Interview: L-Vis 1990

Night Slugs honcho L-Vis 1990 plays MoMA PS1’s Warm Up bash.

L-Vis 1990

L-Vis 1990 Photograph: Courtesy James Connolly

Along with similarly venturesome U.K. labels such as Numbers and Hessle Audio, Night Slugs has been hard at work over the past few years documenting the bubbling, ever-shifting sonics of underground, electronically oriented dance music. Founded in London in early 2010 by L-Vis 1990 (known to his pals as James Connolly) and Alex “Bok Bok” Sushon, the imprint has released envelope-pushing cuts from Mosca, Egyptrixx, Girl Unit, Jam City and, of course, Sushon and Connolly themselves. After seven years in the British capital, Connolly recently made the move to NYC—and this Saturday, July 20, he’ll be at Warm Up, where he’ll undoubtedly be playing a tune or two off of his stark, weird and wonderful latest, the EP Ballads. On one of the hottest days of the year so far, TONY caught up with Connolly for a quick phone chat.

Time Out New York:
This is your first summer in New York City. As I’m speaking to you, the temperature is 95 degrees. How are you dealing with the heat?
L-Vis 1990: I’m at Rockaway Beach right now. So I’m dealing with it very well!

Time Out New York: I’m jealous. We’ll talk more about your relocation in a minute, but first I wanted to ask you about your label, Night Slugs. It sprang out of a party that you and Bok Bok were doing, right?
L-Vis 1990: Yeah. The party started in 2008; basically, we were playing this different kind of music, and there was no party that would book us! So we had to create our own parties. And we’re still in a similar situation, really. [Laughs]

Time Out New York:
I’m guessing that you started the label for a similar reason.
L-Vis 1990: That’s 100 percent true. We were wondering why there was nowhere for people like Kingdom and Egyptrixx to release on, and we just decided that we had to start our own label. I think it was Kingdom that really got it going—we were trying to figure out where the hell his music could come out.

Time Out New York: Was Kingdom the first artist with a record on Night Slugs?
L-Vis 1990: Actually, it was Mosca.

Time Out New York: Oh yeah, the Square One EP!
L-Vis 1990: That’s right. That one came along and kind of blew us away, and putting it out first felt like the right thing to do—especially with that title.

Time Out New York: I’m guessing that when Night Slugs started releasing records, you had a lot of people asking what kind of music the label was putting out. Did you ever come up with a good answer?
L-Vis 1990: We’ve always tried to avoid putting a name on what we do. It’s been a constant battle over the past five years; people are always trying to pigeonhole you. We’ve been lumped in with bass music, which is such a bad way of describing our sound. I don’t know—it’s just pretty hard to describe.

Time Out New York: There’s actually a pretty wide range of work on the label, from what you might describe as straight-up house to music that’s considerably more adventurous, both rhythmically and soundwise. How do you know when somebody’s music is right for Night Slugs?
L-Vis 1990: It’s just like a feeling that you get from a record; you just know when it’s right. But we actually don’t put out stuff from very many outside acts. We’ve got our core crew, and we’re all on a wavelength, you know? We have our own language that we try to put across on our records. We do have some specific rules for music on our Club Constructions series, though, like a Dogme 95 mission-statement kind of thing.

Time Out New York: And what’s included in that mission statement?
L-Vis 1990: It’s supposed to be music that keeps people focused in the club, and not take them to a new place. A lot of our records are about trying to create new worlds, but Club Constructions is about keeping you focused on the place that you’re in.

Time Out New York: It’s a more utilitarian kind of music than your usual stuff.
L-Vis 1990: Totally. And we have ten points that everyone has to follow, stuff like “No melody.” Or “No use of vocals.”

Time Out New York: You might not be able to describe the Night Slugs sound—but there is a very specific visual element to your releases.
L-Vis 1990: Bok Bok started out doing all of that, though now we are starting to outsource it. The whole visual aspect is a kind of collaboration between the artist and us. For my last EP, Ballads, I came up with the concept, then it went through Alex, and then we worked together to figure out what we need and who we can get to do it. The aesthetic of the label is such an important thing.

Time Out New York: You started a sister label in 2011, Fade to Mind.
L-Vis 1990: Fade to Mind was actually started by Kingdom; he wanted a label that was associated with Night Slugs, Alex designed the logo, and there it was. It’s a separate entity, but we’re all held together by this vibe we have. We’re one big family, you know?

Time Out New York: Fade to Mind is based in L.A., so I guess it’s like your California cousin.
L-Vis 1990: We’ve actually never been that Londoncentric; we’re not just playing grime and garage. You can hear influences from London, certainly, but our influences come from far and wide.

