Photo by Vanessa Girard Tremblay
This article originally appeared on Noisey Canada.
Aléatoire's music would probably sound manic if it wasn't so damn catchy. The Montreal-based producer pulls together sounds from jazz, punk, hip-hop, shoegaze, and just about anything else lying around, and creates songs that range from outright noise to pop gems. At the core of everything he does is his love for "playing with audio textures," and that's obvious throughout, but on top of it all he knows how to tease out a hook. Those hooks, though, aren't always vocal lines, or even melody lines. Take the song "Jung" from his 2014 LP Pavillon, where he loops what could just as well be the sound of an air conditioning unit over an off-time electric keyboard line and jazzy snare, and somehow transforms it into a jam that has you tapping your fingers along at the end. Or "Plus," which repeats the same three-note, delay-rich guitar line over and over while the rhythm track bends and morphs around it, leaving you to forget how incredibly simple each individual part is. It doesn't make any sense, in the best way.
But once you think you have him figured out, he goes and makes a pristine electro-pop song that sticks in your head for days. Aléatoire works frequently with vocal collaborators, such as Odile Myrtil on "Compton Chic," and most recently, the Montreal singer Ariane Zita on "Best Friends". A dark love song with a weird twist, "Best Friends" explores an ending relationship and an unfortunate and potentially awkward turn of events. "It's about a normal modern day relationship: the questioning, betrayal, infidelity, vengeance and vices," said Zita. "No shit, I think it speaks of the post-honeymoon stage of any relationship. You’re no longer floating in the clouds; the butterflies you used to feel every time you saw the person are gone and eventually things go sour and we do stupid things and people get hurt. I know it sounds a bit pessimistic but it’s not so bad. Every ending is also a new beginning. In this case, we’re talking about someone that falls in love with their ex’s best friend. Classic shit." Zita and Aléatoire, who work together at Montreal's Studio Apollo, make for a far less tortured pair of friends and collaborators. Zita's smoky vocals add weight to Aléatoire's light, franco-pop-eque track, and her delivery comes off like she's telling you a story in a dark, loud bar. The two are already working on more songs together, and we're excited to hear how they turn out. In the meantime, I spoke with Aléatoire about his production and songwriting techniques, and tried to get to the bottom of how he pulls together such memorable songs from such scattered influences.
Noisey: There's a lot of diversity in your music, especially when you compare "Best Friends" to Pavilion and Failles dorsales. There's jazz, shoegaze, hip-hop, punk, and then there's this singalong pop song with "Best Friends." How does it all fit together for you?
Aléatoire: I listen to a lot of different types of music so it’s just normal for me to touch on different genres when I compose. It really helps me stay creative. One of my favourite things about making music is having the ability to do whatever I want. I don’t constrain myself to certain styles or genres. As long as what I’m making sounds good and it’s coherent with the project I’m working on, that’s all I care about. Regardless of genre, it’s really the energy of the music that attracts me to a song. It can be all different types of energy too. For example, I like Lex Luger’s beats because of how it gets your blood pumping and the adrenaline going, but I’m also a big fan of Caribou’s Andorra for the feel good energy he produces. I especially love music with a melancholic vibe, and that is something that comes naturally to me when I compose, so you’ll hear that on most of the music I put out.
Jazz, in particular, is being applied to a lot of exciting projects these days. I'm thinking Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, David Bowie's Blackstar, to name a few. As someone who plays with jazz textures, why do you think it's so appealing right now?
To me, jazz is really about rhythm and groove and that’s something that rap music has in common as well. So, it makes sense to me when guys like Kendrick use a lot of jazz elements in their songs. It really works together. I won’t be surprised if we see a lot more of that in the future. Jazz masters really nailed the rhythm game and I think there’s a lot to be learned from them. When we listen to music, we usually pay attention to melody first, so it’s a nice change of pace to give more attention to rhythm and groove.
When you "play with audio textures," what are you doing? How does a song come out of it?
One thing I love about making music is trying to create new and interesting sounds. I put a lot of time into crafting the right sounds to create the right mood. I use all the tools at my disposal to create some interesting textures. It can be an old sample or just a guitar with some effects. I always aim for warm and organic sounds. I’ve also been a huge fan of pedal effects since I began to play music. I love how they can modify the whole sound of an instrument to create something completely new and exciting.
Is there any type of music you draw from that people wouldn't expect, and that you think could be more influential on more artists if they checked it out?
I think a lot of people don’t know how to appreciate more “experimental” music and I understand that because it’s really different compared to what you normally hear. It may not be catchy and in most cases there aren’t solid melodies to latch on to, but listening to experimental music is a different type of listening experience altogether. You’re hearing sounds that you aren’t used to hearing, which can lead to feelings you’ve never felt before. Guys like Oneohtrix Point Never, Ben Frost and Tim Hecker are bringing something new and really interesting to music. There are also some really good hardcore punk bands that have taken the genre to a whole new level and are still pretty unknown, like Tragedy, Cursed and Buried Inside. More and more punk is having an influence on rap music today and I like it. Just listen to Travis Scott and you’ll feel the punk energy.
How did you end up with these influences anyway? You pull from musical worlds that have been pretty separate in the past. They're coming together now, which is obviously great, but what did you do to get there?
My parents enrolled me in weekly private guitar courses when I was 11-years-old until I was 16, it all started there. I had a lot of bands after that. When I was a teenager, I was playing in some punk-hardcore-metal bands. It was fun, we did some shows and I enjoyed it. After that, I had three to four other bands that were more indie-garage rock but they didn’t really work out. While I was in those bands, I begin to experiment with electronic music and for the last 10 years, I’ve mostly stuck to that. With electronic music there are unlimited possibilities, you never stop learning and creating.
Gregory Bouchard is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.