Back at the controls – Agoria

It’s Saturday, in the middle of January. We’ve only just sorted ourselves out following the New Year’s binge, and already our minds are riddled with key dates to remember in 2011.

It’s going to be some 12 months, that’s for sure. And one of the first events on the horizon comes in the shape of the fourth studio LP from a guy who’s built a reputation for combining deft compositions and musical pedigree with techno prowess. Growing up in rural France, and indoctrinated into dance by that greatest of cross-over tracks, Good Life by Inner City, Detroit beats and European jazz were of equal influence during Sébastien Devaud’s sonic coming of age.

It’s now eight years since he released his debut artist album under the Agoria moniker, Blossom. In between we’ve had other long players, namely The Green Armchair in 2006 and 2008s Go Fast, on top of additions to both the Balance and At The Controls compilation series, with the latter grabbing 13th place on Resident Advisor’s Top 50 Mixes of the 00’s. It’s a good track record that will be built on further when his forthcoming Fabric mix hits shops, an event preceded by Impermanence, the new production full-lengther.

A busy man then, and with Infine Music, the label he runs out of Paris, Lyon and Berlin, also demanding a great deal of time, it’s surprising he has any chance to chat. So when we were offered an interview our minds began racing, like over-excited children. Luckily, we managed to slow things down just enough to ensure there was some relative structure to the conversation, and didn’t come across sounding too stupid.

We ask about both new releases, and get some details there. He explains that all he ever really wanted to do was work in a record store for a living, and how Carl Craig’s voice had a hypnotic effect on him, before telling us he thinks good producers need to be like great steaks- rare, with the focus on quality rather than quantity. If that brief synopsis hasn’t quite satisfied your hunger then read on, because this is everything that was said.

P&S: Hi Sebastien, how’s it going today?

A: “Perfect, thanks, sorry for the slight delay.”

No problems at all. You’re busy at the moment then?

Yeah, but it’s cool. I can’t complain, artists complain when they don’t get any attention, and then complain when they get too much- we are never happy!

No, but at least you’re honest. So how long are you in the UK for?

I arrived yesterday, and leave tomorrow. Monday I’m in Paris, Tuesday I’m working on some advertising, it’s something every day.”

Tonight you’re playing Fabric. Excited?

Yeah, I’m really happy because I feel a bit like a child of Fabric in a way. It’s one of the first clubs that really supported me with my music, years ago, with the big techno tunes I’ve done. And they were one of the first clubs to invite me, so starting the Impermanence tour there is perfect.

In England the audience is quite well-educated when it comes to music. And Fabric is one of those clubs in London and England that gets this crowd. I know there are still lots of tourists that go too, but there is a real following from Londoners, so Room One from 4am to 8am is always fantastic, because by that point the people left really care about music. Also look at the team, they work really hard to keep that vibe. They could have turned commercial many times, and done a lot of things to get money. But they always followed their own rules. The same can be said for the CDs- it’s all underground, and I really respect that.”

Obviously, you’ve got your own addition to the club’s mix series on its way. What was the thought process behind that?

Well, the Fabric mix will be very different from the Balance CD, and At The Controls, because these two were double albums, and so I could spend more time experimenting. The Balance one isn’t really a mix, it’s more like a sound installation in a way. There are times when there’s all these different tunes being put together in an attempt to make something coherent.

So the new Fabric mix will take the same approach, but it’s totally dedicated to techno music. It will be some dubby, some housey, and some acid tunes also, because I like to have a few surprises and focus on tunes that can’t necessarily be put together. For me it’s about mixing, not just putting 12 tracks together, it should be different things creating something new.

That’s a very musical approach. How much results from your mother’s influence as an opera singer?

She was a modest opera singer, yes. She wasn’t Pavarotti, but yeah she was, and my father was a huge collector of music. I remember spending entire afternoons listening to his records. You’re not supposed to be happy hearing the music of your dad at 12 years old, but I was surrounded by really eclectic tastes, so that’s had a definite effect.”

Why did you end up making techno then? Is it not quite limited in terms of structure?

Like all kids I was looking for something different, and didn’t want to follow my parents. I remember I was into Detroit music really young. I should have gone to university but instead I carried on spending all my time in a record shop, sifting for the next Underground Resistance release or whatever.

“Really my dream was always to sell records in a record shop. That’s what I wanted to do, though in a way I am happy that I didn’t follow that route, because today I would be jobless in my town as the record stores are all gone. But yeah, from the discovery of Good Life by Inner City when I was 12- it was all over the radio in France. I remember washing all the cars to pay for the track. At the time I knew nothing about it, who Kevin Saunderson was and so on. Then I remember I went to Detroit, to the Movement Festival for the first time. It was maybe six years ago, and I met Kevin Saunderson there, and he asked me to remix Inner City. I was like “WOW!”- like I had just been given a big present.

Speaking of Detroit faces, Carl Craig & Seth Troxler both make vocal appearances on the new album. How did those come about?

On the first two albums I was really looking for some vocal legends. Tricky?, Neneh Cherry and so on. With Impermanence it was more natural. I was eating in a restaurant with Carl before a gig at the Roxy in Paris, and I was just listening to him speak and thinking ‘my God, this guy has a great voice’. In a way I was hypnotised by the voice of Carl Craig.

So I said let’s make a track. He said yeah, and wrote the lyrics. With Seth it was a bit the same. He played in my hometown and decided to stay two days more, we ended up in the studio and I made him listen to something and he started singing. He has another particular voice, that’s why I didn’t use anything to produce either of their vocals- no effects or anything, because all the personality is in their voices.

The other singer, Kid A, is incredible, with the opening track Kiss My Soul a thing of pure beauty. Tell us about her.

You listen to her voice and you think she could come from Sweden or Norway…

We were sure it was Lykke Li.

Yeah, or Bjork or someone like that. In fact I invited her to come to France and record the tracks, and when she arrived there was this young woman of Washington D.C.-  just 20 years old. It was surprising, as it wasn’t how I’d pictured her at all, but she brings so much depth to the lyrics, she’s so young and so talented.”

Finally, what else have you got going on at the moment?

Well, lot’s of DJing- I won’t say everywhere, but there will be a lot- Tokyo, Madrid, Barcelona, New York, LA, San Francisco- the tour is going to be fantastic, and should be a lot of fun. I’m thanking God really, because we always think we need to do things step-by-step, and it seems to be working. Everybody releases so many records each week- a new track, or remix. I think this is not the best way to make people discover your music because it gives them the impression that it’s easy and you produce too much.

It’s better to just release a few singles, and a new album or mix CD every few years. I try to do that with my label, Infine, and explain to my artists. Sometimes we end up saying ‘OK, if you want to put more tunes out then do it on another label’, but I really think it’s better to be rare, and think about what you want to present, and what you don’t. I’ll make maybe 50 tracks in a year, and release ten at most. That’s because some are shit, some so so.

There is no use in wanting to be on the internet, and in the media through constant releases. That’s the problem with all this stuff- everyone worries about being forgotten if they don’t keep bringing tracks out to keep people talking about them, with all this Facebook and everyone telling each other when they go to the toilet. It feels like fantastic promotion, but really it’s all about egos, which I find a bit too much in a way.”

Agoria released Impermanence through Infine Music on February 7th. Find out what we thought of the album here.