That's the feeling you get, at least, if you've been following the rise of both over the past few years. Unlike their now-veteran colleagues Nôze, dOP (Clement Zemstov, Damien Vandesande, Jonathan "JoJo" Illel) have only recently appeared on the scene with a stunning string of 12-inches for Circus Company, Milnormodern, Eklo and Orac that have garnered the trio increasingly more attention as the year has gone on.
They've been around for far longer than that, though. Zemstov, Vandesande and Illel are childhood friends. And it's that history that perhaps explains why the group's productions sound so organic, their intuitive tracks borne of a trust that has only grown in the time since their former guitarist, Ramon, tragically died. But while you'll never hear a guitar in a dOP track as a tribute to their lost friend, there's not much else that you won't hear. The trio almost seem to revel in bringing new sounds to their productions, taking cues from their past work in jazz, reggae, hip-hop and rock & roll bands, as well as their time in Mali, in which they helped record a number of native musicians for Ali Farka Touré's Mali K7 label.
It's these outside inputs that help to make their music some of the most distinctive you'll hear in 2008. And it's why we decided to e-mail a bit with Vandesande in advance of their performance at this year's Unsound Festival in Poland later this month. We chatted about Clement's sporting past, what Nicolas from Nôze has taught them and being "too hip-hop" for French promoters.
It seems like you guys appeared out of nowhere. Where did you come from? What were you doing before you made electronic music?
We don't come from nowhere. We come from the planet Aguayo, which is much bigger than planet Earth. We came on earth recently to play techno in clubs, because we really like your drinks and your girls. Your planet is nice and girls are too expensive on our planet. To make money when we arrived, we had a few jobs. I was a cook in the biggest jail in Paris, Clément was a professional soccer player and Jo sold stuff on the beach (cigarettes, condoms, drinks and chouchou). But now we only do music. And we're really happy about it.
Clement played soccer? What team did he play for?
Paris Saint-Germain FC. He played for them for three years, but he had some problems with the coach. So he quit the team, and decided to involve himself solely in music.
How did you end up meeting? It seems like you've held such different jobs.
We actually grew up in the same neighborhood, so we've known each other almost since birth. But, yeah, we've had a lot of different jobs. For a time, we also worked in the same restaurant, I was cooking, and Jojo and Clément were serving. After that, we also worked in the same hotel, but we had some corruption troubles.
We were accused of a lot of things by the brother of the boss. He's a very dirty guy, but the police are looking after him right now.
We stopped doing jazz because it's too serious. No money, and not many women. Too many old people. We stopped doing reggae because we're not Rastafarians, even if we like to smoke a lot. (And none of us wants to have dreadlocks.) We stopped doing hip-hop because it was too dangerous. We stopped doing rock & roll because Roman died. We stopped doing classical music because we were not serious enough—and we don't want to play the same track every night. We stopped doing salsa because we don't speak Spanish. And we stopped doing pop because we like music too much.
Did you like electronic music before you started to make it?
Not at all. The idea of putting a straight groove kick on most of our tracks was unbelievable. The only electronic track for me was "Pump Up the Jam." It was the golden age of "boum" for us. First kiss, first dance, first smoke. (La Boum was a very famous French movie with a great soundtrack composed by Vladimir Kosma).
But we've really enjoyed electronic music recently. We went to Berlin for the first time last year in June. The French scene has a lot of good producers in every type of electronic music, but we don't have a clubbing scene. There are some clubs in Paris, and almost nothing outside. The laws are too strict now, and life is too expensive.
Did you go to any clubs when you were in Berlin? What were they like in comparison to those in Paris?
The first time we were there, we went to Berghain with Nôze. (They were playing there.) And the morning after, we went to Bar 25. It was the classic club tour. It was amazing for us in comparison to Paris. No rules, a lot of freaks, endless parties, good music and everything was cheaper. People are less violent, the soundsystems were great. The first time in Berghain was very impressive. And Bar 25 was the cherry on the cake.
Is it hard to find a venue in Paris for what you and Nôze are doing?
Oh yes, it's difficult. People here are more into the harder stuff. And the French audience is very conservative compare to the German and Eastern European crowd. Most of the French promoters don't let us play. They like our records, but they're scared about our live set. We're not the type of act that stays hidden behind a computer. There are places, sure, but not enough for all the musicians in the city. Paris has a lot of quality, but not really for dancing and listening music.
