The importance of Louis Flores, aka Breakbeat Lou, to hip hop cannot be stressed enough. Yet his name isn’t synonymous with the birth of the genre to many. Together with the sadly-departed Lenny Roberts, DJ and collector Lou put out the legendary Ultimate Breaks and Beats compilations between 1986 and 1991 – collections of songs that became the foundation of hip hop when sampled.

Lou is currently visiting the UK for the first time with Stones Throw Records head honcho Peanut Butter Wolf, delighting audiences with 7″ selections and a natural, party-rocking relationship over the decks.

Breakbeat Lou

“He’s the veteran – I’m the new jack here,” smiles Lou, gesturing to Peanut Butter Wolf. The two laugh, a nice indication of their nurturing friendship and mutual respect. This tour is about Lou, with Wolf providing an affirmation for Stones Throw fans and others that this is a name you should know about. Because while the Ultimate Breaks and Beats series ran for five years on Street Beat Records, Lou has kept his head down and away from the industry since the mid 90s. It was Breakbeat Lenny who was better known as steerer of UBB, with some (including DJ and producer Kenny Dope) assuming that Louis Flores, credited as editing some of the tracks, didn’t actually exist. Lou created edits of the records which made them friendlier for DJs to use, and it was these edits that were sampled time and time again over the next few years.

“I just got back into the game. I had left in ‘95, totally, then came back 2009, and hardcore 2010. I’ve just started the travelling, more or less, the last couple of years.” In a couple of days, the duo are due to play Banksy’s Dismaland, a good gig for Lou’s first trip to Europe. “I think it’s outstanding. We’ve been more than blessed on this trip, for sure. Besides the audiences, there’s been a lot of positive things that have come out of the locations we’ve been at. Dismaland’s gonna be the pinnacle of exposure for us.”

Since Lou has come out of hiatus, are people getting used to the idea of him being out there and DJing again? “I didn’t even know him as Breakbeat Lou, just Louis Flores, as Lou was credited on the UBB sleeves,” Wolf glances at Lou. “When I explain to people and say Breakbeat Lou, they don’t know who that is, then I say the guy who did Ultimate Breaks and Beats. But to a lot of people we have to explain what that is. We met Ice Cube last week – in London for the Straight Outta Compton film premiere – and explained what Ultimate Breaks and Beats is, because he didn’t make the music on those albums, it was Dr Dre. You listen to NWA’s first album, and eight out of 12 tracks are UBB. That whole era is pretty much like that.”

So how does Lou find travelling with those rare vinyl 45s? That must be a little nerve-wracking. “Well, with me they go everywhere. They don’t leave my sight. On the plane, that’s my carry-on. I’d quicker lose a ton of luggage, as far as clothing or anything else, than lose those, because those are almost irreplaceable.”

I noticed at the gig that while Lou sported a swish 45s record bag, Wolf had a bright orange plastic toolbox. Was it just a toolbox? “Yeah, mine was a toolbox. It’s just really lightweight and pretty durable. It’s like 20 bucks.” Lou is busy chortling. “It’s the best thing in the world. That’s the way that he is. I’m the same way. There’s some originality to him and a certain amount of… courage. That’s why we get along so well. He’s predictable, but unpredictable. There’s no ego whatsoever.”

Earlier in the day, the two had been digging in the crates of Beatin’ Rhythm, a world famous 45s spot in Manchester. Is it still exciting to have that opportunity or do they feel like they’ve seen it all? “I do dig on tour when I’m able to,” answers Wolf. “I chose Manchester to have the days off because of Beatin’ Rhythm. I always find something there. A lot of records that people know about have been picked through, but my taste isn’t necessarily what everybody else wants anyway.”

“With me it’s a different story, because I’m a recovering addict,” Lou laughs. “I purposely, when I go anywhere, don’t make any room so that I can’t buy anything.”

Is there a sense of being reborn over the past five years for Lou? “l left the industry, I didn’t leave music. I never stopped listening to, say, my James Brown records, or my Dyke and The Blazers. The change as far as the excitement came was really seeing what impact UBB had in the industry. Guys like Wolf and Questlove [of The Roots] were telling me who had used edits, then finding out in the long run how much of an influence it was not just in hip hop, in music in general. Everybody from Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson to even Hanson [‘Mmm Bop’ sampled Melvin Bliss’ ‘Synthetic Substitution’, a well-used hip hop break] sampled elements from UBB.

“Then even more so, how much impact it had on hip hop afterwards – these guys that were shaping the 90s and 2000s era of music were influenced by those records – and I was really taken aback by that.” Famously, the Amen break from The Winston’s ‘Amen Brother’, which gave birth to jungle and drum & bass, also features on a UBB comp.

Peanut Butter Wolf

“But sometimes, does it kill me to hear [Eric B and Rakim’s] ‘It Takes Two’? Yeah, it kills me sometimes, to the point that I don’t even bring the 45 with me. And then, I didn’t even know, when I heard ‘Straight Outta Compton’ I was like, ‘What the heck?!’ Wolf pointed that out to me. It took an acute ear to listen to that whole bottom beat. And ‘Fuck The Police’. Questlove – he was the one who started it. He was like, ‘If you listen to [The Honey Drippers’] ‘Impeach The President’ sample on that song, you can hear this little click that sounds like a high hat, but it’s not a high hat. It’s a click that’s the part of the record that was probably picked up in the groove when you recorded it and you never heard it.’

“But in that sense my heart of hearts is satisfied because that was the essence of why I was really in it – for DJs – but we had no idea that it was gonna take it to the next level. It still served its purpose, I guess.

“Again, you gotta understand something,” Lou continues. “Our collection was like a subculture. Only hardcore DJs and hardcore diggers and producers gravitated to them. If you look at our albums, we could’ve easily used beats just by themselves, but we felt that some of the songs needed to be exposed because they were big songs for us. They were records we would hear in our homes, our house parties. Those compilations had a generation of great music throughout, all the way up from the 60s to the 80s.”

2016 is the 30th anniversary of UBB and should be a bright year for Lou. You can be sure that with Peanut Butter Wolf’s support, you’ll be seeing the UBB logo around a lot more often.

@jamiegroovement
An extended version of this interview is on groovement.co.uk

Jamie Groovement