The 10 Best Tracks from Phantasy Rave in Reigate on 30/09/1989, according to DJ Phantasy
It is about eight years since the epic arrival of VITALIC’s La Rock 01 – grimy and dripping in industrial sweat – helped spur the rearrangement of my musical values. I heard it on the classic Radio Soulwax comp. It was a time when James Murphy claimed to be the first to play Daft Punk to the rock kids and I promptly decided to sell my guitar to buy turntables. Today, two EPs and an album, ‘OK Cowboy’, later, the Frenchman is back. And this time he is making what he openly calls “disco music”.
Anyone who has heard the new album, ‘Flashmob’, or the single Your Disco Song will tell you it is hardly David Mancuso stuff. Despite an appearance at Cocadisco in July sending out the message that Vitalic was leaning towards different territory, ´Flashmob’ is not what you would expect to hear at Horsemeat or Disco Bloodbath. But according to Pascal, disco has always featured in his music; it is a force at work underneath – perhaps not ostensible or immediately identifiable but always there underlying the production. Listening to ‘Flashmob’, I can hear it. I may not have immediately got it without being told – but it is there: Italo melodies are infused over meaty electroclash synths, handclaps inject rhythm and there is a brightness to his sound that was not there before. He was always cheeky and keen to convey a theme or sense of humour – just check Wooo on ‘OK Cowboy’ for example – but this time his eyes are firmly set on the dancefloor. With the Justice comparisons to one side, some say the new album sounds just like his old stuff; that one of the electroclash greats is here again, doing what he does best – creeping up on unsuspecting mop-haired clubbers and grinding them into rapture. Although partly true – you can definitely tell it is him on first listen – there is a warmth to his music now. He has found scope in disco that the sleazy ice of electroclash did not allow for.
As we sit down in a room typical of any Soho PR manager’s office – complete with leather couch, framed platinum discs, and thick fur carpet – I immediately feel at ease. His calm, attentive air gives me the impression that he is not only listening to what I am saying, but actually interested. A few minutes in and, along with the realisation that this guy is not only shy but refreshingly down to earth, it becomes clear that his creative process is a private one, hidden, and very personal.
You used to live in the countryside but now you live in Dijon, where do you make most of your music?
Now I have a small house in the garden. It is a place that is solitary to make my music. It is not like a hip-hop crew with fifteen people smoking joints. It is a personal experience. You can taste things and go further if there is no witness.
I heard that one of your intentions is to try and do something a bit different. How have you tried to do that with the new album?
I don’t think that it is that different because disco was always there in my production. I didn’t want to make the same thing as ‘OK Cowboy’, the first album. I didn’t want to use the same techniques and I didn’t want it to have the same moods.
When you use different equipment and techniques, what is different?
I do not use the same machines; I do not use the same synthesizers, the same mixing desk. I have tried to use new equipment and different software to avoid repeating using the same sounds, so you can still recognise it’s me, as far as I was told.
Yeah, I get that from the album. You can still tell it is your production but you can tell that the way of getting there has been of a different electronic route. You mentioned disco, you said that ‘Poney EP’ was a disco record…
Poney Part 1 and Poney Part 2 are disco. You Prefer Cocaine is disco in a way.
How would you describe what makes up disco?
I think it can be disco punk, if you think about LCD Soundsystem or Shit Disco, which I love. It can be contemplative if you think of Italo disco, very smooth and very warm also most of the tempo is very slow. And it can be epic if you think about Donna Summer with very long tracks with a turning bass, never-ending rumbling bass. To me, those are the three different kinds of disco. Disco can be everywhere slightly, even in r’n‘b you can hear some disco hints.
The essence of disco underlies music, is it more in the way you respond to it, the way it makes you dance?
It is the way the snare drum is there and the claps. It is very difficult to describe disco, no?
I agree. That is why I wanted to hear what you had to say. Disco has been such a big thing over the last couple of years, has its permeated your sound?
No, because when I worked on the album, disco was not the main genre and nobody would really pronounce the word “disco”. It is still considered a bit cheesy, so you have to be careful when you talk about disco because it makes people think of Boney M. But I found that everything I would do sounded kind of disco – maybe it was a reaction to what I was listening to in clubs and at parties. I still really like hard stuff. It is fun to party to but after I thought maybe I need something a bit different – so that’s where disco came in.
With ‘OK Cowboy’, there were lots of themes – there was fanfare, it was sometimes quite playful or cheeky – did you try and do this with this album?
Maybe it is less the case because ‘OK Cowboy’ was made over a long period so it was a patchwork of small sketches and this was made over a year so it is more, I wouldn’t say consistent but you can hear it was made in just short period. The production is very packed. So it is less a patchwork. There are more different genres in a way but it is not really a patchwork of different things.
When you play live, what is it you want to achieve?
I want to make people dance, feel good and party with their friends. The screens are there to bring some poetry to the music.
The first half of the decade was dominated by the darkness of minimal and electroclash. Do you think there is now a turnaround going on, do people now want a bit of sunshine in their dance music?
I do need sunny music. I did not want the new album to be dark or moody – I wanted it to be sunny. I suppose that after electroclash and maybe minimal people now want a bit of sun. But also electroclash could be funny – it was full of fun too. It was fake dark or fake fun, one or the other. There was still humour. Then you had Crookers and the bass scene. That is just fun – the drinking and enjoying one hour of light music. I don’t think I am into that either.
I think at the moment there is a new generation of clubbers and people that want to party so it is a bit different, they don’t expect the same thing. Five years ago, Crookers were very fresh and there were new people – like Bloody Beetroots and the Ed Banger guys – who were out to entertain people and not poetry. What I want to achieve myself is fun and poetry.