TO BE OR NOT TO BE…
History definitely speaks for itself… In a world were so many wannabes sell their souls with the only goal to make money as fast as possible, Marvin Louis Burns, better known as Lil’ Louis, would rather buzz off than putting something that wouldn’t sound good to his ears at the end. As a result, none of his works suffered the comparison with anyone else’s so far. And this is why, although we rarely hear of him, his image remains the one of one of the biggest talents that House Music has ever provided us with so far…
Who has ever forgotten that famous “French Kiss” released bck in 1989 ago and its orgasmic rhythm conception? More mysterious though would be its author back then… Some guy called Lil’ Louis who, like the late Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles, happened be be one of the most touted Chicago DJ’s at the time. Some guy who had the image of a man sure about what he was doing. If not the one of an arrogant guy…
I remember the first time I saw him. That was back in 1990 as a matter of fact. And this for the DMC Awards ceremony at the Wembley Arena where he got invited to do a live PA. There, he would make quite a sensation after his performance. Eventually stating “I was born House, I am House and I’ll die House!”. This in front of a crowd packed with B-Boys, not surprisingly dedicated to Rap…
“‘French Kiss’ is the transcription of some intense sexual experience. It couldn’t have been a one night affair. We were madly in love with each other. It was not neither a solely physical attraction… We were emotionally stuck to each other…”
Arrogant? Big headed? The question is/was not there. As our man definitely gave the proof to the planet that he had a strong conviction. Thus doing the things on his very own, away from the outside look and considerations. In other words, he was confident in what he was doing. And this is how he ended up controlling about everything, including the conception of his video clips.
No doubt as to howLil’ Louis had some strong background that soon made him flirting with Jazz (on his second album). Way before anyone else to the sole exception of Larry Heard. “This music had been in me since the beginning”… A statement that would sound a bit surprising at the time, from a man who’d clearly infected the heart of House with Trance on what stands as his most memorable success so far…
Lil’ who? Lil’ Louis! “I’m coming from a 9 children family. We’re seven brothers and I owe what I’m doing mostly to my dad (Bobby Sims who played along with B.B. King for some time). I have a 25 years old daughter and she’s the light of my life. Family is more important than anything else…”
Burns made his debut behind the decks in the mid-70’s at the early age of 12. A period mainly dominated by the Motown stars and the Philly Sound. “We were not doin’ mixes but cuts at the time. I’ve always been into Jazz, believe it or not. The one of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. And if you have a look at Marvin Gaye’s attitudes, you could see that he was also clearly into it.”
So what about “French Kiss”? “It came by accident”, he says. “I guess it’s its quirkiness that made its success. It had been initially built on a completely different bassline, in a Jazz spirit. Then, all of a sudden, that harmony came to my mind when I was doing the track by track check before the final mix. For me, it became clear that it should be the focal part of it. In that sense, ‘F.K.’ is nothing else but a studio mutant. Once I had the harmony, the rest came naturally.
‘F.K.’ is the transcription of some intense sexual experience. It couldn’t have been a one night affair. We were madly in love with each other. It was not neither a solely physical attraction… We were emotionally stuck to each other.”
Chicago, the House mecca whereas you would find its originators… From Larry Heard to Frankie Knuckles. But also Marshall Jefferson and Mr Lee. Not to mention Tyree Cooper, DJ Fast Eddie, Rocky Jones and his DJ International imprint. Then Trax Records and the likes…
“Considering Chicago as a musical community on its own was nothing but bullsh.. Each of us’d been doing things on his own. I myself have always lived like that without trying to know what the others were doing. Got no pals, don’t talk to anyone. I’m doing my business and I don’t care about the rest”… With what Louis does not express by words findin’ its niche in his music. ” I’ve never been that sociable. Going out for havin’ a chat or showin’ my face has never been my thing as a matter of fact. I’d rather spend time with my instruments.”
Three years would go between Lil’ Louis‘s first and second albums. In other words, from ‘From The Mind Of Lil’ Louis’ to ‘Journey With The Lonely’ which he recorded as Lil’ Louis & The World)… “I’ve tried to avoid that bis repetita trick on my follow-up. A new album has to be better than the previous one. It has to be as surprizing if not more.
For that, I guess you have to have the necessary distance inbetween. Once again, I had to make sure it didn’t have anything to do with its predecessor. I’ve worked very hard with my computers. But also with my instruments in order to find new combinations between synthetic and organic sounds.
Most of my inspiration’d come from the solitude that had been mine during this period. I’ve learnt to accept myself and not to be anymore feared of staying alone.”
An album that could have fairly well been entitled ‘Introversy’… “This has been quite an interesting experience. Back at the end of the 80’s, I was going from a story to another without transition. How could you get to know yourself in such conditions? It was a sort of continuous rejection of my inner myself as a matter of fact. I didn’t know what to start with. I was always surrounded by someone and never took the time to know myself. You reach an important step when you realize what loneliness is…”
Following Frankie Knuckles‘s footsteps, Louis would leave his native Chicago to find a new home in New York for some time. “I don’t feel like I have anything to say about the reason why Frankie had gone, although I guess it could be for the same reasons. As “French Kiss” became a hit, I had to make a choice of living: stay as a DJ or become an artist. The problem being that there’s no way to get feedback in Chicago if not a DJ, meanwhile you could get the vibes in the NY area at places like the Zanzibar, Shelter or Jazz clubs like the Blue Note.”
“I’m not coming to do music with a preconceived idea, but with what comes to my mind at the instant. When recording ‘Freedom’ (with Black Magic on Strictly Rhythm), I was with an R&B group, and I got fed up seeing us making rounds. So I’ve changed the tempo and I started writing lyrics. One of the reasons being that one of the girls in the band had brutally split with her boyfriend, coz’ he’d raped her a few times.
The future of House Music is in songs, just like we had back in the day with Disco, which doesn’t necessarily keep an instrumental away from bringing a message. ‘French Kiss’ wasn’t a song, but had a sense, even though it’s more obvious whenever you have lyrics…
Diversity is also an absolute necessity. Dance Music is not a strictly 124 bpm thing! Once again, just look at Disco with Loleatta Holloway and her memorable ‘Hit & Run’ built on a 96 bpm rhythm pattern.
Producers, artists, DJ’s, journalists… We, the actors of the movement, have a huge responsability whenever coming to classify everything by genre, as talking about Dance Music nowadays means strictly high tempos, which has led to the end of the diversity. R&B has got way more important than House Music or Techno Stateside, because of a way more versatile content lyrically speaking.”