The Reflex Revision
Soul searching you can dance to
The Reflex – The DJ who put the funk and soul back into your most favourite tracks
»I’ve always had a sweet spot for 7inches, especially the 4 track French EPs.«
Did you grow up in a home where music was an important part of everyday life?
Not really. I grew up in a working-class family, resources were limited. There weren’t many records at home but there was a great sounding turntable that my dad must have had bought in the early 70’s, a Grundig make. Back then even basic hi-fi was quality built. It had this warm, lush sound and quickly became my main focus as a child.
I discovered that not all records sounded good and depending on the condition of the vinyl, the pressing or the era it was recorded in, the sonics could be quite different. That what really shaped my love for sound from an early age. That turntable had a 4 band EQ with faders, and I used to tweak them in order to make records sound better… Little did I know I’d still be doing that 40 years later!
Can you remember the first song that got you hooked when you were a kid?
I don’t remember exactly the first song, but I do remember this 10” LP by French band Les Chats Sauvages, one of the few records that my dad had kept from his youth. It’s from 1962, and the vinyl just sounds huge, even today! I still have it with me in London as well as another 10”, an audio book vinyl of “Le Petit Prince’ originally the famous book by Antoine St Exupery. Very early on too I became a Beatles fanatic; my uncle and aunt had both blue and red coloured vinyl compilations from which I’ve taught myself English by translating all the lyrics into French.
I used to borrow records from my local library and study them, all the solo Beatles LP’s too and even Ringo’s (smiles) and as I didn’t have taping facilities my upstairs neighbour used to do it for me. I was also a huge fan of Imagination. I thought they were American at that time. Prince and MJ of course. I remember a shopping trip where my mum paid for a copy of ‘Off the Wall’ and the soundtrack to Rocky IV on the same day, I was 10 years old.
Which genres were the first ones you were into and how did your musical journey develop over time?
Well, I didn’t think in terms of genres when I was young, to me it was just music I liked or didn’t. I guess I grew up on pop music of the 80’s but through my love for The Beatles I quickly discovered that I enjoyed more the 60’s and 70’s sound which after all is really the foundation of all the pop music that came after.
At fourteen I became heavily involved into the Mod scene; back then the subcultures were much more present and visible and there were lots of Mods in my hometown. The whole Mod culture was an incredible apprenticeship in musical history, learning about jazz, soundtracks, reggae, funk, northern soul, Motown, Stax, freakbeat, psychedelia, garage rock to punk and the mod revival and then rare groove, acid-jazz to house music and beyond.
Did you start collection records very early on?
I was literally obsessed with records from a very early age, yes! I’ve always had a sweet spot for 7inches, especially the 4 track French Eps that had those beautiful sleeves exclusive to the French market, many of them are highly collectable. There was a time in my late teens where I wouldn’t touch an LP or a 12”!
To make ends meet over the years I often had to sell my records; once I had a 4000 strong northern soul 7inches collection that had to go to pay some bills. My favourites are the French Motown EP collection which I have gathered over the years, all 74 of them that I’m still hoping to turn into a book someday.
Do you play an instrument?
In my early teens there was a craze in France about these Yamaha organs called Electone; there weren’t cool, but they were being sold as an alternative way to learn music, the American method, it was called. The only other way really was to join the Conservatoire of music but that was too expensive, so my parents went for that organ instead, with some lessons which mostly consisted of this woman smoking shedloads of cigarettes with the ashtray on the organ and showing me and my sister some chords and songs. I did learn a bit. I even remember writing ‘songs’ with the chords I had learned. Alas there was no opportunity to follow this up in a meaningful way, nor resources to invest to make this a serious hobby. In hindsight, even though I had no ambition of becoming a virtuoso player I would have liked to go further and build a stronger musical foundation for sure.
Later, in my early 20’s, I started playing guitar but realised quickly that I wasn’t very good at it and certainly not good at playing covers, but I did enjoy creating songs, melodies and hooks with the little I knew. I formed a band, somewhere between a DIY Velvet-Underground-Blur-Oasis type of thing but again resources were an issue, and it was just not viable hoping to do something seriously with a band.
How and when did you decide to become a DJ?
Because I’ve always had records in my youth, occasionally I would end up playing them at house parties and loved it, that was before I knew anything about DJs in general, I didn’t have any equipment, just records. It’s only when I moved to London in 1998 that it became a more regular thing; a friend of mine had moved there and had started playing in DJ bars and I soon followed. We only had one deck at home so we could only practise mixing records when we were actually playing somewhere, ha!
What were the early days like in London and its scene?
It was a mix of excitement and hardship. I was struggling financially, had done so for a few years by then and would continue for a few more… but I found people less judgemental than in France. If they liked you, or if you had an idea, you could potentially do something, regardless of your background or experience you know? A more liberal approach if you will, which I’ve always liked in the UK.
