Pierre Troel has released music under many aliases over a 15+ year career, and though he’s most commonly known as Fulgeance, I became familiar with him through his Souleance duo with Soulist. Their latest album, “French Cassette” caught my ear because of its clever use of French boogie samples, mainly taken from 70s and 80s records, so I reached out to Pierre with an interview request to talk about his career and latest release.
Hi Pierre. I’ve heard that you played bass guitar in the 90s. What kind of career did you have as a bass player before getting into making beats?
It wasn’t much of a career. My mother had been teaching me how to play keyboards, which can always be complicated when a parent is involved, so I moved on to acoustic guitars, but my fingers were too big to handle the strings on the neck. Then I discovered the bass at age sixteen, which had bigger and more spacious strings than an acoustic guitar, so I switched to that. The bass was also an instrument I loved because of the music I grew up on, like The Roots, but as I said, I never had a real career with it. I was in three different groups that played at Fête De La Musique and a few other places, but we were just amateur bands. When one of my best friends showed me the MPC in 1999, I thought it was magic – I could use it to make an entire track on my own! As much as I enjoyed playing with my other band-mates, working with the MPC made me feel I could do anything.
Making sampled-based music was a good way for me to improve as musician, as I was already into beats thanks to artists like A Tribe Called Quest and J Dilla. I realized that the groove was a very important aspect of beat-making, and the MPC let me adjust the swing and quantization to affect that. So I might quantize the kick, leave the snare off-beat and swing the hi-hat. I could also shift all the MIDI notes in any direction I wanted on the grid. In the beginning, I would always shift the kick or snare to be later than the grid, but then I discovered that moving things earlier can add energy to the beat because of how the sound hits so unexpectedly.
What model of MPC were you using at this time?
Is your current MPC2000 the same one you had in 1999?
No, I’ve actually used four different ones through-out my career. I needed one for my home studio and another one for my live gigs, but I lost two of them on the road because they’d get damaged during flights when I was traveling (laughs). That was before they cost $3000 on eBay, so I could always buy a new one, even though it was hard to find one with the same memory and OS.
Do you think it’s possible to achieve the sound of an MPC using solely a DAW and plugins?
No, I don’t think its possible, partly because of how unique the analog-to-digital conversion is in an MPC. You might be able to approximate the character of the sound, but you won’t be able to replicate the MPC’s punchiness in a DAW. The MPC2000 imparts a punchy sound to drum samples without having to saturate or compress anything. It also has the ability to glue multiple samples together in a way that a digital workstation doesn’t do. Unfortunately, Akai is now selling new machines like the MPC X or MPC Studio that are marketed as having the same abilities as the older units; some of them come with a button that lets you switch between different software modes like “MPC60” and “MPC 2000”, which doesn’t convince me at all.
Dabrye was on Warp in the 90s and I loved all the music he released back then. Prefuse 73 was also on Warp – he was the first guy to show me how instrumental music can be used to tell stories. Prior to that, I was listening to beats that didn’t have much emotional range; the sound was either hard or mellow for whole track. But Prefuse 73 was able to change moods with his tracks, and that inspired me.
With Ninja Tune, I discovered artists who made drill ‘n’ bass music, like Squarepusher, Clifford Gilberto and Aphex Twin. Amon Tobin was also a big one for me, and later artists like Ammoncontact as well.
Once I got to LA in the 2000s, I was introduced to beat-makers like Flying Lotus and Sa-Ra, who became an influence also. Those days were the Golden Age of electronic music for me, where lots of styles blended together and genres became hard to classify.
Did you have any interest in the French house scene when you were a teenager in the 90s?
When I was a bass player in the 90s, I didn’t think much of electronic music culture, to be honest. I thought DJs just pressed buttons and didn’t do much else. But my opinions changed when I met Pierre Brissonnet, who I now run the Musique Large label with. He DJ’d at a party in 1995 and played new Daft Punk music, since he had one of the first copies of “Revolution 909“. But he also played disco music from Candido, as well as boogie house, drum ‘n’ bass and funk. The way he was able to blend so many different styles together made me realize that DJing could be amazing. So we got to know each other and he introduced me to the French Touch scene, which had just taken off. Pierre and I would often go to the record shops to check for the new Crydamoure or Roulé releases, and many of us in the scene had the “Daft Punk Live @ Rex Club 1997 ” on CD, which we listened to constantly.
