Record Makers 10th Anniversary Pt1: Acid Washed
Record Makers, the Parisian label co-founded by Air, is celebrating it's 10th anniversary this year. At an event at London's Pure Groove records, Rockfort spoke to Richard D’Alpert who, together with Andrew Claristidge, records as Acid Washed, Record Makers' most recent signing.
Rockfort: What is an Acid Washed DJ set like?
RD: If you see us in a club, we like heavy dancefloor music so it’s pretty powerful. I guess we’re not that fancy. It’s quite direct. For me as a clubber, because I was a clubber first before making electronic music, I always liked to dance, and the music that makes me dance is not exactly the music that I do. It has to be strong and melodic, with strong kicks – so it goes from new disco, neo-disco or whatever to really techno stuff, it’s quite diverse bit it’s always about the impact on the dancefloor.
Rockfort: On record, your sound is midway between dancefloor and home or bedroom listening…
RD: Actually there are some tracks on the album that are very dancefloor-based, some that people might call neo-disco, although I don’t really like that description, but some are more electronica-influenced, or more pure electro 80s-style, and sometimes we even go into R n’ B. But as you say, it’s half way between party music and more… civilised music (laughs).
Rockfort: The first single, ‘General Motors, Detroit, America’, was quite subtle, layered…
RD: I think it’s very atmospheric, very epic, very melancholy, it’s very… French, I think.
Rockfort: What makes it French for you?
RD: I think this alliance of melancholy and sophistication, that’s something which is very French to me, even when I hear French electronic music. It has to be joyful, and at the same time melancholy and has to be a bit epic, and classy – that’s the definition of French electronic music for me. It’s a very strange alchemy, but when I hear my own record I can hear how much it’s actually French.
Rockfort: So who would the key people, the role models, be in that respect?
RD: Definitely Daft Punk, they’re definitely role models to me – I wouldn’t say idols because I don’t like this word, but they are references. After that, of course there’s Air, who founded our label Record Makers. Also Ed Banger in a way, they’ve done remarkable work over the last ten years or so, in what is called French Touch 2.0.
Rockfort: Is the French Touch 2.0 label one you’re comfortable with?
RD: Yeah, I’m very comfortable with that label, because I used to play – and I still play – but back in the day I played everything from them. It’s not the kind of music I would do, but it is the kind of music I play as a DJ. (Ed Banger) really renewed the French electronic music scene.
Rockfort: It’s remarkable that this one group, Daft Punk, continue to have such an obvious influence on the music scene in France.
RD: Well, you know everyone knows each other, it’s a very small crowd. But Daft Punk changed a lot of things in the history of music. I’m not even sure we can say now exactly what they brought, I don’t think we have the distance yet. But they definitely changed something, they are the ones who made electronic music into pop music in a way. If right now R n’ B sounds so much like electronic music it’s probably because of Daft Punk… with Kanye West sampling them, it’s only a symptom… but they changed absolutely everything, it’s probably one of the major influences in music over the last 15 years. The impact is massive.
Rockfort: And Black Eyed Peas sound like Ed Banger now, on one song at least!
RD: Totally, and David Guetta is producing a major R n’ B artist. I mean, it’s not too good, that might be only because he’s French, I don’t know.
Rockfort: With Daft Punk to a certain extent wasn’t it that they changed what was allowed? Sources that were deemed off limits before became acceptable.
RD: They did it in a very intelligent way. They did that track ‘Around the World’ which was definitely ‘stupid’ music, but so well done, in a way that everyone understood that there was a very intelligent statement in it. It’s like “Ok, we can make techno and we can make pop and it’s going to please crowds all over the world.” It’s extremely well thought-out. They made this music credible for the music industry and the masses. Before, techno was absolutely underground and of course excellent music, but it was things that people didn’t know, mostly.
