Asia and South America.
This latest record features an eclectic mix of hip hop, disco, funk and R&B influences and international artists including Illa J and T3 – brother and partner of the late J Dilla – on track The Source, Madjo on Aurora and American rapper Mr J Medeiros on What Eva, as well as ZeFire from Montreal on Typical.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with the four artists during a fleeting visit to London to hear more about their story, their passion for creating and discovering electronic music, plus their latest release and unique new live show.
Welcome to London! Great to meet you all; thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
Thank you for having us – it’s great to be here!
I know you’ve been making music together for over a decade now, but maybe you can briefly tell me a bit about your backstory and how you first formed as a group?
We met in Marseille a little bit more than ten years ago, through scratch music and turntables at first, and then we all evolved together around beat making and eventually moved to Paris to become sound engineers, and that’s where we’re now based.
Blanka and Oogo first met in school in Marseille because they had a radio show and began to do some mixes together. A friend introduced them to Mr Gib and they started scratching together with three or four turntables. Then Mr Gib went to Paris to go to sound engineer school and they came as well. We all then met our fourth guy, Chomsky. From there were four and really wanted to make an album so we released our first in 2008, 11 years ago.
All our music backgrounds are a little bit different but we all share hip hop and electronic music roots, so that helps to create our sound. We work more as a collective than a real band. Everyone gives and brings their own background. La Fine Equipe is also about sampling a lot. So it’s about discovering music and playing with music.
And you’ve got your fifth album coming out this Friday, right? I understand it’s been a long time in the making.
Yes, it’s been a long process! It took a lot of time for us to do the album. We’ve been working on it for about two and a half years. We are part of many different activities in the French music scene: we also own studios and a label. Our last album, “The Bakery” or Boulangerie, vol. 3 we released in 2014 and since then we’ve been releasing some remixes and producing for some other rappers and other bands. We’ve also been touring hard for the last three years, doing around 160 gigs or something like that. So there wasn’t a lot of time left to produce! But we managed to find some time for some sessions in a remote studio where would spend a week, all four of us together, working on some blueprints. So compared to the other albums we released, this is the first album we really all worked on together. We were all working with the same software that allowed us to work in the studio in synchronisation to produce at the same time, which made the process a lot easier for us. We had other artists feature as we did on our previous albums but the difference this time was we were the only producers.
And how do you think that’s changed the sound of it? How is this album distinct from for the ones that have come before?
There are a lot of differences, mainly because the first album we released was a concept album about sampling. On that one, we sampled a lot so it sounded more like a mixtape than an album. With this one, we composed everything ourselves. Also, we’ve been touring a lot and that changed the process of creation a lot. At first, our music was essentially just beats with some really bold shortcuts. Now the sounds are more produced and progressive. We also always have the live part in mind when we’re making a new song or a new beat now, which wasn’t the case in the beginning – we were just home beatmakers and studio producers. We’ve also discovered new artists and new music along the way which have influenced our sound.
Yes, I hear you’ve toured extensively across the world – can you tell me more about that?
We’ve done lots of touring but the touring came late. With the first album, we didn’t yet know how to play our music live, mostly because at first our tracks were really short, like one or two minutes, only short loops. So we had to find a way to play it live and to be more consistent. We started touring in 2012 and although it’s mostly been France we also had the chance to go around the world, including Asia and South America. For example, we went to India – Mumbai, Delhi and also Bangalore – where we met some really good artists we could collaborate with. We eventually released a compilation with Indian beatmakers.
People might be surprised to learn there is that scene in India! Was it very different from the European electronic music scene?
We did it exactly because we knew people wouldn’t expect it! It’s not completely different because thanks to the internet, people there are very aware of worldwide artists. However, they are really interesting because they don’t have the same background as artists in Europe and the US, with influences from the electronic, hip hop, techno and house scenes in places like the UK, Germany and Detroit. In India, they have their own. We actually think the next big things are going to come from places like India, South Africa and other parts of the world. The scenes popping up in these places are really interesting for electronic music. In June, we’re going to New Caledonia so it’s going to be a great experience.
It does seem France has an amazing electronic music scene itself, though – what is unique about it?
Well, as we mentioned, places are getting more and more similar now because of the internet. Young people everywhere listen to everything and then develop their own style. But for the moment in France, there is a lot of hip hop. Then there is the scene from labels like Ed Bangers such as Justice, and artists like Daft Punk. We also have these French-style house disco influences too. So you find that mix. And I think we take a lot from that music because we are a lot into the sampling part. We have a lot of records at home. We are always listening to everything and searching for new music and buying records.
One of the great things is we love to work with other people and find new artists. That’s why we built our own label, Nowadays Records. And every time we go to another country, one of the things we love the most is buying records and finding new artists and trying to work with those artists, so every time we tour we meet new people and have new influences. We’ve done multiple compilations: one in Belgium, also one in Canada, and we’re going to do one in Kenya, one from Brazil. So every time there’s been an excuse to meet people share and make more music and learn more. In India, we went record-digging and came back with lots of new material. So we’ve really seen diverse music scenes. It’s back and forth all the time.
Also, because we are four, and we all have different activities, like the studio and label, we’ve met a lot of people over the years who are doing similar things but don’t know each other. So we really like linking different people so they get to know each other. In the way, as a band, we’re stronger as a four; it’s the same with the people we meet. A big part of our philosophy, our way of working and making music, is not just to create our music. To release a new album and say, “ah we did an album, listen to our music, we’re the best”. We love to connect people. That’s why we created the studio and label. We had a lot of radio shows back in the day where the philosophy was to share the music we love and also try to share music that people aren’t used to listening to and encourage people to listen to new and different scenes.
