iMusicians

In part three of our series – The Business of Music – in partnership with iMusician, Attack’s Kristan Caryl calls Lazare Hoche to chat about music and fashion.

It’s 2:30pm in Paris when we call Lazare Hoche. This is the very earliest you will catch him awake on any given day. 

“I wake up late because I work late,” he says in perfect English, but with a seductive French accent. “My brain only starts to work after 7pm, when I feel alone, so if I go boxing at noon, I’m going to get punished for sure. Seriously, I’ve tried it.”

Once awake, the Parisian goes straight into lunch, and then the first cigarette of the day. Along with a real lust for sugar once night falls,  smoking is his only real vice. That is unless you consider work a vice, because he is surely addicted to that, too. 

Next to DJing around 90 shows a year and releasing a steady stream of solo and collaborative EPs as part of Mandar, he runs three labels – Access, Oscillat Music, Lazare Hoche Records – and this month starts a fourth, Perfect Pushup. He also does his own clothing merchandise in collaboration with Everpress for Access, has collaborated on a range with a friend who runs high-end French clothing brand Capsul, and is a keen photographer who has exhibitions on his love of the 1960’s Italian design and LGBTQI Parisian club night Je’Taime to come.

Lazare Hoche

After the unmistakable sound of a sparking lighter comes down the phone line, he explains the major reason he does so much is “because I’m anxious. I’m a monomaniac person, I always like to dig far into a subject that I like deeply. I don’t have a peaceful mind that allows me to enjoy quiet, down time. I’m not proud of it, I would love to learn how to do it, enjoy life, let things go, but I’m too anxious for that.”

What does help keep him sane and grounded are regular boxing sessions throughout the week, as well as yoga sessions every other day. He says he does have a routine in order to stay on top of things, but that it is so chaotic only he can understand it. He also credits having a great team around him to alleviate stress when it comes to your commitments as part of the reason he can focus on purely creative pursuits. “You rely on them a lot. I don’t really enjoy the admin of it all, but it’s part of the job. These days, WhatsApp has almost replaced email, it’s become the core of work.”

While explaining that instant messaging has become part of everyday life, he also explains it leads to an almost zombie state when on tour. The constant messaging on various different topics, coupled with crossing time zones, keeping strange hours, eating poorly and exercising infrequently can lead to what he calls “blue screen mood, or airport mood, when you have to force things – like when you used to force a buggy computer to restart and do things it didn’t want to do. You find yourself talking to people but don’t know where you are, there is so much going on in your head you’re just on autopilot.” 

Although he’s only just turned 30, the man born Charlie Naffah is already mindful of the fact that “as I get older, I feel time is flying, and I want to do so much.” This unshakable work ethic is no doubt part of the reason that he blew up almost overnight after first appearing in 2012. 

Aesthetic style is one of the only good things left in Paris.

As early as 16 years old, he had been into music, partying, racing through the streets of Paris on his moped and buzzing from football pitches by day to Rex Club by night. He grew up on Lazare Hoche Rue – hence his artist alias – in between the Paris St Germain football stadium, Parc des Prince, and the famous Roland Garros tennis court. His older brother and sister studied piano and harp but, initially, Charlie wanted to break the “Conservatoire mould” so undertook a “long and intense law school degree to study the laws of the real estate industry.”

It was hearing the music his older cousin played – Swayzak, Move D, early Minus material, classic US house – that his head was really turned and he fell deeply in love with electronic music to the point that he started collecting it, making it and DJing in earnest. His first release came in 2012 and immediately blew up. Its smooth loops, super cool house grooves and knack for slick, late night melodies soon found favour with heady connoisseurs. 

Importantly, it was word of mouth that spread his name, with the likes of Move D and DJ Gregory quick to support him. As such, he quickly started touring the global circuit and played in Asia, Australia and the States almost from the off. Without ever having set foot in Ibiza, he also got asked to play a series at dates at Sankeys for Unusual Suspects. He impressed so much he was soon tapped up to warm up the vast main room of Hi Ibiza before Black Coffee, and has now done so for three seasons.

Lazare Hoche at home

These are all the more remarkable events given his low key sound, as such gigs are normally reserved for DJs with bigger names and bigger beats. “I just tried to define my idea of a good warm-up for a huge act but do it, not the way I would in Tokyo or PBar, of course, more in a summer, vibey way. ‘Hey, this is me and my sound, what’s up?’ It worked out fine and I was like shit, it can happen in a natural way, you don’t actually have to force it.”

