The well-travelled French house musician and filmmaker talks the electro new-gen, Ed Banger’s second come up and creating beats in the digital age
Mr Oizo, real name Quentin Dupieux, first broke onto the scene riding on the tidal wave of French Touch at the tail end of the 90s. Leading his charge on a syncopated 4/4 beat was a yellow puppet named Flat Eric. Since the feverous furore for “Flat Beat” and the fluffy cult character alike, Oizo has produced a slew of EPs, numerous collabs and five studio albums – All Wet is the sixth offering.
Careering through his third decade of making music, Oizo is playing around and having fun, mixing genres and generations. All Wet features the likes of old friend Boys Noize, with which Oizo forms Handbraekes, while guest spots are filled by Skrillex, PC Music princess Charli XCX and queer icon Peaches.
As he speaks to me from his LA home, it’s clear we’re a long way from the dark, sticky dancefloors of the huge Parisian Ed Banger parties, soundtracked by the hoity-toity talk-singing of Uffie and the crescendo-ing disco beats of Cassius, all at a time when YouTube was in its infancy and MySpace was the collective hub. That’s not to say the Oizo’s weird synthesizers and the back-breaking beat pops aren’t still very, very present. Cresting on the resurgence of the old ‘nu-disco’ crew alongside fellow French freakhouse purveyors Justice, the musician and Wrong Cops filmmaker tells me that the vibe may be different, but that's not stopping him having the best time. “Today, it’s just like: ‘Hey, this is how I see music in 2016,’” he says. “No pressure.”
The album video includes a Donald Trump puppet – why is that?
Mr Oizo: There's no ‘why’ when I do stuff like this. ‘Why’ is a bad question, because then there’s ‘Why is this guy filming with a fake video camera? Why this yellow puppet?’ There's no answer. There’s no political reason. I was checking on Amazon stuff to buy, I found this great Donald Trump mask that’s creepy and exciting, and that's enough for me to do something.
Is this how you approach most of your filmic work?
Mr Oizo: Yeah, but to say this sounds stupid; it sounds like I don’t know what I'm doing. I need to make all these random ideas work together and create some logic inside the random. Collecting ideas in the air, like Donald Trump. There’s no comment on him – I don't give a shit – this is just pure nonsense, joy, and fun.
Flat Eric’s made a return in your video – how’s he proved his worth to make a comeback?
Mr Oizo: Flat Eric was a huge phenomenon in the UK and Europe after the video and Levi’s commercial in 1999 – it was way too big for me at 24. I didn’t kill him, but I put him in a box. I couldn’t just do ‘puppet music’. My wife told me that it was stupid to keep that great puppet in the box because people liked him. I started to involve him again slowly. It took me almost 15 years to realise it’s still the perfect translation to my music. People may think the music is weird, but with the visuals and the puppet it works. There’s this horrible Trump puppet, but Flat Eric is here to make feel safe and happy. Now I have kids, it makes sense. I love this puppet, truly. I created it so I should be proud, and that’s what I’m doing.
Do music or visuals come first when you’re working?
Mr Oizo: There are no rules, basically. When I make a movie I usually start working on the soundtrack while I’m editing. I need original music to make some things work, usually. But no rules. For my movie Wrong Cops, I decided to use only pre-recorded tunes from my discography. I just used 25 Oizo tunes, because that was fun. I’m ready to change everything tomorrow; I still don’t have a method. I see myself like an amateur, because I’m still trying stuff. Now I’m grown up, I know when I’m ready to make music. Maybe ten years ago I was pushing, even when it was not a good day. And I’ve always said this – the best tunes I did in my life were recorded in two or four hours. I didn’t need to think, the ideas were here.
How did All Wet album first come to fruition?
Mr Oizo: It just happened. I was excited by the new stuff I was doing, but I wanted something different. This is maybe my sixth studio album, so I have five albums on my own. I did many EPs, remixes – so many things alone that it felt natural this time to invite some people. I have this project with Boys Noize called Handbraekes – we did two EPs together. We were collecting ideas for the third one, and I gave a tune to Alex (Boys Noize) to work on, and he finished it in a day. I heard it and knew I wanted it on my album. Siriusmo, we’ve been trying for years to make a tune together – I think he’s a genius – and everything would go to trash, but this time the tune was coming out great. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to do it. I did a beat and I was like, ‘I need a voice, I need someone to sing on it’. I started emailing Peaches – I had to stalk her to have her record, but it was all organic.
