How Happa transformed Lewis’s cult oddity L’Amour into a freeform ambient rap mixtape
When Light In The Attic reissued Lewis’s forgotten synth-folk album L’Amour in 2014, the last thing anyone expected was a Happa remix. Yet with عشق, the Leeds-based wunderkind weaves the singular hushed tones and gossamer synths of the enigmatic crooner into a genre-spanning mixtape, touching on hip-hop, ambient, grime and electro.
Following a consistently brilliant series of 12″s released on his own imprint PT/5 Records, as well as production credits on major releases from Trim, FKA Twigs and David Byrne, Happa has returned with a homage to one of his favourite albums, a record he maintains he first discovered via FACT four years ago.
In 2014, Seattle’s Light In The Attic imprint reissued L’Amour, the debut album from Randall Wulff, a Canadian musician who had been missing and presumed dead for years. The reissue triggered a renewed interest in the blond-haired lothario’s back catalogue, ultimately resulting in the Light In The Attic bosses tracking the outsider musician down in Canada to inform him of his late-career success, only to be met with good-natured indifference.
As all of this unfolded, a then 17-year old Samir Alikhanizadeh, already with a few releases as Happa under his belt, was busy falling in love with the lilting soundscapes of L’Amour. Fitting then, that this genuine passion project should be titled, simply, عشق, the Farsi word for love. Happa spoke to FACT about the mixtape, and how falling in love with Lewis resulted in some of his most personal work to date.
You’ve managed to make some of the most eclectic music of your career from one of the most singular albums I can think of. How did you come up with such a wild concept ?
The initial idea for this mixtape was something that me and my manager came up with, but it wasn’t necessarily going to be around the Lewis thing. We just thought it would be a fun thing to do and it was actually going to be more straight-up hip-hop, I kind of wanted it to be like those classic J Dilla albums where everything seems to continuously fit together like one massive mega-tune. It wasn’t me necessarily going into the Lewis thing and thinking “oh this would work well as a hip-hop thing” it was more like the switch – I’m doing a hip-hop mixtape, what shall I do? – and then thinking of albums I like. I was suggested a few good albums, like I was gonna try and do something with Liquid Swords by GZA. I really like the album, but I’ve never fully connected with it in the way that I have with the Lewis album and I wanted to do something that actually meant something to me. So it went that way really, and because of the nature of the Lewis record it didn’t end up being a full hip-hop mixtape. It just felt right, I couldn’t not make some ambient music out of L’Amour because it all sounds so peng!
This mixtape sounds like some the most personal music you’ve put out. One of the things that I really respond to in your dance tunes is how much humor is in them, yet what’s so powerful to me about عشق is that there is so much tangible melancholy in your production. Do you think it’s your personal connection to L’Amour that makes عشق so emotional?
I started work on it very shortly after my grandma died, in Spring. I think it shows on the album, it obviously being a very emotional time for me and my family. There’s a track called ‘Luv Showered Me (For Anne)’, that one is for my grandma and the sounds on there are from an old video of her, my mum and my sister. It was actually quite helpful and crucial for me to mourn and get through that experience with this Lewis album. It’s nice that when I listen to it now I hold that memory with me.
And this has given me the confidence to do more stuff like it in the future as well. I don’t just want to release just dance records, I’d like to do loads of different shit. The whole point of doing this mixtape was to do something that was completely different from what I normally do. Even in the way that in the past if I’ve been doing something with a rapper it’s been in the more grime area, all that UK sound, and this is predominantly quite a US hip-hop sound, as well as all the floaty ambient stuff.
How do you think the new direction you’ve taken on the mixtape taken will translate to fans of your earlier work?
My ideal audience is halfway between the chin-stroker and the rave lunatic. I’d ideally be able to drop an obscure ambient tune or have a whole half hour section of stuff in a set that isn’t necessarily that easy to dance to, but then be able to switch it up into something a bit sillier and the crowd to still lose their shit. But obviously you can’t always have that whenever you want and it’s a good challenge having to work alongside a crowd and doing the best you can to maybe show them something they haven’t heard before, challenge them a little bit as well, to show them a good time and get them dancing. It’s one of the best feelings when you’ve got one of those crowds you can just do anything with and they’ll be up for it, but it’s also nice when you actually have a bit of a challenge and you have to really think about what you’re going do next to please a crowd. I think for me it’s trying to find the balance.
عشق really does seem to embody that, where you’re oscillating between these light-hearted bangers interspersed with these hyper-emotional ambient pieces
That’s what we tried to do. Like with the artwork and the track names, we tried to get across that it is a bit daft. I’m really happy with the work that came out of it, I love all the tracks and I wasn’t pissing about too much because obviously I respect the original too much to not try and do a good job with it. We wanted to get across that this isn’t something to be taken fully, fully seriously.