Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Le Flex's Dancefloor Suite
By Andrew B. White
If there’s one artist you should to know about this year it has to be London’s Le Flex. Once-and-a-while an artist comes along with the combination of exceptional talent, strength of material, top-notch production and a likable personality to match, and Le Flex certainly fits the bill. When you hit play on the first track of “The Dancefloor Suite” (a short intro titled ‘When I Saw Your Face’) and Le Flex’s super smooth and soulful vocals kick in, you know you’re in for something special. Immediately the tones of classic George Michael can’t be ignored, with Mr. Le Flex capturing the ‘edge of Heaven’ so-to-speak.
This is the sound of smooth 80s soft-pop, particularly the kind that was predominant in the UK at the time. American influences and sounds were remodeled locally and found their way on to “Top Of The Pops” and the result was something your whole family could agree on. Your sister loved it. You mum loved it. Your dad liked it when he heard it down at the fish and chip shop. You secretly loved it too (although you told everyone you were “into New Order, not that poppy stuff”). But there is no doubt its Le Flex who’s getting the ladies here, not Bernard Sumner, so its hard to fight against an obvious winner.
The second track on the album ‘Sway’ pulls us out onto the dancefloor, not in a glow-stick waving Ibiza way but with a mid-tempo RnB pop groove that you could happily dance to at a wedding reception with your gran. We also get a little of that Nile Rogers guitar sound to drive things along, and yes you are certainly welcome to start-up a conga-line for this one.
‘Meet Me On the Dancefloor’ brings to mind early-80s UK act Imagination’s ‘Just An Illusion’ with its distinctive gliding synth bass. Tasteful synth tones and interesting percussion flourishes help to make a very classic-sounding track. The lyrics say “I can see you like it, There ain't no denying, You know I'll make you feel alright”, and that is very true – certainly Mr Le Flex makes us feel alright!
‘Alone Together’ continues with the Imagination-influenced bass line and injects a little ‘West Coast’ yacht rock into the mix, in terms of subject matter and synth sounds. This is an ode to all hairy-chested, open-necked shirt, gold medallion-wearing and mustached smooth guys out there. Add cocktails with paper umbrellas and that lovely lady (or man) of your dreams and you’re in. Chalk another one up for the Le Flex love boat.
‘Feels Like Ooh’ brings us over into house-influenced territory. Simple stabbing chords and the unmistakable sound of the M1 piano are layered over 909 drums. The vocal sample and treatments bring us into more contemporary company but overall this track sits in the later part of the 80s where house was starting to combine with pop music.
‘Lovewitchu’ and ‘Where I Wanna Be (Tonight)’ give way to slower-paced RnB funk, suggesting the desire for a late night rendezvous. Additionally ’Lovewitchu’ also makes another appearance on the album later on (subtitled ‘A Lover’s Request’). This time it is slowed right down, suggesting the feigned requests for love may have actually been successfully returned…
‘Until The Morning Comes’ is a slow-burning affair with a slight hint of Luther Vandross-meets-Hall & Oates in places. Plenty of that unmistakable DX7 piano over a solid Moog bass. In the chorus Le Flex sings “It’s all about you” and it certainly feels that way – he’s singing right to you and you know you won’t be able to resist him… at least until you finish your chips.
At this point the album seems to veer away from the sound of the 80s and over into what I’d suggest might be touches of filtered French House. ‘Été’, ‘Recontre’, ’’In Mind Dreams With You’, ‘Take A Moment’ and ‘ We Don’t Need A Spaceship’ all follow suit. The included reworked version of ‘Meet Me On The Dancefloor’ (Le Flex Fip) also receives the same treatment.
Arguably, given the two styles, the first nine tracks could make up an separate album in itself with the remainder becoming an EP. That’s not to say all the songs here don’t work together as a whole album, it is more that you move from one stylistic territory to another. However, it is all achieved rather seamlessly, and as a collective work reflects the album’s title which is, uh, well “suited” (pun most definitely intended).
“The Dancefloor Suite” is an affecting ride. It's light (but not lightweight). It gets you moving, singing along and thinking about (or thinking about finding) a lover (fairly much simultaneously.) And it's fun. On that note, I think it is important to understand the underlying humor that exists in Le Flex’s work. Let’s face it, if you are singing sultry loves songs with lyrics such as “I stare at your face, My heart starts to race, I can't leave your gaze, Burned up in the blaze”, to pull it off you need to be able to not take yourself too seriously or run the risk of sounding like a complete tosser. There’s a great balance on display here between the serious production values and the playfulness of Mr Le Flex which ultimately adds to the album’s overall success. Indeed, for further evidence of where Le Flex is coming from, this excerpt from his Bandcamp bio may enlighten you:“This album is dedicated to all the girls I've loved before. A few of you I knew personally but most of you I only watched with binoculars, sat in a tree outside your house.”
