*Download the mix here
North-western France has a lot going for it, and I’m not just talking food, landscapes and qualité de vie. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Sébastien Tellier was saying that Normandy was the best place in the country and where he’d want to retire. As it happens, it’s also where the Musique Large label is based – led by Fulgeance – and next door is Brittany, where another key Musique Large founding member was born and bred, débruit. Bursting onto the scene in the late 00s with a mini-album for Musique Large, “Coupe Decale”, which introduced the world to his unique take on hip hop and electronic music, débruit’s music was a perfect fit with Fulgeance’s own brand of Low Club music and the label’s growing sonic aesthetic. They were – and still very much are – the new vanguard of the French underground, proud of their roots and heritage, yet defiantly looking outwards to the rest of the world and beyond.
After he attended the RBMA in 2008, débruit also signed with the Civil Music label – based in London – on which he released the excellent “Let’s Post Funk EP” that featured the track “I’m Goin’ Wit You” recorded at the academy. The track features Jamie Woon and Om’mas Keith from Sa-Ra on vocals, winning the sort of accolades that made people stop and listen. “I’m Goin’ With You” captured the zeitgeist of the late 00s beat revival. Slightly ahead of its time, it still stands strong as a certified club banger. The French producer followed this with another EP on Musique Large – “Clef De Bras” – which further explored his talent for chopping up in a hip hop fashion with a futuristic outlook.
Then in 2010, he dropped the “Spatio-Temporel EP” for Civil Music, returning to an early passion of his, world music, which was actually an inspiration for his first self-released album in 2006. “Spatio-Temporel” further cemented Xavier – as he is legally known – as the kind of producer you couldn’t simply pigeonhole into any one scene or style. What came before had obviously informed the music, yet there were new flavours, some inevitably absorbed during his time living in London, and a potential for some really exciting electronic and dance-floor music that took from world music without repeating the mistakes of Europe’s colonial past. This was further explored in 2011 with “Sis Surpriz”, an EP inspired by Turkey and the Middle East, and it reaches its apex this summer with “From The Horizon”, his debut album for Civil Music.
Indebted to and inspired by West Africa and its myriad music styles past and present, “From The Horizon” is débruit’s strongest statement to date. A three-year-long trip into some of the African continent’s most vibrant music, across space and time, it is unshackled by restraints and embracing of both African music’s energy and joy and modern music’s potential for interpretation and reconstruction. The artwork references the Belgian surrealist painter Magritte and the press release includes the following quote, which speaks volumes about the intent behind the music: “étre surrealiste c’est bannir le ‘déjà vu’ pour faire du ‘pas encore vu’”, which in English translates roughly as “to be surrealist means banishing what has been seen to create what has never been seen.” While much more powerful – and poetic – in French, the quote serves as a perfect encapsulation of débruit’s music on “From The Horizon”, a mind-boggling melting pot that’s been stewing long enough to give the listener a musical taste experience unlike anything they’ve heard before.
Ahead of the album’s release, we caught up with Xavier for a mix and some words about the album, its origins and the future. Please note that there is no tracklist for the mix, so consider it a sonic adventure – much like the album.
I play, record
Hi Xavier, can you please introduce yourself to readers who may not know you? Who are you, where are you from and how did you become involved in music and being an artist?
Hello, I'm débruit and I play, record and release music influenced by space and time. I'm from Brittany originally and I live there at the moment too. I first started with recording before making music. I remember my mom buying me a mic when I was very young and I would laugh and shout in it. That was a short-lived era though, mainly making nonsense and noise! Then I learnt to play the alto sax when I was 9 and that was my first introduction to music as such. This led me to go deeper into classical music and training, which I think is a good thing and has always given my music a stronger side. I stopped when playing things like Bach on the sax was no longer exciting, and I started to try and learn different instruments on my own: guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, drum machines, synth etc… I gained experienced of each of those in bands, too, and then finally on my own, recording, editing, producing.
You first came up as part of the Musique Large label in France in 2008, before moving to Civil Music, where you’ve been releasing since. What was it that brought you to Civil Music in the first place, and how has it been working with the label? Do you find it ‘easier’ being on an international label like Civil instead of on your own?
