Interview with LUKE MOURINET of RUFF & JAM, producer/remixers for Kylie Minogue, The Killers, Scissor Sisters, Sugababes – May 31, 2005. “I really wanted to do music, but I didn’t have a clue about playing music, producing music, or the music business”,
… says Luke Mourinet, who didn’t play a single note before he was 20. Today, he is Jam in the successful producer/remixer duo Ruff & Jam, based in Brussels. They scored a No.1 on the Billboard Dance Chart with Kylie Minogue’s “Love At First Sight”, and have also remixed The Killers, Scissor Sisters and Sugababes (all Top 10 UK).
They have produced countless Top 10s in France and Belgium, including releases in their own name. You can read about their success story, the latest trends in dance music, why Belgium has become a centre for commercial dance music, and why Ruff & Jam applauds the record companies for giving fair deals.
What’s your musical background?
My parents were both musicians, my father was a great saxophone player and my mother a singer. They toured with their jazz band in Europe and the States. So there was always music and musicians around me. I was born in 1969 in Guadeloupe, where my father is from, then in 1975 we moved to Paris.
I never played music as a teenager, I was into computer programming. I got my first computer when I was 14 and I sat in my room for hours, everyday, doing programming – software for school and my own games. I was so absorbed by it, I became almost anti-social. But I absolutely loved listening to music then, mainly hip hop, but also funk, like Earth Wind and Fire, Kool & The Gang, Chic.
I bought all their records. At 18, I had to do my military service, for one year. After that, I started working for a computer company doing software programming, and while I was still doing the computer work I became a DJ, at the weekends.
I had a friend who was a DJ and working in the clubs in Paris. He kept asking me to come along and play some tracks during his sets. It worked and I started to buy a wide variety of records because you had to play a wide variety at those mainstream clubs.
I discovered new styles and got more and more into it. Then I took a trip to London and went to the clubs there – I heard a completely new sound and I thought: that’s what I wanna do! The productions of Stock, Aitken & Waterman really impressed me; the Rick Astley record called “My Arms Keep Missing You”, for example.
That track had this really cool bass line, and I began to study their stuff. So back at the office, I was asking myself: I really want to do music; I haven’t got a clue about playing music, producing music, or the music business – so how can I get there?
What was the answer?
I contacted some people in the media and asked whether I could assist at the recording of TV or radio shows. Since I didn’t know them I just called in and explained that I wanted to learn about the music business, and they were friendly and gave me the opportunity.
Every week I was behind the scenes of a well-known music show on French TF1 called Sacré Soiree, and I met a lot of artists and made many other contacts.
At the same time I bought a keyboard and a drum machine and started to play around with ideas, my first songs. Then I looked for a singer and asked around among my friends. I hired a studio at a week-end price and recorded my first demos.
I had written the music and the words and done the backing track. My idea was to combine this new British sound with French lyrics. I was trying to create that Stock, Aitken & Waterman sound for a French audience.
How long did it take before you had a positive response?
Actually, not very long; 6 to 8 months. One day on the TV show they had a singer called Sonia, who was signed to Stock, Aitken & Waterman. I had her record with me, which I had gotten as an import, and I asked her to sign it and she said: How come you got this record, it’s not out in France?
I explained my situation and she said: Hey, if you want, I can put you in touch with the guy who is representing Stock, Aitken & Waterman in France, and I said: of course I want!
His name was Roland Kluger, he’s a publisher, and when I met him, he liked my idea of combining the British sound with French lyrics for the French market. As a publisher he was also interested in building a catalogue.
He said, “you should meet Pete Waterman and see what he thinks, because he wants to get into the French market”. Perfect timing! I was so excited – but at the same time I was scared, because I was such a beginner.
I flew to London and Pete asked me to start looking for talented French artists to produce.
How did you look for new talent?
I’d met other aspiring artists at the TV show; they were trying to promote themselves, so I got their tapes and listened. A few of them, 4 or 5, were very good. I suggested to Roland that we make some demos we could send to Pete. So we tried a couple of productions and then focused on a girl called Nath, concentrating on doing one song with her.
Did you write and produce it?
