Where: The Shelter, No. 5 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu 永福路5号，近复兴西路
Starts: Saturday, July 25, 9PM
Cover: 50 RMB
Maybe you’ve never heard of Onra or Arnaud Bertrand but you may actually recognize one of his songs, “The Anthem”, which was featured in a Coca Cola ad for the Beijing Olympics starring 3D animated versions of Yao Ming and LeBron James.
That catchy track, from his first solo album, Chinoiseries, helped propel the French-Vietnamese producer to underground fame and introduced his version of hip-hop punctuated by electronic beats and a kitschy flavor of forgotten Chinese and Vietnamese vinyls to the world.
We have here an excerpt of FREE the WAX‘s recent interview with Onra below. For those anxious to check out his music, Onra is on Myspace and FREE the WAX has put up three of Onra’s tracks for downloads here (Note: Streaming requires sign up/ log in. Downloading doesn’t).
So do you think the term ‘beatmaker’ defines accurately what you do nowadays?
Beatmaker defines what I am, but doesn’t define the kind of music I do. Like almost every other producer, we [beatmakers] make a lot of different styles of music, depending on our mood and whatever inspires us. You can’t really put a name on it. All I know is that my sound is still hip-hop-influenced, but with a twist.
How do you start composing a song?
I always start with a sample or with a drum pattern. I don’t play any other instruments, but I’m learning the piano on my own, little by little.
Around the world people seem to have embraced your sound quicker than your own folks in France. What do you attribute that to?
That is very true, but I don’t really care anymore. I guess my music is more appreciated abroad because France is always a little bit late on music.
How do you feel about the attention that Chinoiseries, your first solo album, got?
I wasn’t expecting it at all! I thought I was going to release this album then try to get a regular job [laughs]. At first, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make an album with Chinese and Vietnamese music samples. Only after I went back to Paris and listened to this music that I got the idea to make the album. With all the inspiration I got from Vietnam, it was really natural to make a project with those combined ideas [hip-hop, electronic and Asian music]. I felt fortunate from the start just for the fact that I found enough material to make a whole album with it. But to my surprise, a lot of people started talking about it, and it spread out really fast all over the world.
Like you said before, the album was made with a lot of samples from Chinese records you found while traveling in Vietnam. How much of those sounds do you think Chinese people can relate to?
I’m not sure if Chinese people can relate to these sounds… maybe the older generation can, because all the music I bought is from the late ’60s and early ’70s, so I don’t think youngsters can really relate to what these sounds represent. I could be wrong, though!
So what do you think are the most interesting elements in the sound of these old Chinese records that you have in your collection?
Different types of melodies to what we are used to hearing, different instruments, different sound recordings, different voices… It was something that I had never heard before. Everything was new to me, which is also why I was so inspired by these old crackly albums.
Your new album 1.0.8. is much darker and has a more subtle soul to it. What do you think sparked this different approach?
I just wanted to get off the happiness and cheesiness of “The Anthem” – which was the single that caught the attention of most listeners – for a bit, and show people my darker side. I didn’t want to be considered as “funny” or “cute” for too long, that’s why I gave it a harder punch.
You played in Vietnam last year. How was going back to the place where Chinoiseries started?
That was great! Playing those tunes in Saigon in front of Vietnamese people was a huge achievement. I’m really proud of it!
So do you think your six-city tour in China is going to be similarly special in any way?
Yeah I expect a lot of intense sensations out of this tour. I have always wanted to go to China, and I hope to make people discover more about hip-hop and beats. Also, I am going there to find more old vinyls. I have started to compose a second Chinoiseries, and I have got half of it done. I hope that this trip can help me finish the album!!