If you’ve been to the right clubs or records shops during the last twelve months, the chances are that Lazare Hoche is a name that you will have encountered. 2014 has seen the 25-year old Parisian, whose given name is Charles Naffah, become something of a word-of-mouth sensation. His self-released records are already going at collector’s prices on Discogs, whilst his talents as a selector have made him a fixture both in Paris’ club scene and further afield.
Techno is still very big in France, and I really, really like it, but now there is a whole generation that love solid house music...Part of Naffah’s appeal is that his records and his self-run label, Lazare Hoche Records, cut through all the bullshit that often wafts around dance-music. The two volumes of ‘I Don’t Sync So’ records that Naffah made in collaboration with Nick ‘Malin Genie’ Putman exemplify this. The tracks on these records might be deep, but they’re also analogue, raw and heady. The physical records themselves also reflect this aesthetic: the washed out artwork offers a sort of DIY understatement rather than grandeur or pretentiousness. It’s about as far from the glossy, posturing end of house music as you can get.
What’s more, in both his records as Lazare Hoche and his work as one third of the house collective Mandar, it’s easy to find another reason why Naffah’s work has attracted attention from house music aficionados. That’s because in many respect, Naffah – and the contemporaries releasing on his label, such as Samuel André Madsen and S3A – would seem to represent the next generation in Paris’ house music legacy. They are fresh shoots on a family tree which already features figures like DJ Deep, Dan Ghenacia, Gregory Darsa and others.
Yet, this is a narrative that Naffah remains ambivalent towards. As he explains to me during our time talking, his intention is not to solely focus on ‘one scene’ or associate himself with the musical identity of only one city. His interests lie far beyond the limits of the French capital, but take in German techno, US house and everything in between. Whilst the leftfield spirit of Naffah’s music seem to align him with the open-minded credos of early house music, his disinterest in re-treading well-worn musical narratives suggests that, like his alias’ namesake, Naffah has something of the revolutionary to him.
You grew up in Paris in 1990s. Tell me a little about that.
I was born in ‘89 and grew up in a small suburb of Paris, near where Paris Saint-Germain F.C. play. When I was 21, I moved to the centre to study, so I have never left the city.
One night I saw Move D djing and he inspired the shit out of me. I digged how eclectic he played, from German techno to US house, and I started to get obsessed with records... What are you studying?
It’s a bit tricky to say in English, but I am studying the law of construction.
So in a few years you are going to be a lawyer?
It is more focused towards working for a construction firm or in real estate. The goal of the diploma is to have all the legal knowledge in order to realise a building, an infrastructure or other types of construction.
I’ve been studying here six years now and trying to balance all the touring and producing can be tough, but it is also useful because when I have to focus on my studies [as it brings things back down to earth]. Also, my older brother is a professional musician and my parents are quite old-school in that they don’t want any more musicians in the family!
Tell me about your initial encounters with dance-music culture.
I was into French hip-hop from when I was a kid until I was a teenager, but my sister and brother would go out to raves and free parties and through them I first heard hardcore and jungle. But the real deal was when French touch got big at the end of the ‘90s, when guys like St. Germain started getting played on the radio. Even my parents driving in their car would listen to St. Germain!
Minimal was everywhere, but I was getting into US house and sample-based stuff. I bought an MPC2000 XL and I started trying to make some disco loops with some rough goofy beats.Then I started going clubbing and one night I saw Move D djing and he inspired the shit out of me. I digged how eclectic he played, from German techno to US house, and I started to get obsessed with records. So I bought turn-tables, then a sampler and everything rolled from there.
Does Move D have any idea of the indebtedness your career owes to him?
To this day, I have not meet him and he has no idea of who I am! I think I sent him a promo back in 2012 when Malin Genie and I were making I Don’t Sync So, but he never got back to me [laughs]. Which I can totally understand, because he must have a lot of promos sent to him.
When it came to starting to produce and DJ, did you have a specific sound that you were looking to create or did that encounter with Move D make you want to own an ‘eclectic’ sound?
Actually, I was influenced more by the fact that when I first saw Move D, around 2007 or 2008, he was the one of the few German DJs who played tracks with emotional content. Minimal was everywhere, but I was getting into US house and sample-based stuff. I bought an MPC2000 XL and I started trying to make some disco loops with some rough goofy beats. It was all about funny funky loops, rather than a precise minimal sound.
Do you locate what you’re doing within the resurgence of what has been called ‘deep’ house?
Well, it was something that I would have done anyway. But I have to admit that, for my generation it was young guys like Jeremy (Underground Paris), Motor City Drum Ensemble, Floating Points and others who really made the kids ingest or digest some more soulful stuff - although I don’t like the word ‘soulful’ because it is also applied to some really cheesy, generic shit.
I have to admit that, for my generation it was young guys like Jeremy, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Floating Points and others who really made the kids ingest or digest some more soulful stuff...Paris at that time was a place where people wanted to be sonically-raped, like all the Ed Banger kids who just wanted violent music. After the electro trend, they had heard that minimal was good because it was druggy, so in the clubs all they wanted to hear was minimal. And I’m not talking about the great minimal from Baby Ford, Dan Bell or Mosaic Records.
When I started to play out in Paris, there would always be these wasted girls who’d come up to me and say [raspy voice] “Don’t you have any minimal?” So, I think that people who had big exposure, like MCDE and others, helped people from my generation accept this kind of sound. Techno is still very big in France, and I really, really like it, but now there is a whole generation that love solid house music.