Yes, I wrote the music and lyrics, and I was programming the track on the equipment in my bedroom. Then Roland paid for a bigger studio where I could refine it and record Nath´s vocals. Then we went to London to the PWL (Pete Waterman Limited) studios to mix and polish the track.
That was my first big recording session, it was fantastic. There were all these producers, mixers, backing vocalists; the whole team got involved. One year ago I was carrying cables and now I was in the studio of the people I admired most, doing a production! Crazy and scary, but a great experience.
What happened with Nath?
We produced the track and PWL wanted to release it, but at Polydor, the label in charge of PWL, lots of people got fired and the new people weren’t really interested in the project, so it kind of ended before it started, but for me it was still a great experience.
Did you have a contract? And how did you get paid?
At first everything was just based on trust; I didn’t get paid but all my expenses were covered, like flying to London. Later, when more and more was happening, Roland Kluger and I made a contract.
But you still quit your job?
Yes, the music business seemed so much more exciting than what I was doing. I was still living with my parents and making money as a DJ at the week-ends. I was so happy I was finally doing music that I was more than willing to make financial sacrifices. And I was always ready to do things for free because I still had so much to learn in the music business.
When did you start making money with the music?
With my first remix, for a singer called Indra who was very popular in France at the time. Roland Kluger had started to put me in touch with lots of people, and I started networking in the music business in Paris.
I met Jean-Patrick Lalouche, who was a producer and remixer. We got together in the studio and started producing dance tracks. He already had a name, and when he was asked to do the club remix for Indra, he asked me whether I wanted to work on it with him. Other remix jobs followed, and from then on we got more and more work.
What is the process of making a remix like?
When we get asked – usually by a record company – to do a remix, we listen to the track and check out the artist to see if we like it. Then we start to get ideas about how our remix should sound, because it really depends on the track and the artist, and what suits them best.
A remix is usually done to promote a single in the clubs, and to expose the artist to a wider audience. So the sound has to be suitable for clubs, which is different from what the radio needs.
The record company sends us all the tracks of the single, vocals, bass, keyboards etc. We load it into our system and then we listen to every element to see what we should keep and where we should find something else. Maybe we have to rearrange the song so it works better in the clubs, such as adjusting the speed. Most club tracks are around 130 bpm (beats per minute).
We don’t really like to go faster because then it sounds too much like boom boom music. Often we just take the vocals and build everything else from scratch.
Having been a DJ has been a great background to become a remixer. It plays a crucial role in understanding how dance music works, and how to get the structure of a track right.
I always take my remixes straight to the club – you’ve finished your production, you’re really excited about it, and you want see if it’s working, how people react to it, and how the mix sounds. Most of the time I go back to the studio and make some changes, or fix something in the mix.
Why did you move from Paris to Belgium?
Roland Kluger´s publishing company – RKA – was based in Belgium and he asked me to go there to meet with some labels. When I saw Brussels, I simply fell in love with it. This was the early 90’s.
My main sources of income were still DJ-ing and doing remixes, I would go back to Paris to work with Jean-Patrique, and the rest of my time I spent doing tracks with new Belgian artists, trying them out in the clubs and developing my writing and producing skills.
How did you team up with Ruff?
I met Jean Marie Moens (Ruff) in 1993. It’s a weird story. I was stopped on a street in Brussels by a strange girl. She said, “I have to tell you something important. Someone will ask you to do something unusual, and you will have to say ‘yes’”.
I didn’t know what to make of it, but sure enough, the next evening in a club, some guy walked up to me and asked me if I wanted to be a model in his fashion show. I remembered the girl and agreed, and at the fashion show I met Jean Marie, who was also there as a model, and we started talking about music.
I invited him to the studio and we started writing some songs together. He was a singer in a rock band, wrote songs and had lots of ideas. We had very different backgrounds – me hip hop, funk, and, at the time, mainly dance, and Jean Marie mainly rock. And that made an interesting combination. So we were just trying different ideas…
Your first big success was with a band called Bla Bla Posse. How did you become successful?
The mother of one of the band members in Bla Bla Posse approached me with a tape. She worked at a big café called Falstaff, where I would always have my lunch. Jean Marie and I listened and we loved it; it was crazy, a mix of hip hop and pop.
They were kids, the youngest of them 13! In November 1993 they came to our studio and recorded a demo, which became the first single, and took some pictures. In December 1993 we signed with Sony France.
