Interview: Pépé Bradock

For almost 15 years, Pépé Bradock has been doing his thing without anyone actually knowing what he’s up to exactly. The producer of “Deep Burnt,” despite being courted on all fronts, only rarely performs, following what seems like a random impetus. It’s the same for his discography: Pépé’s fans have been holding their breath for the last few years, since he only releases work periodically. And this is without mentioning interviews, which he barely ever gives. Upon the occasion of his recent week-long residency at RBMA Studios Paris, though, Pépé was kind enough to grant us an audience. Listen to the audio results of the residency below.

This new EP is the result of a studio residency, how did you prepare for this week? Did you surround yourself with any machines in particular?

Truth be told, I got here with my hands in my pockets and a crate of records that no club would normally have accepted… And I was lucky enough to be granted access to an incredible drum machine that has known both R. Kelly and Patricia Kaas. Is that the reason for the glitch that later occurred? What can I say to that? The record was composed like that, “in the wild.” The studio’s really well equipped! I’m more or less supposed to say that, but it really is the case.

I understand a defective machine caused you to lose a track during your session?

Yes, a glitch interrupted my save and I lost the main track I was on… all that’s left of it is an orphan fragments, to which I gave the moniker “Choses Irréparables.” [Unrepairable Things] I was told by Chab during mastering that curiously, its spectrogram evokes a gothic cathedral. Very lucky for someone like me. A priceless, prickly, far-fetched kilometre zero?

Without acoustics and analog audio, what is digital is only silent, binary gibberish. Mathematics that devour reason.

Since you mention gothic cathedrals, electronic musicians seem to be devoted to the Roland machines and the famous TB-303, TR-808 and TR-909 “trinity.” What do you read into this fondness for what people call an “original” sound? Have you, yourself, stayed true to analog?

A famous, and yet mysterious trinity. Could the worshipping of machines be called idolatry? Whoa…these three devices were used in Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere by a brotherhood that prefers to discreetly sow good seeds rather than discord, and this, against all odds, against the tyranny of brutes…That’s what gives value to these plastic boxes, isn’t it? They deserve our gratitude! And so do Roland – not the one from Roncevaux Pass – and the others, for imagining and designing all these original instruments and making them available the moment they were conceived. Do we dream of MIDI oliphants or digital sushi? Without acoustics and analog audio, what is digital is only silent, binary gibberish. Mathematics that devour reason.

Actually, I’m asking you that question because to me, your signature sound combines at the same time a very organic sound, with a very spaced-out approach. What would seem antithetic in others, with on the one hand the followers of a super-smooth, precise sound (“the Berlin shaved balls sound,” in the words of James Holden), and on the other the partisans of a raw, lo-fi sound. How do you work on the texture of your pieces?

Thanks so much, you’re way too kind! I try to experiment with something new and observe the result, and try not to forget to click on “save”! Otherwise, you lose everything. Which unfortunately happens too often. The sound of waxed balls? Let’s hope that can curve time and space! I think that what my “tip” really is, is that each day has enough trouble of its own, and then peel it, stew it, sear it, braise it, grill it, steam it, etc.

On the subject of spacing, is sound design one of your interests?

Yes, like Byzantium or the Nyabinghi, it enters and leaves my memory, I’m a real goldfish.

You haven’t had the occasion to work on that sort of thing outside of a strictly musical context, like in film, for example?

Playing membranophones in the presence of witnesses, more or less tipsy and enthusiastic, in shady cabarets, is that not cinema, at times? Revealing “l'arroseur arose”? Yes, I’d like that, but unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to embrace that calling.

I was thinking, in particular, of your series of Imbroglio EPs subtitled “Opération Veaux Carnivores: Original Motion Picture: Pépé Bradock’s Remixes,” but no one’s ever found that movie. What of it?

Well, he who seeks finds, isn’t that right? Guess I’ll just have to (re)make the film. A rather large endeavor at my Burgundy snail’s pace. In fact I wonder if I would like to see a movie with such a terrible title, all things considered! A very, very big thank you to Renaat and his team, without whom this perilous musical venture could not have seen the light of day. And thank you, vinyl record buyers!

To get back to the music, listening to your records, you seem to progressively detach yourself from the traditional 4/4 signature and steer towards rhythmically richer pieces, often with a muted beat. How do you explain this evolution, in retrospect? Is it a conscious choice, a paradigm that you’ve set yourself for your take on dance music?

The truth of it is much simpler: my feet ache, and my heart aches. I do my best to widen the groove that I’m digging.

Despite this, you remain loyal to local culinary metaphors, after Attaque de Boulangerie, Escalope de dingue, 6 Millions Pintades, Confiote de Bits... here comes Homo Sandwichus. Where did this extravagant series of titles come from?