The Civil guys were at my first London gig before I signed with them two years later, and that made the difference. I was part of the RBMA in Barcelona and when I got out they heard my track “I'm Goin’ Wit You”, which featured Jamie Woon and Om'mas Keith from Sa-Ra. They were up for releasing it, which is how we got talking and I ended up on the label. It's not easy working with a label when you've done so much on your own before and you have a clear vision, but I think Civil always understood that I knew where I was going. I’ll be honest though, it is difficult to work with deadlines set by others sometimes.
Your music has always had something of a world flavour to it, especially since the “Spatio Temporel EP” back in 2010. What was it that led you to use samples and styles from places like Turkey or Saharan Africa? And how has the creative process, in terms of bringing the samples and influences into the music you make, been over the last two years? For example, do you find it easier now to sample and flip things into the ‘shape’ you want?
My first self-released album in 2006 already had influences from different places on Earth, so it’s something I’ve worked with for a long time. What drove me to this is that it is a great part of the music I listen to. I also get my inspiration in the birth, the roots, of every music or genre. I try to get into that era, that tradition and then invite it into my tiny planet. I flip things the way I want quite easily because I hear it before I write it down most of the time. I have a direction, ideas before sitting in front of an instrument. I also hear what I like almost like a flash when I listen to a track I might sample. One second can stand out as interesting to me, like a drum hit, a string pinched a certain way, and once that’s happened, I’ll hear the rest in my head and write it down.
Can you explain the inspiration behind the new album, “From The Horizon”? What was it that led you to focus on African music styles for what is arguably your first proper full-length album?
The inspiration is West Africa from different times in history and its different cultures. To this I’ve added drum machines, synths and some of my vocals turned into singing machines, but with soul. I focused on this because I love the sound of West Africa, tribal or modern, the different traditions in drumming, singing from different countries and their ethnic groups. A full-length was the best way to take time to lay all these ideas down.
How much travelling did you end up doing for the album, in terms of finding inspiration, sounds, etc.? I know you mentioned doing some travelling for the album, but I can’t remember if you did as much as you originally hoped to?
Unfortunately not so much in real life, but quite a lot on paper and in my mind. I'm going to travel soon for a project, though. In the time I had, with the deadlines and the rainy season in West Africa, it ended up being too difficult to make it happen. I did travel there as a kid, though only in Senegal— maybe it had a delayed impact on me!
“From The Horizon” is fairly engrossing to listen to; it goes quite literally far and wide. Yet it’s also still grounded in that same hip hop aesthetic as your previous work. For you, what is hip hop in the work that you’ve done on this album? Is it the approach, the way you sampled, the sounds?
It's about a groove, a human feeling in electronic music. There are tracks with an obvious hip hop style in the percussions and the way I drop samples or the synths or the bass. But as opposed to a lot of hip hop, I don't loop so much, I try to develop the instrumentals, I try to surprise and tell a story without an MC.
Have you got any interesting stories about one or some of the tracks on this album?
The thing is that I sometimes forget… But I can say that “Cuivrée” is the first track that I finished and it gave the direction for the whole album: drum machine, very traditional vocal samples chopped in a hip hop way, a VHS tape going wrong on some African horns, a funky deep bass line, and it ends with me singing. It has a bit of everything; it's a key track in understanding the album, I think.
in general and
things I don't
What are your favourite tracks on the album? And what was your favourite music to sample/play with?
My favourite tracks are “Frère”, “Cuivrée” and “Afro-Booty Musique”. I like to play with afro beat guitars, G-funk, post-punk and drums.
You used a quote from Magritte on the press release, referring to how it mirrors your creative process. How do you achieve “le pas encore vu”?
Ha, ha! Yes, it was a revelation when I saw that quote, as I felt like it really spoke to me. The “pas encore vu” or “never been seen” in English is the “never been heard” for me. I just try to do something that I have never heard, and I find it motivating, but also a very natural result of the way I listen to music. It is wide and has no rules; I'm curious in general and attracted to things I don't know anything about.
Having now spent the last two years working on music inspired by various types of world music, do you have any plans for where you will go next? Or are you focusing on the album for the rest of the year?
I already have another album nearly finished, with a traditional singer. I can’t say more for now but it is traditional modern music. I have a lot of ideas for my next solo album too, and more collaborations to come.
Lastly, could you recommend three African artists that everyone should check out?
Ebo Taylor, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou and any field recording from the 50s or 60s – they are always a deep dive into something personal, touching and sadly disappearing.
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