Rockfort: One difference between the current generation and, say, Air and Daft Punk is that then there was a certain distance, with Daft Punk it was the masks…
RD: Actually, Daft Punk with the masks is very techno-rooted. All the guys in Underground Resistance from Detroit, they used to play – and still play – with masks. The way they were playing it was not new. In techno music in the 90s there were a lot of people… Mad Mike and a lot of people from Detroit always performed with masks or scarves. This is something that’s very linked to the techno music identity, it’s part of the history. It’s what we do, we don’t play with masks but no-one can take pictures of us, we don’t present our faces in the press, so it’s something I totally respect and understand. I think the tradition of disguise it’s a code – some people adopt it, some people don’t. It made Daft Punk very famous but in a way it was very traditional. It was the music they made that was new.
Rockfort: I was thinking with the new generation, though, it’s more indie rock inspired in terms of a look, in terms of an attitude towards the audience – a closer relationship to the audience, where one of the crowd could be up there doing it. With Daft Punk there was an air of detachment.
RD: I think I know what you mean. You mean in the way that everyone thinks they’re a DJ now?
Rockfort: Partly, and also the fact that even the way you dress seems to fit the way that indie rock and dance style have come together, and venues have brought indie and dance crowds together.
RD: Yes, because mostly now techno, electronic music, whatever you want to call it… you definitely have an electronic scene and electronic musicians, but it’s not the way it used to be, like crazy, underground and very radical people. People have really diversified in terms of what they listen to, it’s probably the consequence of MP3s, the iPod generation, and it’s the same with style, people just grab things from here and there. But it’s true there isn’t so much distance now… plus, DJs have been so idolised that… a DJ right now could be a role model. Like in the fashion industry, everyone wants to be dressed like this or that DJ. It’s a little ridiculous but that’s how it is. Also, electronic music and the fashion industry became very linked, you don’t have even one fashion show in Paris without proper electronic music. I do that, I do original music for different fashion designers, and you have many DJ sets happening in haute couture boutiques in Paris and New York. Something became very fashionable in electronic music, I don’t know what it is, perhaps it fits our model of civilisation – we don’t have the distance yet, as I said. It’s the music of today, that’s for sure - and by today, I mean not just now but maybe this century.
Rockfort: You have a studio in Brittany, is that where you’re from originally?
RD: Andrew's parents live there, I was born in Germany but I arrived in France quite early, I’m from Paris, and we met in Paris, so you could say we’re Parisians. But you have to know that a lot of Parisians are from Brittany, they have roots in that part of France – it’s like the Irish in London!
Rockfort: So where do you record mostly?
RD: We have two studios, we have one in Paris, and one for practical reasons in Berlin because it’s cheaper, we can have more space. And we have one in Brittany still but it’s getting smaller because we’ve moved a lot of things. But the album was entirely recorded in Brittany in a country house.
Rockfort: Do you have any attachment to the scenes in Brittany, in Nantes or Rennes for example?
RD: No. Actually, I’ve never been to these towns in my life. It’s pure countryside, by the sea. We composed the album in a small village where half the population is British. Paris is our base, where we have our friends and our network.
Rockfort: Back to the single, ‘General Motors…’ – I wondered if there was a nod to Kraftwerk with that, eulogising a mode of transport…
RD: Well, what we have in common is that 90 per cent of our music is analogue, so Kraftwerk is one of my favourite bands of all time, it’s the same for Andrew. I used to listen to them on the radio in Germany. FM radio in Germany is totally different from what’s in France so you could get Kraftwerk very easily on the radio. If we do this music, it’s because we have some kind of attachment to what they’ve done, to what they represent. I feel very close to that, the way they envision music.
Rockfort: Did you have something in mind then with the title of 'General Motors...'?
RD: There a few comparison points because I grew up in a very industrial area as a child that collapsed totally in the 90s, which is exactly what happened to Detroit. And it’s funny to observe that Detroit, Germany, the east of France, England – actually England, of course, Manchester and places like that, very industrial areas, where everything collapsed in a few years, textiles, iron factories… it’s funny to see that these places are the same places where electronic music became really important. So what happened in Detroit is the same thing that happened where I grew up, where everyone is jobless. It’s black or white people but it’s the same – the end of industrialisation, the end of Fordism. I’m sure that speaks to British ears too. I call it the ‘red brick world’. These places have been very important, and I guess there’s a link – why did I like Detroit music so much when I was a teenager? Probably because I felt something because we had the same landscapes, and the same destiny.
