This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.
Think of the music industry like a floodgate. On one side, there are the tracks that flow into the hands of the world. These are the heavily PR’d, meme-ready, carefully constructed bangers. On the other, there's a vast reservoir of untouched music. Often, these tracks are bad—that’s why no one listens to them. But in rare cases, they’re also patiently waiting to be discovered. That’s why record labels pay A&Rs money to sit on their asses all day browsing Soundcloud; and that’s why music fans, like me, spend all our spare time sifting through the back-pages of the web, looking for the next Jai Paul or FKA twigs or Jay Electronica.
These late night Soundcloud excursions are good, because without them I wouldn’t have discovered 18 year old singer/producer Lauren Auder. What struck me about him immediately was his voice: the moody, sullen murmurs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a King Krule record, but were instead layered upon walls of dark, distorted noise, trip-hoppy electronics and slow, rolling drum beats. His lyrics, when you can hear them, are both poetic and bizarre (“last week, a spider was on my shower wall, today there are four more"), and a deeper look at his history revealed he had collaborated with UK rapper Kojey Radical on his last EP, that Evian Christ and Denzel Himself are fans, and that, despite his affiliation with London’s network of underground artists, he actually lives in a tiny isolated village in the South of France. In some ways, it seemed like the world he’d started to build for himself online had already spilt out over the virtual walls and into the space beyond. But I wanted to know more. Who was this teenage Soundcloud oddity? What was he doing?
A year later, and I’m speaking to him over Skype trying to find out. It’s a day before his 18th birthday, and he is in the middle of studying for his final exams. After he’s completed them, he tells me, he’ll be leaving school and moving to London in September to put all his energies into music. His Soundcloud has gone strangely quiet lately, and a few old tracks and EPs have disappeared completely—I get the impression it’s because he’s just been signed, but he says he’s not allowed to reveal anything yet. “Hopefully, if everything goes well over the next few months, I will have a lot more opportunities,” he says vaguely, tying his shoulder-length hair out of his face and into a bun, his nails coated in black polish. “But for now, I’ve just got my head in the books.”
His accent surprises me, because instead of the French drawl I expected, he speaks with a very English intonation. As it turns out, he was born in Watford, before moving just outside Albi in France when he was seven to get away from the “hectic and expensive lifestyle” of the city. Both his parents were music journalists at the time (his mom worked at NME, and his dad worked at Kerrang!). He chooses not to tell me their names, but he does tell me that that, from a very young age, he grew up surrounded by a love and appreciation of music that transcended the limits of genre.
“I grew up listening to emo music one hundred percent,” Lauren says, with a slightly wry look on his face. “I still listen to My Chemical Romance a lot of the time. They write amazing pop songs in my opinion, and I still love them. After that, I went through a really intense Prince phase and only listened to Prince for about a year. Then I discovered Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale album because I borrowed my mum’s iPod when I was a kid and that’s how I got into hip-hop, which is really a big part of what I still listen to, and what I do now.” He isn’t the only one who is obsessed with hip-hop in his small town. “Most of my friends in France are part of rap crews,” he says, “so we have a lot of stuff in common in terms of our tastes. Where I live in France, people are mostly into the French rap scene, which is actually thriving here, so that’s quite exciting.”
It was this love of rap and hip hop that encouraged him to get in touch with UK rapper Kojey Radical to ask him to be on a track he’d produced. Their collaborative efforts spawned “Blinde Pferde,” a beautiful, dark web of electronics where Kojey raps lines smattered in brilliant religious imagery like “my past wrongs have been gone, I take judgement from the lips of a prophet, I see a future with you, I see a crowd of sinners,” over droning ambience. Their sounds work so naturally together, and in such perfect synch, that the collab feels serendipitous. “I emailed him to say I’m into what he makes, and how I’d love to work with him,” Lauren explains. “I was lucky because I got him to be on a track before a lot of hype surrounded him. I’m really happy I got the opportunity to work with him, because everything he’s doing right now is amazing. I love the power of the internet and how you can connect with people. Like, if people enjoy what you’re making, they can just get in touch—and they often do.”
At 18, Lauren Auder belongs to the first generation to have been born into the internet. He cannot remember a time before it, and cannot imagine what it would be like without it. I’m only five years older than him, but this key difference between our generations feels astronomical. “I think people my age have a knack for connecting with each other; there’s this idea that you can communicate with anybody you like, and it’s definitely something that comes naturally to us,” he ponders, when I point this out. “I guess the weird part is that I can see that tens of thousands of people have played one of my songs, but I’m also very isolated in the real world,” he says. “For instance, until recently, a lot of people at school didn’t realise I make music. But in a way, it’s kind of nice because it gives me perspective. There’s still that degree of separation between what’s on here [he points to the computer screen], and what’s out there [he points to the window].”
As his music gradually becomes more prolific, he’s had to deal with constant comparisons to King Krule. It’s easy to see why the comparison exists—they were both young when they started making music, they share a similar, slightly slurring delivery and melancholic tone, and their lyrics are smart and poetic. But where King Krule was shaped from the concrete streets of South London, as well as jazz and punk predecessors like Joe Strummer, Lauren Auder comes from a gentler, more confessional place, and the undeniable sound of France is embedded within his tracks, whether from the French poets he studies at school (he’s a particular fan of Comte de Lautréamont), the rap crews he associates with online and in real life, or simply his less hectic physical surroundings.
“I used to listen to alot of King Krule because I go through phases, and when I was fourteen he’d just released his first album which was big for me,” Lauren says. “But since then, I’ve not really followed him… When you’re trying to make a name for yourself, people will always compare you to somebody they already know,” he adds. “But in my opinion, our music is very different. It’s not the worse comparison in the world—far from it. But hopefully, as time goes on, the comparisons will dry up.”
Lauren’s right—as time goes on, such comparisons will dry up, because it feels undoubtable that he will make a name for himself. Whether it’s the intricate, half-rapped wordplay of tracks like “Frozen Tango Dancer,” the distorted, bleary-eyed production of tracks like “Uncomfortable Creature Part ii,” or the genre-blending prowess of tracks like “Stigmata,” artists like Lauren Auder are built to last because they take all the sounds that came before them, and twist them into brand new shapes. It’s fascinating to see the subtle nuances of his sound shift across tracks, and those twists and lilts are only going to grow. If he can create a fully-realised EP with rudimentary bedroom materials in between studying for his exams, imagine what he’ll be making when he’s 25, when his time truly belongs to him.
Throughout my conversation with Lauren Auder over Skype, I am reminded of the pure determination and enthusiasm that comes with being a teenager—the feeling of having your whole life ahead of you, as you teeter on the brink of absolute freedom, the endless possibilities spread out like an empty map ahead. Is he aware of what exists at his fingertips? Or is he oblivious, as most of us are, hurling darts in the dark and hoping they’ll land? “I’ve spent so much time just lurking around town with my friends, hanging out and playing music loudly,” Lauren says by way of reply. “It’s not very exciting, but I spend a lot of time aspiring for more, and hoping that the things I do are going to take me where I want to go. I think that’s a lot to do with being young and feeling powerless. I do a lot of daydreaming, and thinking about how I can get to a place where I can feel free. For now, I’m just working on my next thing. I don’t know exactly when it’s going to come, but it will be bigger and better than anything that’s come before.”
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