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Laurent “U-Man” Ugolini is a man who has worn many different hats in his unique and chequered life. At various times he has been: DJ, snowboarder, shoe string traveller, illegal party organizer, and flouter of both US immigration rules and Rudolph Guliani’s famous “Zero Tolerance” policies. But most importantly, all this has led to his music, a mish-mash of jazz, electro, afrobeat, reggae and more via his own “seriously not serious” label Down The Bush records, which he founded in 2007.
Born on 29th June 1972 in Nice, on the sunny south coast of France, U-Man first got into sonic experimentation by fiddling with the iconic MPC 2000 sampler and sequencer circa 1996. Shortly after he decided to take a one month trip to New York and Miami before spending 3 months in Jamaica. Eschewing the hotel poolside prison camp model suggested by the tourist trade, he found the living unusual at first, yet soon settled into the island’s rhythm, discovering reggae, vegetarianism and how to narrowly avoid a custodial sentence for a minor infraction of the law.
Returning to France in 1997 he started djing around Nice and the rest of the country. But finding the club scene too much of a closed shop, he was itching to travel again, and in 1999 returned to New York, where his career as Dj began to take off. He brought the then red hot Daft Punk over from Paris, and the resulting connections snowballed into his infamous East Village Enplaxx weekly parties, which ran for a year and a half in direct violation of the mayor’s ban on dancing in unlicensed bars. His favourite memory was a concert by irrepressible rap star Buster Rhymes.
Just missing 9/11, he stopped in Paris for 3 years, djing at the Gotsoul parties, before decamping back to Nice where the lack of nightlife let him begin to produce his own music. His early releases on Down The Bush, the EPs Champion and Save Jane and the Chalice Cooper single 2Euroman muddied the waters of house, disco, broken and afrobeat. His next EP brought his experiences in Jamaica into the picture, pairing Jamaican producer Karl Dread with Ghanaian vocalist Anbuley. With the internet both enabling and legitimising U-Man’s genre and border hopping vision, he was able to start his project, Special Blend, with none other than singer, drummer and son of rocksteady pioneer Stranger, Squidly Cole.
This partnership continues on latest release Folk Riddims with Squidly bringing along his friends the deep voiced Clarendonian chanter Wildlife, and his Caveman Sound collective cohort, the legendary Sizzla Kalonji. The results bend reggae into new and unusual shapes uncharted even by Sizzla – and suggest that the best from this bizarre non profit imprint and it’s mysterious owner is yet to come…