Backstage at EB Festival Budapest, Louise Brailey spoke to Barcelona’s keeper of slow-mo house music and Hivern Discs‘ proprietor John Talabot about politics, The xx and why some house music really is just a feeling. Illustration by Andreas Paus.
To listen to a John Talabot production is to be caught in a moment. Crouched somewhere on the fringes of house and disco, his music is too slow to work a club at peak-time, but this is four/four electronic music as emotional rather than physical trigger. His debut album Fin was a unexpected hit on Permanent Vacation in early 2012 and was a record which always felt that it was a cache of bittersweet moments spun out and scaled up into cresting euphoria—or is it melancholia? Speaking to the Barcelona-based producer backstage at Electronic Beats’ Budapest festival back in October, it didn’t take long for this reading to be validated: Talabot knows all too well a happy memory, like the afterglow of a night’s partying, will eventually fade. For him, however, his music is a means of staving off the inevitable. There’s little noticeable progression in records like “Depak Line”, “Oro Y Sangre” or the tellingly titled “When the Past Was Present” because, as he explains, “I just have to keep it like that, I can’t change the song, I can’t add more because I have to keep it just like that”.
Maybe it’s the accelerated age in which we live, where the presence of camera phones at gigs becomes endemic, a byproduct of unstinting self-documentation, Talabot’s music seems both strikingly old fashioned and struck with a peculiarly modern anxiety. A couple of hours before he was due to take the stage for his headline set at EB Festival Budapest, EB talked to Talabot about politics, the surprise success of Fin, and how to hold onto those experiences that you don’t want to forget.
It’s been nearly two years since you released Fin. With the critical distance that affords, have you any theory why that record was such a hit? It did so well with such a wide variety of people: from indie sorts who maybe bought a couple of electronic records a year to underground music fans to broadsheet journalists.
I never expected that the album would go further than people who like electronic music. There was never an idea to bring the record to a live show. But I think nowadays, people listen to a wider range of music; you have your iPod full of The Beatles, but also techno and house. And people hear a lot of tracks on YouTube as well.
It still felt like a surprise when you toured with The xx, they have a pretty large, mainstream fanbase. How did the hook-up happen and how did your music go down with that audience?
Primavera Sound was our first live show and we were super nervous. On the day, The xx were playing on another stage twenty minutes before us. When we had finished playing, we were really stressed and Miguel—Pional—comes and says, “Did you see The xx dancing during the live show?” and I was like, “No, that can’t be possible?” But they were there! Later, when we were backstage they came over and said they loved it and they wanted us to be on the tour. I was like, “Wait, it’s our first live show and you are offering us to go on tour? This kind of tour where we have to go in front of your fans and play the record? We can’t.” But then we thought again and felt it was a great opportunity. Everyone in America was really open-minded. Europe was harder. One of the nice things about The xx’s crowd is that they’re really excited to see The xx no matter what, so anything else the group present on top is a bonus. People trust their taste.
I wanted to ask you about politics in Spain right now. Obviously it’s pretty dire, with corruption rife within the political class. Does this have an affect on the musical scene, is there a desire in young people to come to clubs and escape?
People don’t really have money to go to clubs; I think a lot of people are having trouble, some are going back to live with their parents. We have these two parties in the government, and you don’t know who is better because they are both really bad. Before when people wanted to do something, they would try to find money from grants or something, but I think now people are realizing that they can’t count on the government, everything you want to do has to be on your own. Nobody is taking care of you anymore. The feeling is we want to go back to before but we can’t go back to what we once had.
Do you see less people coming to clubs, then?
I don’t think it’s affecting the established clubs so much as a young generation who don’t have the spaces that we had when we were younger, where we could make small parties or whatever. I think that’s done. When things go bad, nobody wants to take risks. So everybody wants to be safe, to do safe parties, parties that will definitely work. At this moment it’s really hard for young people to have their own place.
