Interview - Lex (de Kalhex)
Paris, France / Akromégalie Records
Alex Besikian a.k.a Lex (de Kalhex) is a visual artist, producer, and MC from Paris, France. Known as the co-founder of Paris's Akromégalie Records (2008) and 1/3 of seminal French hip hop group Kalhex. Producer of critically acclaimed instrumental albums : "Perfect Picture" (2011), "Full Cycle" (2013), "Satori" (2017), and "Cairn" (2018).
Here's an interview of the artist, for the duo exhibition he's currently preparing with Japanese artist Keiji Ito that will take place in Paris in October.
M.M.M - Lex, you dedicate yourself to numerous artistic fields : production, emceeing, illustration, graphic design, photography.. To name but a few. Are there any fields to which you grant more importance, more time? Are those fields all connected?
Lex - As far as I remember I've always been drawing. Younger I used to do essentially comics and illustration. Then as I started studying art I became more interested in contemporary art and art in general, that led me to do the work I do now which mixes up contemporary drawing, graphic design, and abstract comic.
The way I've been proceeding, for more than 10 years now, in drawing is basically the same as when I'm producing music : I use existing materials (photos, magazines.../sounds, records...) that I transform, rebuild to compose my own.
It is all connected in the sense that it is only me using different tools and media to create in various forms. But the results in themselves are not really connected. My drawings don't illustrate the music I make and my records aren't a soundtrack to my books.
Even though I came into music by rapping (in 2004), I kind of took a breather in writing/emceeing for a few years, since I found myself more into beatmaking, but got back to it last year. There isn't one way to create which is more important than another to me at this time. I freely move on from drawing to making music depending on what I hear, read, see and get inspired by.
Drawing from Lex's "INfluencia" series | 2014-2015
You co-founded Akromégalie Records label in 2008. With whom and in what context did you create that music label?
My brother Parental and I created our own label to release our first album as Kalhex (with Le Makizar).
The name is a reference to a French underground comic from the 80's : Akromegalie by Kkrist Mirror, who was my drawing teacher in the late 90's.
I liked the idea of creating something that evolves and grows through the connections we make with artists we like. It's like a tree, but keep it in the 'family' in the way that we don't sign artists that we're not connected with.
It's also a structure for events we create since 2012. We started holding beatmaking events in different venues in Paris and invited artists such as Rob-O (of INI), Dday One or Shin-Ski.
"I've always been attracted by Japan through its pop culture and music."
How did Kalhex project arise? Did you and your brother (Parental) start beatmaking at the same time? How do you divide up roles when you create new tracks, as each member of Kalhex can rap - and - produce music?
I started to rap around 2004, first for fun with my friend Mc Grey. Then it became more serious when we started making beats with my brother around 2005. Kalhex was created when my brother and I met MC/producer Le Makizar a year after. We were working with the same software, got a lot in common and immediatly clicked through beats and rhymes.
The three of us make beats but Kalhex instrumentals are mainly produced by my brother, while Le Makizar & I are on the mic. I think we both feel more inspired when writing on someone else beats. Even though we haven't dropped anything as a group since 2012, any release is made with the feedback, support and help of each other. Kalhex is family !
It is clear that your music evolves over time, the four albums you created are in order and take the listener to different imaginary lands. Do you seek to give a particular orientation to your music, or is it something that just happens naturally?
I think my music simply evolves along with myself. I usually get inspiration from trips I take and photos I capture when I travel.
I usually get my record cover before I even start composing music, and it helps me to create and select the sound I want for an album. Not really in terms of concept or illustration but more about the vision, colours and vibe that I want my music to stick to.
I always try to push things further in each release I create. I hope it sounds like me, but also want to surprise the listener by incorporating new influences, rhythms. This eternal quest naturally leads me beyond strictly hip-hop boundaries. I like, as for my visual work, being across different genres.
Lex's beautiful last album "Cairn" | 2018
You seem to maintain a particular connection with Japan. How did this bond take shape? Do you often go there?
I've always been attracted by Japan through its pop culture and music. But in 2013 I started to work with Takumi Koizumi (ex-manager of Nujabes and Hydeout-productions) who released my music trough his new label Rockwell Product Shop.