It was also the beginnings of the French touch with Daft Punk, Air etc… and there was a real enthusiasm towards anything French I guess, which helped a bit. We used to do the warmup in this pub in Brixton where Basement Jaxx had their monthly residency and one night the place got rammed to the max, as they had invited Thomas Bangalter and DJ Sneak to play, we felt we were part of the action somehow, by being there in those moments!
Your signature process is to work with the original multitracks of a song, remix and reprioritise them without adding something else to it. When and with whom did it all start?
I was always curious and fascinated by remixing in general and the processes behind it, but I had no knowledge or very little and some primitive music gear. When vinyl DJing started to die I had to switch to CDs in order to carry on… One advantage is that you could do little edits and tweaks to spice up your DJ set with, and you could just put them onto a CD so that got me hooked quickly.
The multitracks were not something that you could get hold off back then if you weren’t familiar with anyone in the industry, but things changed with the internet. I quickly found a few things here and there online and started playing with them, I think around 2008. The very first one I did was Marvin Gaye ‘What’s Going On’! I put it on Soundcloud a bit later and started to build a little following, I guess.
Which artist was the first who trusted you?
The first artist was Kid Creole, via a French DJ and tastemaker called Guido Cesarsky who is now part of Acid Arab and who was first person in France to get what I was doing from the start. He got hold of some Kid Creole multis from him direct and I did a remix of My Male Curiosity which is one of his favourite songs from his catalogue. We got in touch through his son Lorne and the Kid allowed me to release it on vinyl as he loved the mix so much.
The first other important person at the beginning was producer and DJ Mousse T. who gave me my first paid remix work for a song by his friend Ferry Ultra. Both have become great friends since.
Is there a special remix project from earlier times which is your personal breakthrough?
The Jackson 5 ‘ABC’ revision was what made me decide to do this multitrack remix thing full time. At first, I thought I’d be doing these remixes for fun to complement my DJ set, but I understood then that these were a lot of work if I wanted to do them properly, and as my skills were rather limited I had to make choices…
Plus back then, there were very few people dabbling with stems and I thought there was a great niche market to be explored. The other big one was another MJ revision, ‘Rock with You’ that Gilles Peterson played on his show and made a big thing of it that helped me get on the world map as a remixer.
When you’re working on a song, do you ever get to a point where you’re in danger of losing the song?
Oh yes, often… I mean I’m more experienced now but sometimes it’s just hard to find the right angle or to convey my idea into reality. My computer is full of bits of revisions that I never got round to finish!
With which musician or producer did you experience a dialogue which was particularly inspiring? And do you get appreciative and interesting feedback from time to time?
Once Noel Gallagher came to my studio and played me his then new song ‘Black Star Dancing’ asking for me to remix it. But before he played it, he said ‘it already sounds a lot like The Reflex’ (smiles).
I realised that what I do and how I do it can be inspiring to some people, and if it can inspire someone like Noel then I must be doing something right! I do have a small network of artists, DJs and producers that I get feedback from, yes. Sometimes it’s important to let someone with fresh ears give you their opinion.
Do you sometimes experience great surprises and discover treasures in the original multi- tracks?
Oh yes, several. The most drastic is Roberta Flack ‘Feel Like Making Love’ which featured an incredible, full orchestral arrangement that was never used in the released version… I mean that’s the hair standing on the back of your neck all the way! Just incredible, especially around the 5min mark. Another incredible discovery which is also linked to Roberta Flack is the never heard before Stevie Wonder vocal for the song he wrote for her. Out of this world!
Is there some kind of holy-grail-song that you would like to remix but haven’t had the chance yet?
Oh, there are loads… one I’d love to do is Aretha Franklin ‘When I Think About You’ but there’s so many others…
How long does it usually take for a remix?
Could be two days like it could be six months! Depends on the priority, deadline, what I’m going to do with it… Often I’ll do the bulk, the core of the remix in one day then get back to it as often necessary to get to a result I’m happy with.
What project are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I’m working on material for my new, fully licensed vinyl label DISCOLIDAYS whose first release is out since the 1st of April this year with two first time ever multis remixes of Q ‘The Voice of Q’ and Ruth ‘Silky’ Waters ‘Everybody Loves a Good Funk’.
The second release is being pressed as I write and will be a Cerrone special licensed directly from the maestro with two revisions of his catalogue. I have forthcoming releases lined up with remixes of Kid Creole, Giorgio Moroder, some Brazilian stuff, all officially licensed. I’ve also just launched my Patreon page in February, the place to access my work and support it!
Will you continue to focus on this pure deconstructivism or is basically anything possible in the future?
I have dedicated over 10 years to these multitrack remixes and that’s what I’m known for now. But I do not intend to do only that forever and I’m working on original material too, watch this space!
You are originally from France. Do you have a special relation to the French music scene? Are there any songs out there that still give you goosebumps?
Although I have lived in the UK most than half of my life, my roots are in France and one will always be more emotionally attached to songs sung in their native language like the ones by Serge Gainsbourg, Michel Polnareff, Françoise Hardy and many others.