I think it’s important to note that “French Touch” wasn’t a genre created in France during the mid-90s. That music that was already being made in America in the early 90s by people like Kenny Dope, although no-one called it “New York Touch” at the time. It was guys like that who influenced the French Touch scene, as well as others like Basement Jaxx. Another influential name was Todd Terry, whose music featured chopped samples and pitched vocals, and we heard similar things from the UK garage scene in the 90s also.
Did you ever meet Daft Punk during those years?
No, I didn’t, but I did meet other French artists like Guillaume Berroyer, who made house music under the name Ark, and I would later meet people like Pedro Winter and Mr Oizo in the 2000s. Regarding Daft Punk, I think some of us were happy to just be fans of their music, and we didn’t feel the need to approach them at the time.
Did you remain involved with the French Touch scene in the 2000s, or had you already moved into making beats by then?
I remained interested in house music, but not so much in French Touch, which was a movement that died out pretty quickly. By 2003, I didn’t feel anything fresh was being released anymore, although Demon’s “Midnight Funk” was a cool album that came out in 2000 when things started dying down. I later gravitated towards material by Flying Lotus and Dabrye because I wanted to make beats that could stand on there own as compositions, rather than just be a drum loop with a two-bar 70s sample; that was the aim of my Fulgeance project in the mid-2000s. But my first music project was done in 2003, under the name Connecticut, and I later had Peter Digital Orchestra, which was inspired by artists like Chilly Gonzalez and Peaches, who had personas on stage that they built stories around. So I built my own character around having greasy hair, a red tie and glasses, with a provocative attitude. I enjoyed doing it, and people still ask me why I retired the character. The answer is that I was disappointed by how a lot of people thought he was just a joke, rather than a real musician. This was despite my live setup of playing two MPCs whilst staying in character, which was hard to do. But it was still perceived more as a clown show, so I felt it was better to lay it down.
In my mind, there are five categories of French electronic artists. In the first we have legends like Daft Punk and Jean-Michelle Jarre, whose legacies are already set. In the second we have artists with classic albums, like Cassius and Justice, who had significant commercial success. Then we have those with commercially successful singles and respected DJ careers, like Bob Sinclar and Joachim Garraud. In the fourth we have artists who had moderate commercial success but are still respected for their contributions, like Lifelike or Alex Gopher. Then we have relatively new artists who are gaining respect for their albums and live shows, like Gesaffelstein and FKJ. As someone who’s been in the scene for 15+ years, do you recognize yourself in any of these categories?
Hmm, not really. I may have been around for a while, but I was always in a niche category because I’ve never made mainstream music. All the names you mentioned are mainstream artists. Even if “Homework” wasn’t an album made for the masses, I think “Discovery” was. The same goes for Cassius’ music, and even FKJ is now becoming mainstream. I’ve always done my own thing, which was influenced by things like Chicago house, UK electronic music and the LA beat-scene, all of which I tried to combine. That’s why I named my style of music “Low Club”, because it’s bass-heavy music that’s not up-tempo, yet it works well in the club. “Low” was also a way of hinting at “underground”, and I never had a problem staying in that category, although my work with Souleance is known for being quite accessible to most people. But I view my music in the same way I view DJing at a party: I’d rather have 20 people at a party that are dancing, rather than 2000 people who are drinking and couldn’t care less about the music. So I can’t place myself into any of the five groups you mentioned, but maybe we can make a sixth category for artists that are respected, but have to be recommended to you before you discover them (laughs).
Since you’re well-connected in the world of French electronic music, can you tell me about any interactions you’ve had with the following artists:
C2C: I used to socialize with 20Syl, who’s the main beat-maker in the group. We played together at a party, and I used to listen to his first band, Hocus Pocus, whose music reminded me of The Roots because of their emphasis on sounding groovy, rather than trendy. I like how open-minded 20Syl is, even after the success of C2C. For example, he partnered with a collective from Belgium called Playground in order to make a beat-making app where you tap your fingers on the touch-screen to generate music. I think it’s cool that he finds a way to do new creative things like that, rather than just rely on C2C. But I don’t know the other guys from the group though.
