A new monthly series profiling cutting-edge creators of all stripes with ties to Montreal.
Few producers have proven to be as skilled at winning over both the mainstream and the underground as Lunice Fermin Pierre II – the reigning prince of Lachine, Quebec. Over the last few years, the 28-year-old former B-boy has toured with the Queen of Pop on her Rebel Heart tour, busted a move with Azealia Banks in her breakout video, 212, and received a major endorsement from Kanye on 2013’s Yeezus. The dapper beatmaker got his very auspicious start back in 2007, dropping “lazer bass” and other tempo-shifting delights alongside buddy Jacques Greene at the now-defunct Plateau staple Coda Club. One thing led to another, and before you knew it he was graduating from RBMA London’s Class of 2010, collaborating with Scottish selector Hudson Mohawke on their trap-inflected TNGHT project and churning out radical rhythms for acclaimed hip-hop talents Le1f and Angel Haze.
When we meet up with this Montreal ambassador at his Old Port studio-slash-creative sanctuary, he’s working on the liner notes for his forthcoming (and long-awaited) debut album, 360, slated for an early 2017 release. The dapper artist’s bright and cozy space is festooned with career mementos and offbeat memorabilia. A Lunice jersey made by a few devout Swedish fans hangs from an exposed brick wall. An Expos cap from a baseball ad he once scored shares shelf space with the obligatory Russian dolls he purchased on a trip to Saint Petersburg. He fills us in on the many considerations that went into designing the space – the pared-down sound gear, the aromatic scent set-up and even the colourful mood board, where he fleshes out ideas for everything from concert merch to music videos. As the poised musician prepares to embark on a whole new chapter, he readily revisited some of his early career milestones and gave us a peak into how the magic happens.
Let’s start with a nod to one of the core ladies in your life. I hear your older sister was your informant on all things 1990s pop culture-related?
Definitely. I’m so grateful to have an older sister because I imagine being an only child is hard – especially as you have no point of reference for all the pop culture that came before you! She was that for me: the entire 1990s with TLC, Timbaland and Missy, and she exposed me to all the boy bands and their choreographies. I really wanted to breakdance when I was a kid, so whenever I’d walk past her room, she’d drag me in and be like, “this is the new Backstreet Boys music video, this move is dope, we gotta practice this.”
The first time I came across your dancing was in Ghislain Poirier’s video for Wha-La-La-Leng. How did that come about?
I was actually talking about that with my girl recently. It’s the video for which I wore the most make-up – ever! Anyhow, Ghislain’s pretty close to the whole Bass Culture crew, which was held at Zoobizarre, just like his Bounce le Gros night. We were all sort of connected from the get-go.
That video’s a great showcase for your freestyle skills, which you had already begun sharing on YouTube by then, right?
Yeah. I was freestyle dancing to music by artists like Flying Lotus. People never used to dance to that kind of stuff, so I was one of the early people trying it out. I posted those videos to promote new music from the perspective of a dancer. Surprisingly, many dancers didn’t even understand how to dance to that kind of music at the time. Now it’s commonplace, but back then, I was going to practice playing the weirdest MF DOOM track, and I would get so much hate from the B-boys.
Is that what led you to break away from the B-boy community?
That was a big part of it. I just felt people were really into following trends and what was really hype, which back then was acrobatics, back flips and Cirque du Soleil-type stuff. That’s amazing, but it got so saturated. Every battle became a Cirque du Soleil battle of the year, you know? I was like, where’s the funk? So I got out.
Your interests have always run the gamut from photography and filmmaking to drawing, which your Filipino grandfather encouraged you to do from a young age. Do you still dabble in any of those things?
I still take an interest in a lot of those things. Before music, I studied cinema and intermedia/cyber arts, which was the start of me being influenced by different practices. Now I’m doing music but also trying to keep up my photography. My only way to express it for the time being is through Instagram. But that’s what I’m figuring out right now: how do I get back to making films? Now that the debut album’s done, I can start focusing on music videos, tour videos and really pushing ideas. It’s a really fun stage.
