Sure, Dumont has been an integral part of helping put Mutek on the map. His collaborations with Julien Roy (Egg) and David Fafard (Luci) have each had a release on the imprint associated with the festival, while his partner in Chic Miniature (Ernesto Ferreyra) has put out solo work on the label as well. The “svengali” of Mutek, though? Surely that title should be reserved for longtime festival director Alain Mongeau. If anything, Dumont's rightful place is front and center, alongside Mutek fellow travelers Akufen, Deadbeat, Stephen Beaupré, and Vincent Lemieux.
And toast of the Montréal techno scene? Well, maybe, if there were a scene to speak of. As I spoke to Dumont, it quickly became clear that his move to Europe earlier this year was down to economics pure and simple. There may be great music coming from the city, but you’d be hard-pressed to hear it played in clubs there. Party promoters in Montréal don’t have time for the experimental edge that Dumont et al. bring to house music. Dumont’s background in electroacoustic composition may be fascinating, but few Canadians seem to be interested in Stockhausen when they’re trying to shake their ass at 3 a.m.
Now, that’s not to say Face A L'Est, Dumont’s debut solo record, is undanceable. In fact, you can’t help but not dance to it. Credit the much-talked about trip to Africa in 2001 for some of that. But also take into account two of Dumont’s other major electronic music interests: there’s a whole lot of that French-Canadian quirkiness on display and even a nice helping of Teutonic stiffness. Oh. And a doo-wop track. But we’ll get to all of that in a bit. First things first: what about those camels, Guillaume?
The press release for your new record says that you spent some time in Senegal. What were you doing there?
[laughs] A lot of people have said strange things about that. It’s like a snowball thing. I read somewhere that I’ve been traveling across Africa with a troupe of nomadic musicians and I was like, whoa! What?
I went to Africa in 2001 as a percussionist with a jazz band called [iks]. The whole idea was to go and play the St. Louis Jazz Festival. One of the guys in the band decided to turn the whole thing into a sort of musical/cultural thing, so we spent three months there in a small village called Linguère, which is up north in the desert. I had a chance to live with a family of percussionists during that time. The whole idea behind it was to go there, meet some musicians, and bring back the musicians to play with us at St-Louis and then for them to play with us in Montréal, as well as to record an album with us.
How did it go?
Well, it was kind of hard to relate with the musicians there. They have a totally different way of conceiving music. They won’t get together in a traditional way; they get together to play and get money out of it. They don’t get together in the afternoon and simply jam, say. As a result, we had a little bit of a problem trying to create bonds with the musicians over there. It was also hard because some of them didn’t even have papers. We went a couple of times totally into the bush to meet a Xalam player or a drummer and, you know, they’re nomadic. We were in an area where they were mostly Peuls, an ethnic group that is primarily nomadic. Overall, though, I have to say that it was pretty cool. It was an amazing trip.
‘Fat Cat’ is a track that has divided opinion a little bit. Boomkat, at least, really hated it.
GCD: I didn’t really understand that actually. They said something about it being like Tom Waits. It’s a doo-wop track! I’ve never heard a Tom Waits doo-wop track, personally. [laughs]
It might be the first doo-wop techno track ever. So how was it recorded?
GCD: Do you know Patrick Watson? He’s an amazing musician, super gifted singer, piano player, and composer. Patrick and I were recording a track for this other project of mine and he was improvising and he just came up with this doo-wop stuff. He basically did it all in one take by singing one part of the harmony, then looping that, and then singing the next part until he had all that on one track.
After that we started to do that story in the break. If you listen closely, it’s kind of this prom night thing where the guy is looking at the girl and wants to kiss her. Really silly stuff!
Yeah, I just recently started thinking about where I could go. I think I’d like to stay in mostly West Africa. There is an amazing musical tradition over there. I definitely want to go back to Senegal to Casamance, a region in the south of the country right next to Cote d’Ivoire. The ethnic group down there is the Jola and they have an amazing kora and singing tradition there. If you go more to the center of the continent, the tradition is more roots, you know? The Kora tradition is very sophisticated and very cool.
It seems like you’re a real student of music. You studied electroacoustic music in college, and you studied Latin and classical percussion earlier than that.
[laughs] The funny thing is that I wasn’t supposed to do music at all. Most people start to study music at a very young age. Most of the people when I started to do the Latin and classical stuff told me not to bother – that I was too old.
How old were you?
