INTERVIEW WITH THE FRENCH ELECTRO PRODUCER THYLACINE
Thylacine began his music producer career in 2012, offering his audience a powerful version of electronic music guided by the female voices with whom he has collaborated with in the past several years. Drawing on influences such as Philipp Glass, Four Tet and Moderat, Thylacine aka William Rezé is accompanied on stage by Laetitia Bely’s graphic projections, staging concerts that blur the boundaries between all the senses. We met William and Laetitia during their brief tour in the United States earlier this year. Their shows at SXSW and at Piano’s in New York were well received, with the trip to New York also providing an opportunity for William to finally meet with Dyllan, who sang for the first time with him on stage. Since the interview the team headed to Vietnam and Russia before returning to France for summer festival season.
How long have you and Laetitia [Bely, producer of Thylacine’s live videos] been collaborating?
William: It’s been almost three years. The first Thylacine concerts started towards the end of 2012. It was with that project that I first got up alone on stage. Before, I had worked with groups as a saxophonist. From the beginning I wanted to work with video and we have ever since.
Are there artists who inspired you to create this mix of sound and video?
William: Not really, because for the most part music and video are always combined before going live and their mix has a tendency to restrict the musician. I’ve seen installations that have worked well, like those of Amon Tobin and Etienne de Crécy, but nonetheless there is a highly rehearsed aspect that leaves little place for improvisation. During concerts I love going hard on the improvisation and taking things in whichever direction I want. That’s why we’ve always made sure that Laetitia also has control during live performances. During my sets, it often happens that I switch the program up or create new pieces and she can still easily follow along. The show is never preplanned from A to Z.
Your work echoes that of others, like Ryoji Ikeda. He uses lots of varied software. What do you use?
William: Yes I really like Ryoji Ikeda.
Laetitia Bely: [We use] a VJing program called Modulate.
What is “VJing”?
Laetitia: VJing is the practice of creating live video.
William: It’s the equivalent of DJing. It’s not a common term; it’s mostly used in the art world, but usually it refers to a designer’s sample of images.
Laetitia: A little kitschy sometimes.
William: What we’re doing is more in the order of video installation, a little like Ryoji Ikeda.
Do you two also collaborate on the music videos? They seem very perfected and are for the most part highly cinematographic: any particular inspiration?
Laetitia: No, I only work on live.
William: Laetitia makes very graphic work for live video, but for music videos I call on other people. From my training at the Beaux-Arts, I have an important relationship with the image and I try to maximize connections between visuals and music. For inspiration, it depends, it can come from anything. There is film music that speaks loads to me, for example Take Shelter and David Wingo, or Para One who composes fantastic pieces! I also like “classics” like Hans Zimmer.
Would you like to do film music in the long term?
Yes, that should be happening in the near future. I’ve had a couple propositions but at the moment I’m working on a short film that I wrote about fellow artist friends. I plan to compose its music, which will provide lots of freedom during the film’s creation. I find this kind of project very motivating and my goal is to have time to experiment with new things.
Is that going to be felt in the structure and future of Intuitive Records, the label that you created?
Intuitive [Records] is a structure that allows us to direct all these projects and have legal standing. In that sense, it’s not just a music label but also a multimedia structure. Even if for right now we only produce Thylacine, our goal is to bring other musicians into the label. In the meantime, the label allows me to work on multiple projects: most notably, I’ve worked on an installation at the Centre Pompidou and I will soon compose my next CD over two weeks aboard the Trans-Siberian [train]. France 4 [a TV channel] joined the project to film the team and air a documentary about our trek across Russia. For me, my goal is to compose music influenced by the landscape and the rhythm of life of those aboard the train. I would like to record little snippets of life and voices to try creating pieces from that material.
Why the Trans-Siberian?
I’ve been working on this project for two years. I really like the direct relation that music can have with the place in which it is composed. The space of composition is felt in a piece: if I compose in New York or a little country house, the final result will not be the same, and so I’ve always been interested in showing the place where I created a piece, in handing over the keys of my composition. I experiment and see which pieces I can obtain by composing in different locales. I also like the ideas of isolation and challenge. A friend of mine took the [Trans-Siberian] train and it sounded perfect for what I wanted to do, to compose in a place that is a little crazy.
Laetitia: Molecule was composed on a boat and used underwater sounds!
William: Lots of authors have been inspired by the Trans-Siberian. It has a very rich artistic past and nowadays, technology allows us to fit an entire studio in a suitcase. It would be a shame not to take advantage of that! We also planned to film music videos on the train and we are working on a concert that will take place in Paris in an abandoned train station. Laetitia will use the film samples from the train and I will exclusively play music composed during those two weeks of travel.
Such a cool project! How did you make it happen? Was it from meetings, people who lent a hand, or did you go after people?
Thylacine is a fairly “do-it-yourself” project. I am from Angers and when I arrived in Paris, I started out doing little concerts in apartments. That’s when I met my manager, with whom I built Thylacine little by little. In music I’ve realized that when you work hard and are good at things, it can work out. It’s not like it was 20 years ago. Personally, I owe a lot to the Internet and to the numerous blogs that broadcast my music, and to the team with which I work.
As far as the audience goes, do you feel that there are people who follow you regularly?
There are people that I recognize. The concerts in Paris where we do big installations are very different each time and therefore there are plenty of people of all ages who come back. It’s a huge pleasure to see them, really very gratifying. In the Netherlands, the audience also follows us, and soon we’ll visit Asia for the first time: we’re going to do a 10-day tour in Vietnam, with three concerts and a workshop with local artists!
What did you think of South by Southwest?
William: Pretty cool. It was crazy, especially since it was my first time in the US.