Rockfort: It’s also fascinating because it’s an era that our generation just caught the end of…
RD: But something is there forever, and that’s the music. So Detroit will always be referenced like Manchester or maybe Frankfurt in Germany, as birthplaces of electronic music. Something remains among the ruins.
Rockfort: Have you ever worked with anyone apart from Andrew? How did you meet?
RD: We’ve know each other since we were teenagers, and we’ve never worked with anybody else. I could produce someone and do something by myself like that, but at the moment I feel like we’re twin brothers, I don’t think I could ever do music without him. It’s very much a fusion, and it’s actually a very nice friendship, it’s very frank and gives you hope in humanity – we never fight, there’s no drama.
Rockfort: Do you have complementary skills?
RD: Yeah, totally. I’m the pop element, he’s the hardcore, original pirate material… I lead the things in a way that’s more poppy, he does the core of it really. He’s definitely more techno-y. And then we work with other people who bring additional keyboards, this and that, but it’s featurings, collaborations, it’s not like someone else in the band.
Rockfort: Did the album come easily?
RD: Yeah. The process was over a year but the core was done in three months, we just brought all our equipment to Brittany and had a lot of oysters and white wine. We just had all the machines together on big carpet in the attic. We’ve got ten years of memories in it. We’ve thought about this for a long time, but it came out really easily. You have to take some distance and that’s why we chose to go to the countryside, not being in the city, not going out clubbing, not seeing our friends, just being by ourselves. And then you become very melancholy, because you talk about music and friendships and what’s happened in the last ten years. I have a lot of friends who died for overdoses or different things. You know the people who were into nightlife… not nightlife because that sounds jet set and shit… but people who are really into electronic music, the free parties the raves… so when I look back over 15 years it’s not only joy. So everything comes out, we were talking a lot and that became music. We also took our club memories and music memories – it’s a very strange process. We were talking all day and then at night we did music. There’s also one track on the album that’s very disco called ‘Change’, we did it the night that Obama was elected, we just plugged in a few TVs in the attic and were watching the election so that’s very contemporary but most of them are the product of ten years of clubbing, of friendship, DJ-ing, growing up with this music.
Rockfort: What about the version of Oran ‘Juice’ Jones’s ‘The Rain’?
RD: Well this is more like an MTV memory. But that’s really part of the memory process too.
Rockfort: Did you seek out Record Makers or did they come to you? Was it through acquaintances?
RD: Yes, they heard about us like that… usually if it doesn’t go really fast, it’s a bad sign. They just listened to the demo, said “Ok, good” and signed us.
Rockfort: You make it sound very easy! What’s the importance of Record Makers for you, of the label’s ten years of existence?
RD: A lot, because the first record they released as a label was the soundtrack for The Virgin Suicides, and I bought that record when I was a teenager. Then they released the records by Air, so it was immediately an important label in the electronic scene because they were releasing records that had a major impact. They were played everywhere, and they were part of the same group of people as Daft Punk. They were cult very quickly. Now you say it’s been ten years but it feels like longer – ten years is very fresh. It feels like they’ve been here forever.
Rockfort: Is there a close relationship between the artists?
RD: Honest to god, we don’t have close relationships. We are very diverse – of course we all know each other, and we like an appreciate each other, but we’re not a posse, we’re not a crew. Everyone is very into their own thing. I respect the artists on Record Makers, I respect what Sebastien (Tellier), Kavinsky and Romain (Turzi) do a lot, but we’re not really friends. It’s not like we’re all hanging out together and having beers. It’s more with the label managers that we have very tight relationships. They have a very important role artistically and on the management level. I feel more like a writer – you know, you meet your publisher once a week and discuss your career.
Rockfort: They keep the number of artists on the label very small, though.
RD: Yes, very small. I don’t know when they’re going to sign new ones, I mean we’re the last ones. It’s not too good for all the people who are going to come after us because there’s always a gap after they sign someone… because they do their thing very well, so when they sign someone they develop and they invest a lot, take time. They’re very picky.
Rockfort: So it’s good to be picked!
RD: Yes, they’re very focused. They care.
Interview by David McKenna