Parisian beatsmith Onra (known to the government as Arnaud Bernard) is a hip-hop purist from the J Dilla-Madlib school of deep crate digging. That’s deep crate-digging, Mariana Trench deep. Up to your eyeballs in obscure old vinyl for countless hours, dust under your fingernails, even-your-socks-are-gonna-smell-like-mildew-after-this deep. His 2007 full-length Chinoiseries was the result of some serious record-store excavation on a 2006 trip to Vietnam, and it seems he’s been back once or twice since. The sequel, aptly titled Chinoiseries Pt. 2, soon to drop on Dublin label All City, is a sprawling 32-track epic of roughly two-minute beats, diverse from beat to beat but with an encouraging thematic consistency, fusing distinctly Eastern string arrangements and jingly-jangly percussive elements with big, bad drums and warm bass tones with a comforting vintage jazz feel.
Chinoiseries Pt. 2 is painstakingly sampled, and Onra is one of the most capable producers out there in that regard. He works his MPC like it owes him money, chopping up strange wind instruments, rapid-fire chatter and cheap-sounding vintage organs into miniscule bits and deftly rearranging them into a cinematic, neon-lit sonic pastiche that sounds effortless but must have taken innumerable hours. His bookish production celebrates its Southeast Asian and Chinese influences without stooping to banality, first and foremost a collection of beats and secondarily a collection of beats made from Asian sample sources.
Sometimes it feels like being blacked-out drunk in a Saigon brothel, other times its a soundtrack for a daring robbery on the outskirts of Chinatown. Whether the low-key, heavily blunted Asian funk of “Mai’s Theme”, the dissociative shuffle of the evocatively named “Opium Delirium”, or the slightly harder edge of the synth bass on “All Night”, Onra keeps his Far East inspiration present but subtle enough to avoid distracting you from the gloriously simple kick-and-snare patterns that keep your head nodding throughout.
While this sort of vinyl-sampling classic beatsmithing is something of an anachronism in today’s world of software synths and Reason loops, Onra is nothing short of virtuosic in his sequencing and sample manipulation, and Chinoiseries Pt 2 is a both a testament to his technical skill and an alluring, engaging piece of work with a distinct sense of place and a certain timelessness.