The very name exudes style and intrigue—a country lord, perhaps, who at night throws open the manor gates to host all-night bacchanals legendary for their wine and song.
And though the French-born, Geneva-based artist may not have a manor to his name, the rest isn’t far off the mark. Born Renaud Lewandowski, Lee has earned a reputation as a kind of dark prince of uplifting electronic music—a trickster who spreads his mischief via long, undulating DJ sets and bewilderingly epic releases.
No surprise to learn that Lee’s roots go deep. His musical prehistory may be similar to many of his generation: raised on rock and hip-hop, complete with the obligatory attempt to learn to play guitar followed by short-lived bands with schoolmates. But Lee was the beneficiary of his stepfather’s eclectic musical tastes, which spanned classical, jazz, funk, rock and even musique concrete and academic electronic music. “I was fascinated by the metallic sleeves and their geometrical designs,” he remembers, suggesting a possible source for the shimmering timbres and clever vectors of his own music.
The pieces first fell together in 1993, when a friend invited Lee to attend a rave in southern France, near where he lived. “That was the shock of my life,” says Lee, echoing a sentiment that will be familiar to many. “That was what I was looking for, without really knowing it—thousands of people dancing and sweating in the open air. An amazing soundsystem. And this never-ending kick that drives you to madness… Since that day, I’ve devoted my life entirely to being a part of this.”
Lee got involved with the infamous Dragon Bal raves, where Miss Kittin got her start; he worked mundane jobs, saved money, bought decks and a mixer and taught himself to spin. He came to production the same way, beginning with an MPC2000, but translating the sounds in his head into its fat, blocky pads wasn’t as easy as it seemed. His ambitions took Lee to Geneva, where he earned a degree in music engineering, but it may have been his next job, working in a Lausanne music shop, that really signalled his entry into the world of electronic music. “Even if the boss was a crazy guy, the shop was like a goldmine, full of gear and old analog synths, drum machines, all the recording and mixing tools you could dream of,” he recalls with awe. He took advantage of his employee discount to build out his studio, and just as importantly, the shop served as a focal point for all the area’s musicians. It was here that Lee would meet both Quenum and Luciano—and from there, as they say, the rest is history…
Between 2004 and 2013 he was a mainstay at Luciano’s highly regarded Cadenza troupe. Over nine years the highly prized Gallic import played Vagabundos parties the world over, while dropping a series of tantalising dancefloor groovers on the respected imprint led by 2004’s ‘Extension/Oregon’ EP with Quenum, ‘La Cucina Del Cabrón’ with Glimpse (Half of Dense&Pika) in 2009 and ‘Bimbam’ in 2011.
Outside of Cadenza, Lee was also industrious, releasing a full-length album with Quenum on Soma in 2006 titled ‘As Told On The Eve Of…’ while further bolstering his production credentials on an impressive list of labels such as: Wagon Repair, Cocoon, Bedrock, Suara, Soma, Rekids, Kling Klong, Intacto, Material, BPitch Control, Snatch!, Cabin Fever, Ilian Tape, Noir, Rebellion (sub-label of Crosstown Rebels) and Mobilee (the label presided over by Anja Schneider and Ralf Kollmann) that rang strongest for Lee when he was a looking to creatively challenge himself after his Cadenza years.
In any case, his music career had been always steady and full of dancefloor weapons. To name just a few: surreptitiously entitled “050504” released on Mobilee (a deep tribal gem canned by Sven Väth that became one of the year’s biggest techno tracks after it was first debuted in Anja Schneider’s Essential Mix ; 6th most charted track of the year on Resident Advisor and hitting the tech house top10 for quite a while), for the same imprint “ELLE” (most charted track in RA’s top50; #2 on Beatport’s techno top 100 chart) or “WWW” (Cocoon).
We stand as obedient soldiers if we talk about some of his most recent releases. His terrific remixes for example of the legendary “By the Kiss” by M83, euphoric sounding Pig&Dan’s “The Saint” (Elevate) or Dave Seaman’s “Nightfalls” (Selador), an absolute top seller on Beatport.
And of course do not forget at all his most recent LP to date: “Cerca Trova” via Mobilee, where Lee gave the dancefloor a time-out for the contemporary IDM. “This experimental/ambient session finds a precious heart hidden within twisted metal and frazzled circuitry, crunching machinery together and finding the beauty within, or at the very least, placating the beast he puts in charge” attested Matt Oliver on his CLASH album review. The 14-track longplayer sees the artist hark back to his nascent rave years when Autechre, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada ruled the stereo. From ambient techno to breaks, electro and acid, the work is ambitious, inspired and like all the best musical experiences – ultimately surprising.
Said all this, let’s mark on fire this 2017 where he’s going to kick off with a brand new release on MOOD, Nicole Moudaber’s record label. And not only that…
Lee Van Dowski represents tirelessly the passion for the music. It is moving always in exciting new directions that keep him at the very top of the pile… And definitely, he has lots more to come.
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