Talabot at EB Festival Budapest 2013 by Attila Masa & Bertalan Soos
On the mix CD you just did for DJ-Kicks I noticed there you went in quite an interesting, overtly dark direction: there was a Pye Corner Audio track on there, an Andy Stott remix, Madteo. All strange, half-lit records that, in some ways, made explicit the tendency towards melancholy in your own work.
I like that kind of dark edge from the eighties, and sometimes I feel like groups like Pye Corner Audio, Madteo have that vibe in their techno. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to separate the live show, which is more ‘indie’, from the nightclub. When I was doing the album I knew some people would be disappointed but I only wanted to include music I dig. I wanted those names in the tracklist because it’s important to say that although you can see me singing onstage, I really like this kind of music and playing it in a club. It was my way of making a statement.
It’s strange because so many people describe your music as being sunny and warm because when people think of Spain those are the characteristics people ascribe it it. But your music is actually incredibly sad.
Totally. I never think of Barcelona as a sunny city when I make music. My music is based on feelings that I have. I miss a lot of things when I’m abroad, I miss old times with my grandparents, I miss having a house by the beach which I don’t go to anymore, I miss my sister who lives abroad… I’m always missing something in my life, and that’s sad. But at the same time it’s nice, it gives you the feeling that you need someone or something. I’m the kind of person who never throws anything into the garbage, I’m afraid I will miss it. Like, this card [picks up Electronic Beats flyer]. This card gets to my home and it maybe won’t leave for five years. I’m afraid that I won’t remember that festival I went to in Budapest.
You’re an emotional hoarder…
I’m a garbage collector! [laughs]
I think you can hear that in your music. The way your records capture a single moment, or emotion, and then holds onto it over the course of the track.
Maybe that’s because all of the tracks came in a specific moment. I need some kind of feeling to make music, whatever it is. I need to say something, or I need to explain—no, not explain, I don’t want to explain anything with my album. It’s more those moments that are part of everybody’s life, those “Oh yeah, I remember we went to this night that we went to?” Sometimes when I go out for example, when I come back home the only thing I want to do is music.
Because you’re inspired by what you felt?
Sometimes ideas are just a moment. I just feel something in that moment and then I just have to keep it like that, I can’t change the song, I can’t add more because I have to keep it just as it is.
Can you give an example of one of these personal moments which you feel the need to hold onto?
“Oro Y Sangre” just came out of me after a party I went to. I went to a friend’s house, we were just listening to records and having fun. I realised I missed those times when you’re with friends. So I made a pattern and some kind of dark melody, I just wanted to give it that tone because it came to me when I was feeling something. I think my tracks have a purpose like a song, there’s a break, there is a chorus, a melody, there’s not so many changes over the course of the tracks. But I think it’s enough.
Was there a record in particular that you heard and which really turned you onto making music?
There’s many. Sometimes just tracks with synthesizer or drum machine, like some Chicago house tracks. They say more to me than a love song or any song with lyrics. I don’t have many relations with pop music, even hip-hop or R&B. I like hip-hop but mainly the instrumental. I’ve never been into a lot of R&B, for me, R&B has to be really cheesy and then I like it because of that, like R Kelly. I feel his productions are cheesy but really good. I’ve never been a pop person. My first contact with music as something important in my life was with techno and electronic music. It was when I went to clubs and went oh, what is this music?
How old were you?
Seventeen or sixteen. It was the moment where I thought ‘where did they get this music from?’ If you go to the mainstream record shops they don’t have these records. I discovered it was another world of music that nobody told me about because it wasn’t on the radio. Maybe in the UK it’s different.
Right. In the UK we have pirate radio or even the mainstream radio channels showcase underground music in their late night programming. But in Spain you’re completely sealed off from that musical world? It’s just pop on the radio?
Spain is shit. It’s not even just pop music anymore. It’s strange commercial productions from nobody that they just play that doesn’t get played anywhere else. All the knowledge you want to have when you’re seventeen, there’s no program to turn to. It’s funny, when I started going to clubs, when you wanted to hear the track the DJ was playing with the vinyl, you had to get the name vinyl or go again to the club and ask the DJ. There wasn’t YouTube—I’m not so old, I’m thirty but the only way to hear a vinyl again was to ask the DJ. I liked it! When I went clubbing I had a notebook with the tracks I really liked. One of the DJ Kicks tracks started out in the notebook.
