The Tolhuistuin. A lush garden just across the water from Central Station’s back door. We travelled down to Amsterdam to meet up with the great Lefto at ‘Rotterdam Take Over’ (by Strange Fruit and Boogieman). You know! It has been a few weeks ago, but it’s o.k. It was a nice chat about favorite food, managing busy life and society nowadays. Timeless.
We want to capture the vibe we associate the most with LA. What do you like best about this city?
When I’m traveling, I’d rather stay over at someone’s place than to book a hotel. It makes you experience how people usually live, so I tend to feel at home quickly. I go out and get the newspaper and all that. Otherwise, you are somewhere but you’re not really in touch with how people feel out there. What I don’t like are the great distances and traffic jams. LA is such a big city with a whole variety of areas, it’s so big people don’t go to other areas. Venice Beach to me, is already very different to the rest of LA. My favorite places are Silverlake, Mount Washington and Echo Park.
Have you found that same vibe outside of LA?
Yes, recently in Montreal, Canada. Maybe it was because of the great weather at that moment. But some of the housing was very similar to LA. And the smell of freshly mowed grass of course!
And in Brussels? Is that totally different?
Yeah. Brussels is densely built, the buildings in residential areas are a lot taller as well.
‘Lève-tôt’ means ‘Early bird’. We know you had this name in your graffiti-past, but please tell us more.
It’s true my name was given to me in my tagging days. We used to come back home early in the morning and three hours later I was back up and running again. I don’t drink and smoke so I guess that helps in someway. Everytime I woke up early I realized that I would work better and faster than any other moment of day. The city, nature and people also have another vibe in the morning: still a little bit sleepy, quiet and not really on point and not too busy yet. I can focus more on my work in the morning, it’s more relaxed.
I love the morning sun, wearing my flipflops and tank top, to breathe in all that fresh air. In the afternoon and evening the city is too foggy though. I also like the sprinklers in peoples gardens, they keep it fresh.
Talk us trough a typical Lefto Day. Imagine you have a gig somewhere later on. You have only one hour before leaving for the airport. What kind of meal will do best for you?
If I only had one hour? I’d go straight to the airport! I take every precaution because I don’t want to be late. When I’m at the airport I can always go online, get some work done and have a croissant or a sandwich or something.
No specific powerfood?
Oh I do have some powerfood actually, it’s called durum, but it’s so heavy that it’s impossible to have only one hour to eat and still be able to walk afterwards! It consists of bread with fries, meat, salad, onion, mayonaise and garlicsauce. Then you’re set for at least 4 hours. In Brussels you find the best ones.
In my neighborhood we also have the best Turkish köfte, made in an authentic woodoven. Bread with tender meat, peppers and onion. While sizzling in the oven, all the flavours creep into the bread. It’s crazy nice. Man, we have the best köfte, no doubt!
Well thanks, now we’re hungry.
You’re welcome. (laughs)
'I love the morning sun, wearing my flipflops and tank top, to breathe in all that fresh air. In the afternoon and evening the city is too foggy though.'
Do you have a manager or can you still manage to do everything for yourself?
It depends. In the US, Asia, South Africa and Switzerland I have people that can arrange most things for me. I try to do it all by myself, but I know some good people who can assist me when needed. Once, I received a request from an international booking agency that wanted to put me on their roster, but I said: ‘Sweet, but no thanks.’ I like to be in control and check out for myself if a gig suits me and my style. If not, I can suggest another, more matching artist to them.
You’re a busy person. Do you have any tips and tricks for other busy people?
Ehm, sex helps. (laughs) Good food and sports, like running. The best thing for me is DJ-ing, I’m so busy and concentrated with what I’m doing I don’t feel anything that could harm me. At that particular time I’m in another dimension. I really feel the energy from the audience. When I’m hopping back in the car, that’s when I find myself again.
While travelling you meet lots of people. Of course we all preach world peace and positivity, but when do you think: “To hell with forgiveness”?
When I see acts of random violence. It’s getting worse: one wrong eye and that’s enough. I think it’s because parents are slacking in raising their children the right way and the lack of self-knowledge. You often hurt another person when you don’t know yourself and you are afraid.
Do you think that’s a new thing?
