Interview: LeftO

Interview: LeftO

Foolishly thinking that it was all mainstream, and that my personal selections would always be infinitely better, I never really used to listen to the radio. That was before I had my ears opened to the world of radio curated by genuine music-heads like LeftO.

Foolishly thinking that it was all mainstream, and that my personal selections would always be infinitely better, I never really used to listen to the radio. That was before I had my ears opened to the world of radio out there curated by genuine music-heads like LeftO.

Shows not based around chart-sales and with the aim to please the masses, but carefully crafted by diggers and fanatics to inspire listeners and share hot finds (Sequick covering The Isley Brothers’ “Between The Sheets”? Oh my…). And that’s where my favourite radio deejay comes in – LeftO.

His shows on Studio Brussels are renowned for consistently throwing out the freshest sounds from hip hop, soul, funk, jazz, world – basically anything that sounds dope, and all done with a distinct sense of taste: LeftO’s taste.

In fact, LeftO’s sense of which acts are worth watching extends to his role documenting and curating festival line-ups – his stage at Dour Festival was pulses with the freshest beats and vibrations (not to mention hyped up, intoxicated Belgian teenagers…) and watching his short films of Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival makes you cry a little inside that you weren’t there.

So, in awe of LeftO’s Midas touch at musical curation we spoke to the expert-extractor himself to chat about how he goes panning for gold…

How do you source music for your shows? Do get sent stuff mostly, or do you actively search/ dig for interesting stuff?

To be honest, it’s a bit of everything; from intensive research on the net, reading interesting stuff in magazines like Wax Poetics, linking with like-minded friends on iChat, and receiving promos in the mailbox a month after I had the digital promo. And I’m not ashamed to say I also look into the most obscure playlists from deejays specialised in one genre. You cannot know everything in music – there’s so much that you need to get redirected sometimes, and therefore every way of research helps.

You must listen to so much new music – how do you know when you’ve found a gem?

I think it’s pretty easy; I usually go through it very quickly. I might miss it sometimes but usually it works that way – listen to the intro, skip through the song every 30 seconds till the end and you’ll know exactly how the track sounds. Very fast my brain will react positive or skip the song. If the intro sounds great I might have to listen until the chorus comes (if there is one), and if the chorus is good I might listen till the end. Sometimes you think the song is just “ok”, but you go out, play it out loud and people go crazy, and then the song becomes more than just an “ok”. Some music might really work different depending on where you play it.

Do you prefer radio deejaying to party deejaying?

I have no preference as it’s completely different. There’s music you can play on radio that wouldn’t fit into a club or a venue with a serious sound system. On radio every tempo, everything could work as people are sitting behind their computer, listening at home or in their cars. Party is more where people go to dance; it’s more physical, hormones start to work differently once you’re surrounded by good looking people, showing moves and acting weird on vibrations. So you need to play differently, but both are really cool to do. What I really hate to do though is pre-record my radio show – there’s no vibe when you’re not live on air.

How does it feel to share the musical discoveries you make with thousands of listeners? Especially as music you discover yourself can feel kinda personal right?

You can’t describe the feeling, it’s something special – you feel connected to those thousands of listeners on a weekly basis, it’s like a relationship you have and you don’t want to disappoint them. On my level it is a personal taste, it really is just what I like, and I take the force out of it and out of my followers to continue the daily research of new music, new influences and new vibrations. You know, I’ve been doing this for more than 12 years now on nationwide radio in Belgium, and it’s only in the last 4 or 5 years that I’ve been feeling the interaction with the listener. Before that, I received reactions more randomly but now I have loads of emails to answer right after the show. And those questions need to be answered as they’re usually related to the music I play, and since it’s still a more underground style that I play, it can only help – help to get this music more mainstream. This is what I’m aiming for, making underground music mainstream.

Do you consciously seek to inspire listeners? Or just share music you like?

I try to inspire the local artist – a lot of producers and deejays listen to the show weekly. I know that and therefore try to give them hot tips and directions in music that they wouldn’t think of going until they hear it. But sharing is of course what you do when you make radio, that’s what making radio should be. Today it seems that radio is just following trends more than finding or making the trends. It is important to have radio shows that can still inspire people or make people smile or cry, but it’s becoming rare these days.

Could you say a little about the role you feel music plays in your life?

So far it’s been everything for me for the last 20 years. It’s been intense for me for so long, from working at the local record store to hosting a nationwide radio show and performing for many people at clubs and festivals. And the travel around the world to share my personal taste in music has been exceptional and I’m blessed. And yes, it can be exhausting, you have a totally different life rhythm than most of the people but I can’t complain as I’m having the best time of my life and have the best job in the world. The only thing you need to do is make sure it doesn’t blind you from the real things in life – the reality can be cruel if you don’t expect it, because it’s right there, around the corner. It’s like beer, enjoy with moderation!