Tell me about your live show. From the live clips I've seen, it seems like Jonathan is very much an MC in the hip-hop mold.
That's funny that you say because at one of our last gigs in Paris, the promoter stopped us because he felt we were too "hip-hop." For sure Jojo has a lot to do with this, but we didn't plan on it. We have a big hip-hop culture here in France, but it's more because of the microphone. The electronic scene seems sometimes afraid of a real live performance. For us it's hip-hop, rock & roll. Whatever, we don't mind.
When we talked earlier, you mentioned that the guys from Nôze have been mentors to you in introducing you to electronic music. It was one of their shows that finally changed your mind about electronic music, right? What about that show was so powerful for you?
It was the first time that we saw guys playing drunk, looking at people and giving it a real live energy. They are real artists and entertainers on stage. And they play music with swing.
How did you meet Nicolas [Sfintescu, of Nôze] originally?
At the time, he was trying to start a "Summer of Love" on an island in Brittany: "L'iles aux moines." But Ibiza was starting at the same time, so not many people came. One of our girlfriends, though, brought us there by boat. It was really dirty. We become friends after a few seconds and a bottle of vodka. Now we share a studio together. We built it for almost six months by ourselves.
Can you point to a few things Nicolas has taught you?
Never wear a condom. (On stage.) Play the keyboard standing up like Michel Berger. Always make sure the mixer is in the red. And never play sober.
You said that you share a studio with Nôze and I know you've worked with them on some stuff. How much have you done with them? And how does that work in the studio?
It's maybe around ten now. The way we work changes all the time. Jojo sang with Nico on "Childhood Blues" [on Nôze's Songs on the Rocks]. I play some saxophone on the album as well. Then Nico played the cuíca and synths on our first EP for Circus Company. Clement did some programming on "Danse Avec Moi," Ezéchiel [Pailhès] played piano on "The Riot," etc.
For sure we love films, videos, etc. We're 100% in the image culture. We worked with some of a childhood friend at the beginning, Toumani Sangare from Kourtrajmé and Autopsyfilms, but now he's so famous that he's too busy. So we're looking for new directors who have great ideas, but ideas that hopefully cost nothing.
We also just finished the music for a documentary called Lads and Jockeys. We did the score with our friend Damien Dassaradanayadou. We're very proud of it. It's going to be out in December worldwide—it's acoustic music with an electronic taste. Ezéchiel worked with us on it as well.
How did you go about scoring the film? Did you watch it a number of times and come up with ideas on your own? Did the director tell you what he wanted specifically?
Not exactly. At the beginning, he knew our short songs. The ones we put on every release like "Worm Hunting," or the cover of "God Bless the Child." So he asked us to try to make a sequence of seven minutes. And when he heard it, he chose us to do the whole thing. Afterwards, he brought us to where they shot the film. It's an incredible place called Chantilly. We met the kids in the movie and discovered the world of horse racing. The main song from the soundtrack will be released on our next Milnormodern release. It's a cover of "Nature Boy," a beautiful jazz standard.
I read that you learned how to use a computer for music in Mali, which seems an unlikely place to do so.
It was a good place to start, because at the time not many people had a computer there. People were more patient with our mistakes than they might be in Paris. We were lucky to have an opportunity to make music with some of the best musicians in Bamako. They didn't know software, but they knew how to play. Over there you have to do with what you have. You can't find a MS-20 or an amazing compressor or whatever.
Where is the music that you made with those musicians in Bamako? Will it see release?
Most of it has been released in Mali by Mali K7, a label created by Ali Farka Touré. But sometimes we also collaborate with Malian musicians here in Paris. We recorded Sibiri Samaké's album during the summer for instance. (He was the singer on our track, "Foly.") We're definitely going to go there again to make some more music soon.
You claim that you don't use a lot of equipment in your tracks. Has that changed over time? Are you experimenting more with software and the like?
We don't use a lot of machines. We'd like to, but it's really expensive at the moment. If you want good equipment, you need a lot of money. We do have a nice collection of acoustic instruments and analog synths, though. We only have five plug-ins in Pro Tools, the ones they give to you for free when you buy the software. Sometimes we steal Nôze's computer because they have more than us. But we have to wait until they go home at night to use it.
Final question: Why do you sing in English?
To make more money.