17 Nov New Old Music – An Interview with Onra
From his seminal 2007 release Chinoiseries – which launched him into the spotlight of the then-crowded blog landscape – Onra established himself as a pioneer in what electronic music could encompass. Onra’s music has explored new territories with every subsequent release, cementing himself as a key player in the evolution of sample-driven electronic music. Recently, his inclusion of rappers like Daz Dillinger and Chuck Inglis has created a new dynamic between beat production and vocal arrangement, best seen on his recent LP Fundamentals.
Such heavily sample-laden production can prove a challenge to translate to a live audience, but thankfully with the best part of ten years touring experience behind him audiences will be in safe hands come New Year’s Day 2017. With a packed-out schedule already, Onra promises to be a unique point of difference at Let Them Eat Cake 2017.
Matt Bladin: As we near the end of 2016, what has been the highlight for you?
Onra: Hard to say, every day has been a blessing really. If I had to choose one thing, I’d say to finally own a property.
What’s the collaboration process like with rappers like Daz Dillinger and Chuck Inglish? Are they involved in the beat making process from the start, or do they follow the initial production?
No vocal artists have been involved in the production process. It’s very easy to work with American artists ’cause they’re true professionals and when they send you something back, it doesn’t really need any touch [sic]. They built their verses on top of what I sent, and it just worked out like that.
How do these collaborations normally come about?
It depends if the artists know me (in that case, they do a friendly deal), or if they don’t, then I have to pay some money. I just try to hit them up on social media or their manager – when the email is available – and that’s it. It’s real straight forward.
Your music has always featured unique and diverse samples, where do you go to find new music that you can draw from?
I find new music every day, I’m still digging every day (almost), in various shops for various formats. It just never stops. I have a few other genres that I would like to explore in the near future.
Your music has spanned a whole spectrum of genres, where have you been looking for inspiration lately?
I’m still doing the same thing, just looking for dope samples that have potential to make a classic hip-hop beat. I can find these in any kind of music, any kind of era and that’s the beauty of it. I don’t really need to find inspiration like that, it just hits me spontaneously, just like it has always been. I’m constantly discovering new old music all the time, and that’s the only source I look into for inspiration, anything old. I’m also more composing stuff now, so it’s very inspiring to work with different tools in a different way.
I saw you’ve been digging deep through the record crates, digging up some old gold. What recent finds are you most pleased with?
I recently went to Ivory Coast and found bunch of African music from various countries. I found an insane amount of rare stuff in real good condition, but the one of the nicest pieces would be N’draman Blintch‘s Cikamele’, some crazy Nigerian disco from 1979. But the stuff that pleased me the most recently, would be that album on cassette by this artist called A-Jay, Free Style. I’m obsessed with mid-90’s R’n’B cause that’s the music I grew up on (as well as hip-hop), and to discover this singer from Texas who recorded his album in Bangkok, this is so random to me. It came out on a Thai label, and it’s a pure classic, this album could have sold millions back in the day. I was quite amazed to find this in a small record shop in Bangkok, no info on the Internet about that release.
What went down at the recent Red Bull Music Academy Weekender in Barcelona? What do you take away from these music community events?
This RBMA weekender was special because it was an opportunity for a few artists who attended the academy in 2008 in Barcelona, to come back to that city and gather one more time. It was quite a big event, almost like a little festival in a 2-club room, and it’s always a pleasure to play for RBMA, especially in Barcelona. My set has been recorded from that night and should be up online on RBMA radio soon.
What does an Onra live set sound like today?
You will have a pretty good idea after listening to that set I was just speaking about earlier when it is online, ’cause it won’t really change that much for the next few months. Working with this equipment is pretty limiting and I can’t really do anything else but to play my own music, and I’m trying to play it just the way you heard it on the record (or online). I still play some old tunes from various projects but a lot of it are exclusives to my live set, or upcoming stuff. It still is a mix of hip-hop, funk and 80’s/90’s R’n’B. Some people would say that there are a few electronic music elements to it as well.
How do you perform the rich, layered sounds of your production in a live setting?
I simply use the same equipment that I use to make music with. It’s nothing too complicated and it shouldn’t be because my music is pretty simple/straight forward. So I just have to reprogram all my beats for a live set, and try to find ways to play something live, either drums or samples or both, and find a way to make it challenging for me while not too technical for the people. I’m trying to do simple things so people can understand what’s happening… Kind of pisses me off when people think I’m just DJing, but at the same time, it means that I’ve been playing pretty tight!
What has been your experience with Australian crowds in the past?
Australia is one of best places on earth to tour, I’m probably not the only one to think that way. I’ve been playing many times on many different continents but it’s always a pleasure to play there. It’s always a challenge too, because people get to go to a lot of gigs, and there’s tons of local talents, so I think the expectations might be higher than other countries. I always have to revisit my set before flying out.