"The success of Daft Punk opened the doors for Etienne de Crecy
, Cassius, and Alex Gopher
- a myriad of names. While the British music media speculated that the French dance phenomenon would soon run its course, major labels have continued to sign up quality acts. The suitably eccentric Telepopmusik, from Paris, belong to a new wave of Continental dance-pop acts, with their debut album, Genetic World, a compound of jazz, funk, hip hop, electro, house and pop.
Telepopmusik's Stephan Haeri can't fully explain the current influence of French electronica when, in the eighties, the French were conspicuously silent. "In fact I think that maybe all the French bands had the opportunity just because it began with some other bands before - Air and Daft Punk - and I think that after that everybody was so interested, it began a fashion with the French musical scene, and what's happened now is that everybody is really focussed on France, and so at least everybody is listening to what happens there. I'm not sure that there's never been such good bands in France, but now you can see them - that's maybe the main point. The other thing is that maybe French musicians were not really talented to do some rock and some pop music, and now they are all trying to do electronic music, they do something interesting... Even for us, we were all playing in rock and pop bands. Maybe it's just a problem with language, you know? I think that definitely it doesn't fit with French - as soon as you try to speak in English, we've got an awful accent, so it's horrible, too. So we really have to change that and do some instrumental music or work with English-speaking people."
Stephan, Christophe Hetier and Fabrice Dumont were friends with a mutual appreciation of Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Buggles, and Grandmaster Flash and The Sugarhill Gang. They started as a rock band but then transformed themselves into an electronic outfit to rival Air. Their early recording 'Sonic 75' materialised on the third volume of the influential Source Lab compilations. "Even before, as we were making rock and pop music, we were all a little bit interested in electronic music, so we began at the end of our former bands to work with samplers in the studio, but we didn't have our own material. So just one day we had the opportunity as we were all rehearsing in the same studio. We knew a guy who had some stuff, so we decided to try to do a song and it was really natural for us, it was not something so new - in fact, it was new 'cause we never did it, but I think we knew that one day we would probably do it, so it was really natural after that in the way we worked. I think we've got a really special way to work with machines, where we try to keep in mind that what we can really do is songs and not just sample other people and do this kind of stuff."
All three had been involved with other projects, yet with Telepopmusik they wanted to make live music - with samples providing the textures, not the base. Their roles are all defined - to a point. Christophe, who DJs under the name Antipop, provides the scratches and samples (many from TV shows), Fabrice handles the arrangements, and Stephan, who has been trained as a studio engineer, pulls things together, with help from Alex Gopher. "For the album at the beginning we didn't know what we wanted to do, we knew each other, but we had never worked together before, so in fact it took us quite a long time to find some common links and to see what the other really would like. So each time we had to find in the songs something that everybody would like. So at the beginning everybody was beginning a song, and then we gave the song to the others, then they changed everything, then they gave it back to you - we were working like that, so there was not one person who was always beginning the song or one person who was always programming, or doing the guitars, or things like that, we were all doing everything all the time."
As none of Telepopmusik sing, they brought in a cast of vocalists - among them Los Angeles-based Scot Angela McCluskey, former Earthling singer Mau, Brit hip hopper Juice Aleem, and the bizarre duo of Chilly Gonzales and Peaches. "We were really lucky, 'cause we met all these people, and each time it was really simple, we never had to go and really look for somebody. It just happened like that!"
There is an eccentricity to French touch, and, as with Dimitri From Paris, Kid Loco or Daft Punk, Telepopmusik's work is quirky. "I don't know if it's a common link between all the French bands, but I think that for us it's really true as we've been doing music for quite a long time and, with this band, we wanted to be completely free, so we didn't want to ask ourselves too many questions - so maybe that's why we do that. But, even in Australia, for example, you've got The Avalanches, which I find one of the most eccentric bands I've ever known! Also it's easier to be eccentric in electronic music than in rock."
As for the concept underlying Genetic World, that's eccentric, too. Ironically, Stephan previously worked in science, not as a geneticist but as a physicist, yet he is interested in the research field of genetics, which, beyond the moral debates, he accepts is now a fact of, er, life. "When we were listening to the album, we thought that there was really something in it which reminds you of genetics and it was also the way we worked on the songs, 'cause, for example, we recorded a lot of acoustic tracks, and then we were modifying the sound of the acoustic instruments so they sounded much more electronic than acoustic. I was a little bit like in genetics when you take something which is really natural and then you modify its DNA and it becomes something else." Indeed."
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