Despite this major league success, Hoche will never revert only to playing these supersized gigs. To back this up, he says he played in Taipei last November to a crowd of 38, 20 of whom were drunk French people, and that he had “so much fun,” because he always enjoys the challenge of different contexts. 

“I like to get excited by new stuff,” he says of why he is starting another new label, despite already having three. “I like to work through things for longevity, too, but I’m not the same guy I was when I started those other labels. They evolve but they keep the same DNA, the same skeleton I drafted for them back then. Perfect Push Up is because I want to add another horse in the field, I have an urge to do something new, something bootleggy and sample-based.”

Of course, it is easier for Hoche than many to start a new label given the infrastructure he has in place. His production and distribution deal with Juno means they take care of manufacturing and getting the records to where they need to be. That leaves him to take care of the important things like music and artwork, which is in collaboration with his friend and long time designer. 

“I mood board the whole visual identities,” he says from his flat, which is as chic as you would expect of a young Parisian. It is a super stylish mix of warm whites and sandy tones. There’s a Grecian bust standing in a marple Louis fireplace. Colour comes from a few pieces of bright art and a gold Louis leaner mirror that’s up against the wall, and there are shelves filled with carefully curated books. His studio, which is filled floor to ceiling with so many keyboards, drum machines and modular setups he is actually working on thinning it out, is elsewhere in Paris. 

“Aesthetic style is one of the only good things left in Paris,” he says, after explaining how he thinks the city has got dirtier, busier and angrier in the last five years. “My ideas for the visuals are spontaneous. I’m always screenshotting things while on the toilet in the airport, or making voice notes on my phone.” Inspiration comes from sneakers, the many books this mother owns as a hangover from being a museum curator, or from trips to the auction house just down the road. It is the largest in Paris and is a place to see Yves Saint Laurent dresses from the eighties, World War I costumes, mid century furniture or all types of religious items.

We live in a visual world now, but for us in Paris it has always been like this…We didn’t wait for Instagram to link fashion and music, it has always been that way for us.

If you follow Charlie on social media, you’ll see that clothes and sneakers are important to him, and it’s fair to say that music and fashion have never been closer than they are in 2020. Honey Dijon has a range with Comme des Garçons. Raf Simmons is doing R&S t-shirts. Paul Woolford designs music for Fendi and Givenchy run walks. Off-White founder Virgil Abloh is a DJ. 

“We live in a visual world now, but for us in Paris it has always been like this. Eighties clubs like Les Bain Douches and Le Palace were always a mix between house and fashion. De Niro, Naomi Campbell, Guetta mixing proper house, sexy people… it was always chic and glamorous so now to see Virgil Abloh as Louis Vuitton’s main designer and playing house in the summer makes sense. We didn’t wait for Instagram to link fashion and music, it has always been that way for us.” 

Lazare Hoche

After more than eight years since his first record, Hoche knows what it takes to run a label. He says he has no regrets since day one, but would maybe like to have been more inventive on the marketing side of things. The key to it all, of course, is good music. No amount of drive or business acumen can make up for a lack of good ideas. Hoche nailed this from the start: after pressing up his first EP himself, Frankfurt distributor and record store Freebase agreed to put it up for presale on the website. When demand went into overdrive, owner Carsten Schuchmann asked for all the copies he had. A distribution deal ensued, then on the advice of Jeremy Underground he moved things over to Juno who made things, “really simple.” 

“If you are willing to go all-in, it will work,” he says on the secrets of success. He cites a young French crew who came to him and said they wanted to start a record shop in an area of Paris that, historically, had no scene, at a time when other stores were saying they weren’t selling much. “These guys did it and now have a real empire. They’re doing festivals, the shop is banging – there are so many examples of this where people come through if they push it hard enough.”

You certainly couldn’t accuse Hoche of slacking. He is someone who loves to live on the edge, outside his comfort zone. “Being alive and high on natural dopamine, that is always a victory.”  One downside of being so busy is that he admits he has too much on his plate to be able to promise to help establish the next generation and use his platforms to develop their careers. And that won’t change anytime soon. He will never narrow down his protests, because no one is any more important than the next, and if one was more successful than the others, he’d use that to prop up the rest. 

With that, we’re done. The last 90 minutes has been an engaging flurry of thought, with Hoche skipping from one subject to the next with ease and erudition. Now, he has emails to attend to, a photography exhibit to edit, then yoga at 7pm. At that point, his day will only be warming up. 

Follow Lazare Hoche on Facebook and Instagram.

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Author Kristan Caryl
29th April, 2020

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