Onra: He’s a great producer that I’ve worked with in the past through Musique Large. Even though his beats were made of simple elements, that didn’t stop him from doing really groovy things, and he wasn’t afraid to compress his sounds to create the style he’s now famous for. He also released music on All City Records, which is a label from Ireland I respect, and he’s done good collaborations with Quetzal, who’s a friend of mine. I’ll always respect the sound he achieved, because that’s real beat-making to me. It’s French music, but still sounds fresher than most of the stuff I’ve heard recently.
FKJ: I don’t know him, but I liked his early music, although I wasn’t into the way he uses vocal samples, but I understand how it makes the music sound catchy. I like some of his recent beats too, but I’ve never been sold on his live setup, where he performs so many different instruments. He plays the bass on one track and then the sax on another, and even though he’s good at all his instruments, I don’t find him to be great at any of them, even though the crowds love it. I think it brings the overall level of the music down when you spread yourself thin like that. It becomes like a cooking show where the presentation and layout of the food is 80% of the score, rather than the taste. For music, I’d rather see a 50-50 split between presentation and ability, or even 80-20 split in favor of ability, but I think it’s hard to achieve that when one artist plays all the instruments.
Danger: I met him once when we played a shown in Lyon where I was booked as Peter Digital Orchestra, but I haven’t paid attention to any of his music for some years now. The last time I heard about him was from a promoter friend of mine who was pissed because Danger had requested a grand piano to be brought on stage for his show. You can imagine the challenge that presented for the promoter, but he did it anyway because he thought Danger was going to play it. But it turned out he only wanted to use it as a stand for his laptop and beat machines, like an aesthetic prop (laughs). I thought it was such a punk thing to do – requesting a huge piano you have no intention of playing. I told my friend, “If you had just listened to his music, you would have realized that he doesn’t play piano “. But I like artists like that who are provocative with their performances and aren’t afraid to do odd things.
Let’s talk about your label, Musique Large. How did that come about?
The label was created by Pierre Brissonnet and Pantone in 2004. I had participated in a music contest held by Wax Poetics, where each contestant submitted a track to be judged. Mine placed fourth, but Pierre still wanted to release it, so he suggested I make a few more and put out an EP on his label. That’s how I come to be involved with the Musique Large, and for the first ten years I acted as an A&R. When Pantone left the label, I ended up filling his spot, and continued to do A&R work. These days, Pierre’s focus has moved to doing graphic design for our releases, though he still makes executive decisions on what records to put out.
What’s been the biggest challenge in running a label for you?
I honestly thought it would be a challenge to put out Laurent Garnier’s “A13” EP, but it turned out to be the opposite. It went quite smoothly, and the release surprised a lot of industry people who were like, “How did you guys go from releasing music by Fulgeance and artists with weird names like Baron Rétif & Concepción Perez, to putting out Laurent Garnier? ” (laughs).
Can you tell me how Musique Large was able to get that release?
Sure. Garnier had a lot of unreleased music and his management thought the best idea would be to release different EPs on a few indie labels, rather than to make an album with too many tracks and genres. So every two months he’d have a release on well-known labels like 50 Weapons or MCDE. We were the last label chosen for his beat-oriented music. The release went very well and I still keep in touch with his manager, who’s a really nice guy. I like industry people like him who are down-to-earth and friendly in spite of their success, and don’t screw you over just because they can. Someone like Pedro Winter has the same kind of attitude.
In terms of Musique Large’s day-to-day challenges, the main issue is promotion; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. For example, we might pay for an expensive PR campaign that doesn’t achieve much, but when we pay for a cheap one it works better than expected, and I still don’t know why. Even though we might release a record that I really like, it’s easy to get discouraged when we can’t pay for traditional promo. However, if the track gets included in certain Spotify playlists, then we see a positive effect from that some years later. So it’s hard to know what works nowadays, and you can’t judge a record by what it does at the moment of its release. It could take years to see whether it’s successful or not.
I can understand why people like Pedro Winter continue to run Ed Banger Records, which still has critical and commercial success to this day, but I’m curious about what the thought-process is for smaller labels. If there are less prospects for mainstream appeal among small indie labels, why do you guys continue running Musique Large?
