Born and raised in Zürich, Switzerland. Luis started his musical career at a young age, influenced by his father’s interest in music.
These days Luis seeks inspiration from the high point of the neo-soul era. On repeat is D'Angelo's Voodoo that opened up our new millennium. Contemporaries like Snarky Puppy, the unclassifiable instrumental ensemble, played a big part in shaping this young Swiss’ musical taste. Melting jazz, funk, soul and world music into its own sound.
We got Luis on the phone to have a conversation about how he got into music and to find out more about his afro-electro-one-man-show called "What The Freedrum?”.
How did you get into music?
My father is a saxophone player, so music has always been a natural part of my life. I went to a lot of concerts growing up and I always thought playing music looked like fun. At the age of three I started playing djembe. Even though drums were always on my mind, and I wanted to start with them, djembe just seemed like an easier start.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been fascinated with music and rhythm and the djembe really helped me to get in touch and experiment with that.
What are your biggest influences today?
I’m really into Snarky Puppy, Vulfpeck. One album I listen to all the time is Voodoo by D’Angelo with Questlove on the drums, his style of music is very influential to me. Drummers like Larnell Lewis and Chris Dave as well.
Tell us a bit about your afro-electro-one-man-show and what inspired you to make a show like that?
Well, it’s a show where I kind of wanted to do something all by myself, musically speaking. I was always making music together with other people up until then. And that makes you dependent on others. I thought that since I already knew how to play all the instruments I wanted to use, I could just do it myself. I guess I just wanted to try the experience to do it all on my own, to be completely independent and see if I could make it happen.
You sure made it happen! Did it take a lot of practice to find the right way to play it live?
At first I had some trouble getting everything to record in the right way. That problem I could solve pretty quickly though, but then I realised the hard part was that for every instrument I had to learn the timing of hitting the notes. In the end I made four songs, and it was a bit overwhelming remembering all the different sounds and the sequence to play them. But it was still fun and worth it!
I guess you had to combine Freedrum with other hardware?
Yes, I used my Maschine Mk3 and my laptop. That was actually all I used, with a midi-controller like my Maschine it was easier for me to hit the record buttons and arrange everything, rather than clicking around on my laptop.
The cool thing is that everything I used fit in my backpack, which was actually really convenient as well. Imagine being able to go anywhere to give a concert and all you need is a small boombox or any other sound system and you’re ready to go! I like that part of the project, it was really easy to bring it anywhere.
How long did it take you to finalise this project?
I started in the summer of 2019 and the first presentation for my school was in November that same year. So it took me about half a year, writing the songs and practicing.
You have the videos from this project on your YouTube, do you share your work in other ways as well?
I published one other song on there but I don’t really share my songs to the public like that. Maybe if I play with a band some tracks can be shared online, but no I’m not on Spotify or anything like that.
I really liked the setting of the videos, with the light and everything.
My mother actually developed those lights, she‘s a physicist. It’s basically an organ that transforms pitch into color. With Ableton I was able to match each tube with a different instrument. A lot of long nights were necessary to get everything ready for this project.
Do you ever collaborate with other musicians?
I actually prefer working with other people, when you’re alone the spotlight is on you. I liked the experience to do it myself and I will continue doing projects like this. But I definitely prefer to be in a group, I’m in multiple bands and that’s the biggest joy in music, to play with others. I mostly collaborate with friends or people from my school, and so far never with anyone overseas. But, with the pandemic, it’s definitely a great possibility to collaborate across the globe, sending tracks back and forth via the internet.
How did you hear about Freedrum?
I was actually looking around for an alternative to my traditional drum set because I was going on vacation and wanted to bring an instrument along. Freedrum was the perfect solution to this. I think I got it pretty much in the beginning, right after the kickstarter campaign and it’s been with me on many trips since then.
What were your initial thoughts?
Initially I was fascinated with how well it worked, I wasn’t really sure how accurate everything would be but I was truly impressed. At first there wasn’t any software so I used GarageBand. There I realised you could use it as a midi-controller and use it to play other instruments than the drums. It was great fun to just be able to try out new sounds and experiment almost unlimited.
And the downsides?
Well, the only issue for me is that you don’t have a surface to hit on. I needed to adapt and differentiate my playing from traditional drums a bit. What I miss is to be able to do double strokes and rolls. It’s doable, but it’s tricky to pull it off in a good way.
When doing the project I also had some issues with the sensors going off and having to re-calibrate. But to be honest I think it’s so well made with the light indication that I instantly noticed when it was hitting the wrong spot and I needed to recalibrate. I’m really impressed by how accurate it stays when I’m playing everywhere and it just hits the right thing.
What software do you use these days?
I use Ableton Live, the ability to customise your mappings is really good. I don’t think I could have done this project without that feature. I tried with GarageBand in the beginning but it had too many restrictions for me to use it for the project. In Ableton Live there is something called drum racks, it opens a grid with all the midi-notes, and for each midi-note you can load a sample into that part of the grid. Ableton is also practical for live performances since you have the ability to loop sections.
What other instruments do you play besides Freedrum?
Drums mostly and a little bit of guitar. Last year I started to take piano lessons.
What kind of genres do you like to play?
For now it’s pretty much all jazz, since I’m going in the jazz direction for my education. With friends I explore all kinds of directions, from pop to afro. We like all sorts of music, and we play what we are into at the moment.
How do you mostly use Freedrum?
I use it mostly for my personal projects, as it’s easy to just start playing and I use it as midi-controllers to play the drums. I usually quantize my drums through Ableton so it adapts the notes. That makes it really easy to use Freedrum to record a drum track.
Would you say playing Freedrum helped you in your music career?
I think it was very important for this specific project. It changed the way I wrote my music, simplified it a bit. It also changed the way I build my songs and it coloured my process the way that I build from one instrument and then the next one comes in, just like the songs in this project. So it for sure influenced my style of music. I couldn't have done it without Freedrum.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to school to pursue a career in music and study to become a professional musician. I’m currently studying for my entrance exam for a school in Lucerne in the east of Switzerland. Fingers crossed I get in.
Other than that I’m just waiting for the pandemic to pass so that I can get out and play and practice again. I’m working on new material playing Freedrum and it would be really cool to be able to give a concert with them as well.