September 05 2018

Lefto's New Beats

New York-Le Bain
We catch up with Brussels-based selector Lefto before he returns to Le Bain on Thursday, September 20th.
LE BAIN: You'll be playing Le Bain for our Bonus Beats party series. We almost called that series New Beat. I guess that rings a bell, huh? You once said your “first record was probably a New Beat record.”
LEFTO: [Laughs.] “New Beat” would’ve been a great name for a party as well! The Belgian pre-techno genre that was New Beat was pretty special for me; I was still trying to find my way as a kid, and I found a whole new culture in New Beat. It wasn’t just music--it was a way of life, a dress code, a haircut, and a dance, and for some there were also drugs involved. You could almost compare it to what hip-hop was as a culture. I remember friends being caught stealing Benz and Volkswagen logos from cars parked in the street, and then wear it on their shoelaces as it was part of the style. New Beat gave me the more electronic ear, the more house, acid vibe. After that wave, hip-hop came into my life.
The Standard
"I started to play everything that I liked, and that’s a whole lotta music."
You ran the first national hip-hop radio show in Belgium, on Studio Brussels. That was in 1999, pretty late for hip-hop, but since then, the hip-hop scene in Brussels is remarkable. Could you introduce us to one of your favorite Belgium hip-hop artists right now?
I remember that there were a lot of try-outs way before 1999 by the station to start a hip-hop show, but for some reason it really never worked out until we started it properly in 1999. That might explain why it started late. It is true that the Brussels rap scene has been doing great these days, so good that most of our artists are the best-selling artists in France as well. Artists like Caballero & JeanJass, Hamza, Damso (who’s probably the best-selling artist), Le77, l’Or du Commun, and Blu Samu do a great job at representing the city and country, but I would definitely go for Romeo Elvis. He and his producer, Le Motel, have produced some of the best tracks in the last few years and have millions of YouTube views. 

You once said, “We all grew up on hip-hop, so that’s why I think my show never really changed, but rather the times changed.”
I meant that there was a logical evolution in my show. As I was getting older, the show grew into another beast and evolved naturally. The music industry changed the rap game as well; it became today's pop music. I lived through that shift and couldn’t always relate to the sound direction or the lyrical content, so I started to play everything that I liked, and that’s a whole lotta music. And I still run the radioshow weekly on the national station, as well as my weekly on Gilles Peterson’s WorldwideFM.
Lefto in Transit: Brussels
As "one of the most important tastemakers Europe has to offer,” what has been your most recent musical coup de foudre?
Oh, there’s many, but I’ve been playing the music of this mysterious cat called Roland Jones recently. His sound is like ’90s trap/rap from Memphis. I think he might also be from there. It’s pretty low-fi, and I think he sells his music on cassettes as well. 

Tell us about the documentary Lefto in Transit that was just released. How did it come up, and what did you learn from doing it?
It is a socio-cultural documentary in six episodes, where we explore the underground music scenes (and more) of London, Brussels, Seoul, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the greater Belgium. It took us three years to shoot everything, and it was a beautiful experience. Each episode is totally different, but eventually I realized that all the stories we’ve heard in those episodes are all kind of linked to a same struggle, and that’s the beauty of it I think. What we stand for, the scene, the musical journey, how we bring it to a wider audience...it's a daily battle for any upcoming artist, and that’s one of the many things you can feel watching these documentaries.