It’s partly about releasing the music we believe in. Sure, bedroom producers can now self-release their music on Soundcloud or Bandcamp, but sometimes having a good indie label connection is even more useful than being on a major. When I sign a record to Musique Large, we involve ourselves in the project by acting as partners. For example, we offer mastering, press the music to vinyl if that’s required, and we find the right distribution for it. We even help with finding gigs for the artist. For me, running a label is about creating things you can be proud of, and even if an artist signs with another label based off his success with us, that’s fine. We don’t mind being a springboard for an artist to do bigger things.
Also, it’s important for us to release a certain kind of music in France. From 2004 to 2014, unless a French artist partnered with a UK or Eastern European label in places like Lithuania or Poland, it wasn’t common to see my kind of music being released in France. The only reason I met Pedro Winter was because I was putting out this kind of music, and he became curious about our releases. So an artist who only wants to release his stuff on Bandcamp won’t attract that kind of interest.
Can you tell me more about how you and Pedro became connected?
Pedro and I first met through Myspace when I was doing Peter Digital Orchestra. Back in the day, you could select a friend’s track to be featured on your home page and Pedro did that with one of mine, which I never expected. I got excited and told one of my friends about it, who then sent Pedro more of my music without telling me, after which Pedro reached out to me. He said that he liked it and we stayed in contact after that, and I would send him more music from time to time. Then one day he emailed me about remixing a track for Mr Flash, who was the second-in-command at Ed Banger. The request took me by surprise, but I was excited about it and did the remix. Once Pedro told me that he would release it, I decided to ask, “What about releasing an EP sometime? “, and his answer was, “Sure, I’d love that “. So that’s how I came to release “The Phoenix” EP on Ed Banger.
When I listen to “The Phoenix” it doesn’t sound like what you’d expect from Ed Banger though.
I know. It surprised me a bit because I’d sent Pedro different styles of music, and I thought he would pick the hard-sounding stuff that fit Ed Banger’s style. But he would always pick the softer music because he preferred the cinematic vibes. I was still happy with the release, though I don’t know what the commercial performance was.
Did you have any interesting experiences with your Ed Banger release?
I do remember that when the video came out for one of my tracks, I decided to read through the Youtube comments, hoping to see what people thought about my music, but the only thing I saw was people asking, “When is the new Sebastian album coming out? ” or “What’s going on with Justice? “. At first I was like, “Wtf…are you kidding? “, but now I just laugh about it.
I really like the way Pedro thinks about music. I once had a discussion with him where he said, “I like what you guys are doing at Musique Large. I wish I could do similar things and expand the Ed Banger sound by signing whatever I wanted. But it’s hard to do now “. I think he’d come to a point where he felt boxed in by the Ed Banger sound and the youth culture who got used to it. But his words reminded me of the importance of labels releasing new-sounding music, and not just the stuff people expect to hear.
Let’s talk about your DJ career. How many gigs do you play a year? Do you need a certain amount to make a living?
I play around 50, though sometimes less. In France, we have a system of insurance called “Intermittents Du Spectacle” which pays out monthly benefits to artists that work part-time with entertainment, provided you can document a certain number of work hours each year. With my 50 gigs, I’m able to qualify for those payments, so I can’t complain about the money I make even when the amount of bookings are low.
And how do you handle your bookings? Do you work with a booking agent?
I used to, but it was hard for them to find me gigs because of my different artist projects. Each one had it’s own booking agent, and my agent for Souleance would say that if I did too many Fulgeance gigs, people would start mixing the names up. But when I later got an agent for Fulgeance, I was told that Souleance was in such demand that he couldn’t find me any Fulgeance gigs. So I was like, “Okay, but I’ve been waiting for Fulgeance gigs for three months and you’re telling me that now? Why didn’t you tell me earlier so I could focus on Souleance instead? “. So the whole thing became confusing. I felt like I had to spy on my agents to figure out what was going on, and in the end I decided to just book my own gigs. I had a bigger a network of promoters and venues than some of my former agents anyway.
Which projects do you feel attracted the most bookings?
I feel like each project had its best years at different times. Between 2005 and 2010, it was definitely Fulgeance. I had great relationships with promoters at that time because my genre of music was becoming popular and there were lots of gigs for it. But then the sound changed with the arrival of artists like Hudson Mohawke, Flying Lotus and Rustie. Once they blew up, those guys were getting booked by some of the biggest agencies, and my Fulgeance gigs lessened.
