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Meet the French producer turning childhood memories into future-facing pop

Watch a new video from Oklou, the underground electronic artist tipped by Bok Bok and Sega Bodega

The cover of Oklou’s new EP, The Rite of May, is a close-up of her family living room. The producer, vocalist, and composer grew up in the countryside of western France, and she channels her childhood memories into the EP’s emotionally charged electronic pop songs. Yet by her own admission, her upbringing wasn’t particularly unusual. “I grew up in a pretty homogeneous environment in a modest country,” the artist – real name Marylou Mayniel – says. “Quite flat – a bit boring, to be honest. People in my village were mostly farmers.”

During these quiet early years, Mayniel learned to play piano and cello, getting switched on to more leftfield sounds as a teenager when her brother would bring home CDs from the local library, exposing her to artists like alternative hip hop group Dälek and French dance music veteran Agoria. “The first album I ever bought with my own money was by Gorillaz, and still today it’s one of my favorite pieces of art,” she says. “I remember clearly Massive Attack and that trip hop vibe still going on in the 00s. That’s where I was as a teen.”

It was a move to Paris three years ago that set her on the path she’s on today. There, she immersed herself in the burgeoning underground electronic scene, forming the DJ and radio crew TGAF (‘These Girls Are on Fiyah’) alongside Carin Kelly, Malibu, DJ Ouai, and Miley Serious. TGAF would spin on radio stations like PIIAF and Rinse France, keeping things loose and free-spirited, each member supporting one another in their own projects while coming together as a larger whole. “We trust each other a lot, we avoid drama, and we’re all on the same page,” Mayniel says. “Our (Facebook) messenger convo has cured many crises, and that’s the most important thing, period.”

The Rite of May is Oklou’s most assured release to date. Mayniel’s vocal soars weightlessly over six bass-heavy yet ultra-melodic tracks, like the club-primed “They Can’t Hear Me” and new single “Friendless”. The EP features collaborations with London underground producers Bok Bok and Sega Bodega, as well as The xx and Sampha producer Rodaidh McDonald and Parisian engineer Krampf. We caught up with Oklou as she releases a new video for EP lead track “Friendless”, in which the now-London-based artist head to the beach with her friends and a very good dog that, Mayniel says, appeared from the heavens.

What was it like growing up in the French countryside?

Oklou: It was cool. Very calm, humble. The first 10 years of my life had quite a ‘traditional’ vibe, a very ordinary childhood. I grew up in a pretty homogeneous environment in a modest country. Quite flat, a bit boring to be honest. People in my village were mostly farmers. My parents have never been that adventurous, so we would travel a bit, but always in France. A simple life – but I had a lot of animals.

How did you end up moving to Paris?

Oklou: I was feeling that the previous city I was living in wasn’t giving me what I was looking for at that moment, without even knowing what that was. And when I left Paris to come to London a few months ago, I felt that it was a good time for me to do it. I realised not too long ago that I feel more creative in an environment that I don’t feel super ‘safe’ in – socially, geographically, culturally. I feel stimulated when surrounded by things I don’t know. So I think I might actually spend a part of my life moving from place to place.

Tell us about your new EP. What does The Rite of May mean?

Oklou: The title has a lot of different influences and personal meanings. A lot of things related to my childhood. Everything gravitates around all the emotions linked to that moment of my life, and how I’m trying to deal with them, through the love I have for others, for my family, my first loves, my friends, and myself. These are sacred things to me.

You use your voice a lot in your music too. Who are your biggest vocal inspirations?

Oklou: I can think of a lot of artists. Frank Ocean, James Blake, Justin Bieber, but also first SZA mixtapes (I’ve had my mind blown by her melodies, harmonies, and flow). The singer of Wu Lyf. Jhené Aiko. Drake. I could make a very precise list of all the songs and singers that I have in my head that have somehow influenced me in my own vocal lines and style and why.

I almost forgot the most powerful: Palmistry’s been my favourite melody creator since 2013.

You use a lot of found sounds in your tracks. Where do you find them?

Oklou: I’ve been recording Instagram Stories, nature, members of family speaking, and also sampling videos from YouTube. It’s part of the music, the global energy, as all the other sounds you can hear in the EP. It has its own musicality, so does silence. Everything counts.

What can you tell us about ‘Friendless’?

Oklou: I started writing this track a long time ago. It’s my favourite off the EP, ‘cause it contains elements that reflect all my influences. I really worked a lot on the ambience, the energy, trying to find the good balance between something subtle and that huge dose of drama.

The video is shot by Kevin El Amrani – the people I worked with on the EP are people I trust, and Kev is one of them. We went to shoot it with my best friend Sara and Krampf, in a wonderful place she spent a lot of time during her childhood. I was secretly praying for a dog to appear, and one fell from the sky during the shooting! That’s a true story. (The dog) was following us and acting like a movie star in front of the camera, jumping in the water and posing. So shout out to you Bibo – hope you’re safe, wherever you are.

NUXXE release The Rite of May on March 16