Described by Fact! Magazine as ‘your favourite DJ’s favourite DJ’, LeFtO is affiliated with Brownswood Recordings, Blue Note and !K7 Records. He’s a DJ, radio presenter, promoter and producer. Not only does he live for music, he loves good sound too. We caught up with him via Skype to find out more.
How would you describe your work?
That’s a hard one because I do a lot of things in all different parts of the music industry. I produce. I did a remix album for Blue Note back in 2005. I’ve done several EPs of random beats that I do in the house. I had an album out in April for Record Store Day. That’s one part – producing. Then I curate a lot too. I have my own night called ‘LeFtO presents…’ And I’ve been hosting a stage at the Dour Festival in Belgium. It’s a major festival – one of the biggest in the country, about 160,000 people. I host one day, the Saturday, when I put acts on that suit my radio show. That’s another thing as well – I’ve done a radio show for the last 15 years, on FM and online. It’s one of the biggest radio stations – a bit like the BBC but in Belgium.
What I also do is DJ, of course. That’s my main thing. That’s what I travel for and what takes up most of my time. Not only the DJing but the digging; discovering music – whether it’s online or in the record shops. I kind of prefer to do it online these days because it’s much easier. Record shops sometimes look at you when you come with a pile of 20 or 30 records to listen to, because it’s not those one-dollar bin records, it’s 30 or 40 bucks, or even more. So I just like to listen, at least. Sometimes in the record shops you get politics, you know? Online, you can do it here at your house and listen – go on YouTube sometimes. You hear something you like and boom, you just buy it.
Do you have a preferred format?
I will always buy on vinyl. If I do buy something on the internet it will always be on vinyl. I play Serato and I play vinyl. Serato is very easy for me because I can keep the feel of playing vinyl using the files in my computer. The technique is the same, I still use the vinyl format of Serato. It’s still two turntables and a mixer. No CDJs, I don’t like them. And none of those controller things.
I’ve been playing for 20 years, this year. I’ve always used turntables, so that’s the technique I know and prefer. I think it’s a very cool invention, to have Serrato for people who actually started to play music with turntables. It makes more sense to us, the older generation. The younger guys, they don’t care. Some of them might not even know what vinyl is.
You travel all around the world?
Yeah. It’s all on my arm… (LeFtO shows us his arm, which is tattooed with an impressive list of airport codes of places he’s travelled to around the world). I try to travel as much as I can and to share. When you go far away, like Asia, there is a gap in music. You can go there and do something that they’re not used to, which is a good thing. That’s why we do it, to bring the audiences something different. That’s the main reason I travel. But it’s very cool to play at home in Belgium. You look around and recognise a lot of people – they’re familiar to you.
What are the crowds like in Belgium compared to somewhere like?
It’s a bit like London but you could say that the London crowd is overwhelmed with events, sometimes on the same night. Therefore it’s sometimes a dilemma for the crowd. In Brussels people don’t have five things to choose from in a certain vibe, so that’s probably the main difference.
When did you start paying attention to the audio output?
It triggered something in me, the first time I played on a Funktion-One system. It hit me in the balls. That’s something that stays with you. Something you remember. From that point I was like: “Why do we have bad sound when we can have that?” I started to convince people that something has to change. Something has to change in the club culture – especially here. We have a lot of beautiful clubs but the sound systems don’t go with how beautiful the clubs are. But it is changing…
You get other good sound systems too but there’s something with Funktion-One that I’ve never experienced before. It’s a kind of dry sound. It’s very dry, that’s why it comes like it does. It’s a different kick. And it’s very direct in certain directions. It’s something you don’t get with other good sound systems.
Some people say it’s good for clubs and it’s good for DJs but it’s not good for live acts. I’ve seen a lot of live acts on Funktion-One and I think it’s about how you mix it down and how you do sound checks.
I really started to try and convince people to order good sound systems, to rent good sound systems, to buy good sound systems. It’s very important because a good sound system doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt your ears. A good sound system isn’t just a good sound system for the club, it’s also good for DJs. Monitors are really important too. I’ve seen good sound systems on the dancefloor but shitty monitors in the DJ booth. It can be painful and it’s not really healthy. The best combo is to have very good sound on the dancefloor, not too loud just very well directed, good subs and monitors too.
Do you notice a different reaction from the crowd when you have a good system?
When I have a good sound system… usually I ask the lighting guy to turn the lights down. I just like it pretty dark. It can be bright for a second or two when a tune kicks in but then I like it black again. It’s clear that when you have a good sound system and it’s been EQ’d well, it makes a lot of difference. You will feel the sound. You want to go to the club, have a beer and enjoy comfortable sound. As long as it doesn’t hurt people’s ears.
You don’t have to put Funktion-One monitors too loud, that’s the thing, because they sound comfortable and clear. And you feel it. I like to be on stage and feel the same bass as the people in the crowd. It excites me as well. If I can’t feel anything, I can’t get as excited as them. I have to be in the same mode, the same status as the guys at the front.
On getting good sound…
Not all promoters understand sound, in general. They can’t hear the difference or feel the difference, while I can – whether it’s a little warmer, a little colder, a little drier.
The thing is with Funktion-One, I’ve seen people buying Funktion-One without the subs. I kind of think they’ve missed the whole point there, you should just buy the whole thing. I’ve seen owners trying to EQ the system themselves. I’ve heard some shitty Funktion-One sound systems just because the promoters have touched things too much and they don’t know what they’re doing. With a sound system, you have to follow the rules.
Do you remember the first time you heard Funktion-One?
It was probably 2007 or 2008 at the Worldwide Festival… it was a DanceStack. I was like, ‘holy…’ I was sold, basically. It was an amazing experience. Since then, I’ve always dreamed of being able to play every week on a sound system like that… with a soundman because it’s important to have a good soundman too.
I try to use Funktion-One as much as I can. I actually do a lot in telling organisers and promoters to have a Funktion-One. I was once in a car with someone who was driving me back from a festival and I told him about Funktion-One, and he actually bought the whole system for his house. He bought the whole the thing – my neighbours would kill me.
He had a crazy car. It was a Porsche Cayenne, which was orange and light blue, with sponsors stickers all over it. I thought we were going to do some rallies! We just started talking about sound systems. I’d just finished this gig and I was like: “Yeah, it was okay but the sound could’ve been a bit better.” We started talking about good systems and he ended up buying Funktion-One for his house. It’s always good to talk about sound.