INTERVIEW: DJ LeFtO
by Ayian C.
New York City is about to get a special treat as DJ LeFtO hits the decks at Francois K’s Deep Space night at Cielo. LeFtO’s in-depth and expansive knowledge of music, coupled with his dynamic energy and creativity on the decks, have made him one of the most in-demand DJs in the business.
With a name meaning ‘early bird’, LeFtO from Belgium is one of the most diligent crate diggers in the industry, always at the forefront of discovering new, quality music. Associated with several record labels as Stones Throw, !K7, Blue Note and Brownswood, he has earned himself the respect of other revered tastemakers. In 2011, LeFtO won ‘DJ of the Year’ at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards.
LeFtO’s eclectic selections, seamlessly switching it up from one genre to another – hip hop, jazz, house, funk, Brazilian, Afrobeat, all sorts – taking crowds through a musical roller coaster ride that unfailingly gets them screaming and jumping for more.
I managed to catch up with LeFtO prior to his New York trip to find out a bit more about his globetrotting adventures.
Looking back at 2012, what’s been your best DJ gig, your worst, your most memorable?
Looking back at 2012, it has been my best year so far; it’s the Year of the Dragon. I’m a dragon, would that be the reason? I don’t know, but every single gig I had was great in general. Not sure what the best party was – the boat at Suncebeat in Croatia, the Brownswood Christmas party in London a couple of weeks ago, my first time in Kazakhstan, the Do-Over parties I’ve done in Los Angeles, Manila and Osaka. Or was it one of my own nights in Belgium, the rooftop party in beautiful Rio de Janeiro, the Worldwide Festival in Sète or my 10th anniversary curating the Dour Festival in Belgium? I don’t know.
I’ve had a great time this year and can’t remember the worst gig, well, maybe there’s a few of those parties where promoters just want to have you because they’ve heard of you, but in the end their regular crowd isn’t into your music. It barely happens, but it does sometimes, and when it does, it helps you to stay with two feet on the ground.
My most memorable was probably the Do-Over on Thanksgiving, called the Left-Over actually, and that was an extra gig after a tour I did for three weeks. I was exhausted, a little bit dizzy. The place was very packed and I wasn’t sure I could handle it. In the end, the energy I got from the crowd really helped me to rock the party. I always have fun at the Do-Over parties; those guys throw crazy line-ups.
How would you describe your approach to your DJ sets? For someone who has never seen/heard you DJ, what could they expect from you?
Well, it must be difficult at first for someone who has never seen me deejay before. I do not fit in one category, I love so many genres of music and I like to play it out as well. Some people wouldn’t understand, some would love the way I take them on a trip, so, for someone who has never seen me play it will depend on how much they love music in general.
What do you do when you’re not traveling the world for your DJ gigs?
If I’m not traveling the world, I probably travel around Belgium, or prepare my next move, my next event in town, or my new residency in Paris. I also take a lot of time searching for new music, new artists, who deserve to get pushed a bit and at the same time I am still discovering the 70’s world of music, the world of jazz is fascinating I think.
You’re based in Brussels, what’s the music scene like over there?
Not sure if I can compare it to any other city I’ve been to, but I would say it is a little London. Brussels is not an easy city if you’re a visitor. It’s a city you need to spend time in; you need locals to help you to find the right parties, the cool spots. But there’s enough things to do in this city, it is not a coincidence that we did a Worldwide Session here last November, it was a successful party. The local monthly parties are excellent as well, “Strictly Niceness” is one of those; 600+ people enjoying the sound of soul, hip-hop, funk and tropical vibes. Another one, more disco and house party is “Our Party” organised by the Onda Sonora crew. And never forget that there’s more cities around Brussels in a 30min radius, which gives you even more going out opportunities.
What are your top three music festivals? Any place you haven’t played yet where you would like to in 2013?
For the line-up and the environment I would give the Worldwide Festival the number one spot. It is a magical place!
I contribute, curate for the Dour Festival here in Belgium, it’s been named “Best Medium-Sized Festival” a couple times and I’m proud to be a part of it. It is THE festival for me in the country, although there’s a lot of competition, there’s not one festival that has such a wide range of genres. That’s worth 2nd place.
And I want to give props to Rustam Ospanoff for organising a festival in Kazakhstan every year, yes I said it, Kazakhstan. That is the main reason why I will give his festival the 3rd spot. It is surreal to be able to perform on a festival in EurAsia called Jazzystan. Rustam is not afraid of bringing over artists such as Marcos Valle, Soil&Pimp Sessions, Rainer Truby and Gilles Peterson. For me, it is the perfect example of someone who’s following his dream and the crowd feels that energy and translates it into something positive.
What new talent is exciting you the most at the moment?
Of course, every year I’ve been blown away by artists. This year I must say that Hiatus Kaiyote has been that group. The band is excellent and the singer Nai Palm is mind-blowing. Coming from the golden era of hip-hop myself I’ve been totally into the retro-mania of the New York hip-hop scene. Artists like Joey Bada$$ and his Pro-Era crew are the future of the New York hip-hop scene. They bring a fresh style on 90’s beats basically, it’s what hip-hop in NY should sound like I think.
Is this the first time you’re playing with Francois K?
Yes it is, very excited to play records with François K, legendary artist and it’s his own night at Cielo so yes, it’s like playing his living room for me basically. François has been doing it for so long, I really had to experience this night at least once. I’ve played Cielo once for Nickodemus’ Turntables On The Hudson night. The sound is great and the club is just the kind of club you want to play records.
Where you off to after your New York gig?
New York is the start of a new season. From there I have many places lined up. Australia is in the pipeline, so is Japan, and places all around Europe as well.
What are you looking forward to in 2013 – any new, forthcoming projects?
I’m not sure what 2013 will bring for me. I just try to continue what I’ve been building in 2012. Everything I do is an investment for my future, my job doesn’t give me the chance to look forward too much. I believe in Karma and I think that if you’re constant in what you do it can only be a good thing. You can call me a workaholic yes.
LeFtO and Francois K play at Deep Space on Monday, January 7, 2013 at Cielo. – 18 Little West 12th Street, New York.