Rene LaVice has emerged as one of the hottest drum and bass artists in North America. The Toronto native has been taking the DnB world by storm thanks to his creation of massive tracks such as "Where My Ladies At", and his remix of Chris Lake's "Helium", both are chart toppers and were on heavy rotation in various BBC shows. As we get closer to Rene LaVice's return to Digital Dreams, EDM Canada had a chance to dig deep and engage in an extensive interview. If you want to know all about Rene LaVice, then this interview is a must-read, enjoy:
Give me a bit of history of Rene LaVice.
Rene LaVice: I'm a music producer, film director, skateboarder, eccentric extraordinaire kind of guy from Toronto, Canada. I travel the world playing my music and producing records. Signed to RAM Records.... Just having a blast, kicking ass, and taking names.
Describe your style.
Rene LaVice: It's big, extremely bass heavy, often gritty, a bit sexy, and pretty aggressive.
Were you always into drum and bass as a first passion or did you experiment with other styles before DnB?
Rene LaVice: I've always done a shitload of everything. When I was a kid I didn't know that drum and bass existed. I didn't know that “dance music” was a thing. I always liked synthesizers, I always liked hearing music that had synths in it. As I got into more hip hop, DJ'ing, turntables, and ways of making music yourself without having to rely on anyone else... I just got into more and more different types of electronic music and figuring out what the differences were. I then just started tinkering with sampling and how they were made. So I didn't really know about drum and bass until I was about a teenager. I love everything because it's all just music to me. Drum and bass is just a really great outlet for a lot of things that I like. It can be really aggressive, extremely bass heavy, and it has energy. I just get so bored of music that doesn't have energy. Music needs to have energy and drum and bass is a great outlet.
Were you first a DJ/turntablist or a producer?
Rene LaVice: It's hard to say. It kind of went hand in hand because before that I was in bands playing drums and stuff. So I've always loved breaks and drums. That's why I got into hip hop because I was sick of being in bands where everyone was arguing all the time on what they want to do. I kind of wanted to be my own entity. So I started tinkering with tape players, computer equipment to record my own shit. While I was doing that I started to play with records, samples, and turntablist stuff. I'd manually loop a record by putting tape on it. I just tinkered with so many things at once. I never knew what a professional DJ or producer was back then, these were just things I was doing. I didn't go out to some party and saw a DJ playing and said “I want to do that!”, instead it was just stuff that I was doing. It wasn't until I was 18 and I was taken out to my first drum and bass party and thinking to myself “this is crazy!”
What was the first DnB record that you heard that made you wanted to be a DnB producer?
Rene LaVice: There were a few Ram Records as well like “Valley of the Shadows” but the one that stood out for me was “Acid Track” by Dillinja. I was in a shitty mood when I first heard it and just cranked up my bedroom stereo really loud. That track really resonated with me and I wanted to make something like that. After that I tried making drum and bass breaks and figuring out what sub-bass was about. I actually started looking into the science of it, which was really cool. I knew that was the only way to make something sound immense. The second track that really sold me on wanting to DJ was when I went to my first DnB party where Nicky Blackmarket was playing. It was at the Docks, which is now the Sound Academy, and they have this shitty, horrible, sound system that I wish they get rid of immediately. It sounds like utter f**king mid-range crap. Anyways at this party, back when it was called the Docks, they had this amazing sound system permanently installed from Germany. It sounded so bass heavy it was incredible. The track that made me want to DJ is called “Truly One” by Origin Unknown (Andy C and Ant Miles). I couldn't get a sense of the bassline at home but when I heard it live at the Nicky Blackmarket show the bassline didn't taper off and just kept on going deeper and wobbling down into the sub-bass. You can't hear that with regular speakers. The bass just shook the place and I thought to myself how incredible it was. It was this secret music that you could only hear with a proper system and it sent earthquakes through the place. It was so cool, like I was experiencing magic. It made the record three dimensional. That's why I've become an advocate for good sound systems.
As I start to headline more shows, we take more of an interest on the quality of the sound system and asking whether or not we need more sub-bass, compressors, etc. I'm just not there to be sort of “be there” and wave around like a flag like Paris Hilton and say “Hey look at me! Let me sign autographs!” on some high fi's – that's not what I'm about. It's about inspiring people. We're going to do that by replicating the experience that I had which was really special and can get people really excited.
What are some of the sound problems you see at Toronto clubs?
Rene LaVice: Often they have a really harsh tremble problem and not enough bass.
Is there anyone doing it right?
Rene LaVice: If you've got the right people tuning the system, the Guvernment can be quite good. But if I had a choose a preferred sound system I'd go with the Dub Rock Sound System. It isn't installed in any club but they just bring it in and set it up in the venue. They know sound system culture and they know how to build the system properly. I'd go with them above any standalone venue.
