Photo by Bruno Destombes

Getting down with Bowly’s boogie

An interview with the France-to-Canada DJ and producer ahead of this weekend’s Piknic set.

If you’ve gone out dancing in Montreal in the past decade there’s a good chance you’ve shuffled to the house/disco/boogie and beyond of France-to-Canada transplant Bowly, aka OJPB.

“I’m in DJ mode a lot these days,” he says. “And it’s always funny that when you’re in the studio, people want you to go out and play, and when I’m playing out, people come asking for tracks,” says the multi-instrumental DJ/producer, who moved to Canada in 2001.

While he distances himself from the term crate digger — he’s just not obsessed with the collector experience — I will go ahead and say he’s a self-taught musicologist. As you’ll see in these excerpts from a long conversation we had earlier this week, ahead of his Piknic Électronik set this Sunday (where he also works weekly as an artist host), he takes a refreshingly philosophical view on both music and the Montreal party experience.

Darcy MacDonald: What made you choose Canada when you left France?
Bowly: I was very involved in music in France, but different stuff. Metal and classical, a lot. I have a classical upbringing. My band broke up about six months before I moved here and it felt like a lot of things had ended. A cycle had ended, and I needed change. It felt like there was a wall in front of me. On a fluke, I said, you know what? Shamefully, I knew, like, nothing about Canada. But I thought, “They speak French over there so I’m not gonna be totally lost.”

DM: What instruments did you grow up playing?
B: I was trained classically on the guitar, and I also grew up playing the viola de gamba, which is like a cello but not. It’s got six or seven strings and is more affiliated to the family of the guitar, but it looks more like a cello, if you don’t know.

I also took some singing classes, I sang in classical choirs. In France we have a thing called lysée,  which is kind of like CÉGEP here. And I did first year university in music, and I went to the conservatory for a short period of time.

Both my parents are musicians and music teachers. So were almost all of my grandparents, and my uncle. My mom was a gambiste and both my parents are really big classical buffs and very specialized in baroque music. They were actually the part of the first (newer) generation that wanted to be true to what baroque music was, which has been bastardized by classic and romantic music. For example, for them, playing Bach on a piano is sacrilege. I’m not like that. Shit, they would hate to hear me say that. But they were part of a (purist) movement. 

DM: It’s interesting, the relationship between classical and metal music, and then people from our generation who got into electronic music after being the biggest metal heads. I guess it’s all about the technicality. What’s your take on that growth?
B: I can see it and really understand and appreciate it. For me, after metal I was really into industrial. That was the beginning of my transition to liking electronic music consciously. I listened a little to jungle in the ’90s, too, but I was in a small town and there wasn’t a lot of urban music, let’s say.

The idea of having the same experience as metal on a dancefloor is so not appealing to me. I would love to go see Slayer at Heavy Montreal or things like that, and experience that. But I was really not fond of when the original U.K. dubstep turned into, like, the Pantera of electronic music. I was so not down with it. I don’t hate on it but to me it’s just not the same space. It never appealed to me. It actually drew me away from the scene that I started to dabble in. It got too aggressive to me.

There’s something to be said about something that’s gonna be dark, grim and trippy, and but I’m not down with aggression. I can go for a lot of things but when I’m on a dancefloor; aggression is not really one of them. 

DM: Whenever I see you, you’re dancing. Even if you’re working (at Piknic) and running around doing your thing, you’ll stop for 30 seconds and get down and then continue along and do your thing.
B: Oh yeah, I’m a dancer. Not a good one, but even if I have a song just in my head, I’m dancing. 

DM: When you got to Canada, how did you become part of the music scene?
B: Record stores! I’ve always bought a lot of records. When I was like, six, I’d buy records at the supermarket. When I moved here in 2001 there (were more) but that’s how I met people I’m still friends with and making music with. The open mindedness of musicians here was a relief to me, and (despite differing creative genres) we were all listening to electronic music.

DM: It’s amazing that 25 years ago older people then would tell me like, Led Zeppelin was old dinosaur music, despite the fact they’d only been gone 10 years before. I don’t tell a kid who discovers Nirvana today that it’s old. That shit came out yesterday.
B: The development and times in music have changed dramatically. I’d say in the last 20 years, it’s more about individuality and making something that’s gonna speak for your history, as opposed to making history. Before, a new genre would make history. Now we’re telling the story of what that history means. The first time I heard grime, I was like, okay this is something that’s never been done before, as a movement. I feel like with music history, though, it’s a bit like the Berlin Wall has fallen. We’ve experienced the end of music history. I think it’s stopped, it’s ended, and we’re in another plane of development for music. It fosters an idea of like, “Well, we don’t need to defend our version of the future in music,’ you know?”

DM: What was your first Piknic experience as a dancer?
B: Wow. Man. Well, it was under the Calder, and it was probably 2006 or ’07. It was amazing but to me it was more of an extension of the classic Montreal experience of going the park to have beers, and have an inner engine of like, if there’s something going down, let’s just go get down to it! ■

Bowly aka OJPB plays Piknic Electronik’s Scène du Boisé with Octa Octa and Hi Chew on Sunday, June 30. Chus & Ceballos and Alex Pycke play Scène Piknic. Parc Jean-Drapeau (Plaine des Jeux), 29 p.m., $18.70 pre-tax at the door.