I was seventeen when I started playing. I just started to play percussion because I liked it. Anyway, I went to school originally for anthropology and through a super strange twist of events I ended up playing in a funk band. And that totally changed my plan. I was going to go to South America, plant some trees, and make some money, you know? It was supposed to be a six month trip. And then I decided to stay in Montréal instead and play percussion in this funk band. Oddly enough, after that I was accepted to go to college for percussion. I was lucky enough to be accepted, even though I was really bad. [laughs]
There I studied one year in college and kept on playing with that band and then I discovered electroacoustic. The place that I went to was the only college in the Quebec region that offered electroacoustic composition courses. I spent most of my second year there in the studio composing, as a result, and studying classical percussion as well. I didn’t finish my degree because that whole academy environment just became a bit boring. Contemporary music, in general, is very hermetic. Like, compositions are really well-known by the composers and then they don’t get much further than that. Also, I was also really busy working with Julien Roy on the Egg project.
Tell me about your introduction to electronic music. I heard there was lightning involved!
[laughs] Julien was the reason for that. He was also a percussionist, and he invited me one day to go to a techno party in the countryside. It was my first time, my first trip, first everything, you know? Right in the middle of the night there was this warm summer rain and then there was thunder. It was pretty overwhelming. A great memory.
Before that, coming from the instrumental side, there was a certain prejudice if you were a musician that everything coming from machines was bad. After that moment, though, I totally fell in love with that kind of music and eventually started to make it.
You seem to have a strong interest in bringing in organic elements to what you do. Is that sort of why you only play live?
Sure. That’s what I feel I’m best at right now. I mean, it’s not like I’m going out there with congas or anything like that. I think that might be a little bit tacky. Most of the stuff is played with keyboard and is then triggered. I also integrated one of those MPC pads so I can play percussion and melodies and stuff. The controller is nice, it gives it a more organic and human feel.
Is that something important to you? I mean, you don’t DJ right?
I don’t DJ. I totally respect what they do. They really impress me a lot. DJs have an incredible knowledge of music. I’ve been working in the studio on projects and I try to spend all my time making music. Right now I don’t feel like I have something to bring on that level. I wouldn’t say that I won’t do it later, but somehow I don’t know… I get the feeling that’s what perhaps makes my music a little bit different because I’m not a DJ, you know?
You’ve done a lot of collaborations. Why the solo album for you now?
It’s a really pragmatic answer actually: I wanted to move to Europe because doing electronic music in Montréal is very hard. Even with four projects, I was playing maybe five times a year. There’s nothing really happening outside of the Mutek Festival. So I wanted to come over to Europe and my partners weren’t at that moment in their life. I had to pay the rent.
I’m surprised to hear you say that about Montréal. Has Mutek not had enough impact on electronic music in the city to support something aside from itself?
It was like that for a bit. But I get the feeling that Montréal was about to become a super cool city and then we somehow missed the target. There is a lot of electronic music stuff going on there. There are a few clubs and I think it’s the city with the most after-hours places per capita, but the scene… There’s not a place that really supports the kind of music that I’m doing. At least that’s what I felt. There are a couple of places, sure, but Vincent Lemieux, the owner of Musique Risquée for instance has an amazing night every Tuesday but it’s not enough to make a living. In six months over here in Europe I did more than in five years in Montréal.
So the move to Berlin has been pretty helpful professionally.
Europe, in general. I was in Paris for four or five months before I came to Berlin. But it’s just being here, you know? You go somewhere over the weekend and that leads to something else and so on. You take a plane in Europe and in an hour you’re in a totally different scene with new people that don’t know your stuff and if you end up doing a good job then you’re set. It’s just so much easier.
There’s really something about Europe. For instance, France: say you’re an actor in a play, you could go on a tour for four or five years just in France. My mother is an actress and, in Montréal, it was like six months of rehearsal for three weeks of an actual play.
You would think with the number of after-hours places in Montréal, though...
Well, the problem with the after-hours places in Montréal is that they’re super commercial and don’t give a fuck about the music. Vince tried to have a night in one of those places and after a few times the owner was like, “You and your weird friends...you gotta go.”
Tell me about the new album. The Senegal thing does seem to be a big influence, even if it has been blown out of proportion.
Yeah, yeah. The title and the prayer in the beginning are there to give the album a cohesive feel. I tried to give a flavor to the album. Every album that I do I want to have something like that. As I said, you know, that trip was a great influence on me. This album is made for dancing and the music being made over there is, of course, being made for dancing all the time.
It’s just that when journalists don’t have anything to say, they say that these things like I ran across Africa with these nomadic... [laughs] I think it also pleases people to have something to say out of the ordinary about the album.