The production values are exceptionally high on “The Dancefloor Suite”. Instrumentation is carefully chosen to create exactly the right feel and the mix is expertly crafted for maximum clarity and punch, with plenty of space to hear everything clearly. Stylistically, there is no doubting there are many influences going on but you are more likely to find yourself trying to pinpoint exactly what these are, rather than calling-out an obvious facsimile.
If you are looking for uptempo, instrumental OutRun then Mr Le Flex is probably not your man. If you have been hanging-out for some high-end, smooth Euro-influenced, 80s soft-pop, backed-up with plenty of contemporary chutzpah, then I think you’ll be well covered here.
“The Dancefloor Suite” by Le Flex comes very, very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM and is available on Bandcamp here (for ‘name your price’) as well as via all other digital platforms.
If you want to check out Le Flex’s production techniques, head over to his You Tube channel for some entertaining and informative ‘behind the scenes’ videos. Le Flex takes us through the making of several songs from “The Dancefloor Suite” in addition to some of his remixes. All of this will be very informative to anyone producing electronic music in a DAW. Watch and learn!
I had the pleasure to ask Mr Le Flex a few questions which he happily answered, in-between fielding hundreds of txt messages from young ladies and washing his Ford Escort in the driveway…
Listening to your music and seeing your behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube, it looks like you have a lot of experience with music production. Is that the case, and if so, what kind of projects have you been involved with?
Yeah I have been in the music industry and around production for a very long time. It's all I ever wanted to do and it's all i've ever done. I've had a lot of success in years gone by but I was never really happy with the music I was making. Writing songs and producing for others has never been particularly satisfying although I enjoyed it. I think because a lot of the acts I had to work with were just manufactured record company projects, there was never any artistry or honesty to the music so I found myself wanting to make music of a different kind. Le Flex allows me to do that. I don't even talk about the old stuff I used to do, it depresses me haha.
I read in another interview that you are very influenced by the likes of ABBA. I’d argue that their level of production and songwriting is the bench-mark for any great song. Would you agree, and would Le Flex be Benny or Bjorn?
Abba are the greatest musical force to walk the earth in my opinion haha. My childhood is filled with Abba. My parents were in the Abba fan club and we had all the albums and singles on vinyl and tape. I had posters on my wall and t-shirts, everything. They were and remain a huge influence on me. Everything you need to know about songwriting and production is found in their music. It's like the perfect guidebook. I learned to play their songs on piano and guitar and learned about chord structure and melody. But no matter how you try to emulate or copy them you will always fall short because their special ingredient was that touch of genius that ordinary people don't have. They are the Beethoven/Mozart equivalent in pop music. I once was at a songwriting awards show and stood within arms reach of Benny & Bjorn but couldn't bring myself to say hello. I just stayed on the spot with my mouth open like a moron haha.
Of the two of them, I am definitely a Benny wannabe. His chords and keyboard playing, along with his amazing synth sounds are the stuff of dreams. I don't think I could get a beard anywhere near as good as his though.
Are you consciously aware of the Synthwave scene? You have worked with Modal Recordings’ Ben Macklin whose Duett albums have made quite a splash in Synthwave.
I am definitely aware of the synthwave scene and I am a huge Duett fan. I watch loads of 80's movies from when I was young and the soundtracks are still so good. The Harold Faltermeyer and Jan Hammer era was so amazing. I find there are a lot of people making that kind of music nowadays and keeping it alive which is great, although the quality is sometimes questionable haha. I don't understand the obsession that some people have with being super authentic and having original analog synths, desks and reverb/delay units though. Back in the 80s and 90s I had all that stuff and let me tell you it's a bloody nightmare. Everything as plug ins in a computer with instant recall is so much better and more convenient. For me at least. If collecting gear is your hobby then fine, but don't say that your stuff is better because you paid £5000 for a compressor!
