There are many musicians which strive to defy stereotypical associations of electronic music. Marc Houle remains a pivotal figure within dance music, his sound as true and pure as any. However, there are very few whom follow such strict sensibilities: considered as a live act rather than a disc jockey he is known for reworking his own productions to create something else entirely, a sculptor of purpose built sound rather than a selector. His latest work came in the form of "Sinister Mind" - an LP which showcased a delicate orchestration of technical ability and forward thinking electronics. It was soon followed by a remix EP which featured none other than Lumiere Noire founder Chloé whom also recently released her latest album. The pair have much in common. The EP offers an insight into what lies beneath the surface and allowed for a beautiful reimagination.
Read the interview between the pair below:
Marc Houle Asks….
You’re putting together an all analog live show so I have a few questions about that. As you’re limited to a few pieces of gear, how do you keep the sound changing enough so it doesn’t sound like one long boring song?
Each live show is different, according to the place I am playing, the sound system and the moment. So the architecture of my live set is more or less fixed. I know which tracks I’ll play but I build them in direct, and I have the possibility to keep some improvisation. It is a way of keeping something more intuitive and creative, and having more fun. For that I have chosen to bring an MPC 1000, so that I can play some pad elements from some of my tracks, that I can change in direct. A drum machine to change or build some patterns in direct, a looper to record some ideas I play in direct, and a bunch of pedal effects to make change some sounds. In that way, each time my live performance has a different approach. Being a DJ probably helped me to think about the live show in that way, as I find it too stressful to play a set that is already completely written.
What do you have to do differently than on a laptop setup? What sucks about using an all analog setup and what’s great about it?
The one thing I really hate within this all analog setup is to plug in so many cables! It involves spending more time connecting everything together, trying to solve the problems of those connections and of course, it rarely works for me the first time. I hate finding the right cables for each element, and it reminds me each time that I need to be a little more organised. Honestly, in those moments I’m always asking myself why I have chosen to make an all analog gear live show, as I could really simplify it. However, after my sets I feel really satisfied with my set up and feel like I have brought a piece of my studio to the show.
Is there a big difference in sound when using all analog gear in a club?
Few years ago, I was doing my live shows with a computer / Live Ableton, some pedals effects, and a TR707. I liked to have the whole basic drums coming out from the TR707, on the top of some sounds coming out of Ableton Live. This balance gave me a cool analog / interesting sound, and the groove of a drum machine such as the TR707 is great. This time I just wanted to go a bit further, and wanted to put away the computer for the live shows. I guess it was a logical step to me. Today when I play live, I mainly focus on all the other elements, and not on one computer. I turn buttons and use effects from the pedal effects, which is what I mainly do as a DJ. In the end, it is more fun and challenging. But I think you can also make an amazing sound with digital software, it just depends on the approach each person has.
You seem to work really hard and really quickly. As you do many collaborations, how hard is it to find people who can work at the same pace as you?
Each project has its own rhythm, some are long, some are short. I get organised a bit randomly with all these diverse projects. When I produce, I try not to create any pressure with deadlines, except I understand we need to have some in place, as in that way when I finish and put an end to one musical project, I can then organise some other collaborations simultaneously. Sometimes I am contacted so far in advance to speak about a project which will be produced in a year or 2 year later, like for example in theatre shows or a dance show. But if I am asked to produce music for a movie or documentary, it can be totally the opposite, and I need to be available straight away and solely 100% for that project, so it can be tricky to manage all of the deadlines and projects effectively. When it comes to rhythm, that depends a lot on the person I am working with; some don't know what they want, some wish you propose them ideas, and others don't know how to express what they want and need you to transcribe their own feelings, which is something very subjective. Sometimes it can also be difficult to understand, it is actually a question of vocabulary. Collaborations are all about being patient, understanding, but also proposing something that is me. There are so many parameters to work with.
Do you feel any pressure to make music that will sell more or sound more approachable or do you just make whatever you want?
