It’s already been five years, and everyone’s still wondering where the name Lisbon Lux came from. Finally, the label’s co-founder and director, Julien Manaud, tells us: “It’s the name of a character in Sofia Coppola’s movie The Virgin Suicides. I’m a big fan of her work, and a big fan of Air, the French duo who scored the movie. When I started this label, five years ago with Le Couleur’s Steeven [Chouinard], we were looking for a name that would be a reference to Air, and if we’d named the label Moon Safari, we would’ve quickly be pigeonholed… Lisbon Lux is more subtle!”
As a record producer, artist manager, and publisher, Manaud wasted no time in shaping Lisbon Lux’s profile: Francophone, groovy, electronic, something perfectly embodied by the first band the label signed, Le Couleur.
“Le Couleur asked me to produce their EP after stumbling across my MySpace page, a very personal affair with a few songs on it that were, as a matter of fact, very much in line with Air’s style,” Manaud recalls. Born in France, he arrived in Québec in 2006 and, for five years, was the band Chinatown’s guitarist, alongside, notably, lead singer and guitarist Félix Dyotte.
The guys in Chinatown “were more or less put on the map as artists thanks to the band, and I’d already met a lot of industry people,” Manaud explains. “After that, I dabbled in music for advertising, and that’s how I began learning the ropes of this business; prior to that, I was never really in contact with the industry side of music,” even though he did take an active role in the contracts Chinatown had signed with its label, Tacca Musique.
“I like the idea of building long-term relationships with people.” — Julien Manaud, Lisbon Lux Records
Back then, Le Couleur didn’t have any kind of structure, and no label, only a desire to record an EP produced by Manaud. “It quickly became clear that they had no idea what to do next,” he says. “I offered to help by pitching the EP for them.” And so, by moving behind the scenes, and meeting other industry players, he got hooked.
“One day, I told Steven, ‘Look, we haven’t signed the EP yet, but I have a feeling we could set up our label and release it ourselves.’ That was all there was to it, in the beginning: releasing that EP,” says Manuad. They found a distributor, built relationships with potential business partners and Lisbon Lux—the label now employs two people and a handful of interns—was up and running.
It happened really fast, in part out of necessity. “Back in 2013,” says Manaud, “synth-pop made in Québec was very rare. It’s part of the reason why the labels were hesitant to work with us. They would say stuff like, ‘Your project is cool, but we don’t know how to sell electronic music with French lyrics.’ But I had a vision. We hired press agents to further our projects – not just in Québec, but in London and Paris, too. That put the label on the map. With nothing but an EP and a few cheap videos, we managed to attract some attention.”
Attention found elsewhere in the world – mainly in Europe – but locally too, thanks to the label’s oblique approach. Albums are released digitally and on vinyl only. There’s an emphasis on danceable Francophone music and instrumental electronic music, at first with the on-boarding of Beat Market. “They came to us looking for management,” says Manaud. “Then Das Mortal came, I found that guy on Bandcamp,” followed by the Francophone electro-pop bands Paupière and Bronswick. “That’s when we started being pigeonholed by the people in the biz as Francophone pop with an electronic and experimental bent.”
Manaud’s work as a publisher plays an important role in the dissemination of Lisbon Lux’s roster. “We work with our artists on an à la carte basis,” he says. “Some are entirely represented by us – management, publishing, album production – while others have their own management. I have to say, it’s very rare we’ll sign an album if you don’t publish it. We even have strictly publishing artists; they wish to remain self-produced but need some help.
“When I worked in advertising, I worked with a catalogue of library music, and that introduced me to the world of music supervision. I met quite a few music supervisors back then and maintained that network of people who do music placement.”
Using the revenues generated by radio plays and streaming, synching Lisbon Lux’s catalogue has become structural a priority, Manaud explains: “Revenues fluctuate from one year to the next, but this year it blew up, we have more and more synchs.” Aside from hiring a new employee to develop the publishing market, the label director launched a monthly newsletter dedicated exclusively to music supervisors. “We introduce them to an artist, an upcoming album, sometimes two or three months ahead of time so that they can have some head start on that record,” he says.
“Where do I picture us five years from now?” Manaud muses. “I don’t have a precise goal, like having this much revenue and 10 employees… I play it by ear. I mostly want to take good care of the artists I work with now; you have to be careful to not sign too many, because you might end up neglecting some. I like the idea of building long-term relationships with people. I see ourselves as an organic, GMO-free farm. Plus, labels increasingly pitch internationally. Some prefer building a super-solid local market, but we’ve always been curious: ‘Let’s see what happens if I send that to my partner in the U.K., or in Chile, and see if gets some traction.’ We’re adventurers, in a way, because nothing guarantees a hit, but at least we explore.”