“Kron” by Sillikron, the Jurgen Paape remix. That was a track I discovered when one of the local DJs played it at Apolo at Nitsa. I thought it was beautiful and have had it since then. Actually I still have the notebook, because I don’t throw anything out! I mostly found all the records but there is one I really liked, other than that I don’t know why I wrote down, but I never found out what it was. Even years later I tried to ask the DJ who played it what it was, but he doesn’t remember, even from the name I wrote down because it was loud and I couldn’t hear. It’s lost.
When can we expect the follow-up to Fin, it’s about time surely?
I still need to think about it. When I was doing my first album it was because I wanted to get away from the 12-inch vibe and I wanted to get back to short songs with direct ideas, direct to the people, not even for the club, actually without any purpose. Doing an album to have more gigs, more tours and to continue your career is nice but I think you need to say something. I am still in that process, trying to find what I want to say. Or trying to get that feeling of yeah, I want to get in the studio. When I go back home I spend time with my family, friends, I’m not thinking about the album, I’m think, shit I haven’t seen these people in a long time. I need to go back, stay with them and then the ideas will come. ~
With her new album True Romance receiving loads of positive press, the 21 year-old Londoner is primed to go from Internet sensation to radio darling any day now. Daniel Jones caught up with her at the EB Festival Budapest to find out more. Above: photo by Jannik Schäfer
Charli XCX may have—as the singer freely admits—spawned from the digital world, but there’s something vibrantly physical about her (onstage and off) that doesn’t sync with what one normally expects when they hear the words “Internet famous”. Of course, Charli has long since progressed past URL fame into sold-out IRL performances aplenty. This is due in part to the Top Ten-charting “I Love It”, which she penned for Swedish duo Icona Pop, but it’s largely thanks to her impressive live show. The twenty-one year-old Londoner brings a raw energy and confidence to the stage that echoes former underground rock queens like Joan Jett, with an impressive collection of pop gems to keep the crowd’s eyes and ears on her every second. With her new album True Romance receiving loads of positive press, she’s primed to go from Internet sensation to radio darling any day now. Of course, fame comes with all sorts of strange add-on packs—including having Urban Outfitters release a ludicrous step-by-step guide on how to dress like you for Halloween.
Charli XCX: I’m quite an easy person to dress as, apparently. According to that guide, you just need a shirt, a skirt and some platforms.
It’s not much of a costume!
It was cool, though. A fan tweeted me saying that she was going as me for Halloween, and that her friend was going as my boyfriend. That was a bit weird.
I bet that person got a lot of, “Nice Miley Cyrus costume!” throughout the night. It’s interesting how easy it is to reach out and tell your favorite singer that you’re dressing up as them on a national holiday based on advice from a major retail chain’s blog.
I feel like as an artist I was born from blogs! I like how everything is so accessible.
Your style definitely comes with a lot of online culture tie-ins.
For me, True Romance was sort of based around the whole reblog/retweet style we live in. I wrote that record over five years, and I grew up over the course of writing it. During that time I started using Facebook, Twitter, and was beginning to learn about social networking at the same time I was learning how to make my own videos. That was a huge inspiration. I did this song with Brooke Candy, “Cloud Aura“, and the video was basically a montage of different icons crying—from Britney Spears to Lauren Conrad from The Hills to Pikachu. It’s so clearly taken from that online world, where life is replicated and aesthetics are pooled together to make something new for yourself. A own magazine bedroom wall collage, I suppose. True Romance feels like my diary… like being in my teenage bedroom.
I thought that the lo-fi DIY-ness of the record fits in with that make-your-own-world aspect of the Internet as well. Is that a path you’re going to continue down production-wise?