Fans have been awaiting your forthcoming LP, 360, for quite some time. Was it difficult to manage the public’s expectations and not feel the very 21st-century pressure to strike while the iron was hot?
Not really. With my debut album, I wanted to take the time to go deeper. And the only way to do that was to figure myself out. I was doing music but I also took time to just do life. You want to be more efficient as you get older, so you want to figure a couple of things out. That’s what I was doing.
You’ve said that your creative process is “80% conceptualization and 20% application.” Do you generally let ideas fully take shape before you ratchet things up a notch in the studio?
Yeah, that’s the foundation. I used to do the opposite, because I wanted to get all my stuff out there. I came up in the age of MySpace, where it was actually fun to sift through tons of material. Nowadays it’s very tiring, but back then was early days, with hundreds of pages for Lil B and stuff like that. But ever since I decided to control how I make use of my time, I’ve been so much more at peace. I hardly ever get writer’s block anymore, whereas I used to experience it all the time because I was constantly working on music.
By the likes of what I’m seeing in this room, from the mood boards to the merch plans, you seem to take a very holistic, big-picture approach to your creative output.
The way I see it is like a start-up company: you begin with one product, put it out, test it in different markets, and as you start to grow, you think about where to expand to next. Sadly, many artists’ growth strategy is only concerned with doing whatever’s popular. But look at Diplo. He didn’t initially aim to be the “biggest artist.” Fuck no. He wanted to go deep, create a whole subculture, talk about it and share that knowledge. That grew so big that at a certain point, he was like, okay, I might as well make it into a massive commercial thing. Look at him today: nobody’s ever going to replace him, and that’s because he did it organically, from the ground up. That’s how I see it.
You’ve kept up a number of collaborations over the years, from TNGHT to Nouveau Palais. Have you found it fruitful to keep bouncing ideas around with fellow producers?
Definitely. It’s nice to collaborate with different people. I’d rather be doing side things than focus solely on my one, all-consuming task of making music by myself. It’s not necessarily about the end result, but the shared energy of coming up with ideas together and learning from each other.
Your Nouveau Palais mates – Vaughn Robert Squire and Ango – are old friends of yours, going back to the early Turbo Crunk days. What have you learned from them along the way?
They taught me everything. The whole Turbo Crunk crew – from Jacques Greene, Sixtoo [Vaughn Robert Squire] and Ango to Seb Diamond – taught me the whole nightlife thing, how to play music and everything.
Before they introduced you to Montreal’s nightlife, had you shown interest in exploring that realm?
I really was more of a gamer kid, to be honest. I would stay home, game and drink soda all night. A lot of people don’t know they’re introverts, but I knew! (laughs) It’s funny; the guys didn’t know that my first club experience was the first gig Jacques Greene booked me at. He was running a night when he was 17 and I was 19. That’s also where I met Sixtoo, who then invited me to play his night. I was never the guy to initiate going to a club. Something about clubs seemed very high schoolish to me – I was very standoffish whenever something reminded me of that vibe. But I remember one night hearing Jacques Greene playing an edit of a Glitch Mob track and my whole perspective on life shifted in that moment.
Lately, you’ve taken a few fledgling local talents under your wing, such as West Island emcees CJ Flemings and Speng. Is it important for you to give back to the community that propped you up?
You know it. There are people who’ve given me precious knowledge, and I’m thankful enough to realize that. The next generation – talented rappers like CJ Flemings and Speng – need to be exposed to this knowledge. I get a lot of happiness from sharing that. Some people want to keep certain things secret so they can continue to capitalize on what they do. But the way I see it, even if there’s 10 people doing what I do, I’m still me. Nobody thinks the way I do, because we’re all different! Unless you clone me.
Interview and photos by Michael-Oliver Harding
360 will be out early next year on LuckyMe and Last Gang Records in Canada.