Clovis Bouhier—who, as a creator and player of dream-time house and techno, goes by his first name only—is native of Los Angeles, born and raised, save for a two-year stint in France, under the bright California sun. But when XLR8R contacted him about doing an interview, he was enjoying a lengthy stay in New York City; by the time that interview was scheduled, he was heading to Tulum, Mexico for an extended sojourn; and soon, he'll be preparing for a months-long move to Berlin for his second stint in the German capital. In short, he's a citizen of the world—and given his rising status within the dance-music hierarchy, that's exactly as it should be. That ascendancy has come despite the fact that he has only a handful of official releases under his belt, on Belgium's Lessizmore and Moscow's Body Parts—and while those tunes, along with a SoundCloud page that's brimming with unreleased material, are uniformly excellent, it's so far been as a DJ that he's made his name. His limited discography may be about to expand, though: Clovis, who's playing at the next XLR8R party in LA this Friday, January 22 alongside Vera and Andrey Pushkarev, seems poised for a breakthrough 2016.
Both behind the mixer and in the studio, Clovis's sound is one that's subdued and sophisticated, with a hint of moodiness and with an emphasis on detail. His sets are meticulously mixed; in his productions, nothing seems out of place. But things might have turned out much differently. "I started out going to 18-and-over trance clubs In LA," he admits. "I really didn’t know where to go or what to listen to; I just knew that I liked electronic stuff, and I liked to listen to DJs." It was a pair of spinnners who have influenced an entire generation of electronic-house artists (at least it sometimes seems that way) that set him on his current path. "Friends started taking me out to hear people like Sasha and Digweed—I guess that was around 2005 or so. And once I figured out that there was deeper stuff out there, I knew that’s what I liked—I was totally hooked."
From there, DJing was a natural step. "At one point, I was playing a lot of the Culprit parties that the Droog guys put on," Clovis says, "doing the early sets on the roof of the Standard. I’d play a lot of slow disco stuff—sometimes really slow, like 90 bpm, almost trip-hop, before going into house music towards the end. But I really enjoy playing that kind of music. It’s really fun to do, and you don’t always get to play that way."
An up-close-and-personal, hushed-yet-emotional feel, perhaps honed in those opening sets, is a hallmark of Clovis's productions and sets. "I’ve never been into really playing really slamming stuff, even though I can appreciate it; I can go to Berghain and enjoy it," he explains. "But I guess I generally like more subtle music. Even when I am playing what I think is a peak set, it’s not really what other people’s idea of peak stuff. That’s true no matter how hard your playing, too. You can be slamming some techno, and someone will always come up and tell you to play faster."
Another characteristic inherent to his sonic template is its deep-rooted musicality—it's one of the traits that separates Clovis from the multitude of DJ-producers, from Burning Man to Bucherest, who also trade in muted, moody electronics. Where others might be content to ride a rhythm with just a bit of modulation here and there to build drama, Clovis's tracks tend to revel in harmony, with nary a sampled vocal or riff out of place; he's definitely got an ear for what sounds good, though that's an innate trait, rather than a result of training. "I did play the drums when I was in high school for fun, and I had a guitar which I never learned to play very well," he says. "But I think what did it was that my dad was a big music collector; he owned a CD store in Los Angeles in the late '80s and early '90s. He liked all kinds of music, and was basically playing music non-stop whenever he was home."
Included in that home listening was plenty of jazz, with that genre's motifs occasionally working their way into the Clovis sound—there's even a track called "Monk Enthusiast" (in honor of pianist-composer Thelonious Monk) on his SoundCloud page. My dad was a huge jazz fan, Clovis recalls. "I heard a lot of jazz early on, and even though I always kind of liked it, I didn’t really get to really appreciate it till later. For the past couple of years I’ve been really getting into it and listening to it more and more. I really have to credit my dad, because now I do like all kinds of different stuff."
Taking inspiration from further afield, there are unreleased tracks like "Sunflower Sutra," a bluesy cut that samples heavily from Allen Ginsberg's poem of the same name (as read by the beat-generation guru himself). "I had made that track a long time ago," Clovis says, "and then it was just sitting around. I didn’t know what to do with it. I just happened to run into this video of him reading that poem and thought it was kind of cool, so I just set it to that." Inspiration comes from other directions as well. For instance: "I don’t really listen to all that much classical—it feels like that world is such a wormhole that I might get lost in if I got too much into it—but lately, I’ve been getting into a lot of solo piano music, stuff like Chopin and Liszt." A result of that interest can be heard in the Clovis remix of Walker Barnard's "Follow the Smoke," which samples from Dmitri Shostakovich's "String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor."
And there's more on the way—not just material for Clovis's SoundCloud page, but real-deal releases. "I’ve been working with the Lessizmore label in Belgium for a little while," he says, "and they’re putting out a really good compilation for their ten-year anniversary, with music from people like Deadbeat, Guillaume & the Coutu Dumonts and a lot more. I’m going to be on that. And what I’m working on right now is a solo EP that will come out somewhere on vinyl, and there are a few other things that are happening." It's a safe bet that his upcoming stint in Berlin will bring even more opportunities, both in terms of releases and gigs.
It was an encounter with one of Romania's finest in Playa del Carmen that, arguably, has led to his newfound determination. We'll let Clovis tell the story: "I had a chance random back-to-back with Rhadoo at an empty Kool Beach Club at BPM 2013, in which we played together for almost four hours, for basically the bar staff and a handful of my friends who came to see me. He was up from his gig the night before and wanted to play some more music—and this was one of the only daytime parties that started that early. Ten in the morning…I'm not sure why! Anyway, he rolled up the ramp to the booth with his records and a couple friends, and asked if he could play some music. I figured he would just kick me off and play—which would have been amazing on its own—but he offered to play with me, and what ensued was one of the most memorable back-to-back sessions I have had. He was already one of my favorite DJs at that time, and I was heavily into whatever sets I could find so I knew more or less what to play, though I had never met or seen him before. We got a bottle of tequila and had a great time.
"A few months later the booker of Sunwaves who had been with him that morning asked me to come play their festival on the Black Sea coast. It was an incredible experience, and one I wasn't quite ready for to be honest. The level of DJing and party stamina necessary there are almost unparalleled anywhere else. The party begins Friday and goes well past the stated closing time of Monday morning—and can last till Tuesday night or even Wednesday. I was not really prepared for the gig, and though I think I played alright I would love to go back and play again knowing it like I do now, and having become more versed in the style they champion there."
Those are the kinds of experiences that breed confidence—and confidence, often, is the precursor to success. "Sometimes, I think I tend to trick myself that the music isn’t really ready," Clovis says, "but then when I listen to it later, I’ll be like, 'Hey, this is actually pretty good!' Or somebody else will hear it and say 'Why haven’t your released this?'. I just have to get better at sending my stuff out to people; I’m pretty bad about that kind of thing. [laughs] But my New Year’s resolution is to push a little harder to get what I need. I can do it—I just need to do it. And I think that this will be the year that it will happen." Given what's Clovis has already shown us, we think so, too.