To be honest that’s kind of… not necessarily over for me, but I feel like branching out a bit more. I’m already working on the second record right now, and I’m about halfway through it, I guess. It’s much more inspired by Paris, by yé-yé pop, Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Bardot, and France Gall. A lot of iconic sixties French music, basically.
Are you going to get a bob as well?
Probably not! That’s not quite my style. I am wearing stripes, though!
And a beret!
Definitely love the beret. So it’s inspired by that, along with some elements of New Wave bands like The Waitresses and Bow Wow Wow. It’s much more live so far, with lots of guitars. It’s very feminine and powerful. It’s about sex as well, in a very angry way. I think that’s a very feminine thing. It’s a riot record.
So there are a lot of intense lyrics?
Lyrically it’s very dumb, actually. But I think that all the best pop records have dumb hooks. Look at Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy”, or The Flying Lizard’s “I Want Money”. It’s very blunt and dumb, and I really like that because I think it’s clever.
Visually, where does your lyrical inspiration come from?
At the moment, I feel like a lot of the songs I’m writing are the color red, whereas most of the tracks on True Romance are purple to me. I’ve also been watching this film Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains a lot lately. In general, though, I think the best songs are written in thirty minutes or so, without a lot of thought process. When they just come out of you. I tend to write like that.
Are you like that in the studio as well? Do you fancy the one-take, no do-overs approach?
I try to be like that. I always have a microphone recording, and I always put the first thing down that comes out of my head. I think those are the best.
How much of the new album is like that?
Some of it! “I Love It” was like that. I don’t like laboring over things intensively. In a dream, I’d record it all in a month and be done with it. I can’t be bothered to sit and work on things because I don’t think that’s how I make my best music.
Do you still feel that the Internet is affecting you in a positive way?
I consider myself to have “come” from the Internet, from Myspace, Twitter, Tumblr and the like. I feel like, because of the Internet, everything can be anything. There’s less genre distinctions, less boundaries… it’s all just blurring into one beautiful mess. I feel like I use it to create a special world for my fans via my tumblr, creating a connectable aesthetic with pictures of Elvira, the girls from The Craft or whatever. It lets people know what I’m into, and they become part of my world. Which is cool.
There’s a negative side as well, of course…
Of course! Some people are fucking crazy. When you have fourteen year old girls tweeting you that they hope you get AIDS, that’s a bit much. The anonymity of the Internet gives you so much freedom on both sides of the spectrum. You can lead an entire separate life. It’s kind of scary.
In your situation it led to fame, but oftentimes it feels like the Internet can kill off culture and subculture before it even has a chance to develop—be it through overexposure or assimilation of the visual aspects with none of the depth.
I’ve always felt that fads and trends, be it fashion or music or whatever, if they’re good enough or interesting, they’ll break through. If it’s fresh enough, it won’t die. The nature of the Internet itself is so copy-paste, spread spread spread, that it perpetuates constant exposure. That’s what happened with seapunk; suddenly Rihanna is on Saturday Night Live with dolphins behind her, you know?
The great Seapunk Scandal of ’12.
What struck me is how offended everyone got over that! I found that hilarious! People were so angry, and it’s like, “Why?” Get over yourselves.
I like those kids, but how can you get upset when someone’s stylist uses ‘your’ aesthetic when most of it is borrowed from the nineties? It’s like Pure Moods meets The Prodigy with Myst graphics. It’s a ripoff of a ripoff of a ripoff.
Exactly, but isn’t almost everything? ~
Charlie XCX’s True Romance is out now on Asylum. Stay tuned for live footage from her performance at EB Festival Budapest.
Last night Electronic Beats set up in Budapest for its second date of the fall festival season. Daniel Jones and Louise Brailey report from the front row.
In Budapest’s massive Millenáris Teatrum, the crowd was already packed tight and waiting with bated breath by 9pm. Amongst projected visuals, photo booths and try-me-out app stations, another edition of Electronic Beats Festival Budapest had just opened its doors and the Georgia-born Washed Out was set to take the stage first.
With his recent sophomore album Paracosm proving that he was more than just the buzzword “chillwave”, the crowd knew they were in for a treat, and Greene didn’t disappoint. Summer vibes seemed to ooze out of his equipment, soaking the floor with memories of swimming pools and stolen kisses as the extremely tight lighting rig flashed across our faces. It was especially appropriate considering that Budapest is currently experiencing an unseasonable heatwave; when our flight from chilly Berlin landed, it was around 75°F. Buzzing through such t-shirt soaking killers as “Get Up”, Greene swiftly lent new meaning to the term “warming up the crowd”.
Charli XCX (Photo by Rolf Wenzel)
By the time Charli XCX took the stage, everyone was ready for something with a bit more thrust. Charli gave it in spades, and it’s really striking how much of a rock diva she really is. Backed by a band of schoolgirl-styled musicians (which, really, was a bit naff) she laid down a set that would have made Joan Jett proud. Blending new wave bombastica with punk rawwwk showgirlship, she blitzed through crowd-pleasers like “Set Me Free” and “Grinz”, but what really slayed ’em was her version of Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care”—which she, of course, co-wrote. Her command of both stage and vocal chords shows that even though she takes much of her influence from the Internet, she shines brightest in IRL. Someone get this girl a stadium, stat, because she’s primed and ready.
John Talabot (Photo by Szabolcs Nemeth)
John Talabot may not be commanding stadiums but hell, dude has reach. His 2012 debut ƒIN won over everyone from broadsheet critics, hard-to-please hipsters to one-dance-album-a-year indie fans. In a live capacity, Talabot tweaks and twists his sound, adding organic percussion and live vocals which heighten their capacity to leave you emotionally punch-drunk. Set opener “Depak Line” is a masterclass in clubbing tantra, building slowly, element by element, into a humid climax. Likewise, “El Oeste”‘s pitch-bent synths take on an almost insinuating quality on the venue’s excellent system. This is melancholic pop music popped at the joints and nailed to a grid system, its jouissance wrung dry—and the crowd love it. Before the show Talabot tells Electronic Beats that performing his music live is a feat of multitasking, but onstage he looks cool: striking a tom here, triggering samples there (that scream in “Oro y Sangre” now sounds with startling frequency) while long-time collaborator Pional provides ample back-up.
Nôze (Photo by Jannik Schäfer)
From the sublime to the… well, almost. Nôze are certainly a strange proposition: coming up on the Paris house scene, Ezechiel Pailhès and Nicolas Sfintescu’s “we’re mad, us!” schtick and Balkan brass antics are much more likeable than they have any right to be. A surprise then, that onstage things don’t get much whackier than a glass of Champagne and some undone top buttons. Foregoing their live band for MacBook Pros and a pair of microphones, they move through heads-down gothic minimal, accordion-powered oom-pah techno and… yes, plenty of brass swing (albeit welded to brawny, Get Physical-approved bass lines). Unsurprisingly, it’s their biggest record, the tellingly titled “You Have to Dance”, that gets the biggest reaction with one reveller, dressed in a stegosaurus onesie, particularly enamoured. And really, what hardened critic can argue with that? Until next time, Budapest. ~
Miss Budapest? There’s still a chance to grab the last remaining tickets to our remaining fall festivals, and stay tuned for live video footage from this event soon.
In our new regular feature, we ask artists to delve deep into their memory banks to surface with some of the tracks that have defined their lives. For the inaugural edition, we speak with the French electro-swing duo Nôze. Nôze perform at Electronic Beats Festival Budapest this Friday, October 25th—for full details, head here. Above, from left to right: Ezechiel Pailhes and Nicolas Sfintescu.
Somewhere between the Parisian party scene and the Marseilles Conservatory, Nicolas Sfintescu and Ezechiel Pailhès, aka Nôze, delight in a hybrid of electronic music and song forms. The pair have spent the last ten years perfecting this sound, retaining a sense of classicism with their modern twist, and releasing on labels like the German powerhouse Get Physical. For our Electronic Beats festival in Budapest, they perform live, to bring you their sound in its full potential. To get an idea of some of the embers that fuel their collective fires, we asked them about some of the songs that have provided the soundtrack of their lives.
1) What song sets the dancefloor off?
2) What was the last song you bought?
3) Which song do you never want to play again?
4) What was the first song you ever danced to?
5) Which song would make you leave the dancefloor ?
We don’t need to hear bad music to leave the dancefloor.
6) What song is your guilty pleasure?
See number 3
7) Which song do you play to impress someone you like?
8) What’s your favorite song to play when you’re getting intimate with someone you like?
9) Which song do you know all the lyrics to?
10) What song do you want played at your funeral?
John Talabot’s debut fin was a muggy, sun-bleached affair which became the critics’ favorite in 2012. However, his contribution to longstanding mix series DJ-Kicks suggests the weather may be about to break, says Lauren Martin. John Talabot plays Electronic Beats Festival Budapest this Friday, October 25th—for full details, head here.
With the release of his 2012 album fin, Spanish producer John Talabot‘s sound was hailed as having something quintessentially Mediterranean about it; crystalline shards of disco, house and indie pop shimmering across a humid landscape, woven into the kind of underhand Balearic rhythms that evoke dancing on a beach at sunset with a mojito in either hand. In its restrained sort of luxury fin was an engaging debut, but there’s always been elements of Talabot’s work that have insisted on something heavier than fin could carry: a mood that he was maybe unsure that he wanted to explore at the time, or couldn’t be portrayed in the style of fin more fully. Perhaps the landscape of fin felt humid because a storm was coming, as Talabot’s contribution to the DJ-Kicks mix series conveys this sense of uncanny gloom.
Speaking of the release, Talabot insisted that “It’s not an easy mix. It’s quite strange. It doesn’t really build up in the way many mixes do. A lot of the tracks I’ve never played in a club because they wouldn’t work.” Fittingly then, in the style of a series that encourages DJs to indulge in the unexpected, or less club-orientated facets of their tastes, Talabot’s mix is a curious yet compelling self-portrait figured through fin‘s sonic palette of muted greys and golds, showcasing his talent for weaving the smoothest routes possible between various lo-fi, esoteric elements of house.
Across the twenty-seven tracks, Talabot builds a melancholic atmosphere that feels almost masochistically inviting. Those Balearic shards of light do still burst through, but now it’s a grimmer sight, illuminating the dust hanging densely in the humid air. In a track list that has no heavy hitters or of-the-moments anthems, the theme comes across as finding familiarity in seemingly disparate elements: making multi-layered connections between his impeccable mixing, his collaborative work as a producer, and his curatorial talents as a label head that could be seen as too subtle for a big room club set.
In terms of mixing, Talabot finds a warmth in the sluggish thump of Madteo’s “We Doubt (You Can Make It)”, and pulls it to the fore through the hissing percussive afrobeat and choral inflections of Elmore Judd & Rowan Park’s remix of Harmonious Thelonious’ “The Grashopper Was The Witness”. It’s a gorgeous arrangement that shows his ear for teasing out subtleties—something that comes across in the curatorial elements of the track list itself, too. There’s selections from his own Hivern Discs label—two fuzzy, mournful cuts from Bostro Pesopeo & Pional and Mistakes Are OK—complimented by the sensuality of Moodymann’s remix of Mara TK’s “Run”, and the hollow, woodwind-inflected sound of Alex Burkat’s “Shower Scene”.
He doesn’t miss an opportunity to flaunt the scope of his vision either: by mixing his own “Without You” into Bowman’s soulful cut “Klinsmann”, and then rounding off the mix with a track from their Talaboman project “Sideral” (a darker, more driving slice of techno with an almost UK funky-esque chime melody), he shows just how deep he can reach, given the right collaboration. On reflection, Talabot’s contribution to the DJ-Kicks series doesn’t feel “strange” at all—rather, it shows that gloomier side to Talabot that fin was reaching for, with evident finesse. ~
John Talabot’s DJ-Kicks is released through !K7 on November 11th.