"There's so many producers right now trying to copy [my sound], and they don't get it right. It's because it doesn't come from the heart, they don't know what inspires it."
The last few releases, including “Where My Ladies At” and your remix of Chris Lake's “Helium” have gotten a ton of buzz, are you feeling that you're coming into your own production wise?
Rene LaVice: I've been there for quite a while and I think it's been pretty obvious. “Headlock”, “Where My Ladies At”, the Chris Lake remix, and there's so many things in between all of that that follow the Rene LaVice sound. That's something I've worked on for years. It's not something that anybody can copy. There's so many producers right now trying to copy it, and they don't get it right. It's because it doesn't come from the heart, they don't know what inspires it. I've got a set of influences, my inspiration, and I'm injecting my own sort of flavour into it. They're just looking at me and the end result. Over the last year and a half, people have really come to appreciate my sound. I like the fact that I can have something that is so distinct, yet be so diverse at the same time. I can do “Where My Ladies At”, which is a really aggressive bass heavy grimey track, and then flip over and do the “Climax” remix for Usher. That remix is soulful, deep, and still dance floor oriented. Two nights ago in Cardiff I had to bring down the volume because every girl in the place was singing along with the track. It was really special because you never really got that at a drum and bass party. Usually it's just people bobbing around and going crazy but I could hear everybody singing and had to just turn it down so we could all sing it acapella for a couple of bars.
Do you think your style is generating a lot of crossover appeal and artists outside of the drum and bass sphere are taking note of you?
Rene LaVice: Yeah. There's been a ton of requests for remixes from whitewashed pop acts. The thing is, I don't want to just do stuff because someone is waving a bunch of money in my face. I want to collaborate with artists that I really like. The reason why I did the Usher remix was because I really like his stuff and I think it was a really great track. That's just something I bootlegged and did on my own. He's an example of someone that I'd really like to work with. I'm just not going to go and work with One Direction. That'd be lame. That's not what I'm into so I won't do it. People are always looking for something unique and original. I'll do a remix for somebody if I really think it'll be a great product. But if it's just somebody that's lame as hell and giving me all of his money to make him look cool, then no thanks. (Laughs) I'm not trying to be cool, I'm trying to make good music. If they spent less time trying to be cool and more time making inspired, awesome music, they'd be cool. The irony of that is really mind boggling.
Are there any artists that you'd like to work with?
Rene LaVice: There's loads. The list is pretty long but I try not to focus on that on a daily basis because I'm just trying to work on things that I'd like to express as a solo artist. I'm still focused on my albums and the stuff that I'm doing right now. Usher is on that list on for sure. It's a long list that probably includes a lot of hip hop artists.
"What I like about drum and bass is that you don't get it all over the radio, and you don't get it plastered in everyone's face in advertisements and stuff."
How do you feel about drum and bass scene in North America, do you think it's a genre on the rise?
Rene LaVice: Definitely. Drum and bass is always kind of under the radar and I think that's a good place for it. I think when things go too big and too fast like dubstep did, they just get f**king annoying. It's that thing about music where you have any genre and have a ratio of good music to bad music. The good music generally only occupies 3-5% of all of the music in any genre. So let's say that you're hearing a shitload of dubstep everyday, and say 50% of the music you're hearing is dubstep, then 95% of that music is going to be shit. So you're just going to hate dubstep. That's the same reason why people started hating hip hop because 95% of it is shit. Hip hop is now in this sort of nook where you get to hear more classic tracks. Now “EDM” and “dance music” is like the shit, it's the coolest thing and it's got the most hype. Naturally 95% of that stuff is shit too.
What I like about drum and bass is that you don't get it all over the radio, and you don't get it plastered in everyone's face in advertisements and stuff. Generally when you hear it, it's from a friend of yours that's showing you a track, or you just show up to an event and say “Whoa! What's this?!”. I think that's a really great place for it because you're only going to get stuff that they want to show you because it's good. They're giving you the cream of the crop because there's thousands of tracks coming out everyday. So it's kind of nice of people just showing you the good stuff. Being a genre on that rise without having that mania with Skrillex and dubstep, which are things that could kill a genre because you're just getting too much and it just gets annoying.