Yes, I really like the music that labels like KPM, Rouge Music and Telemusic released, although I was more fascinated with their artists rather than the labels themselves. It’s funny how some of those labels are more famous now than during the 70s and 80s when they were doing their releases.
The thing that always impressed me was the freedom library artists were given to create the music they wanted. Labels are known for telling artists what kind of music to make in order to sell records, but the library artists seem to have been given the freedom to make whatever they wanted, and I’m not sure how that worked from a business perspective. Some of the tracks were just four-minute drones with violins that arrive at the end, rather than the beginning (laughs).
I’m friends with the CEO of Telemusic, Rémi Agostini, and I had the idea of making a tribute beat-tape with Soulist that sampled only from Telemusic releases, until I saw that they had already released a compilation called “Anthologie” on Bandcamp.
Let’s talk about your music production. So you don’t use the MPC2000 anymore to make beats?
No, I’m not interested chasing after the MPC sound anymore, even though I like listening to it on records. I now use an Akai MPD32 controller that’s connected to my laptop, and I also have MIDI and analog keyboards in my studio, as well as my bass guitar.
I did revisit my MPC2000 about two months ago though. I had a free afternoon and decided to plug it in and pull out my old floppy disks. I sampled some jazz music from vinyl, took some drum sounds from my hard drive and made a beat from scratch – but it took me four hours! Back in the day, I would have made two full tracks in that time. So that experience made me realize how archaic the MPC workflow had become, and I knew that I couldn’t go back to using it. Perhaps I could sequence the samples in Ableton first and then use the MPC as a beat machine for drums, but it doesn’t work as a workstation for me anymore.
Can you tell me about the setup you have in your studio? I’ll name some categories and you can tell me what you’re using for that.
Drum Machines: I have a Korg Rhythm 55, but it’s having some technical issues. Sometimes when I press a button, nothing happens, but at other times it works fine. Also, the tempo sometimes changes randomly on its own.
I have a Yamaha TX81Z, which is a synth used by guys like Squarepusher and Jimmy Edgar. I don’t use it that much, though it has nice horn sounds, but the controls are a bit hard to navigate and the rest of the patches are a bit digital-sounding.
For keys I use a Wurlitzer keyboard.
Console: I use a Soundcraft Ghost. It’s an old desk but the sound quality is still good, and it does what I need.
Monitors: I have a pair of Tapco monitors. They’re not the best speakers around, but they offered the most powerful sound at the lowest price, and I’ve gotten used to them, though I’d probably buy something different if I were building a new studio toady. I also have the Avantone Mixcubes and a pair of Tannoy near-field speakers.
Compressors: I have an Amek 9080 dual compressor made by Rupert Neve, which is quite fat-sounding. You have to be careful with it because it makes things sound very upfront. I remember using it once on some music samples, but they became so fat that the programmed drums sounded smaller, so I had to take it off. One of the channels in the compressor doesn’t work though, so I’m looking for someone to repair it.
Bass guitar: I have a Fender Jazz Bass from 1998. I record it through a Presonus TubePre which is connected to the Soundtracks desk. The TubePre isn’t anything amazing, but it works well on single sounds and lets you drive the input.
Lastly, let’s talk about “French Cassette”. What was the division of labor like on that album between you and Soulist? Who did what?
The samples usually come from Soulist, who is a great digger and has good contacts that rip vinyl records for him. I tend to be the beat-maker who sequences the drums, bass and keys, although sometimes Soulist plays keys as well.
For “French Cassette” we decided to split the digging. We each contributed samples and picked the best from what we had. Then we spent a few days in the studio together to develop the beat ideas.
What was your work process like for beat-making on this album?
I used a similar process for my album, “homecooking“: I import a sample into Ableton and make a beat using less than ten tracks. But instead of starting a new session for the next beat, I just create another set of tracks and make the next beat further down the timeline. I don’t listen back to any of the old beats until it’s time to mix, and I just keep working until the album is done. So by the end of the process, I have a session with around almost 200 audio and MIDI tracks. Working like this allows me to avoid obsessing over details and not be repetitive with my ideas. If I had made a new session for each beat, I probably would have used a similar layout for each one; the same kind of intro and outro, and similar chops. But with this process I’m more likely to improvise and be intuitive, which I like. When I listen back to the beats during the mix, some of them sound like crap, and I just delete them, but the ones that work end up sounding quite different from what I would have normally done. It’s like working on tape: you have to choose wisely what you’re going to do, or you get stuck easily, even though your initial idea was good. So it pushes me to prioritize my first ideas and get the beat done quickly.
