Hypo and EDH: Tête À Tête
Fellow electronic producers and long-term collaborators EDH (Emmanuelle de Héricourt) and Hypo (Anthony Keyeux) both have new albums out: EDH with ‘Prédature’ and Hypo with ‘Coco Douleur’. For the occasion, Rockfort asked them if they could interview each other but hardly imagined the result would be such an engrossing dialogue, covering everything from postmodernism and the internet to September 11 and the appeal of creole languages. Anthony and Emmanuelle, the floor is yours...
(Photos by Melody Champagne)
Emmanuelle, was this album difficult to make? Why? And, more generally, do you find it harder making music now than at the time of ‘New York Tracks 2001-2002
EDH: Making music is a necessity for me. From that point of view, it’s easy. On the other hand, the permanent self-questioning and the frequent balancing acts reinforce doubt and contradiction. From that point of view it’s difficult. This time round, I gave myself an added constraint. My first musical efforts were created in a state of complete autarky, in varied formats and often with a pretty far from conventional approach to production. For ‘Prédature’, I wanted to make a ‘real album’, undoubtedly through a desire to break with certain habits. I also wanted to get the album out through more standard channels, for it to be able to reach the media - at a time when the specialised press, distributors and other promoters are drowning in a sea of digital productions and new concepts. I find that very interesting, I’m often stimulated by unfavourable climates and paths that appear to be dead ends. So I spent more time thinking about the shape of the record. There’s something more considered, less urgent than in most of my previous productions. Less urgent certainly than ‘New York Tracks’, for example, where external stimuli were virtually non-existent but where I was fairly free with form. But generally, I work in a fairly introspective manner and shy away from established musical styles, and doubly so if they are fashionable. Maybe I couldn’t copy them if I tried. I don’t ‘indulge myself’ when I perform music.
I want to turn that question around, though. It seems to me you’re more sensitive to the styles that you come into contact with and that you work in response to trends. Do you agree? Is it difficult for you to make music nowadays, in this almost unprecedented context?
It took me quite a while to find my bearings again after ‘Random Veneziano’ which took me to the end of a particular phase of my career. I liked playing with the codes of postmodernism. That’s really the background that I’ve come from, like V/Vm
and several others among my contemporaries. We took great pleasure in wringing music’s neck. It was good, necessary and healthy. And I still do it to a certain extent. But at a certain point, our generation woke up next to a cold corpse that everyone had been sticking their boot into, and we really had to decide what to do with it. Since then, many people have carried on thumping on cold meat as if nothing had happened, with others retreating to very conservative, classical forms, and yet others cultivating some form of revival of all sorts of genres, with the ‘mise-en-abyme’ of ‘revivals of revivals’. Some people are very good at that, it isn’t necessarily bad. But if you want to make some sort of sense of what’s around you, making music knowing full well what the precedents are, without acting like you’ve rediscoved the moon every 15 days but not being an old fool, making music becomes an increasingly difficult exercise. After 2005 I found it increasingly hard to imagine a new Hypo album. The album we made together (Ed: 'The Correct Use of Pets'
) got me back on track, but it also represented a kind of safety net. It was the security of being in a group, of saying “it isn’t just down to me.” It took me a while before I could say “ok, this is the new Hypo album: an album which fits into the trajectory of the previous ones, but which takes into account the era in which it was made, celebrating it and taking a critical view at the same time, which contains both lightness and pathos, that sounds like Hypo but which also stands apart from previous things I’ve done.” I think I can sum up my work like that. And if my records fulfill these criteria, at least in my eyes, then I think I’m entitled to consider them a success.
As for you, your discography is pretty complicated. There’s lots of zig-zagging between eras, very few chronological releases. What’s the reason for that? What’s your take now on this disjointed trail that seems like a treasure hunt? Do you still have lots of great unreleased albums hidden away on hard drives?
EDH: I don’t think my musical career is particularly disjointed. It follows a thread that sometimes seems pretty clear to me. But you’re right, my discography is quite complicated given that the music I make is seldom released on time or at the right time. I work with several labels in a pretty sporadic manner. You can find things I’ve done on the internet if you search a bit, while there are others that have never been released that I might pull out of storage if the moment is right. You recently released, as a free download, a lovely collection of your earliest tracks. A selection of four-track recordings from your tortured youth. There, the music is very open-ended. That’s one advantage of not learning how to make music properly too early in life. You’ve also made almost all of your albums available as free downloads. Can you explain that?