It's a genre that's swelling again but I don't think that's its in any crazy wildfire or anything like that. Drum and bass is just a staple, like house music, rap, or hip hop. It's one of these genres that's been around for 20 years and it's not going anywhere. It's always going to be around but it's not going to be as big as house. But the thing that's not going to happen is that it's not going to implode on itself like dubstep or trap did. It's not a fad. It already had that phase 10-15 years ago where it was this cool thing. Drum and bass had a bit of a downturn already and it's still around. It's not like dubstep where it got way too overblown where it was out of control. It was just a quick way for people to make a lot of money really fast. Dubstep was so cool and in the moment, and every DJ could just quit what they were doing and start playing dubstep. Suddenly they'd be getting like four times their fee and getting all kinds of bookings because it was such a big market for it. As fast as that happened, it just imploded onto itself because it had no substance. The original dubstep that came out of Croydon, and from artists like Skream and Benga, they had a real sort of substance and it was cultivated. It came from something and had lasting power. Which is funny because they aren't really doing it anymore just out of distaste of what it became.
Skream is doing Nu-Disco now
Rene LaVice: Yeah he's doing Nu-Disco type of stuff, but basically house music. All respect to him, he has the right to do whatever he wants. If he was doing what people told him to do, he wouldn't have never started making dubstep. Some people have told me Skream should have stuck to his guns but obviously for him it felt right to switch genres and that's cool.
But to get back to the original question, drum and bass is on the rise because dance music is on the rise. Once people's interest in electronic music gets bigger, then drum and bass is going to get bigger. 85% of music that people are listening to in North America is electronic music now. Even your acoustic music that you heard on the radio has been put through so many computers, auto-tunes, and things that you are not even aware of hearing. It's the sound of our generation. It's the sound of what we've grown up with, including myself coming from a deeply urban environment. It's the sound of machines, industry, and the sounds of things clanging together in that synthetic harsh tone. It's funny because it's something so aggressive, alien, and in-organic but it makes me feel like I'm at home.
When I'm listening to classical music it makes me feel like I'm on the moon. I went to see an opera for the first time and it was amazing. It felt like the first time being at a rave and asking myself where the hell did this come from? This is so foreign and weird with all of this organic sound and it wasn't something that I was used to. I'm used to car horns and metal on metal clanging together, and people shouting, that's my world. Andy C always says that drum and bass just has this energy level that other music doesn't have. It always has energy and always has impact. It's very easy to lose that. With drum and bass it's either good or it's bad. It's so intense that you better be really good or you'd want to turn it off because it's hitting you in the face. Drum and bass is to the point and I love that because you can't dick around like house music does. I love house music, don't get me wrong, but I'm just making an argument that drum and bass is great.
People are going to continue listening to drum and bass in North America and it's going to keep on getting bigger. People are going to rediscover it because it's not what it was 10 years ago. It's one of the most forward thinking and futuristic genres out of any of them, bar none. It's so innovative and it's got so many sub-genres that I'm still discovering it and I've been into it for 10 years. If someone like me can still be interested in it, and for people who don't listen to endless promos, it's going to be endlessly entertaining.
So you're signed with RAM Records, how did you get involved with them and Andy C?
Rene LaVice: It's kind of a long and funny story. I was making a lot of different tracks for different labels in Toronto and finding my feet by releasing things. I've been releasing stuff for about a year and not having a lot of luck with it like labels ripping me off and dealing with idiots a lot of the time who said they were things that they weren't, stuff like that. It's a hard industry to sort of break into. At the time I was introduced to John Rolodex through DJ Kapulet of Stride Recordings, who at the time wasn't sure if the stuff I was making was right for Stride because he wanted to go more “Electro” with it.
I've done stuff with that but I had other things in mind that I wanted to do that was a bit more gritty. I then had a chat with John about his new imprint called Machinist Music which was really cool because it seemed to be an outlet for the stuff that I wanted to do. It wasn't the kind of stuff that my friend Gremlinz was into collaborating on because he wants to go a bit deeper and experimental, which is f**king awesome.
“Headlock” was one of the tracks that I was thinking about releasing with John but things just kind of stopped because it was a very very hard time for record labels 2-3 years ago. It was at this time when people were shutting down all of their vinyl stuff and when the argument of “should all music be free?” was rampant. It was a really hard time for music in general. So John was trying to start this label during that time and we're playing with so many ideas on how to just not lose money on the track. Little did I know that he sent a couple different tracks that he was thinking of releasing to Andy C because he had his contact information. Unbeknownst to me, Andy had been playing “Headlock” for 6 months not even knowing who made it because my name wasn't on the MP3. So ond day I was marinating steaks because I just like making food....
Are you a big chef like like Dieselboy is?
Rene LaVice: I'm going to say no because the minute I say yes someone is going to ask me questions that I have no clue what they're talking about. I just literally open up Pinterest, scroll through a bunch of recipes, and then go make it. I post stuff on Instragram and people think that I'm a chef. (laughs) I'm actually not bad, I can make it and it turns out good and it's healthy. But I don't really have a club of what I'm doing but I'm going to say no but I will look into what Dieselboy is doing and probably try to imitate him.