Did you sample directly from vinyl?
We have vinyl rips that we use, either FLAC or WAV, but occasionally I rip from my vinyl collection. We also have friends in the Réunion islands and in the south of France who send us good-quality rips to use. They just want us to make good music with it, and don’t mind sharing them. Also, Soulist just bought a new audiophile turntable cartridge from Japan that costs €300, which has made a huge difference in the quality of the rips we do ourselves.
Who mixed and mastered “French Cassette”?
I did the mixing in Ableton. When I already have a good-quality sound from the samples, I try not to enhance things too much. The most important thing is volume balance, compression and sidechaining. I’m not a plugin geek anymore. The new plugins are just too complicated, although I like the Fabfilter stuff. But some plugins negatively affect the character of a sample, so I stick to using reverb, delay and stereo-imaging plugins. I love the OhmBoyz delay, and it’s funny how I used to work with it from 1995 to 2000, and can still use it 2019.
Let’s look at specific tracks on “French Cassette” and where the samples came from.
Opening Key Sample: That’s from Jean-Claude Pierric’s and Daniel Janin’s “Gochica“, which we pitched up some semi-tones.
Drums: The ones in the intro are a part of the sample. At 00:18, I added in my own one shots underneath.
Synth at 00:38 : That’s me playing the Korg Poly-61.
Bass: That’s a Moogy one shot that I’m triggering in Ableton’s Simpler.
DJ Scratches at 00:23 : Soulist did that. He does the scratching at our live shows and on records.
Synth Stab at 00:45 : That’s just a one-shot sample of an Oberheim that I took from a sample pack.
Drums: A lot of drums on this album are already present in the samples, but some of my layered one shots come from packs like “Producer Drums and Samples”.
La Vieux Beau
Drums: Those are mostly in the sample, but I added my own kick, clap and hat under that.
Filter effect at 00:56 : That was done with Ableton’s Autofilter.
Robots Après Tout
Drums: Most of the drums are in the sample. The phaser sound at 00:28 is from Manny Marroquin’s Reverb plugin, which is on the clap I used.
Synth Lead at 00:54 : I played that on a Dave Smith Mopho x4.
C’est Quoi Ça?
Bass at 00:27 : I played that on my SE-1 synth.
Baby Sample at 1:12 : That’s Soulist’s daughter. He sometimes records his kids talking and we decided to use that snippet for track. Soulist did the DJ scratches on it as well.
Chopped Sample: That’s Jean-Claude Pierric’s and Daniel Janin’s “Green Smoke“. I converted it to MIDI using the warp markers created by Ableton, and created different sequences of the same sample.
Drums at 00:32 : That’s a drum loop taken from Paul Nice’s library.
Lead Synth: That’s me playing the SE-1.
Low Club Anthem 2
Intro Synths: Those came from an Oberheim Matrix 6 and the bass came from a Moog Slim Phatty.
Arp at 00:57 : That was actually a sample I got from one of the free Musicradar sample packs. Some of those sounds are crap, but when I heard that arp sound, I knew it was useable.
Bass at 1:31 : That came from a bass loop. I can’t remember where I got it from though.
Poly Stabs at 2:00 : Those are from the same Oberheim pack I mentioned before. I later chopped out small bits to use on their own throughout the track.
Opening Synths and Bass: That came from a Russian sample that I chopped at different points. All the sounds are in the sample. Sorry to disappoint if people get tired of hearing how many samples I use in my music (laughs)
Arp at 00:30 : I made that with a synth in Reason.
Thanks for talking to me Pierre. Can I ask what’s next for you, career-wise?
My upcoming Fulgeance album is almost done. I just need to finish mixing and mastering it. I hope to release it this year. I’m also working on some edits as Souleance, and we might release an EP too. Musique Large also has a release coming with an artist called XXXIII, which is pop-sounding electronic music that’s inspired by bands like Air.