At the same moment I was reading Jack Kerouac's "The Dharma Bums". There are a few lines in it about Kyoto's zen gardens that truly amazed me and made me want to know more about it. By reading several books such as Roland Barthes' "Empire of Signs" or Junichiro Tanizaki's "In Praise of Shadows" I felt a real connection and familiarity with a totally different culture.
I was hoping my first trip there in 2014 would cure me but it got worse ! I met all my virtual contacts that eventually became good friends and sources of inspiration. Most of them are Nujabes' former partners and entourage. I feel blessed to be around people that inspired me to do what I'm doing now.
I went there 5 times since then and being in Japan is always a special moment to me. I do live shows everytime I'm there and even got my first solo exhibition in 2018 at gallery Tetoka (Kanda, Tokyo).
I love being in Japan as I feel totally disconnected from everything I know. But also completely familiar with the musical/art culture in which I find echoes to my own work.
untitled, Graphite on paper + Digital painting, 24 x 32 cm | 2019
Speaking of Nujabes' entourage, the combination of your productions with Segawa Tatsuya's trumpet and Uyama Hiroto's saxophone on “Satori” is remarkably effective, do you intend teaming up with them again in the future?
Thank you ! It was great to make these tracks together. We're always in touch. I can't say exactly how and when but I think we'll probably work together again soon. I made two rap songs produced by Hiroto-san, but it's still in progress.
According to your activity on social media it seems that you've been investing a lot of time in visual art lately. Do you have new projects in progress?
I didn't share much about it yet but I'm preparing a duo exhibition with Japanese artist Keiji Ito and 3 new drawing books.
I've met Keiji-san during my first trip in Tokyo. Besides the fact that he's one of my favorite artists and a great source of inspiration, he became a true friend and helped me so much to meet new people in Japan. Being able to work with him now is like a dream and feels so natural at the same time. I can't wait to share what we created together during my last travel in Japan in March.
The show will be in Paris in the first two weeks of October 2019 at gallery P38 with the presence of Keiji Ito.
Many of your works are available online via your website. Is it possible to purchase some of your original works over the internet?
Every artwork is for sale, books, prints or originals can be purchased simply through my website or during any event I'm part of.
As a photographer, you seem to have a certain fondness for analogue cameras. What do you like about analogue photography?
I don't consider myself as a true photographer. I take photos with my drawer's eyes, so I feel it as abstract painting. I'm mainly focus on composition, colours, patterns and architectural lines more than a topic or a special moment.
What I like with analogue is the colours and grain. As I'm really not technical about it, I like the fact that I can't master it from start to finish : the wait and element of surprise you get with the final result is something else compared to instant-digital photo. It's also a better material to work with for my records cover and/or collages.
Analogue Shot, Tokyo | 2019
You live in Paris, do you have any good spots to recommend to art and culture enthusiasts who don't know this city and would like to venture off the beaten tracks?
I'm crazy about rare art books and zines. So I would recommend to visit Batt Coop which is a Zine/Book store connected to Gallery P38 (Paris, 18). You will find a huge and great selection of contemporary editions from all over the globe.
I also like to regularly go to Yvon Lambert bookstore (Paris, 3) as well as Arts Factory gallery (Paris, 11).
And for record digging?
I dig everywhere ! But my main spot is Crocodisc because of their large selection and the people.
What have you been reading and listening to lately?
Right now I'm reading Seigaku "A la table zen" which is about the way they cook and feel about food in zen temples. It really captivates and helps me to re-think our connection to what and how we eat.
Lately I've been listening to :
Patrick Paige II - "Letters of Irrelevance"
Segawa Tatsuya - "Pull In Sai"
Waltaa - "Lost Control"
Horror City x Parental - "Suppa Vill'n" : My brother's new album with Prince Paul's affiliate emcee Horror City ! Available worldwide through our label & HHV (Digital + Deluxe red 2xLP edition).
Interview by M.M.M, May 2019, Paris
Lex's "Inner Paths" Mix for M.M.M | 2017