Why Sony France?
I knew one guy at Sony from when I was living in France, so I had sent him the material and they got really excited. From then everything moved very fast. They released the single in France, there was TV, radio, press, and we went to Midem in Cannes.
While all this was happening, we co-wrote the material for the album with the band – we did the music and they did the lyrics in French. It was a big success and the first accomplishment of the collaboration between Jean Marie and me.
Other French and Belgian acts followed, BBP, Whizz kids, Fairplay and K2. That’s how we started to actually make money, because the record company paid us for the production and we also got some publishing money. So we formed a company to have a proper structure. We then mainly concentrated on finding new acts, producing, and writing.
When did you get back into remixing?
That was in 2001. We thought we were ready to move to the next level, doing more international stuff. Stephen Bass had started to represent us in the UK and he was looking to find us some interesting remix jobs – and he came back with the offer to remix Kylie Minogue for Parlophone! The song was called “Love At First Sight”.
We did several approaches: one for radio, one for the clubs – and for the club one we found a really cool twist to the song. They were very happy with what we’d done and they did the vinyl for the clubs. One month later we got a call, saying that they chose our remix for release in America. We were shouting out loud!
We had to adjust the track a bit to match the video. Then it went to number 1 on the Billboard Dance Charts and in February 2003 Kylie got a Grammy nomination for it.
Recently we did a remix for The Killers. That was real challenge, and an exciting project to remix because they’re a rock band. And now they are using it on vinyl as the only remix that is available for the song, “Smile Like You Mean It”.
How do you get paid for a remix?
It depends on how the track gets used. Most of the time it’s a flat fee, if it’s for the clubs. If it’s also for radio or for use on the video, etc., then we go for a percentage of sales as well. Also, when we do a remix and it’s almost a new production, then we have to discuss how we get a cut. But usually the record companies are very fair when it comes to that. Parlophone for example gave us a fair deal.
The pay varies, but as a ball-park figure I would say 5000 Euros (6000 USD) per remix.
Do you do the business dealings yourself or is someone doing it for you?
We’ve had a management company now for three years – Badass Management. In the beginning we did it ourselves, but now we want to concentrate on the music and let somebody else do the business. And also help us to make the right decision when it comes to deals.
What does your studio contain?
We work on PC with Nuendo, software by Steinberg; it’s like a Protools for PC. You really have to find the software that works best for you. We don’t use laptops; we work on very powerful stand-alone stations. For a while we were buying more and more gear and now it has gone the opposite way – everything is on the main computer; instead of hardware we use plug-ins.
We wanted to create a solution that enables us to work in different places. So all we have to do is take the computer and we have everything we need. No more hardware, no more cabling. The system now is really fast and stable.
We are both computer freaks, and my experience in computers has really helped me. We buy our stuff here in Brussels and we also have some deals with distributors, and partnerships with companies, like Sony Oxford Plug-ins, Steinberg, etc.
How much do you use live instruments?
As much as possible! And the internet gives us the possibility to work with artists all over the word. We can swap wave files really fast thanks to the high-speed connections.
The musician doesn’t have to come to our studio. We’ve created our own network for file-swapping, which is also useful when we do remixes – the record company can listen immediately in the best quality.
What is the most important trend in dance music right now?
You can hear a lot of different styles mixed together to make something new – rock mixed with house mixed with pop. The world of dance is changing slightly into something with more instruments and singing, and less electronics.
The audience is getting bored of just beats and sounds. And also, they want to see the artists, go to a concert; that’s why there are much more live events in dance music nowadays, whereas before nobody really cared who was behind the record.
How come Belgium is such a Mecca for dance music?
People here are cool, open to all sorts of influences and ready to share the enthusiasm of producing something. It’s a small country but with a real cultural mix – and Belgium is a dancing nation, a nation of clubbers.
What are you plans and dreams for the future?
We are now working on our own album and we really want to take our time to write, develop ideas and polish it. Jean Marie is singing some tracks and will also be doing his solo project.
A dream is maybe to have our own label and develop artists for that, for the French and the international market. So we are absolutely interested in getting demos from new artists. But you know, we are just very glad that we can live off our music and do what we are doing!
Interviewed by Monica Rydel