It has probably always been that way, but nowadays I realize it more and more often. Nowadays free violence has become worse and the penalties have become milder. I think zero-tolerance is okay sometimes in some areas. But still, it all starts at home. Parents need to take a look in the mirror and try to understand what they do wrong raising their children, who become tomorrows parents. Next to that, you have the politicians who don’t take their responsibilities. Unfortunately they tend to look the other way and just blame it on hiphop for example.The other thing I really don’t like is manipulation by media and big corporations. They want to make us believe things for their own profit. They really like to scare us, make us afraid of the future, and that’s supposed to make people go out and spend more!
What was your worst, funniest or weirdest gig?
The worst gigs are those when the audience doesn’t feel what you do. Totally no chemistry. The best are those when you really feel connected, and that can happen anywhere, whether it’s in LA, Tokyo or Seoul.
Sometimes it’s more difficult to find such chemistry closer to home, but in the end, when I return to Europe, I feel that there’s a better climate for DJ’s out here.
Well, there are a lot of different cultures within this small surface, so people hear and feel a huge diversity in music. That makes people more open minded. I think in the long run, Europe will be a melting pot of all cultures and ethnicities and that will take only a few generations to grow.. I’m of Italian origin and my girlfriend is from European-African descent. Our children will have all of that! I don’t feel Belgian but more like a world citizen. It’s a small world after all.
People tend to look at their differences with others from an egocentric point of view, instead of crossing borders and trying to learn from each other.
True. I like to think about the unthinkable: having no borders. If you watch the world from above, you don’t see anything such. But through all centuries, we have divided ourselves from each other and we drew lines. Now, with more open borders we can not cope with one another anymore. If the world was borderless from the beginning, we could have been one big culture with understanding for each other and no big culture clashes and fear like we see now. I learned to understand other cultures at an early age because I had an African, Moroccan and a Jewish friend. Quite like the movie ‘La Haine’.
A beautiful dream. But we have to stay positive though. Look at the drama that took place at Pukkelpop (during the Belgian music festival, a heavy storm knocked down tents and heavy equipment, leaving many casualties. red.) ; lots of people living close to the disaster-area, took care of those young people. It’s wonderful to see that kind of solidarity.
Speaking about having no borders, where does your traveling spirit come from?
Maybe it’s because my father worked at a travel agency. I don’t want to have a 9 to 5 job. If I did, I would be a sad person. Once I had a taste of what I do now, I only wanted more. I don’t see myself staying in Belgium when I’m old. When I quit, I would definitely do something with nature, because I really love nature. Recently I was on a little boat in Canada and we saw a whale coming to the surface just some 30 meters away. Wow. The whole experience was so fascinating and I think I would be okay living in and with nature.
My girlfriend says that I can’t live without internet and my mobile phone. But I would go back to the essence of life and live with nature without destroying it. That’s the only thing that counts, the human race is so busy within its own world it doesn’t have the time to understand what nature really is, and nobody understands the planet better than nature, the animals, and plants are the ones who can read the needs of our planet. Reminds me of the Thailand tsunami where the population saw animals leave to higher grounds.
I’m a true animist and I believe that earth itself will pull out the plugs. Control, Alt, Delete and then it’s done for us. Fashion and technology are two things that interest me, but there will be a moment I say nature is so much more fascinating. Glad to realize that. There are too many people who don’t look further than their newest gadget or fashion item.
Education and good upbringing is so important. We should pay attention to the fact that people are getting more and more narrowminded. At school you don’t learn that much anymore, and often you become smarter by reading books you picked yourself and doing your own research. Before that it’s important to ‘learn how to learn’. Also, teachers have hard times getting the class under control on top of that.
In music I also see a lot of narrowminded heads. For example: hiphop originally brought a message about social circumstances, but nowadays it’s more like a huge advertisement. Youngsters grow up with the ideal of luxury and riches. I feel that hiphop used to be more of peoples own expression; they cared less about whether their music would be picked up by the masses or not. The same goes for DJ’s that play what everybody wants to hear. Kinda like a popmusic-jukebox. I’m lucky to have another type of audience.
Final Question: what kind of work would you do if you weren’t a DJ?
I would be happy if I was a forester! (laughs)