While everyone collectively lost their minds to the Weeknd's chart-chewing, 80s-referencing behemoths "Starboy" and "I Feel It Coming" last year, Daft Punk weren't the only French producers on the Canadian R&B singer's third album. Tucked away towards the tail end of Starboy is "Die For You," a confessional ballad which sees Abel Tesfaye crooning about a long-distance relationship, over fluttering synths and slowly building percussion. If a song on one of the best-selling records of 2016 could possibly be described as "underrated," "Die For You" certainly fits that description.
One of the musicians credited on the track was Prince 85, a Paris producer whose real identity is unknown. What we do know is that he's also spent time living in New York and Toronto (where he met Tesfaye and would end up opening for the artist on the latter's 2013 European tour), and there's a trove of original material and remixes on his SoundCloud and Bandcamp, including a eight-track remake of Kanye West's 2013 album Yeezus. On the heels of his biggest placement to date, he's dropped his latest solo EP, Source Code, which splits the difference between John Carpenter's horror scores and fellow countryman Kavinsky's throbbing, after-dark electro-house.
Following his excellent OVO Sound Radio guest mix, we asked him to make us one, and he obliged with 46 minutes of trap bruisers, 90s big beat anthems, and his own bump in the night, synth-hewn instrumentals. Appropriately given his background, it's heavy on Weeknd cuts and French electronic titans past and present (DJ Mehdi, Gesaffelstein, Justice), with more than a few left turns (when's the last time you heard songs by Harlem rap crew the Diplomats and Britpop kings Oasis in one place?). Over email, Prince 85 described the mix's ideal listening coordinates as "in the middle of the Antarctica during an aurora while waiting for the mothership to return," which gives you a sense of the otherworldly approach he takes to his craft.
Judge for yourself below, and read our brief Q&A with the anonymous French producer.
THUMP: Describe the Paris hip-hop scene today for those who aren't familiar.
Prince 85: The new hip-hop scene in Paris is still searching for its identity. In my opinion it's redundant, there's many vacancies waiting to be filled.
Why do you think North American rappers have embraced French electronic music in the last few years? What similarities do you see between the two?
Unfortunately the majority of these tracks influenced by French electro are done strategically to achieve mainstream success. Rare are the ones where there's a genuine cultural exchange between these two movements. Similar to all collaborations, there's a good and a bad side to it. As far as I'm concerned, the similarity between these two movements is their common use of machines (drum machines, synths, samplers, sequencers). There's a unique "human-to-machine" interaction while creating music that's almost intimate, and that no one sees. I'm hoping it stays that way.
How did you get involved with the XO camp and end up co-producing "Die For You"?
We met seven years ago in Toronto. It's first and foremost a human connection and a friendship. It is not a business relationship. I've been sending the Weeknd several beats for some time, and "Die For You" happened organically.
You've said in previous interviews that Kavinsky is a major influence on your work, do you remember when you first heard his music?
Kavinsky and I are not from the same planet but he's a close friend. On a musical and cultural level, he's the man. The first time I heard one of his frequencies it was "Testarossa Autodrive" during the MySpace era.
Your latest release Source Code is heavily synth-based, can you talk a little bit about your collection and studio setup?
My audio tools are quite simple. It's similar to a culinary preparation, you need to pick the right tools in order to proceed efficiently. Synth-wise, I use the Juno-60, TR-808, VP-330, DX7, and Jupiter-8.
What's the perfect setting for listening to this mix?
In the middle of Antarctica during an aurora while waiting for the mothership to return.
What else can we expect from you the rest of 2017?
Several projects are in the works. A new EP scheduled for June, it will be the third and last of the trilogy Series 1. Numerous audio encounters, the video clip for the track "Damage" featuring Ryland, and a short movie.
Dae Dae - Dead Ass Wrong
Migos - Slippery
NAV feat. The Weeknd - Some Way
The Diplomats - S.A.N.T.A.N.A.
The Weeknd - Reminder
DD85 - ?????
The Weeknd- Starboy
Big Sean feat. Eminem - No Favors
Oasis - Fuckin' in the Bushes
Prince 85 feat. Ryland - Damage
Boys Noize - Rock the Bells
Kavinsky feat. The Weeknd - Odd Look
Prince 85 - Temporium
Tears for Fears - Pale Shelter
The Weeknd - Secrets
Mr Oizo - HAM (Prince 85 Remix)
Rico the Wizard - Spell of Love
DJ Mehdi - Signatune
Thomas Bangalter - Outrun
The Chemical Brothers - Hey Boy Hey Girl
Justice - Phantom Part II (Soulwax Remix)
Casino Gold - Ricochet
Daft Punk - Rollin' & Scratchin'
Burial - Fostercare
DD85 - ?????
The Prodigy - Smack My Bitch Up
Max Mertens is on Twitter.