Musicians—especially dance producers—are known to be night owls, but French house veteran Fred Falke's an early riser. "I love to work when it's early morning in the city; it's very inspiring," he tells me enthusiastically from his Los Angeles home during a phone conversation last week. "I'm very sensitive to the light, and it affects the feel of the music. When the sun comes up in the morning, there's an overcast feeling—and step by step, the sky becomes very blue and bright."
The Toulouse-born Falke moved to Los Angeles full-time a few years ago after splitting his time between the city and his former home in London. Since relocating, he's channeled all that morning luminescence into a glorious new EP, Alpha, which is out now on Mercury offshoot Pantheon. A taster of sorts while Falke works on a new album tentatively scheduled for release next year, Alpha is the electronic veteran's first release of original material in five years—a delay that Falke claims is entirely incidental, owed to his busy schedule DJing and collaborating with dance-friendly artists such as electro-punk vets the Gossip and progressive house duo Nervo. "Time flies," he states with a laugh, crediting his management and label for helping him survey the current dance landscape and ask, "'Where is Fred Falke in all that?'"
Alpha is every bit as eclectic as Falke's last release of original material, the 2011 long-player Part IV, running through glowy AOR electro-pop, filter disco, and the uplifting churn of house music with equal aplomb. In a cheeky touch, lead track "Radio Days" features a humorous faux-FM radio intro from legendary Los Angeles DJ "Shotgun" Tom Kelly, whose own days on radio dates back to the 1960s. "I was working with my sampler, and a vocal sample I tried against the instrumental was an old radio MC," Falke states. "Then I got in my car and was listening to radio DJ vocals and was like, 'Wow, this is what I want to do on this track.' I knew of 'Shotgun' Tom's work but I never thought I could work with him."
A mutual friend connected the pair, and the rest was AM Gold-replicating history. "He's a legend, really," Falke marvels. "Even in real life—when he's ordering a coffee, he really talks like that." As 'Shotgun' Tom intones the words "This song has been a long time coming" over "Alpha"'s shaky disco groove, his absurdly rich voice serves as a reminder that Falke's golden touch for melody and crystal-clear production has been sorely missed.
Read on for our conversation about the state of remixes, the Paris attacks, his forthcoming album, and more.
THUMP: Some musicians like living in L.A. because it's a place where you can work in solitude.
Fred Falke: I've never had that feeling. I love to be surrounded by people. There's a specific vibe about L.A. Somehow, it's out of fashion completely. New York, Paris, and London are all very trendy cities, but L.A. has an out-of-fashion vibe. Some areas are super trendy and full of hipster people, and then you have areas stuck in the 90s, or the 60s. You have people dressed like the guitar player in Spinal Tap next to girls in rollerskates. It's out-of-time and futuristic at the same time.
As someone who once lived in Paris, how do you feel about the attacks that just took place?
It was very shocking. My manager called me and said, "There's a shooting happening in Paris"—but we all had no idea what was actually happening. We thought it was just a shooting with gangsters. I had all these friends calling me all night from Paris. It was very intense, emotionally. It's hard to explain the feeling, but it was very negative.
What relationship with the radio did you have as a kid? How often do you listen to it today?
When I was growing up, I had a radio in my room, so radio has always been there—even though in France, you don't have as many stations as you have in the States. When I first went to the States at 18 years old, I was blown away by the choices of music you could listen to. That was a big moment for me. In Los Angeles, you spend so much time in cars, and radio is always there. I'm always listening to JACK FM. 9 times out of 10; I love the tracks they play.
Alpha track "It's A Memory" reminds me of the type of electronic pop that Nicolas Winding Refn chose for the Drive soundtrack.
The Enter the Dragon soundtrack is a masterpiece for record collectors, and the Drive soundtrack is the same thing for modern electronic listeners. The music on it is great—even people who haven't watched the movie can enjoy it. There's no mystery to why it's successful. It's a great record; that's it.
"The remix is the track for me."
How much time do you spend on the internet?
Too much time [Laughs]. While I'm sleeping, I'm not on the internet—otherwise, there's always something. I spend an insane amount of time tracking gear on the internet. I'm the kind of person who goes to page 76 on Google when I look for something.
When paying attention to the electronic scene over the past few years, did you ever feel anxiety that your low-level of visibility meant that you'd be forgotten?
Well, I don't listen to much electronic music. My tastes are very general. My favorite track this year was by the Weeknd, probably. I'm like the rest of the world, more or less—I listen to the same stuff.
Have you noticed an increased interest in your work as dance music's become more popular in America?
It's not that I haven't noticed; it's that I haven't paid attention. Wherever I go to play, it's always really cool. I play some stuff that I just discovered and mix that with tracks I loved to hear when I was younger, and the audience is always responding the same. On my side of decks, there's been no change.
What are your listening habits like these days?
I listen to some electronic stuff, but I feel more connected to pop. "Radio Days" is very influenced by Chic, while "It's a Memory" is influenced by my love for American AOR music from the 70s and 80s. I'm a huge fan of that music. For my new album, it's the same approach—AOR music, pop, soundtracks. This music goes into your brain, and it's there, so when you're sitting in front of your keyboards or your guitar, what comes out is a mishmash of all these things.
How is the new album coming?
I started it this summer and I'm writing all the material now. I'm not working alone—I love teamwork. Music, for me, is about human relationship and emotion. It's beautiful when you meet people that you never met before, and you make something that really connects you. It's intense—I love that. I started as a bass player in bands, and I come from that mentality. Don't get me wrong: I love to be in my studio and be alone, doing my own thing like an old wizard in his tower—but I love to be with people and I love to collaborate.
So the album will be collaborations with a lot of different people—but I don't know when it will be finished. Ideally, I'd love the album to be ready for next year, so fingers crossed. Once I have material I'm happy with, the whole process of recording and mixing goes very fast. That's the way I work. While I was working on this EP, I was reading about bands in the 70s like Fleetwood Mac, and I was impressed by how fast they worked. They had to make decisions and move on. There's no turning back.
You've made a lot of remixes over the years, but the artform of remixing doesn't seem as vital anymore.
I do agree with you, in a way. For me, a remix has to take an original track in a different direction and try to achieve something really good. That's the purpose of remixing. When I do a remix, most of the time I keep the vocal and re-do a whole bunch of music—I make a new song. A lot of people want to do remixes, but they're not bold enough to make decisions. It's not interesting.
I don't listen to a lot of remixes, obviously, because I do so many remixes myself that I'm a bit too adamant about them. Let's say you're a pastry chef and your specialty is chocolate cake. When you go to a restaurant, it's impossible to order chocolate cake, because you know how good chocolate cake is made. You don't want to take the chance of eating some average chocolate cake. When I first heard Thin White Duke's remix of Starsailor's "Fall to the Floor," I didn't even know it was a remix. For me, it was a track, and I loved it. When I heard the original, I was so disappointed. The remix is the track for me, and that's how I like it.