From a club night in a south-east London dive to running one of the hottest labels in dance music to a highly anticipated debut album, L-Vis 1990 is definitely not leaving the building any time soon.
Words: Will Gilgrass
Published in Mixmag October 2011
“I want to be totally in control of everything, I can’t let anyone do anything else,” explains 27-year-old James Connolly, aka L-Vis 1990, from the solitary chair in his tiny five-by-five metre studio, a place that seems closer to a nuclear bunker than the creative outpost of one of the UK’s most exciting producers.
The tall, lean Connolly certainly keeps busy. He’s a DJ in demand at festivals and clubs across the world, a filmmaker, a graphic artist and co-founder of the increasingly influential Night Slugs label (along with Alex Sushon, aka Bok Bok). The brand, started three years ago in a small corner of south-east London, has grown since then, hosting some incredible parties and putting out some incredible records, all down to their own individual talents and those of their inner circle of friends.
It all started with a club night. James started promoting in 2001 in his home town of Brighton. He relocated to London after meeting Sushon on MySpace and the pair began putting on Night Slugs nights from 2008 in Camberwell – an area more famous for gun crime and Withnail and I than clubbing – before moving to the more fashionable East End. The idea was always a platform for them to play the music they wanted without boundaries, something they couldn’t do anywhere else. “There was just nowhere for our music to go,” he explains, anger at the memory still flaming into his pale cheeks. The natural next step for the pair was to go further and form the second incarnation of Night Slugs – the label.
The Night Slugs sound combines dance elements from across the globe. Grime, Baltimore club, Chicago house, ghetto bass, r’n’b and UK funky are all referenced, spliced and restructured into futuristic rhythms. The tunes are sleek, heavy on bass, illustrated by neon synths and punctuated by crisp percussion. Each producer on the roster is distinct but part of a whole that has consistently pushed the boundaries of current UK dance music. Girl Unit mixes dubstep’s rolling sub bass with r’n’b’s sickly sweet vocal flavour, Bok Bok constructs hefty riddims that belong in the gutter where grime and underground house meet and Connolly himself makes deep, synth-led four-to-the-floor beats that work equally well in basement raves and main rooms.
Releases come solely from their inner circle, never accepting demos or scouting. Jam City has known Sushon since he was a teenager and Girl Unit is a housemate.Connolly certainly regards Night Slugs as a family, with a collective ideal and drive towards the same musical epiphany, something he hopes to achieve in the five-hour sets he and Bok Bok are planning.
“We can get into a groove, get across our vibe and play exactly what we want, because its impossible to do it in an hour and a half,” he explains, leaning back and constructing a cigarette.
But even when given limited time, he still puts on a show, as at the Field Day after party at XOYO. Standing behind the decks he wears a stern look of concentration mixed with more than a hint of tiredness, having returned that morning from shooting two videos in Las Vegas, his shirt rolled up above the elbow and skinny black jeans and white plimsolls hidden behind the decks. Remarkably, his short black quiffed hair remains in publicity photo perfect condition throughout the set, despite his headphones rocking on top. He switches up the music instantly, cutting the UK funky which had been raging during the previous set and transforming the atmosphere with melodic, uplifting house. He moves from ‘Stardust’-esque jams before chucking the audience back into the gutter and climaxing with frenetic grime, setting down a marker for the next DJ, Roska, to follow. Only when his last tune drops does he show any emotion by punching his arm in the air and acknowledging the crowd – job done.
Indie electro lynchpin Erol Alkan first crossed paths with Connolly when he was working at a music video production company. He charged the junior to make the videos for Dance Area’s ‘AA 24/7’ as well as Riton and Primary 1’s ‘Who’s There’.
“I was impressed by his style, the way he carried himself. He approaches things in an interesting way and is aware of what is going on around him,” says the man who Connolly respects above most in the business.
“He is part of a scene which is growing and growing but I get the sense he might be the one to end up leading it. He has a kind of spark.”
His debut album, ‘Neon Dreams’, may well help. Conceived as an entity from beginning to end, the aim is to recapture the magic of the flowing dance music LP. He cites Daft Punk’s ‘Discovery’ and the Chemical Brothers as case-in-points, as well as Les Rhythm Digitales’ ‘Dark Dance’, the 1999 album that he says “changed my life totally. The production and colour of it is insane… It’s always been my guide for an album. It was never like anything else and that’s what I want.”
Connolly recorded ‘Neon Dreams’ in his east London studio with additional sessions in Paris with the Sound Pellegrino duo of Teki Latex and Para One, as well as in New York with Nick Cook. Julio Bashmore features on ‘One More Day’ – one of Connolly’s favourite tracks – and vocals are supplied by Javeon McCarthy (previously known as Shadz) and Samantha Lim (who represent Connolly and the girl he is pursuing throughout the LP’s story).
Collectively they are the Neon Dreams, musical collaborators and now a backing band. The album draws on styles from French hip hop to house, bass music and pop ballads. ‘Lost in Love’ is the album’s peak, with vocals sounding as if they have been ripped from a boy band, but still gushing with a flowing house groove.
For Connolly, the release of ‘Neon Dreams’ means the start of his next project. What that might be, only time will tell, though following Stuart Price into popular music production and redressing the balance between “really shit trance which dominates the charts” and “quality dance music with real soul and vocals” is one idea that makes him sit up and look around at the stacks of keyboards in his studio.
As we pack up to go our separate ways, Mixmag motions towards the world map pinned up on the otherwise bare walls of Connolly’s studio, and ask if world domination is next. He glances over his shoulder with a wry grin, “yeah, something like that.”
L-Vis 1990’s ‘Neon Dreams’ is out now on PMR Records
L-Vis 1990’s Night Slugs Top 10
1 Girl Unit 'Wut'
“The track that pushed us into a different galaxy. Claude VonStroke approached us to do the remix!”
2 Jam City 'Barely a Track'
“Pure dancefloor destroyer. Hold tight for his debut album in November.”
3 L-VIS 1990 'Forever You'
“My first collaboration with Javeon McCarthy. This led to ‘Neon Dreams’.”
4 Bok Bok ‘Southside' EP
“A perfect blend of grime and ghetto tech from my label partner.”
5 Pearson Sound 'Deep Inside'
“So happy we managed to grab this sick bootleg for our white label series.”
6 Girl Unit 'IRL'
“This track really came out of nowhere. Girl Unit’s debut was an instant anthem.”
7 Mosca 'Nike'
“Groundbreaking, genre and tempo defying B-side to our first release.”
8 Lil Silva 'Seasons'
“This track was a total funky classic that never had a digital release, glad it found a home on Slugs!”
9 Velour 'Booty Slammer'
“Pure soul and vibes from Julio Bashmore and Hyetal”
10 NGUZUNGUZU ‘Timesup' EP
“The first release on our US sister label Fade To Mind, run by Kingdom and Prince Money.”