Filed under: Interview
Communicating with Skrufff via email, electro-tech pioneer and all round icon Ivan Smaghhe clearly remembers his music journalism past, practically snarling good copy when asked about Bon Sinclar. Or more specifically, Sinclar’s recent assertion that ‘too much jealousy’ in France means artists are ‘not allowed to be successful, to make money’ and that friends tend to abandon their newly rich pals.
“I am nowhere near making enough money to lose friends,” Ivan asserts, “If I have lost some in the past then either I deserved it, or they were not real friends. You tick?”
Though he might not be millionaire status just yet, his status as one of France’s most influential and inspiring electronic producers is not in doubt, with aural proof provided by Black Strobe’s (untitled) just released ‘best of’ remix compilation. Including gems like Depeche Mode’s Something To Do, Martini Bros’ The Biggest Fan, Sweet Light’s Abusator and David Caretta’s Moscow Reisen, the album charts their role as key producers in the underground style that’s currently known as electro-house or more generally electro- terms he’s at best ambiguous about.
“I would fully align with the term in its broadest meaning”, he muses, “Electro-nics (electronic),” he quips.
Indeed, according to their official biog the pair previously sought inspiration by scrawling idealised fantasy genres on the walls of their studio, such as ‘the dark side of disco, gay biker-house and soft-goth’, to create ‘electronic music that is not afraid to scare people’, as he puts it.
First meeting at the front of rock gigs in the 80s, the pair became firm friends when working at Rough Trade’s Paris shop in the 90s, making their first record in 1996, ‘Paris Acid City’, a thinly veiled aural attack on the insipid disco house that then dominated France’s equally flat club scene. And 11 years on, they both remain wilfully peripheral, carving out their own niche as the likes of Justice and (German) duo Digitalism (or more precisely their labels Ed Banger Records and Kitsune) increasingly soak up the mainstream acclaim. Not that Black Strobe are ignored by the mainstream either, but their genuine darkness (such as Ivan’s decision to call his label- and club night- Kill The DJ) marks them out as outsiders, whatever commercial success they achieve.
Interview & Introduction by Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff) : You have a new album scheduled for a February release: how much does this compilation represent you saying goodbye to all your older productions?
Black Strobe : A lot, almost all of it, actually. Bye bye then. For now
Skrufff : Given your success, many people have an idea of a Black Strobe sound: how much has that affected your approach to the new album? (ie how important is it for you to surprise people as opposed to giving them what they want?)
Black Strobe : It is very complicated, that’s the main difficulty really. What do you want to do? Follow something that works or break it all down and go a different way? Tough question. I suppose the album will be an attempt in answering that issue. It’s very hard to know the right dose, especially for a first album. On the whole, it will be more on the ‘surprise’ side, I suppose.
Skrufff : How much do you feel greater pressure with your own productions, compared to making remixes?
Black Strobe : It’s massively greater. Otherwise we would have managed to finish this album four years ago. Ah ah.
Skrufff : How much is the plan to take Black Strobe on tour as a ‘proper’ live band?
Black Strobe : You should talk to Arnaud, I do not do the live thing, I absolutely hate playing my own songs on stage, I guess not being a musician not helping. I think I’ve been a DJ for too long (where you can do what you want if you have the guts to) and that’s the maximum exposure for me. There is also a comedy aspect involved in playing live that I appreciate in others but can’t see for myself. Shy boy . . .)
Skrufff : What do you make of mainstream house DJs moving towards your style of music en masse: any concerns they’ll all end up playing the same tracks as you?
Black Strobe : Weeeeell… errrrrrrr . . . no. I mean, in a way, I appreciate hearing better music in shitty clubs (or I hope some people do because I try not to go to those clubs but . . .) At the same that differentiation process is a bit of a hobby of mine and I tend to thrive in adversity.
Skrufff : How much has experiencing high-level success changed your perspective of ‘superstar DJs’ and the skills/ efforts required to maintain success?
Black Strobe : I think most of the superstar DJs are the ones who make the least effort. They do not even buy records anymore, they play Final Scratch in order not to hurt their back or proclaim ‘Ableton creativity’ that rhymes with ‘I can’t be bothered with digging out for the real gems anymore’. I have seen a very well know superstar turning at a gig with two CDs, with his entire set planned. Woooooooow! . . . I mean, who is kidding who here?
Skrufff : You’re closely affiliated with Kill The DJ: have you ever had any hassle from drunken/ aggressive clubbers?
Black Strobe : I have managed to develop a pretty good defence system over the years . . .
Skrufff : How do you feel about being approached in the DJ booth generally?- ever get dodgy requests such as Madonna or Fischerspooner?
Black Strobe : Less and less but still not that dodgy but always “the so called cool hit of the moment” (aka the # 1 beatport download of three months ago).
Skrufff : You said on the Fabric press release a couple of years ago ‘My reputation for being moody as fuck comes from working in the shop on a come down’. How much have you mellowed in recent years? (what still makes you angry?)
Black Strobe : I have. And I have not. All of this is also being quite reserved and shy you know. Even a shy person can have a big mouth… I suppose I am now able to cope with a lot more (I can switch off pretty easily)… But I do get angry on a regular basis. But you see, stating that in press releases, is part of my defense system… if people think you’re moody, they kind of leave you alone . . .
Skrufff : The newspapers said last month that 20 Japanese tourists a year suffer from ‘Paris syndrome’: distress caused by ultra-rude French shop assistants’: what do you make of the syndrome (ever feel pangs of guilt about Japanese shoppers you may have traumatized?)
Black Strobe: Probably true. French cab drivers are the worse on the planet. But the record shop thing is a worldwide thing I suppose . . .
End of the interview
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