Laetitia: It was an enormous melting pot, a big music party mixed with “spring break”.
William: We got to see a couple of groups but there are so many concerts all over the city. Across from the city, on the other side of the river, you hear music echoing everywhere. I even took recordings of the crazy vibes! We passed a “Sausage Fest” in the store where a Texan group had assembled and the singer sat on a horse. We also visited country clubs with fantastic octogenarians. It was an absurd experience, very rock’n’roll, with a very cinematographic element! We had the opportunity to go to Austin thanks to the SMAC Angers, le Chabada, that takes a group there every year. We also got to perform in Monterrey, Mexico. And now here we are in New York: there was yesterday’s concert at Piano’s and tomorrow’s is at the Spectrum with a contemporary violinist who contacted me via email and who I met in Brooklyn. The concert was a way of solidifying that encounter.
Speaking of encounters, what did you think of performing with Dyllan for the first time?
It was the first time I was meeting her. It’s a pretty funny story. She was on vacation in France and sent me an email containing bits of songs she had written. I decided to use them. For our first song together, I built a piece from the bits she had given me. The second time, I was missing a voice on a piece I had composed. I sent it to her and she added her part and the piece just happened like that. Until then most of our communication was by email. The joys of the Internet! It’s crazy to be able to create music with someone across the globe from you. The concert at Piano’s yesterday, that was my opportunity to play the pieces with her voice, pieces that I’m not used to playing live. It was pretty cool.
Has it been different with other singers?
I love discovering different ways of working with voice. The first time was with Camille Desprès who attended Beaux-Arts with me. We used to work together on pieces. Another time, I asked a singer to do samples for a piece I wanted to do. It’s always a new experience, a new process.
So what’s your next move? When are your next shows?
I have a concert tomorrow in New York, then two concerts in Paris: one at the Palais de Tokyo (one of two evenings organized by Marie Claire, with Aluna George, Stuck in the Sand, Château Marmont, etc.) and another at the festival Chorus à la Défense, outdoors. After that we leave for Vietnam for 10 days, then we come back and I leave again in mid-May for the Trans-Siberian. We have a fair number of festivals coming up in June, July, and August. We also have a special show at Gaïeté lyrique [June 12th] with a 360° video projection.
Did you get a chance to visit New York?
We did the must-sees, Times Square and Central Park, but I took time to work: we met with Dyllan, I rehearsed with the violinist, worked on the music video for “Mountains” that is being filmed in Bulgaria… I’d rather get to know cities by working in them than by being a tourist. That way I get to discover places like this [the Albertine library] for example.
Who are your favorite artists at the moment?
I really like what Fakear and Superpoze are doing. They are both releasing new albums soon. I’m also a big fan of Para One. For classics, I like Agoria. Rone, too. We are in a good stretch of electronic music in France, where there is a strong creative dynamic. I get the impression that there is a reawakening and not just in Paris.
Any international artists?
Yesterday, with Laetitia Cassy [violinist], we passed near Philip Glass’ house, of whom I am a big fan. I also admire Four Tet, Moderat, David Auguste and Nicolas Jaar, Bonobo, Caribou, John Talabot, Pional, Jamie XX…
Are there artists you’d like to collaborate with?
I would prefer to collaborate with artists who work beyond the ordinary. With Laetitia for example, it was great: her contemporary violin style gives her extraordinary liberty. Later on, I’d love to work with James Blake on vocals but I would rather take a less-traveled road. Not long ago I came across traditional Bulgarian songs and I’m trying to work out some pieces from those. I prefer experimentation. In collaboration, I like experimenting and learning things beyond electronic music that could later be mixed in.
You are still very young; how do you and other artists your age (like Dream Koala and Fakear for example) perceive this success, this passion that the public expresses for your music?
We are all part of the same generation but we each have our own personalities. For example, Dream Koala has a very defined universe. In his production and his career management, he follows a thorough game plan: he will not do a collaboration with Marilyn Manson for example. As far as explosive celebrity, Fakear is the one who expected it the least. He’s a sweet guy, nice and humble. He’s generous. His music is very popular and touches many people. Superpoze is the most musically-cultured, he’s a Bible; he has a more cerebral relation with music than Fakear. His music production makes you feel his various musical influences. For me, I do projects that mix other performative elements and I focus less on a music career. Despite these differences, we resemble each other in the ways we started in music and the ways we make music. That’s why we got along, because we have lots of similarities and the media tend to group us together [for example, the cover of Tsugi in March 2015].
How did you meet each other?
I met Fakear a little over a year ago. We were both playing an outdoor concert. We started getting together. We’ll see each other at lots of festivals this summer. Superpoze I met at the Centre Pompidou at the beginning of last summer. He was doing a workshop that introduced kids to music creation, and I had an interactive piece that mixed music with the Centre Pompidou’s architecture.
Can you tell us more about that piece?
It’s a piece that I presented numerous times at various events. The Centre Pompidou bought the piece to produce it, especially for outdoor events. It’s an interactive piece in which I transformed the Centre Pompidou’s facade into a partition graphically projected onto the wall. The tubes are notes that I transcribed. Thanks to a machine, I could add the tubes and the notes, and create music by playing with them. When you add a sound, it links to the corresponding tube, and if you add an effect, the tube bends. I had started the project at Beaux-Arts and I later readapted it after having met the people at Centre Pompidou. I work-shopped it for two weeks at the beginning of February. It worked really well, both with parents and kids: there is a playful aspect for kids and another for parents that is more thought-out.
The interview was originally conducted in French by Sarah Gabrielli-Cohen and Fiona Forte from the French Music Export Office team.