If Homo Erectus is Man standing up straight, and Homo Sapiens is the sentient Man, then I see Homo Sandwichus as the man cornered by necessity. Being a sandwich man: a condition accessible by all without any need for qualifications; walking around with two adverts surrounding you. However: necessity is the mother of invention. Maybe hope, spreading smiles? Being the loser who helps the daring gamblers – the collectors of improbable amounts of dough – win. Since you mention the word “extravagant,” I’ve been haunted recently by this sentence from Nahman’s Chaise Vide: “When there is no more sincerity in the world, whoever wishes to turn away from evil has no other choice...” So let’s do this heartily, let’s be crazy and full of good intent: let’s dance to the sound of trumpeting elephants, or not.

This EP opens with “Abul Abbas,” where you roll out, over 5:44 minutes, a large savannah of animal samples. Abul-Abbas was Charlemagne’s white elephant...Would the rumors of you writing a book about French kings be true?

Actually, as someone well acquainted with an elephant, and having been through all sorts of things for the last 15 years, I asked myself this: what if Abul-Abbas was an albino elephant, a treasure of the Orient; one of the gifts of caliph Haroun Al-Rachid of Bagdad, in the era of the Arabian Nights, for the Franc king of Aachen, Karl der Große, brought back through Jerusalem, with disregard for danger, by Isaac of Narbonne, in all fearlessness? Was he carrying silk in his chest, talismans, monograms, alembics or lutes, a foal, spices, maps, fruits, vegetables, or keys? How would we know? And what happened since then for the promised harmony to turn into a deleterious cacophony?

The notion of rare recordings has become almost obsolete for the last few years, but Japanese record shops are caverns brimming with treasures.

In the sinister February weeks in the studio, I told myself it was a much more appropriate title than “Turbo Limonade” or “Bêtes Rouges à Cornes.” That would have been downright inappropriate. I hope this is a dancing, happy and optimistic savannah! And obviously I’m not writing a recipe book on effortless dieting, nor a book on French kings. Where in the world did you hear that? But I did spend time researching the genealogy of troubadours in Occitan times, and that’s how I encountered the name of this venerable mammal.

You’ve made yourself rather hard to find, cultivating no online presence, giving few or no interviews, some even believe that you’ve retired…You seem to have voluntarily withdrawn from the use of this new self-promotional tool that is social networking. How is your relationship with your image, and why do you cultivate this “low-profile” aspect of yourself?

So active soliciting would be all but forbidden to those that necessity forces to rent out the most intimate things they have? That’s normal, as Brigitte Fontaine and Areski Belkacem would say! I’m just a bit uncomfortable with these tools: technology 2.0 moves too fast for Pépé! I’m still waiting for my digital Zimmer frame 3.0. These “tools” make me feel like a mouse in front of a gigantic trap; if only the tail is stuck, not all is lost, but the risk of having your skull crushed is not insignificant. Sound is like a turtle that travels at a much lesser speed than light, plus, at night, you can see a starry sky. It’s my imaginary garden that I’d like to grow, with beehives and animals…The life of a sandwich man living in a rabbit hutch is no sinecure. I dream of having a House, a Mansion where everyone would be invited. One can always dream...

Pathologically, the first question that comes to mind would be “where were you?” and yet I’ve noticed you’ve been releasing more or less one EP per year, that you do a few shows... So I was wondering – what do you do, day-to-day?

High-speed chases, explosions, playing with dolls? Nothing like that, I go buy my bread, I do the dishes, and there’s always more vacuuming or cleaning up to do. I try and understand the environment in which I roam, and, often in an absurd manner, I mind my own business. And other things that public decency prevents me from describing. Basically, the surprise is that there is no surprise.

Perfectionism is often a mask for doubt, doubt which can be the start of something beautiful, or not: and there you are, it’s neverending.

Are you still on a quest for the lost sample? I understand that you were digging around in Japan quite a bit last October, can you tell us about that? Where did you go, what did you find?

Yes, I’m also on the quest for meaning. The notion of rare recordings has become almost obsolete for the last few years, but Japanese record shops are caverns brimming with treasures, where I would love to have both time and money to spend. Which wasn’t the case. I’m already incredibly lucky I got to visit a few. I was even able to bring back some relics: a Don Preston CD, a Terry Riley LP and a 12-inch by DJ Aakmael. Long live record shops!

You started off playing in various jazz, then funk bands, before turning to hip hop and house, what are the styles that excite you today?

After a thousand and one nights of walls shaking in the darkness, the soft music of silence is precious. But any sincere vibration thrills me. Warning: be wary and perceptive...

Which young artists do you follow? You’ve remixed Nicolas Jaar, what do you see in his work?

What, I’m not young anymore? I gratefully see his work, or rather, I squint at it – “Too many kids finding rain in the dust / They’re trying to find the answers!”

In a 2002 interview, you said you were “never completely satisfied with your pieces.” Does this perfectionism explain your release rate? Do you have a lot of unfinished tracks?

In 13 years, I must have said a lot more nonsense, I hope it won’t all be held against me… A lot of unfinished tracks, even more have been lost, I’ll easily admit that laziness is probably fairly responsible of my sparse releases... Perfectionism is often a mask for doubt, doubt which can be the start of something beautiful, or not: and there you are, it’s neverending. Time, serenity and cash also come into play.

By Antoine Carbonnaux on May 26, 2015

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