Many of your tracks on Soundcloud have had a serious amount of plays – ‘Meet Me On the Dancefloor’ has over 60,000 plays alone. Now I’m not pigeonholing Le Flex as a Synthwave artist, but many artists in that scene struggle to get those sort of numbers (which can often be a reflection of an insular scene). So it certainly looks like your music appeals to a wide range of people, across the board. Would you say people just see Le Flex as ‘good music’ first and they don’t worry about the genre?
That's interesting actually. I personally don't see Le Flex as a synthwave project although it's a tag i'll always include in uploads etc. I would just class it as pop I suppose. Artists are often so concerned with credibility that to label themselves pop would be out of the question, but for me it's the first label I'd put on my music. My Soundcloud plays I think maybe reflect the fact that my music is song based and not just a track, or even a track with a vocal on top. People who come back and listen again and again are doing so because a song has a much longer shelf life than a great club track for example. I'm sure my play count would be far higher if I actually bothered to do some proper promotion and social media which I really need to address. I just like the music making part I guess. It's interesting you should mention not worrying about the genre because it's not something I consider when i'm working. I basically just make what I want and hope that someone will like it.
When listening to Le Flex a number of artists come to mind. I’ve mentioned Imagination and George Michael in the review, even a little Rick Astley and Stock Aitken and Waterman. Notably these artist are from the UK. Do you think there is a UK influence in your work, specifically from artists that were big the UK pop scene in the 80s? Is that something inherent since you are also London born and raised?
Yes definitely. There is a massive UK influence in what i do. For me the magic spot is taking the USA soul and RnB sound of writers like Babyface and Jam & Lewis, and then putting a much more European pop melody on top. I think those soulful American chords only come from that style and the melody style only comes from Europe. Combine them and you have my idea of perfection. The best example of this is Rod Temperton who took his UK pop sensibility and applied it to the American soulfulness and wrote some of the greatest songs ever. Basically I want to be Rod Temperton haha. In fact I need to take 10 minutes to listen to Sweet Freedom and Baby Come To Me. Also the music of Stock Aitken & Waterman was a huge huge influence on me growing up. After Abba it was probably their sound and the songwriting of Mike Stock that got played the most at my house when I was young.
You’ve also done several remixes which have been very popular, particularly your remix of Kilo Kish’s ‘Curious’ which won you a remix contest. Is remixing something you enjoy?
I do enjoy remixing as it allows me to be creative without the pressure of writing the song. I've kind of slowed down on it a little bit as I get asked quite a lot, but if I think the song is good I will definitely give it a go.
The Kilo Kish remix was more an exercise in getting on the radar of Kitsuné so it served a purpose in that regard. I've also remixed Kelly Clarkson and Sia in an official capacity but the record label decided I wasn't a big enough name to use my mixes, which knowing the industry as I do, is no surprise whatsoever. Rest assured my remixes were fantastic by the way haha
What do you think of remix contests in general? Personally I find them to be cesspools of EDM swayed by an entrant’s ability to milk social media for votes, but hey…
There can be no arguing with that statement at all. Anyone with Fruity Loops and a Techno sample pack can call themselves a producer nowadays and the amount of crap you have to wade through to find anything of even medium quality is equally amazing and depressing.
Do you have your music with a publisher or have you been approached to have your music included in film or TV? I can definitely hear Le Flex in a TV series such as Amazon’s Red Oaks (set in the mid-80s). Would you be happy with £10,000 in return for ‘Feels Like Ooh’ being used in a laxative ad?
I used to be published in the old days but not any more. I like keeping control of my music and making sure it's not used in any laxative ads haha. Although, Feels Like Ooh would be an ideal title for laxatives or condoms adverts!! TV and film would be great. I'd like it to be in one of those calming films like Lost In Translation etc where the actor does lots of staring into the middle distance thinking about their lost love as Le Flex plays in the background!
Finally, what kind of guy is Le Flex? Does he like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain, or hanging outside the fish and chip shop with a miniature of Beefeater?
I am a lazy bastard. I procrastinate like a champion and have to work incredibly hard just to get off the sofa. I'm constantly fighting the urge to do nothing. It takes up most of my day.
Normally I try and read most of the internet in the morning and then again in the afternoon just in case I missed something the first time. Then i'll have dinner followed by a well earned Scotch and see if I can watch TV until bedtime before doing it all again the next day. When I do finally make some music it is normally rubbish. Sometimes though there is a little bit of gold in there which might become something good. My YouTube videos are almost like highlight reels. You don't see all the bad ideas I had before I got to the good stuff haha.
Thanks Le Flex for your responses!