MUSIC

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A MEETING WITH OKLOU

By Alice Butterlin

The talented musician and producer OkLou first rose to prominence on the web – a place of discovery, freedom, and endless possibility for young artists with no more than a room, computer, and MIDI keyboard at their disposal. Working alone at home, she spent two years posting short YouTube videos of her sound research. Despite the spontaneous nature of these recordings, we can already make out the basic elements of OkLou’s soft and dreamy aesthetic. On Avril, her first EP released in 2014, she set herself apart by using a vocoder over an airy synth pop that fits snugly into its era. When she’s not making music, she explores her endless curiosity by producing a radio show with her collective TGAF on Piiaf, where she seamlessly blends mainstream hits and underground nuggets.

You attended a conservatory, you were immersed in classical music education, and yet in your solo project you produce sounds that are purely electronic. How did you make this transition from one musical genre to another?

It happened over several years. I needed a year and a half of experimenting with the new system that was my computer. As soon as I got a computer, I had access to so many things that I didn’t know were possible. I had been interested in electronic music for a long time, but in terms of my practice, I specialized in classical music from an academic standpoint. But electronic music was not completely new to me when I was creating the EP. I just composed the sounds I had been hearing for eight years and that I never had the opportunity to make for myself. I wasn’t jumping from pillar to post in terms of my inspirations. The first EP served as a transition between all my previous musical background, which was very acoustic and based on live performance, to a purely electronic and digital form of production. It was one of my first MIDI compositions.

You posted a lot of short videos of your sound research on your YouTube channel between 2013 and 2015. What made you want to expose yourself, to lay yourself bare?

It’s something I’ve always done. The only difference is that I didn’t put anything online before. I was just inspired by girls I saw on YouTube and I loved the idea. I loved watching them, and since I had been doing the same thing at home for years, I decided to start doing it, too. When I was younger I would perform on stage and take photos, like a lot of teenagers I think. I think a lot of people do that, especially more creative people, but only a few decide to share it. I chose to do it and I felt confident right away. I didn’t want to keep everything for myself, and it was a way to express myself. When I started to get feedback and comments, I felt like I had a certain power to inspire people. That’s one reason I did it. I also got pointers from other videos. It helps you stop worrying about what people think and to take more risks.

I get the impression that your MO is to stand proudly by your tastes and choices, notably in music where you often admit to loving more mainstream songs while still having a curiosity for more experimental music. Where do you see yourself within this duality?

As a consumer, I try everything I can as much as I can. It’s fun discovering new artists, whether they are millionaires or nobodies. Things are more complicated in my own art. (laughs) I ask myself too many questions. Contrary to what I preach, I’m not sure of myself. My influences are so vast that sometimes I have trouble keeping my work consistent. But every artist faces that problem. Everyone is influenced by loads of things that may not even be music. There are so many variables that influence what you are and what you do, and the hard part is to channel all that and find the right balance. It’s such interesting research, but sometimes it can make your head spin. (laughs)

As it happens, on the new EP you released with Casey MQ, we hear that contrast between hyper-mainstream pop samples with a more witch house instrumental track behind it. When you sample Miley Cyrus, are you doing it in a totally serious way?

Yes, of course. There is no irony in my choices, on the contrary, Casey and I are consumers of those artists. We are the kind of people who are aware of the clear-cut line between mainstream music and the more underground scene. What’s interesting when we work with these samples is their symbolic value. We had a ton of options for finding voices that were polished, precise, dramatic, and at a fever pitch of emotion. These voices say a lot of things and I loved redoing the accompanying music. That in turn gives a different intonation to the voices, it reveals the beauty of the work done by these singers.

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You met Casey MQ at the Red Bull Music Academy, where you were selected in 2015. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?

It was super! It’s like a summer camp for young adults. It’s hard for me to sum up the event since it’s just so perfect. (laughs) There are a lot of people who are skeptical about a huge drink brand sponsoring a cultural event, even though it’s not the only example. There is no pressure from the brand to consume their products or promote them. It’s all very well organized, it’s put together by some very passionate people. They devote a full year to making sure the event goes off without a hitch. It’s two very rewarding weeks. I found it to be a very personal experience.

Did you and Casey MQ find a way to compose together?

Yes, absolutely. Over the whole two weeks, Casey is the person I connected with the most. I realized just how deeply my conservatory education was rooted in me. Being able to use it makes me happy. Everything I learned during that period of my life resurfaced when I was working with Casey and it was cool.

I saw that you have one SoundCloud account for OkLou and another for Avril23. You also go by Avril Alvarez on Instagram. Who is this alias?

I have an obsession with the month of April. I love spring, and there are a lot of symbols related to the season in my life. It’s my birth month for starters. And my next EP is called The Rite of May. Alvarez comes from the fact that I was listening to a lot of Spanish music a couple years ago. I was looking for a fake last name to go with Avril and that’s what I came across by chance. I thought it sounded good.

Your next EP The Rite of May comes out in March. Have you been working on it for a long time?

It’s been a while. I can’t say exactly because there are some tracks I spent over three years writing. It’s mostly a selection of things I’ve produced over the past few years. I’ve always made tracks that are very pop, but I haven’t released many. I released a few on the Avril23 SoundCloud account, which includes full songs and samples. I hesitated about officially releasing them because I thought I needed a perfectly curated sound. I’m not equipped to produce something “perfect,” because I’m doing it all on my own. But I’ve met some people who helped me finish the project and boost my self-confidence. It’s definitely the EP with my most pop and R&B songs.

It’s coming out on Nuxxe, the same label as Coucou Chloé, Sega Bodega, and Shygirl. What was it like to meet these artists?

Coucou Chloé has posted small stuff on SoundCloud for about two years. The French experimental network on SoundCloud isn’t very big and so you end up meeting everyone else with the same obsessions. Then I was on the same tour as her, Sega Bodega, and Shygirl and that gave us a chance to meet in real life.

Photographer: Jesse Laitinen

Stylist: Andrej Skok

Make-up: Kristina Andrews

Stylist assistant: Anne-Cécile Lemée

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