Étienne de Crécy Talks French House Music History and its Future
"I really like G-house," the French Touch icon says. His tour starts tonight in Brooklyn.
When house-music vet Étienne de Crécy picks up the phone at his Parisian home, the first thing I can think to do is to blubber fanboy thanks for his pioneering production work of the '90s, first as one half of the Motorbass duo with Philippe Zdar, then as the instigator of the original Super Discount series of ten-inch singles, compiled on the 1996 album of the same name.
Then—dead air. Did I offend him by offering my congratulations on his work from almost 20 years ago, rather than something from this millennium? Then comes a deadpan voice boasting a heavy Gallic accent: "This means you are not so young," followed by more silence—then, finally, a bout of full-throated laughter.
De Crécy is in a jovial mood—and why shouldn't he be? He's just released Super Discount 3, a collection of ten tunes—including previously released singles "Night (Cut The Crap)," "You," and "Hashtag My Ass"—that feature guest appearances from Pos and Dave from De La Soul, Kilo Kish, Tom Burke of Citizens! and longtime collaborator Alex Gopher, among other notable names. And he's about to embark on a whirlwind DJ junket through the U.S., kicking off at Brooklyn's Verboten tonight and winding up at Miami's Bardot on February 22. (After a few years of performing live with his complex "cube" stage setup, "it is a little bit of a relief" to be going back to basics, he says.)
De Crécy has had an amazing, two-decade-plus career to be happy about, too. Along with Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, Hubert "Boom Bass" Blanc-Francard, his Motorbass partner Philippe Zdar, the aforementioned Gopher and their studio-whiz pals, he was more than just one of the leading lights of the French Touch scene of the mid-90s. As a producer, he was brilliantly creative and one of the brightest stars of the entire house music firmament. Listen again to, say, 1996's "Ezio" (from Motorbass) or that same year's "Liquidation Totale" (off of the original Super Discount); those wonderfully weird, otherworldly cuts sounded like nothing else out there. They're still alien-sounding to this day—downright mind-blowing, really.
"That's because we used to smoke a lot!," de Crécy says, chuckling. "Our minds were pretty much blown when we made that music. And the way we made those tracks was very quick. We were young and we didn't think that much, so we could do the music really fast. And the music was so new, that it was easy for us to sound new." De Crécy still believes in that quick, don't-think-about-it production methodology. "I think that is important for electronic music. It's important to be fast. This is music to be used fast, you know? You can play a track in a club for six months, maybe—but then, after that, no DJ will play your track anymore. If you spend one year to make a track, and it is only played for six months, that's not good." Of course, that's ignoring that plenty of his 90s tracks can still slay a dancefloor when a DJ drops one mid-set. "That's true, but that wasn't the intention at all. So I'm very sorry for that!"
Of course, the de Crécy sound has evolved enormously since the Motorbass album and the original Super Discount were released. The sonic eccentricities have been smoothed over to some degree, and while his music will possesses plenty of quirk, his music now has more of a populist sort of appeal. There's synthetic funk ("Family"), sparkling synthpop ("Smile") and slow-burn electro ("Hashtag My Ass")—but, as with 2004's hard-charging Super Discount 2, there's little of the overt oddness of de Crécy's '90s output. There is one thread that runs throughout his work, though—it's a joyful innocence that makes his music innately appealing, whatever the genre.
"It is that innocence that's important," de Crécy explains. "Even if the mix isn't perfect or whatever, the feeling has to be straight and fresh. I am always trying to do that, but it's pretty hard after 20 years of experience. I think experience and knowledge are very much a handicap when making music. It's difficult to keep things fresh. When I listen to a track, I can sometimes hear if there is too much thinking, too much brains, in the music. And I usually won't like it." Here's how he avoids the overthinking trap: "Sometimes, I'll change gear. When I try a new synthesizer, I can push a button, it'll go bzzzzz in a new way, and that will help me to make maybe three more tracks."
Despite his past glories as one of the leading exponents of French Touch, de Crécy isn't one to live in the past—don't come to his DJ gigs expecting a "greatest hits" set, as some of his fellow vets are prone to lay down. "I play some of my material, but I also play lots music from other artists as well," he says. "But mainly, I don't play many old tracks, like from the 90s. I'm not a nostalgic DJ at all. There are so many good young producers right now. I really like G-house right now. It's banging, and at the same time it's funky and street, and it just sounds so good. People like Amine Edge & Dance…it just sounds so good. I love it."
Still, even with the current album, the DJ tour, a potential new live show ("I'm working on it!") and the pride that must come from surviving in the dance music biz for as long as he has, de Crécy must take some satisfaction in being one of the leading figures of the France's house explosion of the 90s. If he does, he doesn't show it.
"I was only one small part of a movement," he says. "I feel like I was a part of a flowing stream, not leading the way. The stream was bigger than any of us separately. And it still is, really."
Étienne de Crécy on Tour
February 12 - Verboten - Brooklyn, NY
February 13 - Area 51 - Salt Lake City, UT
February 14 - Spy Bar - Chicago, IL
February 18 - No Filter - Los Angeles, CA
February 20 - Mezzanine - San Francisco, CA
February 21 - Candybar - Boston, MA
February 22 - Bardot - Miami, FL
Bruce Tantum is only a fanboy of the good stuff. He contributes to THUMP from New York City.