Hypo: Giving music away for free is not something I particularly champion. It comes simply from an observation of the precariousness of our situation. Whether one likes it or not, our music is freely available to anyone. Scams like Deezer have done more harm to music than pirating. This illusion of a legal and free, global media library is a curse. The remuneration based on plays on Deezer is a joke, something like 0.001 centimes per play. At that price, I’d rather be pirated, it’s more flattering. What’s worse, these sites are extremely badly put together, there are mistakes or glitches in all the tracks, and no attempt to group together different projects by the same artist. The guys who do that are just hustlers. I prefer just making my music available on Bandcamp, at least there’s no advertising, it has clean, straightforward layout and people who want to pay and support us can do it directly from there. As far as my ‘early works’ go, I waited until I had already a decent discography behind me before putting them online. There are quite a few embarrassing things in there, but I embrace them. Making them available is also my way of making a statement about the way that guitars seem to be coming back everywhere. Not that I hate guitars, but I’m not really very interested in music that is intended to be performed live. And the guitar is very present at the moment because of its being one of the most obvious clichés associated with live performance. The reevaluation of live music, of the ‘performance’ and the ‘show’, wouldn’t bother me as much if it didn’t go hand in hand with the devalorisation of recorded music. But it is the case, unfortunately. In general, people want the show, they want people to be dressed up on stage and really look as though they are performing live. The want the sweat. Personally, I believe in recorded music. Live performance is an obligation I can draw a lot of pleasure from, but it’s not the reason I make music. I make music to make records. It’s the finished product, the aim in itself. I believe in recorded music for the distance that it creates. It’s more conducive to appraisal and self-appraisal, and I think electronic music encourages this even more because it’s all conceived, composed, played, recorded and mixed via the same machine. I think, precisely because it isn’t live, that it isn’t performance-based and that it’s fixed as an object, that only electronic music can provide me with the distance I require. I like musical objects.
Since we’re talking about live performance, and that we’ve developed a set-up of three people with you singing and playing keyboards, our drummer Stéphane Bellity and me on machines, I’d like to ask you something: I’ve noticed that you’re sometimes referred to as “Hypo’s singer”, despite the fact that you’re more ‘musicianly’, more productive and more autonomous than me. And the press often make this mistake when referring to you. How do you feel about that? Do you think music is a chauvinist area? And more than that, do you think there is anything particularly feminine about your music?
EDH: The other day after a concert, a guy came up to tell me that I have the soul of a man in the body of a woman. Maybe he was right, I don’t know. I feel more disincarnate. As far as the question of chauvinism goes, I feel it more in the sphere of technicians –
musical technicians, sound technicians. It’s hard to get away from the old clichés. A woman is more commonly considered an amateur. You have to demonstrate strength or extreme fragility to be worth of consideration. But I don’t worry about it too much, they’re minor incidents. When it comes to the “Hypo’s singer” issue, it’s down to people being ill-informed. That’s a shame but we know what we do, that’s the main thing. You have a reputation as a kind of band-leader, you work with a lot of people and in all these collaborations there’s that little touch of ‘Hypo’ that always stands out. I’m not exempt from that, but things are starting to balance out a bit more.
Now you’re bringing out a new album with 12 “Hypo’s singers”! Can you explain the how and the why of all these collaborations?
This album took me a lot longer than the previous ones. That’s not to say that it’s a more mature album, far from it. It’s maybe even the most infantile of my albums in the sense that I wanted to push a certain form of disturbing and fragile moronic-ness to the limit. It was difficult to make because it’s quite ambitious in the way it incorporates the contributions of others. I really tried to bring artists that I admire (and who didn’t necessarily know anything about me beforehand) onto my rather slippery terrain. And I wanted to do it without forcing them, without them feeling that they’d been betrayed. Contrary to my previous albums, I didn’t have to convince anyone to do anything. They all put their trust in me. They all let me break their toys. I’m getting more and more used to a role that’s somewhere between producer and musician. I really like dissolving other people’s music in my own. But, once again, they aren’t “Hypo’s singers”. There are even certain tracks on the album where I didn’t do anything other than make a choice. The one which is Kumisolo
playing trumpet, for example, I left as it was. I had simply given her an instrumental and asked her to play trumpet over it. When she gave me what she’d done, I found it so beautiful that I removed the rest of the track to leave just that. It was lovely with its hesitations, its fragility, the great sense of solitude. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my training in the plastic arts, it’s that choosing is doing. The people who participated in ‘Coco Douleur’ are all very talented and don’t need me to help them be like that. It’s me who needs them. I always keep that in mind. I’d be unable to make a record like that by myself. And these collaborations are also a way for me to have an immediate distance from what I’m doing. This way, I can listen to my work as if it was made by someone else and immediately say “this bit is important, that bit’s unnecessary.”
