Hugo Senbeï uses a Joué for his multiple musical projects that combine hip-hop, electro and trip hop. Between his studio in Bordeaux and the stages of Europe, he told us about his present and future use of this controller like no other that he quickly learned to master.
A senbei is a Japanese rice cracker. It’s also the name of the internationally successful electro-hip-hop project of Hugo, a French composer, DJ and beat maker. The man is also half of Smokey Joe & The Kid, whose tunes combine electronic grooves with samples drawn from American folk music, and is currently working on a new project, all while performing live throughout Europe. He took a few minutes on the road to his next gig to tell us about how he uses his Joué.
“As an instrumentist, I immediately related to the Joué because it opened new possibilities in terms of MIDI control.”
You’ve been using the Joué basically since it came out. How did you end up with one in your hands?
Someone I worked with on the Smokey Joe & The Kid shows had told me about it. I immediately thought this thing had huge potential, and I started using it really quickly. Up to then, I only used keyboards and samplers. And since I’m also an instrumentist originally, I immediately related to an instrument such as the Joué, because it opened new possibilities in terms of MIDI control.
How did you incorporate the Joué into your practice of music?
I immediately integrated it in my home studio. But it wasn’t possible for me to use it onstage, because I hadn’t composed my tracks with it. In order to be used live, the Joué has to be part of the creative process from the very beginning, I think. So I haven’t used it during concerts so far, for practical and technical reasons, but I’m currently working on a new orchestral trip hop project with a pianist, Julien Marchal, and we’re definitely planning on using the Joué onstage. We’re actually discussing with the team at Joué to figure out what we could do together around this project – but I can’t say any more at the moment. In any case, we’ve already planned to make video teasers using the Joué to promote the project.
“The Joué has huge potential, not only with musicians but with the general public as well, because it’s such an accessible instrument.”
About that, can you tell us about the videos you made where you’re seen composing with the Joué?
They are the three tracks I had composed and played for the official launch of the Joué at Darwin, in Bordeaux, where their headquarters are. I made those videos afterwards, and they became quite successful. In fact, one of the tracks ended up in an ad for French utility company Engie! The Joué has huge potential, not only with musicians but with the general public as well, because it’s such an accessible instrument, and you can see that when you watch someone using it, like in those videos.
As a guitarist, what do you think of the Joué’s fretboard module?
That module is one of the main reasons I added the Joué to my setup. Particularly for bass tracks, it’s just awesome. I made a video where I play a bass solo on the Joué, and it sounds really great. It’s so much more interesting and fun than to play bass on a classic MIDI keyboard. The fretboard module was created for people who already play bass or guitar, and it’s really cool to be able to combine that type of playing with MIDI technology.
You’ve become quite comfortable with the instrument; do you think you still have things left to explore with the Joué?
I think I’ve pretty much explored what interests me personally with the instrument, but everyone can develop their own way of using it, including outside of music. For example, the person in charge of lights on Senbeï shows uses a Joué to control the lighting on my tour this year. The Joué enables him to add more creativity to lighting. We had talked about it after he saw my videos, and he started using it.
How do you compose with the Joué?
It’s always on my desk. Every time I want to play something a little differently, with a more tactile approach, I used my Joué and press record. Right now I’m working on my project with Julien Marchal and on the new Smokey Joe tracks; I’ll be on tour for both those albums late 2020, and I’ll be using my Joué onstage then. With Julien, we’re even considering using one Joué each, in addition to our other instruments.
The Joué is an original object, but it’s also carefully designed, with an emphasis on quality. Does that matter to you?
Absolutely. For one thing, it’s nice to know where it comes from, who makes it, and that it’s made with quality materials. It’s a nice change from cheap plastic MIDI controllers. It’s only flaw to me, especially for the stage, is that it’s too small!
Interview by Patrick Haour