I first came across the music of Louke Man while listening to the Harsh Riddims Vol. 4 compilation from Atlanta’s Harsh Riddims Blood Sucking Cassette Co. label. The Toronto producer’s track ‘Differently_’ stood out from the others for its smoothness and melancholic sweetness, a distinctly unharsh ‘riddim’ on a compilation claiming to offer up only the opposite. With it’s pitched-up vocal samples from Lana Del Rey’s ‘Fuck It I Love You’ and a skittering rave break reminiscent of Bicep’s ‘Glue’, ‘Differently_’ struck me with its simplicity and affecting emotionality. Naturally, I decided to seek out the rest of Louke Man’s back catalogue in the hope of discovering more of the same.
The Toronto producer has thus far released two full-length projects, 2017’s Lil Devil and Boom, released in 2019. The former is an album’s worth of straightforward lo-fi house tracks laden with repetitive vocal samples and saturated drum loops. There are some pretty decent cuts on there: ‘A535’ and ‘You Knoww’ contain enough energy to stand out as potential dancefloor jams, while the slippery basslines and laidback grooves on ‘Beach’ are undeniably infectious. Still, the tunes on Lil Devil are not as captivating as the best from that lo-fi house boom we saw in the mid-2010s (see DJs Seinfeld and Boring, for example), and while for a debut project Lil Devil is a decent enough listen, its replay value isn’t the highest.
Boom, on the other hand, marks a notable shift in Louke Man’s development as a producer. On this project, the house loops of Lil Devil are replaced with more varied rhythms, while the production is of a distinctly higher quality. Although not totally dispensing with the house beats, many of the tracks here boast a swing that points more towards the influence of UK garage. The manipulated vocals tend to be triggered rather than looped, and the skipping rhythms compliment the groove better than the more rudimentary samples on Lil Devil. Opener ‘I Know There’s Pain’ exists in the same vein as ‘Differently_’, emotionally affecting yet undeniably danceable, while ‘DQ’ is a silky garage track that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early 00s MJ Cole album. The same smoothness that marks garage as a genre exists here in spades, contrasting starkly with the saturated lo-fi sound of Lil Devil.
Many tracks on Boom were clearly conceived with the dancefloor in mind, with booming kicks and snapping claps placed at the forefront of the mix. Unfortunately, this sometimes clashes with the pleasant warmth and spaciness of the instrumentals. The kick drums on ‘Myy’, in particular, feel ever so slightly overpowering when they come in, at odds with the track’s airy vocals and quirky chord progressions, while the claps on the otherwise heavenly ‘Eddy’ are a little too sharp for my liking. I cannot help but feel that with less focus on dancefloor appeal and more attention to the reverb and space on the drums, the atmospheric qualities that make these two tunes so seductive could have been better drawn out.
Still, in its finest moments Boom provides sweet and smooth dance tracks that are as relaxing and comforting as they are enticing. Louke Man’s music succeeds because it is inoffensive without also being reductive, offering up a cosy space for the listener to lose themselves in for a while. It is music that refuses needless complexity, exchanging celebreality for emotional affect. As a case in point, take ‘Try Again’, the closing track on Boom; with its elastic synths and straightforward, propulsive claps, it feels like stepping into a parallel world, one safer, simpler, and prettier than the one we currently inhabit. Music this unpretentious, this unassuming, this unafraid of being itself, will always be necessary as a respite from the inevitable stresses and strains of existence. Louke Man reminds us that naivety and sweetness can have a place in our complicated world, that music’s tender embrace is still sometimes the best remedy for strengthening our resolve in the face of life’s draining complexities.