Alan Braxe Interview: The Best Things Happen By Accident
We sat down with the veteran producer ahead of his appearance in Birmingham on September 16th to talk about 'French touch', production techniques and one of the highest selling house records of all time.
The name Alan Braxe is one of the cornerstones on which the modern French dance music scene is built. As one of the original key players of the 'French touch' sub-genre that came out of Paris in the mid-nineties, Braxe along with the likes of Daft Punk, DJ Falcon, Cassius and Le Knight Club pioneered the instantly recognisable cut-up, disco-friendly, deeply immersive house sound that practically re-scripted house music's development.
In 1997, his first release 'Vertigo' (below) debuted on Thomas Bangalter's legendary label Roulé. It became a worldwide club anthem, played by a range of elite DJs including Erick Morillo, Pete Tong, Armand Van Helden and many more.
One year later, he collaborated with Thomas Bangalter and Benjamin Diamond to write Stardust's 'Music Sounds Better With You' (below). It was an enormous hit, spending weeks at the top of charts across the globe. Accompanied by a remarkable film clip directed by visual genius Michel Gondry, it is still as much of an anthem today as when it first debuted, and one of the highest selling house records of all time.
Alan then set up his own Vulture Records label to release music that he loved. It was supported by the label's club nights at the legendary Social Club in Paris, where he served as resident along with fellow Roulé artist DJ Falcon, and featured guest DJs as diverse as Tensnake, Jacques Lu Cont, The Magician, Lifelike and Kolombo.
It was a kind of choice by default. By the age of 25, after one year's national service in the army, I realised that my career situation was not very good, because I failed history studies at university and job opportunities were not very exciting.
I guess I failed my studies because I was more interested in buying techno and house records and going to clubs, rather than going to the library to read books. I did always had a strong interest in music - I played cello for ten years when I was a kid and I started buying music at the age of 13, so I decided to give the music business a chance.
When I was 26, I bought some equipment, learnt how to use it and set myself a target to have a few tracks ready within a year, maximum. I played the demos to Thomas Bangalter who I already knew via a mutual friend. Thomas picked one demo called 'Vertigo' (below) and released it on his label Roulé in 1997. That’s how it started and I have never stopped making music since then!
How did you meet the other first wave of "French touch" producers and ultimately become a member of the legendary 'Daft Crew'?
It happened between the years of 1994 and 1998, the scene was quite small in Paris and it was very easy to meet lot of people and artists who were at the early stage in their careers. For example, I simply met Daft Punk in a club, a mutual friend introduced us. We exchanged a few words and decided to meet up later to talk about music and gear, and then just kept in touch.
The original "French touch" house movement has been an inspiration to many producers worldwide, and continues to be referenced in current productions by artists like Shiba San, Kolombo, Vanilla Ace and Miguel Campbell. What musical styles provided inspiration to your own productions?
At home during my teenage years there was always a lot of music being played. At the weekend my dad would be listening to Bach, loud, on his system, and every day my older brother would be listening to new wave and punk imports from the UK on his bigger system.
I found my path in between with a weird mix of R&B, disco and new wave... artists such as Alexander O'Neal, Prince, Chic, Wire and Heaven 17. I was quite young at that time and was strongly influenced by their music. By the age of 16 I discovered house and techno, and became a compulsive buyer of it. Ten years later, at the age of 25, I re-discovered musical diversity again.
As a producer, your second ever (joint) release as Stardust with 'Music Sounds Better With You' became one of the most successful dance tracks of all time. How did this early commercial success shape your subsequent music productions?
Yes it’s a joint release and Thomas Bangalter’s input is crucial in the track as well as Benjamin Diamond's vocals. We certainly did not expect such a good reaction when we did the track. So I believed that the best thing to do for me was to stay quiet and realistic and keep on doing music in a very simple way.
I launched my own label Vulture, one year after the release of MSBWY, and started a collaboration with Fred Falke (listen to 'Intro' below), who I met during the military national service. We released some of our joint works on Vulture and also did some remixes for lots of artists in other genres. I also made a lot of remixes on my own, and took care of the label, releasing other artist’s music.
As well as producing music, you are an established composer too. Can you tell me more about your musical compositions and interests?
I was lucky enough to start making music when the computer was not as significant as it is today. Working with hardware and dedicated samplers like the MPC 60 or the SP 1200 was great fun. It was very intuitive, fast and direct. Nowadays, once you get used to the power of computer, it’s a bit difficult to get back to the old production technique. It’s about finding a way to restrain the unlimited options that the computer offers you, or you get kinda lost.
In my experience, I have noticed that the best musical things happen by accident and are totally unexpected. So I try to create a mental and technical environment where the luck factor can occur as often as possible... it sounds quite esoteric, but it's about being focused and recording as soon as something good comes out of the speakers.
Going back to your record label - what is your vision for Vulture and what do you look for in productions that are released and artists that you sign?
The vision is quite simple and basic, I just try to release tracks that are sincere and creative. There has never been a specific will to release on a regular schedule, it's more about meeting people, listening to demos or finished tracks while watching a vinyl spin on a turntable and asking myself 'would this demo be great on a vinyl?' - if I feel that the answer is yes, then I release it.
The legendary Vulture music nights at the Social Club in Paris featured the cream of the French house scene. Have you any favourite memories of any particular artists and nights?
The Vulture nights at Social Club in Paris were really great. The set up was always the same, Xander, who worked with me on the label did the warmup, then DJ Falcon and I played before or after the special guest. Most of the time the club was fully packed but the mood was really friendly - it was all about playing music very loud to nice people, lots of Parisians of course but also people from everywhere in Europe, Australia, USA etc… it was a great mix of people.
Organizing a party means being there from 10PM till 6AM, and it was funny to see the night growing slowly and then hit peak time by 2am. I have too many good memories to choose anything specific. However now that the Social Club is closed, I must say that I am very nostalgic about the nights.
I understand that you actually started DJing some years after becoming known as a producer, how did this happen?
Yeah I Started DJing seven Years after my first release. In fact I am quite shy and was a bit scared at the prospect of playing in a club! But I spent some time talking about this with Kris Menace back in 2005 who released 'Discopolis' on Vulture. Kris convinced me to give DJing a try. My first DJ experiences were not easy, but pretty soon I felt more and more comfortable with performing in a club. It even became addictive and I ended up touring in many different places.
Your Mixmag Lab session from 2012 is particularly noteworthy... How would you describe your DJ style, and what sort of music features in your sets?
Although I play a lot of French house tracks, I like a set to be open-minded, so I also play some techno, downtempo and disco for example. I prefer when it's eclectic and not too linear. Most of the time I prepare my own edits of the tracks that I am playing. I feel that it’s not necessary to play seven minutes of a track that says it all in three minutes, therefore I cut and re-arrange to suit.
For me, the magic feeling comes when I connect with the people in the club - I don’t hesitate on which track will be next, everything seems to be clear in my mind and the real fun begins. It’s like having a clear musical path in my mind defined by the energy and the mood in the club.
French house music continues to evolve with newer artists like Madeon, Starsmith, and Das Glow. Are there any other new artists that excite you?
At the moment the music that I have been listening to is not actually French nor from the house genre… I'm currently listening to Rosie Lowe and Niki & The Dove. But I am very impatient to hear the next Justice and Daft Punk releases.