Let's get back to Andy C.
Rene LaVice: So I'm making these steaks while music was playing from my laptop, and all of a sudden Andy C pops up on my AIM and asks “Hey, is this Rene?”. He said that he'd been trying to contact me for months but at first I didn't believe that it was actually him because I thought it was a stupid joke from John. Andy C then tells me that he'd been playing “Headlock” for months and tried to find out who created it. He eventually got in touch with John who then gave him my AIM information. But at that point I was pretty jaded and I didn't care who hit me up because it seemed like everyone in the industry was just full of empty promises.
So I just said thanks for playing the track and I didn't expect anything more. But then he said that he would of put out “Headlock” on RAM Records because he played it everyday. Then I told him that it was never released because we didn't know how to put it out without losing our shirt because that's the reality of an independent label. He suggested that we'd put it on the next Dimensions EP, so I talked to John about it and he said that it'd be a great thing for my career. Andy was really happy to have it released under RAM and a couple of months later it was released on the Dimensions EP. One of my big goals was to make a vinyl with my track on it and to do it with such a historic label was cool. I created “Headlock because I wanted to hear something that sounded heavy, gritty, and with attitude, and that's what “Headlock” was. It just so happened that it also resonated with everyone else and the track just blew up and was being played all over the U.K. while I just finishing up school in Toronto.
Do you try to keep away from using samples and standardized sounds from your productions?
Rene LaVice: I try to do as much on my own and the reason I do it is because I'm able to create sounds that other people can't make. When I put it all together it's something that people cannot copy. Nobody can re-create what I did. The drum sounds are often from my own drum kit. I also use Roland drum machines where I'll actually get the kick, snare, hi-hats and sample them in myself or even play them into a microphone. This way I can actually create something authentic so I can avoid creating things that sound like I just pulled something out of a box. For a different artist that could be fun, like using a Casio keyboard that everyone uses to make a sound, but I like to make something that sounds like it was created from its own environment.
You're going to be making your return to Digital Dreams Music Festival in Toronto, what have you got in store for the Toronto crowd in late June?
Rene LaVice: I'm going to do what I do everytime, which will be an experience that you will not forget. I'm going to be bringing the best in drum and bass but I'm also going to be bringing my own unique flavour to it. It's going to be very much a Rene LaVice showcase. I'm not going to be one of those people that will show up and play all of the “festival tracks”, you're not going to get that from me because as far as I'm concerned you can pay an ipod to do that. It's going to be a Rene LaVice show with brand new tracks with probably a new remix in there – it's going to be fresh, exciting, and it's going to be big. I can't wait, it'll be great.
"We are working towards a second album and I'm trying to build up hype around that. I just feel so good about it."
What's next for Rene LaVice for the rest of 2014?
Rene LaVice: There's a lot of stuff going on around. I have an abundance of good stuff happening and I can't really choose which one to do first. We are working towards a second album and I'm trying to build up hype around that. I just feel so good about it. I was terrified with my last album, I had sweaty palms and just keeping everything under wraps and not having a clue on how it'd be received. But then it turned out to be a huge success and everyone loved it. I still get tweets everyday about it. If I put twice the effort into this next album, try to make it even better, and if even half the amount of people that liked my first album likes this one, then I'll be happy. I'll try to push things as far as it'll go as an artist while allowing myself room to grow. I might release stuff that people might hate but you know what, I'm not going to realize those really amazing tracks if I don't take those risks. I love energy and I'm going to bring that forth in this next album.
What's the current status of the second album, are you already done the tracklist?
Rene LaVice: I've been working on it for a full year and the puzzle pieces are coming together really well. It's always the case of me making an incredibly large amount of music and spreading it all over a table to form a narrative together for the album.
Will you be road testing any of these tracks at Digital Dreams?
Rene LaVice: I might debut one or two things at Digital Dreams but it all depends on the night because I'm not one to fully pre-plan sets. I generally have an idea of what I'm going to do but it all depends on the crowd to see whether they'll be ready for it, and if they are, then I'll play something that they've never heard before.
Are we going to hear a completely new Rene LaVice sound in this upcoming album, or will be an extension of your most recent work like with the remix of Chris Lake's “Helium” and “Where My Ladies At”?
Rene LaVice: A bit of both. When people talk about my first album “Insiduous”, people will think of it as a nod to true drum and bass with raw breaks and heavy basslines. But there are a few weird tracks on there that include a drumstep track. It's about giving them that authentic Rene LaVice sound while thinking outside of the box and contemplating what else I can do and get away with it. (laughs) Do what you want but do it good. I'll be playing with other genres as well.
When can we expect the release of the second album?
Rene LaVice: I'm going to keep that under wraps for now. It's going to be a surprise.