Anonymity is a tough thing to pull off in the all-knowing Internet Age. Whether he's hidden from the media glare consciously or not, baby-faced French producer Onra has remained somewhat of a mystery man. From the rugged, cut and paste instrumental effort Chinoiseries to the beguiling soul vibes of Long Distance, the real life Arnaud Bernard has let the music speak volumes. While there's a lot of percolating activity brewing on his beats, it's the little spaces, or pockets, of rhythm which really leave a lasting impression. Onra's musical delicacies are like a fine wine, they need room to breathe. You just throw on one of his albums and let the soundwaves fill the air and linger.
Apart from his rough yet smooth aesthetic, a logical progression from A Tribe Called Quest and the like, it's the distinctive far Eastern influence of his past work that has stood out to many beats heads. The half-Asian producer tells us however that the creeping flavours have more to do with digging through crates of records while travelling in Vietnam than his multi-cultural background. "The influence just comes from whatever vinyls I use to make music with, it has nothing to do with the fact that I'm part Asian too." That dusty-fingered record trawling brought Onra some notoriety early on his career courtesy of the track The Anthem. "An ad agency from London discovered about me," he says in his charming broken English. "They were looking for some music that mixes the Asian music genre and the Western music genre. There is not a large choice of options. Then they just remade my track by someone else, and used this track for the TV commercial." The commercial in question was for sugar-drink giant Coca Cola, who 'remade' his already-sampled track for their own purposes in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "So actually my music is not used on this ad, it just inspired them to copy and do the same track. As it's not my track and I haven't been credited for it, it never helped me to reach new audience," he says in his no-nonsense yet amiable tone. Well, he answered that question.
Around the time of Anthem-gate, the musical prodigy enrolled in the Red Bull Music Academy in Spain, another eye-opener for him. "It opened my mind to new music genres, meeting people from all over the place that makes really different kind of stuff is great." When picking his brain about production influences it's no surprise to hear him bring up names like Pete Rock and DJ Premier. "All the legendary hip hop producers," he says, almost like he's been asked the question a million times, which he probably has. "But my main influence has been J Dilla, even if our sounds and techniques are different he had the strongest inspiration on me." Understandably Onra is being modest but in many eyes he is well on his way to a legendary status all his own. Evolution is one key component that separates the big dogs from the pretenders. His graduation from sample rebel to full-blown musician is clear on 2010's Long Distance. After working with soul crooner Olivier Daysoul, T3 of Slum Village and others, he confirms the awaited Chinoiseries Pt. 2 will see him return to a strictly instrumental approach. "Chinoiseries Pt. 2 is going to be the proper sequel to the first one, same concept, same amount of tracks, same inspiration but maybe more soundtrack-ish. Sequences and song structures are a bit more evolved than the first one and it just sounds better, mix-wise." After that he may return to working with collaborators, but don't count on it. "I don't really have any rules or limits when I make music, I wanna be free to do whatever I feel like, and not care too much about what the people might be expecting from me." Clearly a man on his own path from day one, he has some even loftier goals for the future. "My dream would be to collab with Quentin Tarrantino on a kung-fu kind of flick, I think this would be awesome. But realistically, I can only hope to work on some amateur short footage for now!" We can only hope that the proposed kick-sploitation flick won't be too far off.
No matter how banging the beats are though the music industry is a tough nut to crack. "The internet enabled me to make it happen by myself even if I don't have a crew to support me, or if I didn't get it with a reputation or something. Internet is a great DIY tool." Calling swinging Paris home right now the world-travelled DJ does have a soft spot in his heart for that apparent hip hop hotbed of Poland. "Somehow I almost have as much followers in Poland that I have in France," he exclaims with surprise and excitement. "The people are great and if they love your music, they are not shy too show it, which is essential when you do shows." Here's hoping that unbridled love will be returned when he embarks on his first ever down under tour. "I expect a lot 'cause I have been waiting for this opportunity for so long now, Australia is one of the countries I was the most looking forward to play in. I think I'll have some great time, I only have heard good things about this place."
Onra [FRA] plays Espionage at the Revolt Artspace alongside Silkie [UK] and more on Monday October 31. Tickets availble now from Moshtix