Time Out New York: Let’s talk about your own music. From the start, your sound has been pretty adventurous, but there’s often been a basis in what you might call traditional songwriting, like your first release on Night Slugs, 2010’s “Forever You.” But it feels like when you put out your 2011 album, Neon Dreams, you had decided to go full throttle in that direction.
L-Vis 1990: Totally. I was at a place in my life where I really wanted to write something with a pop sensibility. I like to be challenged, and writing songs and working with other people was kind of a new thing for me. I really enjoyed it. It’s something that I think I’ll come back to in the future, perhaps producing for other people—but for now, that was my little move into the pop world.

Time Out New York: I was going to say that most of your releases since Neon Dreams haven’t had that pop edge. The Circuits EP is pretty much Chicago-style jacking house, and Ballads is…well, I don’t know what to call it!
L-Vis 1990: Yeah. [Laughs] I think after the album came out, I just wanted to get far away from that kind of sound. I wanted to take things back to the club. I started doing that Club Constructions series right after the album, too. I think I was trying to tell people, “Yo, I’m not just this pop dude!”

Time Out New York: Did you get any blowback after the release of Neon Dreams?
L-Vis 1990: Well, I think it did confuse some people. I’m actually going to start using a new name for my housier stuff, just to help people kind of understand the differences in what I’m doing.

Time Out New York: Speaking of names, where did L-Vis 1990 come from?
L-Vis 1990: It comes from that band Sigue Sigue Sputnik. The German remix of “21st Century Boy” has an intro where this deep voice describes the ultimate band, which is going to change the future by resisting the past. And that band is called Elvis 1990.

Time Out New York: Nicely obscure reference!
L-Vis 1990: Yeah! [Laughs] I used to be obsessed with that band.

Time Out New York: You’ve been quoted as saying that Ballads is the beginning of a new chapter for you. Can you explain that a bit?
L-Vis 1990: Like I was saying before, Neon Dreams was the end of one chapter for me. And Ballads is sort of where I think my music’s going to be heading. And I think you’ll be hearing a lot of stuff in a similar vein in the future.

Time Out New York: Do you have music in the pipeline?
L-Vis 1990: Oh, I’ve got lots of little projects happening!

Time Out New York: Speaking of new chapters, after living in London for seven years, you recently relocated to New York. What was the impetus behind that move?
L-Vis 1990: It was just for a change of scenery, really, and a change of energy. London had lost its excitement, especially in the club world. There weren’t any great parties happening, and the music has kind of moved into such a deep- and tech-house direction. I wasn’t really feeling it; that’s not my vibe. So I wanted to try something new, and New York seemed like the perfect place to come to.

Time Out New York:And are you liking it so far?
L-Vis 1990: I love it. The energy in the city is next level. It doesn’t matter what exactly is going on; it’s more just about vibing off that energy.

Time Out New York: And we have a beach you can lie on when it’s hot.
L-Vis 1990: Yeah!

Time Out New York: Do you miss anything about London? You did live there for seven years.
L-Vis 1990: That’s difficult to say. I am back there pretty often, for shows and stuff. Obviously, I miss my crew.… But to be honest, I’m really focused on New York right now.

Time Out New York: And now you are playing at one of New York’s biggest parties, Warm Up. Have you been to Warm Up yet?
L-Vis 1990: I’ve never been to one, but I’m really excited to be doing this.

Time Out New York: Assuming the weather cooperates, you’ll be playing in front of 3,000 people or so. Do you find yourself playing differently in that kind of situation than you would be if you were deejaying at, say, a sweaty basement party?
L-Vis 1990: There are different styles that you can use in different situations. I’ve played festivals for 9,000 people, and I’ve found that sometimes it helps to ease people in by playing some shit that they know. But New York has a pretty educated crowd, so I won’t be changing what I do for PS1. They’ll just be getting an L-Vis set, you know?

Time Out New York: Kode9 is playing too—wasn’t he a guest at one of those early Night Slugs parties?
L-Vis 1990: Yes, and he and his label, Hyperdub, were a big inspiration when we were starting Night Slugs, so it will be great to play with him. And Kelela is going to be there as well, who has something new coming out on Fade to Mind pretty soon.

Time Out New York: I wasn’t really familiar with her until I wrote the listing for the gig—but I love this quote from her that I ran onto online: “I would like to do Brandy, but weirder.”
L-Vis 1990: Yeah, she’s awesome. You need to see her live.

Time Out New York: I will, as will a lot of other people. Okay, I’ll now let you enjoy your beach day.
L-Vis 1990: Ha! I will.

Warm Up 2013: Kode9 + L-Vis 1990 + Recloose + Kelela + Obey City is at MoMA PS1 Saturday, July 20.

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)

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