Q&A: Vitalic

The French dance-music maximalist Vitalic doles out his heavy-duty buzzy-bassline sound at the Girls & Boys bash.

Photograph: Franck Courtes

With the release of 2001’s groundbreaking Poney EP and, four years later, the OK Cowboy album, Vitalic—along with fellow French acts like Justice and Daft Punk—pioneered a new kind of club music. It was a sound that took the late-night joy of disco and the fist-pumping exuberance of rock & roll—not to mention some intense buzz-saw basslines—to create a big, brawny style that still reverberates today, particularly in the music of the Aviciis, Hardwells and Afrojacks of the EDM world. Following 2009’s relatively subdued Flashmob, the man known to his family as Pascal Arbez-Nicolas came back in a big way with 2012’s Rave Age, an album that signaled a return to his maximalist roots (albeit leavened with a touch more pop appeal than the sonic assault of OK Cowboy). He’ll be playing tunes from throughout his career when he hits the Webster Hall stage for a live set at the Girls & Boys party on Friday, October 18.

Time Out New York: It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 13 years since Poney came out; the dance-music world has changed so much since then.
Vitalic: Yeah, that’s totally true—it’s a different world now. There are some many new people and so much new music, and so many people have disappeared. But on the other hand, it’s been, like, five seconds to me.

Time Out New York: Why do you think that is?
Vitalic: I was playing all the time, doing all these recording sessions and, lately, working on the new show. And in the end, 13 years had passed!

Time Out New York: Over the course of that time, there’s been progression in your sound, but there are certain core elements that you’ve stuck with in your productions. How do you think your music has evolved over the years?
Vitalic: I think I’ve always tried to progress, and I think my sound has changed over time. It would be a little sad if I was still doing “Poney Part 1” all these years later! I think the way my sound has changed is due to the kind of music that I listen to. For instance, now EBM is a little bit back in France with the music of Gesaffelstein and some other guys, but I was listening to that ten years ago, and I did some EBM-oriented stuff back then. I couldn’t do that for ten years, though. I listen to disco, and there have been some disco elements in my music since the beginning, but I always try to experiment with new directions.

Time Out New York: But there are those components, like those tough, cutting basslines, that you seem to stick with.
Vitalic: Sure, if you listen to all my stuff, you can recognize me; there is a color, a sound, that is always me. But it is always evolving, I think.

Time Out New York: I found the old press release for Flashmob, and it quotes you as describing that record as “experimental and romantic.” Do you have any terms that you use to describe Rave Age?
Vitalic: Hmm…how about “rave is cool”? [Laughs] It’s a mix of disco and rave stuff.

Time Out New York:  It seems like you were going for a bigger sound on Rave Age than you were on Flashmob.
Vitalic: That’s true, I think. It’s definitely more straightforward. In some ways, the songs on Rave Age are a little bit simpler; on Flashmob, there were 200 sounds per song, and I was trying to find new ways in production and mixing. For Rave Age, I wanted to make something that was straight to the point, and more effective to play live. The live show for Flashmob was really difficult! And I didn’t want to go through that again.

Time Out New York: So that straightforward production approach is reflected in the live show?
Vitalic: Yeah. The show is basically a mix of the three albums, and it has everything from disco to harder techno. I have a show with musicians, but for the U.S. tour, I’ll be playing alone. I have my computer with an Ableton sequencer, a controller, a Moog and a few other things. I still use the old techniques, like using an analog mixer. That’s how I’m used to doing things, so why change?

Time Out New York:  Do you still deejay at all?
Vitalic: I do deejay sometimes, but at the moment I’m concentrating on touring for the album, so that means a live set. I’ve been doing Europe, and now it’s time for North and South America. After that, I’ll certainly be fed up with playing the show, and I’ll put everything away and move to something else. And that’s when I’ll deejay again.

Time Out New York: You perfected your style of massive, fist-pumping sound years ago. Do you feel like you’ve paved the way for the current crop of EDM stars at all?
Vitalic: Yeah, I think maybe a little bit; they use straightforward, really bright sounds that are straight in your face. We never called it EDM, of course; we just called it maximal. But I’m always trying to change. I was talking to one of the Daft Punk guys, and I mentioned something about them doing all this disco stuff now. He looked at me and said, “Yes, but now it is done.” And it’s true—once you’ve done something, there’s no reason to go back to it.

Follow Bruce Tantum on Twitter: @BruceTantum

Girls & Boys: Vitalic + Max Pask is at Webster Hall Friday, October 18.