Now it’s your turn to talk about your new album. I think there’s something of a hip hop element to it. What do you put that down to when hip hop isn’t really your culture?
EDH: I don’t really know, I must have absorbed it from somewhere. I wasn’t really aware of it. That said, on the first track the rhythm includes a sample from Subtitle, an American rapper. He a sort of hyperactive free agent who’s always initiating projects. He sought me out to be part of his latest label project, Matte Black Editions. While we’re on that subject, I’ll take the opportunity of mentioning a compilation that you’re on, that maybe you don’t even know about – it came out and it’s virtually impossible to get hold of, but you can find it here. This is one of the few places where you can access this secret compilation of tracks found on the internet by the two founders of Matte Black Editions, Dell Edison and Gino Marks (aka Subtitle).
Hypo: Why the vinyl format for your new album? Do you buy a lot of vinyl?
I mostly bought vinyl at the end of the 90s. I moved away from CDs at that point and I never really went back. For this release, with Elmapi
who runs the Lentonia
label, we wanted to release a nice, limited edition object rather that one that was more standard or produced in greater quantity. The whole approach of the label is vinyl-orientated. It’s an object which is more easily fetished, it’s the opposite of mp3. But it’s not something that we’re avoiding since the album is available to download and, personally, I download a lot if music and illegal downloading doesn’t bother me. Quite the contrary, the ease of access to music and the option for everyone of putting their music online seems to me to create a very stimulating environment. There are some pretty perverse sides to these new methods of distribution but I prefer to stay optimistic. So for my album, it’s available as vinyl or in a digital format. I think it’s interesting to go for the two extremes. However, we did produce a small run of CDs, that went very quickly I should add.
Anthony, you’re much more interested in CDs. Your new album is out on CD and I believe that’s important to you. There’s also a vinyl EP, ‘Dodo Couleur’, which has a fantastic sleeve, by the way. So it’s in the spirit of the times. Do you think people are going to want our vinyls?
I like objects: CDs, vinyl, cassettes… any kind of format. My EP is out on transparent vinyl and it’s the first release on a new Parisian label, Moelleux Records
. I’m delighted to be the first to put my head above the parapet. And, as you said, I love the idea of going on the attack at the most critical moment in the history of the record industry. I like the obstinate aspect of our position. But obviously I have no idea if we’re going to be able sell them, but I think they’re good, attractive records. As for the EP, I really see it as the second component of a ‘Coco Douleur/Dodo Couleur’ diptych. The two work very well together on every level.
EDH: When you work on record, how do you get started? For ‘Coco Douleur’ was there an initial concept? An idea that you tried to follow?
Let’s say that, to begin with, I wanted to do something fairly light. Something that was direct, danceable and festive. The notion came to me in 2005 during a trip to Mauritius. It was my first direct contact with a creole language. A saw some collections with the kind of language I often use for my song titles. Strange combinations of sounds, repetition of phonemes, like you also find in Japanese. I remember a Mauritanian shop called ‘Trois Bras Store’ (Ed: ‘Three Arm Store’
). I don’t know where that came from but I found it beautiful and disturbing at the same time. I wanted to put some of that in my record, in embracing my tourist’s naivety and the profane aspect of my position. And then UK grime artists and rock musicians from New York and Los Angeles took it upon themselves before me to start filling their music with African and creole references. I didn’t want to look like I was following a fashion even if I’m a big fan of musical hybridity, and I’m a fan of the more directly African things that came along at the same time like Buraka Som Sistema. Congotronics and so on. I like it when white people try to make black music, but I like it even more when black musicians integrate white music into their work. I prefer the Joy Division’y side to ESG more than Animal Collective playing zouk. The melancholy of gospel and soul absorbing industrial ‘spleen’ is something I find extremely moving. In that sense, the music of La Chatte
, which is a perfect balance of ‘The Cure doing electro in the Antilles’ really speaks to me.