How was it working with Peaches – she’s this huge voice on so many big beats.
Mr Oizo: We live in 2016, so it’s hard to be in the same room. It was all over email, which is fine. We met a long time ago at a party. I know she knows me, she knows I know her and I love her stuff. I think I wrote an email every three days saying ‘So, are you ready to record?’ The first take was perfect, I told her to go ahead and it was great.
Did you work more closely with Skrillex?
Mr Oizo: We were working online, but we were going nowhere: it was changing every day, going in too many directions, we were trying too hard and it was messy, so we started from scratch in the studio. It was amazing to see Sonny (Skrillex) work. He makes beats in 20 seconds, and then he works for two minutes and it's something completely different. He is very creative, it was interesting to be in a room with him and share a moment.
What is that inter-generational crossover between electronic artists like?
Mr Oizo: It’s all about technology. The way we make music today is with this crazy fast software. It’s so different from what I used to do when I was starting, of course, with synthesizers, or a mixing table. They just have everything in a snap. The only difference is that, I would say, they don’t care much about the sound they’re using – that’s what I noticed with Sonny, for example. It has a sound of its own: when you hear his music, you know it’s him. It doesn’t affect the result, but I think these kids don’t care about the source. We used to dig vinyl to find a good snare drum. I was spending days digging old records to get a particular sound, slowly working with a synthesizer. Now they have folders with sounds they find online, or that they create quickly. It’s the same process, but in a snap. I don't want to sound old-school, of course it’s different – you can make music with an iPhone now. And if you’re smart, you can make something good with an iPhone. But music sounds different.
Is it a shame that the journey isn’t as arduous?
Mr Oizo: No – any smart kid from any social environment can find a MacBook or a PC and make music now. This is amazing because it used to be for the rich kids. A Minimoog, when I was doing music with hardware, was costing a fortune, it was expensive to get that sound. Expensive drum machines and synthesizers were just for the rich kids. Today, with a computer – even a shit computer – you find the software online and you make music like everybody else. The Bieber song Skrillex produced was made on a computer that anybody can afford, almost. You basically have the same tools Skrillex used to create a number one song. But then I love the old studios with all the fancy equipment; they smell good, they look good. Everything is in the computer now, you have to deal with it.
“I still want to dig and surprise people, but I’m much more relaxed. That’s actually the stage I always dreamed to reach”
Ed Banger was my first real intro to dance music, and it was on the cusp of using YouTube, really.
Mr Oizo: I'm proud of that; Skrillex told me almost the same. I think my album marks some kind of a revival for Ed Banger. We’ve been quiet – not quiet, but silent, because this label made a lot of noise. I think the machine is starting again with this LP, and Justice coming back, it’s cool.
Are things different from the Lambs Anger days?
Mr Oizo: Let’s just say the excitement was different then. When I was doing Lambs Anger the focus was on us, and we knew it. It was a time where you just had to put Ed Banger on the flyer and the party was sold out, and it was the time of French touch, I felt a little pressured and it was competitive. But it was exciting to see my weird music reaching a big audience. Today it’s like ‘Hey, this is how I see music in 2016.’ It’s all very light, no pressure, like the Trump thing.
So you had fun making the record?
Mr Oizo: Everything was super smooth and natural. I’m still obsessed with music; I still want to dig and surprise people, but I’m much more relaxed. That’s actually the stage I always dreamed to reach – being free and not really caring about what people say. We dropped this tune I did with Skrillex – some fans were complaining because he's considered mainstream, which is stupid. Ten years ago, this affected me. It was important who you worked with. Today, I don't care. I love the people I invite into my record for different reasons.
People love to collectively hate.
Mr Oizo: Which is fine and good sometimes. It’s a new kind of conversation but it's still a conversation. Tomorrow I could make a song with Calvin Harris because maybe I have a coffee with him and he's super nice. And even if I don't listen to his stuff – why not? Like suddenly there’s a way to create something interesting and new.
What kind of stuff are you listening to today?
Mr Oizo: The good part of being old is you listen to the radio and even if it’s terrible sometimes, you just decide to listen. You don’t need the music you love every day. Sometimes I listen to the blues and I hate the blues, but it’s interesting.
All Wet is out September 30, order here