The French musician Oklou composes dreamscapes inspired by emotional rebirth
Known for her experimental production, Lou's ‘Galore’ mixtape marks the discovery of a poppier, cinematic musical self.
Photography Manuel Obadia-Wills
This feature originally appeared on i-D France.
Marylou Mayniel, aka Oklou, is only just on the verge of releasing her debut mixtape, Galore — out 24 September on Parisian label Because Music — anyone who’s experienced that angelic voice and those ethereal keys likely has them seared into their memory like some kind of beautiful dream. Already proclaimed “one of the most promising French artists of her generation” by Paris-based Trax Magazine, the 27-year-old producer has built up a global fanbase with her music, which straddles the worlds of R&B and experimental, underground and mainstream.
But there was something about these early accolades that made Lou feel a little uncomfortable. “When my first songs came out in 2015, I had just arrived in Paris,” she says, her voice low but assured. “I needed freedom and versatility, but I felt the buzz that had already been created around my music. They said I was the future of French R&B, when I had only made a few songs. I had to take a step back from what was happening and compose myself in order to understand my own musicality.”
Between her early work in 2013 and 2018’s The Rite Of May EP, Lou has come a long way, clearly deviating from a predestined path: that of a young artist who passed through the Conservatoire Grand Poitiers before graduating from music school in Tours. “I wanted my life to be in music,” she says, “but I was eager to make discoveries and find the right kind of energy to explore in my songs. It was around the same time, in my early twenties, that I discovered the work of Oneohtrix Point Never and a whole so-called experimental scene that satisfied my curiosity — that of a girl who liked classical music but who also spent three evenings a week at the local DIY venue watching unknown bands.”
It was in these bands that Lou saw a route to discover new worlds, a way to escape. And in the end, that was a real driving force behind her musical gear shift. With the torments of adolescence behind her, Lou quickly began experimenting: mixing R&B melodies with trance, trying her hand at DJing, connecting with the NUXXE collective (Coucou Chloe, Sega Bodega and Shygirl) and ultimately moving to London.
Suddenly far removed from the people closest to her, Lou doesn’t look back on that period with fondness, “simply because I wasn’t in the right space to build relationships or develop friendships,” she says. “I had contacts, but I was kind of being a hermit, as if, deep down, I needed to be alone.” It’s now clear that she was going through a difficult time, and that recording Galore provided a sort of therapy for the artist, something which she’s not adverse to discussing: “A year ago, I was super sad and I needed to talk,” she says. “I needed to make this project”.
Lou believes that signing to Because Music (home to Christine and the Queens, no less) played an essential role in making the mixtape happen, if only because it meant an end to her serial procrastination. That said, her recent work has certainly paved the way for the deliberately more pop, more cinematic reach of Galore. First there was Zone W/O People, a contemplative video game that Lou composed the soundtrack for alongside DJ and producer Krampf in 2019. Then, at the top end of 2020 she released “Toyota” in collaboration with Flavien Berger — a track on which Lou sung in French for the first time. Both moves helped reaffirm her confidence as a musician.
“For Galore, I wanted to develop a narrative subject again, to find this singular feeling that makes you sure you’re the only person who could have written this project; to consider these songs as one singular body that tells a long story,” she says. “I was fed up with making EPs, I had to impose a longer format, with a common thread. And for that, there’s nothing better than working with very visual music, where the voice and the instrumental are thought of as a whole, where each song can refer to a scene or a series of images.”
In terms of inspiration, Lou readily expresses her love of the music coming out of the queer scene right now (something she finds “very inspiring in its quest for freedom”), as well as sharing a deep admiration for soundtracks capable of manipulating images using only a handful of instruments (such as “It Follows” by Disasterpeace). The latter is audible across Galore, where production on “god’s chariots”, “nightlife” and “unearth me” in particular might appear minimal on first listen, but is in fact a work of great sophistication and depth. This perhaps comes from a desire to not reveal too much of herself, to keep her privacy at a safe distance. "That's probably why I sing in English,” she says, “in the sense that it allows me to preserve a certain intimacy, to keep a form of modesty that the use of my native language would not allow me.”
There’s an interesting contrast between Lou’s music — ultimately very mysterious — and her personality, which seems driven by an openness, a character trait not so common in interviews. In fact, throughout our conversation Lou does the following: admits that she feels “cowardly” when she sings in English rather than French; talks at length about her childhood in Tours, “a right-wing town where I was bored”; prevents us from ending the interview by confessing her deep love of Arca, “the REAL star of current experimental music”; remembers how much she adores anime soundtracks; and declares that she “just wants to earn enough money to buy myself a house”. Her immediate goal, however, seems much more moderate: “I can see myself being in a small studio and working on film scores,” she decides. “I would love to develop that relationship between music and image; it requires a lot of precision, a lot of work, but it’s something I really want to strive for.”