When you started releasing records a few years ago, you took the route of releasing them through your own label. Why did you eschew the traditional path of releasing through established imprints?
Basically, I saw a commercial which offered an affordable deal for a service which would both press and master 300 copies of your own record. And back then, I was making really simple basic stuff. The first record that I ever released was in 2012, and it was called LH Edits Sampler. I had sent a demo out to a few UK labels and they hadn’t answered, so I decided to press it myself. When I had pressed it, I called the distributors Freebase in Frankfurt who told me to send them 100 copies. Then they phoned back two days later, telling me to send everything! So I sent them all my stock, which I regret a bit now because it goes for quite a lot of money on Discogs. This experience gave me the confidence to launch ‘Lazare Hoche Records’.
Earlier in 2014, you re-pressed the first I Don’t Sync So record. I’m guessing that was because there was more demand for it than you had originally figured on. Is that one of the headaches of running a small label and self-releasing your own work?
In the early days, I could only press a small amount. Then I noticed that the record was becoming pricey on Discogs, which is great because it meant there was more demand than we could offer, but it was also annoying to see some guy make 100 euros on one LHR record when that is more than the label made from selling the whole press! So, we ended up just wanting to spread the music and so since the fourth LH Records 12”, I have started pressing and re-pressing as much as possible. I don’t do limited vinyl releases, because we sell enough not to and at some point I have to pay the bills!
In the early days, I could only press a small amount. Then I noticed that the record was becoming pricey on Discogs, which is great because it meant there was more demand than we could offer...Lazare Hoche Records doesn’t release music digitally. What do you say to all those DJs who don’t use vinyl but want to play your music?
I totally understand them. I don’t exclusively play vinyl myself, I use both vinyl and digital files. For instance, I have a lot of unreleased stuff from me or my friends that I really want to play, or there’s some records that I keep at home and don’t want to take out with me that much, so I rip it to WAV and take it to the gig that way. With all the airline hand-luggage policy or lost luggage or “not-so vinyl friendly club,” it’s safe to have some back up actually.
I’m intrigued by the pseudonym you picked. Lazare Hoche was a revolutionary during the French Revolution and I’m wondering whether the figure of the rebel is one you empathise with?
Actually, the story [behind the name] is a very simple one. I realised that I needed a name, because DJ Charles Naffah is not really cool, and I knew I wanted something French. Lazare Hoche was the name of the street where I used to live and so it was a word that I was using ten times every day, and I suddenly realised it would be the perfect name.
Perhaps you’ll disagree, but the name fits the music in that it feels like a real statement of Parisian identity.
I’m very proud of Paris, it made me who I am, I have lots of friends here and I don’t want to move anywhere else at the moment, but [Parisian identity] is not really something that I’m interested in musically.
That’s interesting, because when I listen to your music I tend to locate it as being the next generation of a Parisian tradition that goes back to people like Point G, DJ Deep, Dan Ghenacia and others, who have created this distinct and recognisable sound.
It’s super nice for you to say that. Gregory [Darsa aka DJ Gregory / Point G] is a good friend and he’ll often tell me stories from the past, which always impress me but also remind me that that was another era. I feel very glad to come from a city that has a tradition of house music, but I’m not… I’ve worked a lot with foreign countries and so I’m not solely focusing on a ‘French scene’. But having said that, I’m proud to come from a city which has produced artists like Motorbass, DJ Deep, St. Germain, Gregory, Pepe Bradock. And even though these guys are now in their 40s, they’re still here, you can still find them in the record shops in Paris and talk to them, except for St Germain, nobody knows where the hell he is! I always ask Gregory what he thinks about a track before I send it to be mastered.
Actually, I don’t want to get too much into reissuing because there is a lot of new music that deserves to be heard. I’m producing a lot myself, both with Nick [Putman aka Malin Genie] and as part of Mandar...You’ve just re-released one of Gregory’s early records on your label, haven’t you?
I’ve re-released one of his earliest records under the alias Headcore, which he put out in 1998 on Versatile Records – which was also the year we won the World Cup! [laughs] I had been playing the original record for quite a while and at one point Gregory asked whether I would be interested in repressing on the label, which was a dream. Then we spoke to DJ Gilb’R [boss of Versatile Records] who found us the original DAT tape!
Do you think your label will become a home for forgotten ‘90s house music?
Actually, I don’t want to get too much into reissuing because there is a lot of new music that deserves to be heard. I’m producing a lot myself, both with Nick [Putman aka Malin Genie] and as part of Mandar, so reissuing records is only for when I really like the record and want to give it a second life. I’m not interested in predictable reissuing that you see elsewhere, like all the Chicago house repressing of Trax and Dancemania. I mean they deserve to be repressed of course, but it’s totally not the goal of Lazare Hoche Records to become a home for forgotten 90’s house music which would have been repressed anyway.
Predictably last question, what have you got lined up next?
Quite a lot of stuff! We’re working on Mandar Live at the moment, which will be ready for early 2015 and which is a hell of a time consuming project. It’s going to be all hardware and no computers, so it’s a pain in the ass to set up but also a real adventure. The plan is not to tour everywhere, but to be selective about our gigs and making each show really special and tight. In addition to that, I’m also putting out a solo record in the spring and I’m putting out a track on Concrete Music next year too.