And do you see that people are more open-minded about genre now? I think back in the day people were more tribal about what genre they identified with, be it pop, electronic, indie, hip hop and so on.
People are more open-minded and there are so many more ways to share music now, so that’s really cool. The only thing maybe is there is so much music, there are so many scenes, there’s so much information, that it’s hard sometimes to make people focus on something. So there’s a negative side. It can seem a bit diluted. But in the end, there is this really worldwide way of thinking today. So we can talk with someone in Japan and exchange music. That’s great. And it’s a good thing that people don’t identify themselves as much with one type of music. It’s great to be completely open to everything in the world. It’s so wide that you can really listen easily to whatever style of music you want. It’s just a question of quality – there’s some good and bad in every kind of music.
What do you think were some of the musical influences that inspired you or shaped you as artists?
A lot of the Stones Throw artists of the 90s and 2000s that were between the hip hop and electronic scene: Madlib and J Dilla were two of the two main beat makers that influenced us a lot. Now we are still really big fans of Flying Lotus, Kaytranada. There are a lot of artists signed to Nowadays we really love. Also Birdy Nam Nam and C2C, who started a bit like us. They had four DJs, coming from the scratch scene, and became world champions and things like that. They are also a good influence for us in the way they play their music live. It’s a bit similar in the formation even if the sound is not the same. The good part is those bands had a lot of success in France so they opened the mind of the crowd to understand that you can make music with new instruments and computers and drum pads and turntables. Thanks to them the crowd understands way better what we’re doing and so that really helps us.
Who are the some of the artists that you’ve been working with recently who feature on your latest album?
So there’s this rapper from Montreal, ZeFire, who we met there and he’s also made collabs with the other artists on the label. We have this French singer called Madjo – we made a remix for one of her songs and it went on the radio. We also have one of our biggest influences, J Dilla’s brother. His name is Illa J, who’s also on the record. We have this guy T3 from Slum Village who is one of our favourite rappers we have on the album so it’s really an honour to have him. We also have two French rappers. One is 20SYL. He’s one of C2C, a turntable crew who were five or six-time world champions in a row. And he’s also a rapper and a producer. And Grems, the other one, is a graffiti artist and also a rapper. It was kind of hectic but we finally managed to get them together on the track Fonk Jedi and were super happy as we’ve had really good feedback on that song. Also, we have Georgia Anne Muldrow and Declaime, two artists from LA, and Sara Lugo who’s a singer from the reggae scene, but we managed to make a track that isn’t at all reggae on the album. So it was very cool to bring her into our world.
And would you say there is any particular theme or common thread that comes through on this album? What is your process for creating music?
La Fine Equipe is all about the beats. So the most important thing for us is to have a special groove – that’s the main emotion we want to bring in our music. It can be a slow beat but our objective is to make your head nod; we want your body to express something when you’re listening to the music.
Some of the tracks on the album, some of our favourites, were made during a rehearsing session. We had a beat and then Oogo added the piano and we started building something. Within two hours, we got something that was really new and fresh and we were proud of… then it only took another two years to finish!
But that’s the way we love to work, with all four adding their bit. We can make music for like that for two hours, three hours. And then at the end, we take it apart and we say, “okay, we can do a song with that part, we can do something with that other part”. So that’s a good way for us to work, jamming without an objective. Just making music like that together and then seeing what’s up. It’s different from a regular band because it’s not drum, bass, guitar, keys. We can all make music and add some layers on top of the previous one.
It can be also complicated to define limits because it’s so open. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions. When we working with two others last year we were six in a room, sharing six computers and it was total war to make yourself understood! Everyone has his ego. Sometimes it’s cool to follow one guy’s idea and embrace it and other times for us all to have a different input. You learn to listen to one another and to know where to stop exactly. You have to learn to step back and not to just keep adding. Less is more sometimes. In the end, we got something great that everyone loved.
What are your hopes for the album’s launch and what have you got planned for this year?
We really hope to tour a lot. That is the main thing for us because we want to gain new territory, to have more people listen to La Fine Equipe and the album. We also really wanted to add in a strong stage identity so we’ve designed a new stage set, for the lights specifically. We had this idea in mind for a while which we’ve brought to life: it’s kind of an aquarium. We put smoke inside and we use it as a light material. We’re also playing a few festivals but as the album is only just coming out we are a bit too late. Hopefully next summer we are going to have a lot more!
What’s your perfect kind of gig for you to play? Is it a festival stage or is it more of an underground venue?
They are really different vibes: the small clubs are great because you really connect with the people, but sometimes a big stage in a festival can be also magic because you see thousands of people who are so passionate and screaming – it’s so crazy when you see everybody dancing and can really feel the energy. It’s different but we love both. We also love when it’s like a house party vibe or it’s more spread out so it can be like two hours or three hours long and you can DJ after the show. We really love parties like that.
And what about playing more here in the UK? Are London and British festivals going to be on your target list?
Ah yes, of course! We actually played Coco a few years back. We want to come and do a party with our label with us and all the other artists. We’d love to do some small parties in and around London. Then we’ll see. We think next year will be the year when we start to really move outside of France. We really hope this album will open the doors to international success. We love that with every album it’s like starting again; you have this really good energy because you have to prove yourselves again with new music. It’s something really cool.
Thank you so much for sharing all that with me. Best of luck with the album and hope to catch you playing in the UK soon!
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 2nd May 2019.
Photo: Courtesy of Frame Pictures
5th Season is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and other streaming services.
Listen on Spotify here:
Watch the video for Aurora (Ft.Madjo) here: