When Life Hands You Lemoines: An interview with Woodkid

In advance of his performance at EB Festival Dresden, Daniel Jones spoke with musician, director and artist Yoann Lemoine to talk about his childhood, society, and how he prefers imperfections. Above: photo by Peyman Azhari.

 

Yoann Lemoine’s debut under the guise of WoodkidThe Golden Age, traverses a multitude of aural plateaus that range from bass-heavy hip hop-inspired dance to the sort of emotional folk-pop which at times recalls the ear-snarring hooks of a modern-age Smiths. Woodkid’s musical flexibility makes him hard to define in any singular genre, a factor that contributes to the love he’s received from press and fans both mainstream and underground. It’s supported greatly by his proficiency as a director and live performer. After the recent tease of “The Golden Age”, his final video for the current Woodkid project, more fans than ever are curious to see what comes next from the mind of Mr. Lemoine. I asked him some questions before his performance at EB Festival Dresden. He gave me some answers.

 

 

Your policy of shooting all of your music videos in black and white lends a very nostalgic feel to something that sounds very modern; a sort of high-definition nostalgia that works well with the album’s themes of childhood. Do you remember your own childhood through a “black and white” filter—in simple tenses?

Not necessarily. The project is of course about the past and the future, so I wanted the look of it to refer to the past—the black and white that is in everybody’s subconscious, related to the past. But I wanted to treat it in a very digital way, using HD cameras to give it a strong sharpness.

The hardcover book that comes with the album’s special edition is beautiful. How did Jillian Tamaki get involved with doing the illustrations? 

Jillian has always been a huge reference for me. I’d seen her work all over, and of course I’d studied as an illustrator, so that whole world influences me. Jillian is, to me, one of the best. The book itself I wrote with my cousin in Poland. We gathered some fragmented memories to make this sort of document about the feelings I went through as a kid, elements that together make the kind of essay that constitutes a form of modern poetry, I suppose. It’s not exactly like poetry; it’s really more like an essay on the transition of emotions. It’s not a novel; it’s more abstract.

But was modern poetry an inspiration?

We talked about a lot of different authors when my cousin and I wrote the book, but I do think there’s something very modern about the way she constructed it; about the way it’s free.

Is this multimedia experience something you plan to do more of with this or other projects?

For now I’m just focusing on Woodkid; I haven’t been thinking of anything else for about three years, to be honest. I think that right now, what I’m doing with the live show is another dimension of these fragments that I’m trying to put together to tell my story— all part of the emotional empire that I’m trying to make inside my head. The projections, the way we play with the rhythm, the audience—these are new elements for me to express a story and make it more coherent.

How would you compare the immediate thrill of performing with the more drawn-out pleasure you get from directing?

I love to feel that people are impressed by what they see, or shiver when the light show comes on the beat, and everything builds up. It’s a very exciting sensation to be playing with people’s emotions like that—you have them there, inside the room, and they can’t do anything besides listen to you. They could leave, of course, but that’s part of the challenge as well. You have to entertain them. I love that word, “entertainment”. I think that’s what we do, entertain people. There’s a very spontaneous process when you perform live, a very direct connection to your voice and your emotions. You can’t really cheat on stage; you have lights, visuals, effects, all the tricks but it’s you in the middle. It just comes straight out of you, so in that way it’s a much more animal experience.

You don’t use a lot of effects on your voice when you perform.

I like that there’s something raw about it. I thought that the way we mixed the album was interesting, because we did it without any kind of ‘cheating’ or processing element. I wanted it to be honest.

You appreciate the warmth of a natural voice in music?

That, and the imperfection of it as well. There’s a strong sense of perfection and formatting in the productions. We sampled, pitched and tuned everything, and produced it to the point where we got this strange perfect quality, and I wanted it to collide with the imperfection of my voice. That’s interesting to me, and there’s also something modern about it as well.

On The Golden Age, you recorded with the French National Orchestra and the Paris Opera, stripped each recording down and combined it with digital instrumentation. How much of what we hear on The Golden Age is “real”, and how much is artificial?

It’s fifty-fifty, same for the drums and the beats. It’s all about enhancing reality. You never get perfect synchronization and perfect digital quality with an orchestra, and you never get that sort of emotion with digital. The way I mixed them, you get the experience both at the same time. I think there’s something disturbing about it, which I like. It’s not exactly like listening to classical music because it’s too processed. I thought it was interesting to make the raw qualities of my voice collide with that perfect, ‘corrected’ element representing, for example a city. Society is about manipulation, and is altered by our own manipulations—our vices, our egos. I talk about this idea of a city and societal war in “Stabat Matter” as well: “Come the sound of boots and metal chains…” It also references the war we see on our TVs every day, on every screen. In “Conquest of Space” I also mention these images of violence, empires of greed and egos throughout history… these ideas from the past that we hear again and again.

Do you think more pop music should push the boundaries of social thought?

Pop can be anything! Pop is just a way of writing down music that’s understandable to a mainstream audience, to the public. I don’t know what a perfect pop song would be, though. One that people love, I suppose. ~

The Golden Age is out now on Green United Music.

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Live Report: Electronic Beats Festival Dresden 2013

Relive the latest edition of our EB Fall Festival season, with a live report on all the action in Dresden with Sizarr, Mount Kimbie and, Woodkid! All photos by Peyman Azhari.

 

Cold, clear weather, a gently glowing photobooth, and a sold-out venue in Dresden. Yet another Fall edition of Electronic Beats Festival happened last night, and we say with no trace of hyperbole that it was one of the most powerful (and loudest!) editions we’ve born witness to. We can be pretty silly people when the mood strikes us, but this lineup was no joke. Headlining the evening were two much-anticipated acts: London’s Mount Kimbie and Lyon’s Woodkid. While both have graced the stages of EB Fest before (Podgorica and Prague, respectively), we’ve never seen either blow up the crowd as hard as we did that evening.

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Sizarr

Opening the night was Sizarr, and boy do they have the post-punk stylings down to an art. Evoking his ice-cold forebears of old, young Fabian Altstötter makes a promising frontman with a delivery that manages to be passionate while still keeping a palpable distance from the audience. Pounding drums, swirls of feedback and riffs that would make The Chameleons proud filled the air as Altstötter swayed and preened for the lovely young things in attendance—and believe us, they noticed. We were too busy checking out drummer Marc Übel’s Vatican Shadow shirt, however. That’s a clean look.

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Mount Kimbie

The boys from Mount Kimbie were next, complete with a live drummer. It’s stunning how much they’ve changed since we first saw them at Field Day in 2010… or maybe all their exposure to the big-room, four-on-the-floor sound of German clubbing has transfigured them. Either way, even after their last notes had faded there was plenty of tonal residue left behind in the eardrums and enough sweat flowing to wash them clean (figuratively speaking, of course, because yuck). No more of the rather introspective, cool and collected men of ’10. While Sizarr’s tribal energy had prepped the audience for the night like a finely-spiced sauce, here was the meat they had been craving. With their drummer bashing frantically behind them, Dominic Maker and Kai Campos led the crowd through glistening techno-pop, ballads drenched in glitchy ambience, room-shaking bass frenzies and yes, a bit of that ‘classic’ dubstep grind. There was even a delightful moment that seemed to crossbreed neofolk inflections with freak-folk spazz-jamming; Current 93 on a picnic with Animal Collective? No wonder we had so many ants in our pants. The crowd hung on every beat, even when the group treaded into the terrifying waters of funk-inspired riffing. Getting your cochlea abused in public hasn’t felt this good in ages.

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Woodkid

After such a heavy amount of bass domination and sub-system masochism, you’d expect most of the crowd to have emptied into the smoking patio, but a good part of the crowd just collapsed on to the floor. The room soon became a hustle of butts marking out prime locations for the denouement, one Mr. Yoann Lemoine. There’s a slickness to his stage persona of Woodkid that feels as though every action, even something as simple as a wave, is emerging as part of the planned whole. The man knows how to sell himself to a crowd, and tonight business is booming. It’s helped by a pair of dual drummers and a horn section (and there really do need to be more tubas in pop music; it’s not just for volksmusik these days!) that glide effortlessly over, under and between Lemoine’s emotionally-charged lyrics—and surely we can’t be the only ones who hear a similarity to a certain Smiths singer? The fact that Lemoine rarely alters his vocals does certainly lend an air of raw confidence to his performance. Then again, when you strut onstage to pounding percussion against a projection of marble church columns and smoke, it’s a bit difficult to be unimpressive. After leading the rapt audience through most of his recent debut The Golden Age (along with a few new tracks and a taste of his upcoming, final Woodkid video), Lemoine left the stage amidst more smoke, impressive lights and applause to rival Mount Kimbie’s bass. The doors open and we’re released in to the night, but the music we’ve just heard keeps a firm grip on our hearts. ~

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We have one more festival remaining in our Fall schedule; stay tuned for live video footage from Dresden soon.

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On Tour With: Mount Kimbie

In our regular feature, we ask artists and musicians—whose work entails traveling the world—about some of the favorite places they’ve discovered. This time, we join the textural, electronic-indie duo who play the sold-out EB Festival in Dresden this weekend. Above: Mount Kimbie at EB Festival Podgorica 2013 by Ivana Bozovic.

 

 

Mount Kimbie have been around the global block once or twice by now. Since the release of their critically acclaimed debut album Crooks & Lovers in 2010, the London duo—consisting of Dominic Maker and Kai Campos—have played sold out gigs everywhere, ranging from Moscow to Mexico City and Tokyo. Their experiences of a few years on the road are clearly audible in the follow-up album Cold Spring Fault Less, released in May this year, as their trademark ambient and post-dubstep informed sounds have grown more lively and monumental, as if composed more for vast spaces rather than small enclaves. In advance of their performance at our sold-out festival in Dresden, we took the opportunity to ask them about some of their experiences on the road at their performance at our festival in Podgorica, Montenegro this past September.

 

Favorite restaurant:
Uoshins – Tokyo, Japan

Kai Campos: It’s a sushi place on the edge of a fish market in Tokyo which is pretty famous, I think; we had to queue for three hours to get in. We got there at seven and got in at ten, but it was worth it. That was the only place that we went to the first time and then made an effort to go again. Everything else we tried to do new things. We had quite a bit of time off there, and we had some great people showing us around, and we just all felt really good. Even the dive places, everything’s just so fresh because there isn’t a culture of being able to get everything all the time, they do simple and seasonal things really well. Some of the stuff was moving before we ate it, it was good. Also, the culture of eating over the course of a very long time, eating lots of small dishes, everyone passing stuff around and sharing, having a communal experience, and stopping for a bit, having a drink and talking, eating some more.

Favorite venue:
The Golden Pudel – Hamburg, Germany

Dominic Maker: We played a couple of times and had a really good time. It’s the kind of place that whenever we go back to Hamburg, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing or where we are, we always have a conversation about going there. The people who work there are fantastic. It’s got so much character to it and it’s quite a unique space because you don’t really care if it sounds good or not because it’s all atmosphere in there.

KC: It’s pure. We were doing a festival near Hamburg and it was the least pure thing in the entire world, a really depressing experience. We came off stage and were like, “This is shit,” everything that’s wrong with festivals. And then we were like let’s just go to the Pudel, we had all our gear and said, “Let’s just do a gig!” So then we put on Twitter that we were going to play in an hour and we got far too drunk to, in a normal situation, play. But we just set up a few things on crates and played. It’s like, there’s no bullshit that went along with it, it cost two euros and people had a good time because they weren’t going to see this band, it was good. It can’t be like that all the time and we choose to do these massively corporate events as well because it’s part of the life, but it’s nice to also be reminded of music for the sake of music.

