Essaie pas recorded their last full-length record in an empty office building, a fact which somehow feels both over and underacknowledged. It’s not that the place you record must necessarily seep into the music you make, but something about the music that Marie Davidson and Pierre Guerineau have made over the years finds an echo in the imagery of late-capitalist isolation, in long lonely nights in the bowels of the machine spitting out all our modern problems.
Their pals at Phénomena Festival, with whom they shared their room in the building, are surely lovely people, but you can’t help but read the dystopian symbolism into the shadowy mutations of techno, EBM, and goth-pop that’s inhabited their records, and especially their DFA debut Demain Est Une Autre Nuit. They’re like dancefloor-dwelling accountants, balancing the books as a means of figuring out how this downward spiral happened exactly.
On March 16, the duo are doubling down on this sort of imagery with the release of a new record called New Path. Grounded in part in Philip K. Dick’s hallucinatory novel A Scanner Darkly, it is a grim depiction of addiction, loss, and post-millennial decline told through their unique take on electronic music’s darkest strains. It’s an at-times harrowing listen, fluttering through shattered electronic ephemera and neon synthesizer sequences, taking refuge in the shadows from the heavy stuff that surrounds it. On tracks like “Complet Brouillé,” premiering below, they collide disorienting and depressing sloganeering (“I don’t expect to live long”) with mechanized, industrial instrumentals—placing the cause of our post-modern panic in the cold embrace of technological progress.
But part of the joy of the record is that there is joy at all. Inside even the record’s most bitter moments there’s a sense of movement in spite of it all, pushing relentlessly through the stuff about modern life that weighs you down. I’m not sure that’s a lesson you’d necessarily take from the Philip K. Dick book, so credit Essaie pas for that one, no matter what you can keep moving. In advance of the record’s release, the duo took some time to answer a few email questions about the dark times that informed the record and how making music like this can help you through it.
You’ve said this record is based in part on A Scanner Darkly . What are you trying to say about the world we live in presently by echoing this novel? The record can feel very tense and paranoid, is that often how you interface with the world around you?
Marie Davidson: Tension and paranoia is present in the world we live in. I don't particularly like the world around me and making an album based on a dystopian book can be viewed as criticism of our society, it is in a way, this book is still very relevant (think about War on Drugs, surveillance, mental illness) but the point was also to pay tribute to A Scanner Darkly, because it's a very good book.
Pierre Guerineau: We were also attracted to the idea of basing an album on someone else’s fiction instead of our lives like we did in our previous releases, which in the end, ends up being the same, I realized! Personally interpreting a piece of fiction or [novelizing] your own experiences, ironically in the end, it needs to have a strong resonance with you to feel universal. A Scanner Darkly was the book that introduced me to PKD as a teenager but it was only two years ago talking about it with Marie as she was reading it that the idea of this record emerged. But instead of re-reading it I decided to compose based on my [15-year-old] impressions of it, and strangely the story was mixed with hazy teenage memories and our contemporary socio-political reality. In the end, it underlined for me how touching and tragically prescient the novel still is.
The press release mentions that the record deals with addiction, loss, and the speed of mass media, I’m curious how you confront that stuff in your personal life. Do you have a means of escape from the heaviness? Or, how do you make something like this without getting totally bogged down in the feelings you’re trying to excavate?
Davidson: If we made a record about such heavy topics it's of course because we [relate] to this. I'm an ex-user of multiple drugs, a lot of my friends, some members of my family (not my parents fortunately) and people I work with, deal with addiction. It's still a battle for me to stay out of self-destructive behaviors and music is a way to approach this aspect of my body, psyche and history with positiveness, that's a choice I make. I could also say the world is shit and I make dark music because I feel pain but this would be quite boring. We actually had a lot of fun making that record, we joked a lot had a good time in studio and it's about the same when we play live.
Guerineau: There’s no guide or easy way to deal with such heavy realities, but as they’re rooted our human condition, the least we can do is to acknowledge them, accept the emotions they bring, uneasy as they can be, fear, sadness, anger, depression… and externalize them, communication and art are powerful ways to process darkness. This is, I think, the only way to start making room for more light in your life.
There’s almost an optimism or openness woven within the fabric of the record—or a suggestion of movement in spite of the bad stuff.
Davidson: I guess for me it's about healing. There is not much hope in K. Dick's book but I find optimism in everyday life, we feel lucky to have the chance to be together and make this music, travel the world, play for people and make them dance. If I can make people feel great, even just for an hour, then I'm happy, I can go back home and feel like my life is worth something. Music is information, for me it's a language in itself, a free language, nowadays almost anyone can access to it from The Internet, is has power against ignorance. If we touch someone through our music and make them want to read the book, then I feel like we made a positive record.
Guerineau: As bleak as the book can be, some scenes and dialogues are actually really funny. The suicide attempt chapter is for me a textbook case of dark humor! But on this record, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It was important for us to keep it seductive, and fun to perform live. And in the end, behind the concepts and political references, it’s always the emotion that matters.
We're premiering "Complet Brouillé" alongside this piece, how does it fit into the overall themes of the record?
Davidson: “Complet Brouillé” reflects on Donna's perspective of drug use in K. Dick's book. It's also a song inspired by the effects of dissociative drugs, which distort perceptions of sight and sound and produce feelings of detachment from the environment and self.
Guerineau: This is one of my favorite tracks on this album, we actually had the idea at 5am on a dancefloor, we wanted to have a trippy, but sexy track that plays with your perceptions. Once we found a nice groove, we recorded tons of samples to keep the song constantly unpredictable and exciting. The title is a reference to the ever-shifting disguise suit used by Bob Arctor in the book, which can, by the way, be seen today as proto-anti facial recognition technology.
Essaie pas' new album New Path is out March 16 on DFA, but you can pre-order it now.
Colin Joyce is an editor for Noisey and is embracing high-speed paranoia over on Twitter.