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Parisian beatmaker Onra started off, like most, in his bedroom, making sounds to ‘write some raps on’. Today, the producer is finishing a remix for Juicy J and The Weeknd and is getting set to make his return to Australian shores. With the MPC being his weapon of choice and a sound rooted in ‘80s R&B and ‘90s hip hop, Onra has achieved international recognition for his fresh take on a golden era. We caught up with him to chat ‘80s corniness, sampling and upcoming projects (which may, or may not, involve Q-Tip).

You’ve been making music for a while but didn’t start releasing records till about seven years ago. Can you tell us about those first years of beatmaking?

I started making music around ’98-’99 and, at first, it was just about having some instrumentals so we could write some raps on it and just record ourselves in our bedrooms with a couple of friends. So I was just having fun with it for, maybe, four or five years and then I decided to upgrade my equipment and I started making music with the MPC, which is the instrument sampler that I use now. And then I just kept on making music for pleasure, I never planned a professional career or anything like that.

As varied as your music is, I always get a pretty distinct ‘80s disco, ‘90s R&B feel to them – what is it about that period that attracts you so much?

I dunno, I just grew up listening to straight up hip hop and R&B. I never grew up on anything else really – no electronic music – so that’s all I know basically. And when I discovered older R&B, which starts in the ‘80s, then I just got a real passion for it.

Are there any other particular sounds influencing you at the moment?

When you’re a producer, like me, who depends on samples you really have to listen to any kind of music. So if you look at my collection there’s almost everything. The obvious ones like soul, jazz, funk from any eras and then there’s a lot of rock, there’s a lot of reggae. You always have to be very open-minded, 360 [degrees], basically anything. You can make music out of everything and everything is kind of inspiring you.

Your latest project, Throw Em Up 2 mix, just dropped. How do you go about selecting tracks for a mix like that?

Well first, there’s hours and hours of listening to stuff – you have to go through your old stuff, your old CDs. So it takes a long time first selecting all the tracks, you can’t imagine how many tracks I selected first. There’s only 39 at the end but there was like over 50 tracks I selected first. But I was just trying to pick the ones I was sure I was never gonna get rid of. I just wanted to make it classic – you can play this mix any time and any part of it, whether it’s the beginning or the end and it’s [always] gonna sound good.

Well I love it, I’ve been playing it non-stop for the past 24 hours.

It’s very addictive.

It’s got so many of my favourites and then many that I forgot existed.

I know, right? The first one we released last year, it was more like classic joints but with this one I just wanted to go a little bit deeper. We saw that people like this stuff so you really don’t have to be too obvious with it. With this one we just wanted to mix classic joints as well as underground, B-sides and not so famous tracks.

You’ve got a lot of fans in high places (I saw that Q-Tip gave you props on Twitter) and people do compare you to some of the great beatmakers of that hip hop golden era. How does that feel?

Yeah, that’s crazy to me. I will always be a fan first. I consider myself, like a…basically like a groupie. You know, if I see any of those guys in a club or in a record store, of course I’m going to ask for their signature and photographs.

And what about your peers in today’s scene – is there anyone in today’s industry that you admire or would like to collaborate with?

Um…I mean, yes. But I can’t really tell because I think there are some pretty good ideas I’m working on with those guys. I just don’t wanna ruin the surprise – I’m still working on it.

Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

Well I just did a couple remixes but it’s not gonna come out because of a sample issue. But I still made it and I’m gonna play it at my show, so that’s the only way you’ll be able to hear it. Then there’s another remix, that I’m about to finish right now, for Juicy J and The Weeknd. It’s a song that came out two months ago but, as I know the management of The Weeknd, I managed to get the acapella to work with. And then there’s another remix that’s not gonna come out – I’m very unlucky with these, really – it’s for American electronic artist called Tittsworth. It was very interesting because he had Q-Tip and Theophilus London on the same track, so I was like “Yeah yeah, of course I’m gonna do it”. And then there was some problem with Q-Tip at the end. So we still have the acapella but even [Tittsworth’s] original song is not gonna come out because of some sort of contract issue, which is too bad. I took this acapella and I put it on some French boogie tunes from 1983. It’s actually kinda corny, no one was taking this seriously. But I took it and put Q-Tip and Theophilus London on it and it sounds amazing so…

I love that about the ’80s. I think there’s always something a little corny about it but it works.

Yeah, but I think the more you listen to it, the less corny it is. But I just realised that it was so interesting, I can’t get over the corniness of it, you know. I think right now, it’s really cool. I think it’s cooler than a lot of things people think is cool.

You’re about to embark on your Australian tour, what can we expect to see at the show?

[Laughs] I already gave you a couple exclusives already! I worked on it a lot, so I do a lot more stuff on the MPC. But as far as the track selection, of course I’m going to play some stuff you’ve never heard before but that’s the thing when you have four or five albums. You’re gonna have to play a little bit of everything because you know, some people came here, they wanna hear that old song that you made five years ago that they really love, so it’ll be a balance of classic tracks and some new stuff.

Onra’s Australian tour kicks off July 18, Mebourne. Click here for more details.