This is a good question actually. Nowadays, it is an important question to know if art can be influenced for marketing or promotional reasons. For sure, promotion has taken a big part, especially by using the social networks, putting us as artists in the centre of our creative lives. I also sometimes find it annoying, as I didn’t grow up with it like this, I knew electronic music as being underground. It’s sad to think that sometimes social networking can be more important than releasing, creating and playing music. I guess we can’t really escape this parameter and have to learn to work with it, but to me it is still an unresolved question, as I do not find it normal. I play and listen to a lot of diverse types of (electronic or not) music, as I do like to produce diverse and creative things. I think I would probably be bored if I was focusing on playing or producing only loops. I like to do what I want, and feel I do to an extent, but at the end, my goal is to make people dance in a club when I DJ, produce or remix anything. Of course, when making an album I think you can really go for it, and let go of any rules or parameters which you may think apply, it’s to be creative and express many sides of an artist.
What instruments do you hate the most? I really can’t get into Bongos, harmonica or saxophones.
Ha ha. Well, for years I really hated the saxophone or maybe the trumpet too, it reminded too much of the terrible music on bad erotic movies. I guess it depends how you use it, so I don’t like so much electronic music with saxophones. But actually, later on I did discover Chet Baker and some other similar artists.
I also wrote a track on my second album where I recorded a saxophone and a trumpet called “Around The Clock” but I produced it in a specific way!
What advice would you give to me in regards to my music - you can be brutal!
OK, I’ll be brutal! Let’s make a challenge for you to please produce a track by using some instruments you hate, so that's the bongo’s, a Saxaphone or Harmonica – you can choose which! Then you can send it to me. I am 100% sure it would be a nice track Hahaha.
I know you produce very quickly, I remember playing with you and you played some new tracks produced only a few hours earlier. I was wondering if you ever released those tracks in the end? Or is it music just for your live shows?
It’s funny, I can make a bunch of songs and at the time I think they’re great but then a week later I listen again and I am so lost as to what I ever saw in them. I sometimes stumble on a track I saved even though I thought it was crappy but it’s great. I’ve learned to save absolutely everything and give it some time. When you listen with fresh ears the True Colours are revealed. So for live shows it’s often me going through the archives and testing stuff out to see what’s working and what’s not. It keeps things interesting for me on stage and sometimes takes me places I didn’t know I could reach.
We met long time ago, and I don't think i've ever heard you play the same live set twice, this makes me think you’re one of the best techno live acts. You were always merging some weird techno/new wave style, how do you customize your live set? How deep can you go into improvisation?
I try not to plan anything out because then you can easily stumble on a routine of just playing the same stuff time after time. I like to get the first few tracks ready so I can worry about how everything is sounding and not about what’s coming next, but hopefully after the first few tracks I have a read on what direction I should take the particular audience. It’s important to be flexible because one night’s 121 house crowd could be tomorrow’s 127 techno crowd.
Many live performers end as DJs. Do you find it more inspiring to develop the live act rather than going into DJing?
Someone like me would be the worst DJ. I spend all my music time creating new music instead of listening to what everyone else is making. I’ve always felt I’ve got the perfect balance going on. I can tour on weekends and play what I’ve been making during the week. They feed off each other. If I ever became a DJ I think it would be the death of my studio life and eventually make me pretty unhappy.
I find it great to play alone as a DJ or live performance, or even being alone in the studio, but I also like collaborations as it makes you share ideas and just be inspiring. On your side project "a la folie" you played in a band, did you miss being alone in the studio then? Or were you thinking it was an experience to share that brings you somewhere else?
I’ve tried a few collaborations but the problem when dancing with a stranger is that you can soon find out you’re working at different speeds. It can be frustrating when you’re doing most of the work or just not getting back what you’re putting into it. It can suck your energy dry and take all the fun out of the project pretty quickly. I’ve had a few successful ones and they’ve been the most rewarding. I’m always on the lookout for someone who has the passion and drive to work on a track or a whole project together.
Are you occupied by other obsessions than music?
Yeah cooking. Whether it’s for friends, my dog or just me, I love cooking a few times a day. I can get pretty into it too. I would love to have a popup restaurant to make people happy while eating and listening to cool music but the whole restaurant business turns me off. Maybe one day if I ever get a change of heart.
I’m going to return then same question you asked me : what advice would you give to me in regards to my music ?
Being kindred spirits, I’d advise you to try and make some sort of mini techno symphony with me. I think it could really be fun but you would have to come up with the rough story line since I would just make it about a serial killer or Cindi Lauper.
Buy the EP HERE.