As It's a Fine Line, Parisians Ivan Smagghe and Tim Paris have always enjoyed treading the cosmic dust between party music and the lesser-known, further-out psychedelic reaches of their psyches. This month they are releasing their long-awaited self-titled debut on Smagghe's Kill the DJ imprint. The record itself is a bizarre adventure into a landscape as liberally littered with new-wave electro as it is tinges of trance. It's an album so wildly eclectic it leaves you with more questions than it does answers with regards to its creators imaginations. THUMP doesn't like unanswered questions, so we got in touch with the pair.
Firstly, in order to further delve deeper into the psyche that produced It's a Fine Line, we asked them to make a mix for us. They've turned in an hour of bizarre choices and forgotten cuts that we can promise on some level hint at the breadth of influence that must have poured into the creation of their latest record, offering a fleeting window into their singular dual creative identity. Worried this wasn't quite enough though, we've also asked them some actual questions below. Hit play and sink in.
THUMP: Let's start with the obvious one. Can you both tell us a little about how you came to work together. Ivan: We've known each other for many many years. We probably met on a dancefloor in Paris. I was a DJ, Tim was working with Universal at the time. This goes back to the end of the last century. The Paris scene is quite small, lots of friends in common—it was the hardcore party days. Endless and relentless. We only started to work together in London though. I don't think either of us knew the other had moved. So the "exile position" was the start of working together, which we did in an illegal basement, an ex bakery, on Hoxton Street.
Tim: After a couple of years living in London we both felt the need for a new project, to start something brand new in this city. Ivan had just stopped Black Strobe and I was tired of working solo all the time. Making music came quite naturally, I can't remember how it started to be honest but both being passionate, it was the natural thing to do.
What were your initial impressions of one another, and how have they changed as time has progressed?
Ivan: Ahaha, that's quite an intrusive question! I suppose that Tim is one of those rare 'younger kids' that used to fit perfectly with us then—how many years is the gap Tim? We have different frames of mind I suppose, he's much more musical than I am. We are "similar but in different ways", that's why it's so enjoyable working together. I would not want to work with myself, I'd rather work with him.
Tim: I was 19 and working at Universal in Paris, it was also the year of my first DJ gig at the Rex so I could certainly be labelled as 'young kid' at that time. Ivan wasn't that old but a few years' gap meant a lot more around that age. My initial impression of Ivan is pretty much the same today, just I am now even more convinced how fantastic a person and a music partner he is.
How important is the idea of collaboration to you both? Is it an essential part of how you understand art and creativity?
Ivan: The key thing in our work relationship was based on a few simple things: no ego (very important, especially for me as I was coming out of a massive ego bullshit storm), doing everything together (that's one way of doing things), no rushing and a lot of laughter in the studio. I like working with people, it's a nice thing. I get a lot from it. It's also easier for discipline and counterbalances the loneliness of DJing.
Tim: I suppose our collaboration came as a necessity for me. I was starting to lose faith. Being so isolated in the studio really started to be painful, I lacked the support of a friend so it was great to start working with Ivan. Very quickly we had a set of rules that IAFL music was going to follow and it's barely changed since the beginning. It's amazing to work as a duo, creativity flows a lot more easily as we work in relay. One person doesn't have to come up with all the ideas.
To me, the album's got an incredible sleazy feel to it. Is that an atmosphere you were trying to conjure?
Ivan: Well, if it is, it was not a conscious decision. I like the word though. Sleaze is a very subjective thing, for some it will mean a distorted 909 kick drum which, for us, is the peak of conformity. It's a bit like the analog vs digital debate that polluted the internet during the making of this album. That's not relevant. You can make sleazy music with plug-ins, and a guitar is a machine that sounds pretty clean. What I mean is that we did not intend to make a dirty record. Actually the record sounds quite clean to me, more like 70s hifi, almost too hifi which we assume totally. It's the "gatefold spirit".
Tim: The only rule we set ourselves was not to set rules, not to force ourselves to do a functional dance music record. Don't get us wrong, we love these as well (the functional thing) but it was all no rules. So everything we love feeds in there. I think it can be quite disconcerting for people and may sound like we're jumping ships at every track but life is too short for one kind of music. I don't know maybe the next one will be very monolithic and will only take 6 months to make.
What do you see the role of the DJ being? Are you entertainers? Educators?
Ivan: I'm just a guy who plays records. Sorry but DJing is so simple that it does not deserve dissertations. Let's say that it's a compromise between what you want to play and the feedback you get from the people. I'd leave it at that. Even if i play a weird record, my point would not be to educate, more to induce confusion. Same with the entertainment: it's easier to get "raised arms in the air" than locking them in where you want to.
Tim: At the moment I really miss the DJ as it used be, someone who plays all night long in a club, every sort of music, the "Larry Levan" type to use a cliché. I'm totally bored with that festival thing where people play 45min of their most 'entertaining' music to get people screaming. A DJ should certainly not be an educator but the idea is to offer you the possibility to discover some new music, we do the digging for you
It's a Fine Line is out on Kill the DJ on 26 August 2016.