So I rapidly came to the conclusion that my new record would have to integrate a number of elements but also take the freest possible approach to them. And then, as the work continued, I realised that I was putting a hell of a lot of pathos into these tracks and that it wasn’t going to be as ‘vamos à la playa’ (Ed: carefree) as all that. The EP, ‘Dodo Couleur’, is even more direct in embracing this duality, with one side being light, poppy and still quite strange, and the other more obviously melancholy. I asked my mother to do do the paintings for both sleeves because, once again, I wanted to embrace tourist-y clichés. The idea of a Sunday painter who is inspired by a postcard was an integral part of the process.
I don’t have a recipe for making a record. My first album was a ‘first album’, with all that suggests in terms of positive qualities and flaws. The follow-up was made as a reaction to what I was experiencing, hearing and seeing in the arts. Now I’m keen to start working with you on a new Hypo and EDH album. We need to find a way of approaching it. Momus has also asked me to make an album with him, I hope that will happen.
Since we’re talking about the future, where do you see yourself in 20 years, professionally and artistically?
EDH: In 20 years it’ll be 2030. I don’t know, I see things in the short term. I find the future particularly difficult to predict. Basic things, people’s mentalities, all seem to be evolving more and more rapidly. If you take a step back you quickly feel like a complete outsider. I think things can take so completely unexpected turns. Not that long ago, we fantasised about a future that never came to pass. Technology didn’t turn out the way we imagined it would. I have a hard time placing myself in a completely alien context. I’m curious to see what 2030 will be like. And worried as well. I don’t see much optimism or cause for celebration. Many things seem absurd and unstable, and I find it hard to imagine that we can remain in such an unbalanced state. It seems we’re all ready for a change. And you? Can you envisage anything in the future? Do you picture yourself in it?
Hypo: To be honest, I don’t really know either. Both of us are on a precarious path. Everywhere, people are telling us that being an artist isn’t a trade anymore. And it’s true, we can’t make a living from it. What is certain is that I can’t see myself stopping making music. As for the increasing speed of our era, that is inevitably accompanied by violence. We live in very violent period. As you point out, this same, constant, violence is at the root of the difficulties we face but is also out motivation.
You were in New York on September 11, what is the connection between that and your ‘New York Tracks 2001-2002’ album?
EDH: 2001-2002 is the period I spent living in New York. The New York tracks are an account of the music I made in that period. I experienced the events of September 11 from very close up. I saw people around me crying and running when the towers collapsed. I’ve long been haunted by the people we saw throwing themselves from high up in the towers. Just the evening before, I had been in there position, contemplating New York by night from the 100th floor. There was a genuine risk of death that day. Then the images were replayed on a loop for several weeks, and there was a kind of saturation effect. The event became a symbol of a new media era. But it really happened for me. And I think that day I experience the horror of what a war would be like. I became aware that a human body could suddenly be disfigured, mutilated and burned in a moment. I was profoundly affected by that and inevitably there are ripples from that in my music. There isn’t a ‘before’ music and an ‘after’ music, but definitely a certain hardness that is now part of it somehow.
What about you? Do you think your life experiences feed into your music?
Hypo: Sure, I don’t think anyone can really get away from it. Generally I camouflage it, I put out some misdirections and disguise it as much as I can, but it’s there, it’s accessible to whoever wants to see it. I try to retain a certain modesty, to not draw too much on my private life in my work. As for private life, I want to ask you a question: you’re pregnant. Do you think that having a child will have an impact on your music?
EDH: I have no idea, but why not? I promise not to put any child’s laughter in my music, or birdsong. To be honest I haven’t really got my head around it. It’s quite strange. And you, has having a cat changed your approach to music?
Hypo: Ha ha! It’s not really the same thing. But I’m sure it has some kind of effect. My cat is always next to me when I’m making music, but at the same time I’m not planning to put any meowing on my records.
Interview proposed and translated by David Mckenna