Tourist attraction:
The Golden Gate Bridge – San Francisco, USA

KC: There’s a promoter who we always work with in San Francisco who goes the extra mile every time we’re there. He’s very enthusiastic and took us to see everything in San Francisco and just hanging out at the Golden Gate Bridge with those guys was a good laugh. And it’s a pretty amazing way to see the whole of the city and the surrounding area, Alcatraz.

Favorite shop:
Army & Navy – Outlets throughout Canada

KC: I’m looking forward to going back to Canada to go to Army & Navy which is a budget clothing store, really, really cheap, you just go to buy socks, I guess. They have these white t-shirts—I’ve become a big fan of plain white t shirts, and they have the best. I only bought one and I knew at the time I should’ve stocked up. We were in the US for the rest of the time and thought I could go but it turns out they’re only in Canada. We’ve got one date coming up and I’m going to Army & Navy and buy a suitcase of these white t shirts.

Favorite Hotel:
? – Singapore

DM: We went to a pretty nice hotel in Singapore. It was really, really hot, it must have been about 40 plus and they had a beautiful pool, breakfast buffet, and tennis courts outside, which we could use at any time. We played and it was a bad idea, it was eighty percent humidity, so like playing underwater. That hotel definitely sticks out.

KC: I’ll tell you what are not good hotels. The ones people say are good for musicians. There’s one in Amsterdam where all the furniture are Pelican cases and the light in the ceiling’s a snare drum. I don’t want to see this. There’s that German one too, the Michelberger; it’s alright but I hate being told I’m going to love it because you’re a musician. It’s bullshit. ~

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EB Festival Dresden: Mount Kimbie added to line-up!

The wait is over. We’re excited to reveal that the third act to be announced for Electronic Beats Festival Dresden is Mount Kimbie.

We were so blown away by their performance at EB Festival Podgorica that it was obvious we had to invite them back for another round. The London duo join baroque pop maestro and general renaissance man Woodkid, German post-punk torchbearers, Sizarr and local star Albrecht Wassersleben for the festival which takes place on November 10th at Dresden’s Alter Schlachthof.

There’s no doubt that Kai Campos and Dom Maker are having a moment right now. Where once it seemed they would be permanently scarred with the post-dubstep tag, their Warp-released second album Cold Spring Fault Less Youth marked a  shift in confidence. Their songwriting chops—once subsumed by texture and mood—were given room to breathe and the precise, delicate structures of Crooks and Lovers have been ousted by plunging, assertive sonics. As anyone who saw them in Podgorica will attest, they’re a vital proposition live. If you weren’t there, you can watch highlights from their performance below and read a report from the night here. You can also watch a Slices feature with Dresden-based label Uncanny Valley, a label Albrecht Wassersleben is closely associated with.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, all tickets have now sold out.

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EB Festival Dresden: First names announced!

Everyone loves summer festivals, but personally we’ve always been a bit more hyped on Autumn. The sun has his hat on a bit lower, there’s a delicious crispness to the air, and of course there’s the return of EB’s Fall Festival season! We’ve already disclosed the full info for our Podgorica date; now we’re going to give you a bit of a tease. We’ve got a rather nice lineup for our Dresden festival edition, and we can reveal the first two tantalizing selections from the November 10th event taking place at Alter Schlachthof.

Returning to EB Fest for the first time since his 2012 appearance in Zagreb is Yoann Lemoine, better know by his stage name Woodkid. Lemoine’s well known for his beautifully-directed videos; for those who haven’t experienced it yet, we can tell you that his live shows are equally lovely and powerful. If you don’t believe us, check out this selection of Woodkid’s video highlights and see for yourself. Supporting the ‘kid will be the German-based band Sizarr, whose skillful blend of post-punk and deep techno electronics have led to support the likes of These New Puritans and Bloc Party‘s Kele. As for the third act… you’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime we’ve put together a playlist at the end of this article featuring the best tracks from the acts. Buy tickets below!

UPDATE: Unfortunately, all tickets have now sold out.

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