Watching Lunice on stage is almost like witnessing some kind of exorcism. Jumping up and down as his set builds momentum, he whips his neck back and forth so frantically that you actually feel concerned he might get whiplash. But he’s well-versed in the ways of dance, as kid he came up b-boy dancing competitively. It was an introduction to the hip-hop world that served him prepped and ready when he crossed over to Djing and production. Lunice Fermin Pierre II, known to fans simply as Lunice, energizes the electronic music scene as one of its most innovative contributors right now. After the release of two EPs and a remix to Deerhunter’s “Helicopter” with Diplo, his career broke. Lunice went on to work with artists like Rockie Fre$h and Azealia Banks, touring all over the world, and making mixes for the likes of BBC Radio 1.
He then teamed up with Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke to form the group TNGHT, pumping out tracks that blend hip-hop, electronic dance music, dirty south beats and heavy bass. Kanye West enlisted the duo to co-produce “Blood on the Leaves,” one of the standout tracks on his most recent album Yeezus. Lunice made an appearance at the Mad Decent Block Party tour in Philly, where we caught up with him to discuss his sound, working with Kanye, his upcoming solo album, and more. Take a look.
For someone who has never heard your music, how would you describe your sound?
I like to start it off as rap music because I come from a hip-hop background, the hip-hop culture. I’ve done break-dancing, graffiti, scratching, beat boxing, and all those elements brought me to production. If people don’t feel like it’s rap, that’s cool because they have all the right to think anyway they want. They want to label it trap or label it as something else, it’s within their own right. But to me as an artist, it’s always going to come out as rap music.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you got linked up with Diplo and the Mad Decent crew?
It’s actually funny. I met Diplo for the first time at a festival called Osheaga three years ago in 2010. I did my set and I remember I was opening up for Major Lazer at the time, you know those early days when he was starting the project. I remember doing my set, looking to my side and seeing him arrive. I was like, “cool, lets play again.” I saw him nodding to it and being down with the whole flow and I was like, “alright that’s cool, I’m glad he’s down with it,” so I just continued. When I came off the stage, he was setting up and I remember he was just standing there.
What I didn’t know is that he let me go over my set time because he was into it. I was like, “Word!” I didn’t know that until afterwards and I didn’t really say anything to him. I’m the kind of guy who is very straightforward because I know how people would feel when a lot of people try to talk to them, right? So I was just like, “Diplo right? Cool, Lunice,” and I just left. The next day he hit me and was like, “that was a dope set.” We’ve been building ever since. Three years later here we are.
What’s it like being on tour with Mad Decent? Is it a different vibe than other kinds tours?
This is my third year going to the block parties, but I’ve only done Baltimore and in previous years I’ve done New York, and other cities. But I sort of like the format that I’m going into as an individual within the whole Mad Decent label. To be more specific, earlier this year I was touring with Major Lazer and it’s really cool because thats a crowd that I wouldn’t normally reach if I was playing in a club night or something like that. I’m grateful to be able to present that music even if they hate it. I know some people hate it, but that’s great because then they think about it. I take every bit information into consideration, so I’m glad to be that guy that made you feel weird about it when you haven’t felt weird about something in a while.
Would you consider some of your music trap? Why do you think that trap is having such a moment right now?
Why is trap so trendy right now? Let me tell you what I’ve realized. Whatever music you put out, the public labels it however they want. That’s sort of what I’ve noticed with the wave of trap, electronic, and instrumentation fans mixing together. It’s a fun environment, its a fun culture for them and that’s cool.
I can’t get mad at people if people are labeling me as trap but I’m never going to consider myself as that. Because how I see it as an artist, or maybe as just me, is that trap is a culture in the South. I was so intrigued by Gucci Mane’s [Trap House] album back in the day; it was so gully, so raw. The hood has never lost its creativity and that’s what I love about it so much. That’s what really got me into that culture. It’s not necessarily trap, but it happens to revolve around the subject. I can’t really hate on that.
When you’re on stage you are wild, you’re dancing, you’re talking to the audience, and you’re going crazy. What is your mindset when you’re up there?
I’m a pretty calm guy but when I’m onstage I like to perform because I come from a background doing choreography, dancing, and breakdancing on stage. I sort of built a stage presence. My first gig was my first time going out to a club. I went up onstage to open up the night and my homies were all there. I was like, “Cool, alright, let’s wild out.” What you see today is basically a more refined version of how I was at day one. I’m just a little more composed. Eventually, I will have a whole set up but that will happen some time later. That’s going to be totally insane because I want to make it more of a concert, something people can watch visually.
That’s why I like to move around the stage, look at people and interact with them. It’s more in line with how I want to present my music. It’s rap music. I want to present rap music how it’s always been hyped, like when it first came out with people like Furious Five and Afrika Bambaataa. They were from the hood, but didn’t represent the hood. They were from outer space or about being a punk you know. That kind of stuff was tight, it was out there, it was theatrics. I like that and I want to present that in my future shows.
Can you tell me a little bit about Kanye, who is obviously a huge influence on you? What was it like making music with him?
It was amazing. It definitely was something I needed. It was simple, it was straightforward and it was creative. It was really that literal. I won’t go into details but think about those words, and try to feel what I just said. That’s how it is to work with him. It’s very reassuring to know someone on that mainstream level has full creative control. He understands it and sees it the same way we do as a collective. It’s not just me. I could name a lot of homies who feel the same way, and to know that he thinks the same way we do is reassuring to our community in a way.
What do you have coming up?
I’ve been working on my album. It feels good to finally work on new stuff because I’ve been touring a lot for the TNGHT project and as a solo artist earlier in the year. I took advantage of traveling and just taking in information to conceptualize. I like to be very visual about a lot of things, so even on a cab ride, I look at everything and see how people walk on sidewalks. It’s different in different cities, but when you really pay attention to the whole flow and learn to filter the right things out you can put turn anything into a concept. Thats what I’m trying to build up for my album. I don’t want to approach it as one specific idea, but I want to build a solid foundation that can branch out and transform into a whole concert kind of thing.
What’s something people might no know about you?
Actually, something interesting is that Lunice is my real name. I couldn’t come up with an artist name and I sort of liked something Kanye said about using his real name so he could work on classical music one day. Plus there isn’t really anyone else called Lunice. Look at me now, its cool. [Laughs]