Bringing Big Time Projected Visuals To The Live DJ Set: Q&A With Techno Producer Agoria
Agoria has been on the scene making jump-up electronic dance music hits since well before the style exploded onto the mainstream airwaves. After four albums and a long list of performances throughout the world, the producer has earned himself praise as an electro legend in the French scene and beyond.
Broadly influenced by Detroit techno, Agoria founded the record label InFiné, which releases music by talented artists after his own heart, such as Apparat and Rone. From Agoria’s early DJ sets in the 90s to his latest solo album Impermanence released in 2011, he has continuously experimented with different ways of moving the crowd soncially and visually. A few months ago, he conceived an audiovisual performance along with the French collective Scale. The project, entitled FORMS, and is a perfect mix of art, design, architecture, and visual effects.
We spoke with Agoria to find out more about this project, as well as his history as a powerhouse of French electro.
The Creators Project: Is FORMS your first audiovisual performance?
Agoria: Actually it’s not, I worked on an audiovisual show with Honza from Pfadfinderei four or five years ago. But I met Scale quite recently, and when Jean-Louis Brossard [artistic director of Transmusicales, one of the biggest music festivals in France] asked me if I had something special in mind for the festival, I contacted them instantly. That’s how it all began. Art first, the project was a classic pattern of illustration for the music I was playing, but significant changes were made this year.
How did the collaboration take place? Did you draw up the visuals with them?
We started with the idea of playing live with all the constraints that come with it. Musically, the set is both scripted and improvised—same thing in terms of visuals. The first shows were a bit unstructured and tended to go in every which way. We had to refine the visual aspect of the project to make it stronger. In music or architecture, putting too many layers or effects detracts the original message. It was necessary to record many of our shows to see what was working well. In the end, we kept a basic structure we liked in order to write our story. But we really want it to be lively, with a big share of improvisations and surprises. We’re kind of a rock band, but without choruses.
Agoria’s performance at Rock en Seine.
Despite trying to preserve the idea of shared improvisation, do you tell the band in advance what kind of music you want to play?
Yes of course. I send them songs every week and we discuss the visuals that could fit. In fact, we have the wonderful opportunity to work with GETTY images via <a href ="http: //www.betc-communication.com/ “target=”_blank">BETC, which allows us to pick up images from an impressive visual bank. Scale makes short films from these images and plays them live. Sometimes it’s a brain-teaser for me too, because I always have to adapt my DJ set to the general atmosphere.
I watched your performance at Rock en Seine and noticed your DJ set was almost educational because it retraced the history of electro music. Was that intentional?
It was completely intentional, although I like to see myself as a witness of this scene. I want to convey something, but I don’t want to give lessons. FORMS is completely different from an electro festival like Dour or I LOVE TECHNO where the audience is thoroughly familiar with this kind of music. I really think that a DJ should convey emotions and stay true to his musical tastes. I think that’s why FORMS is such a powerful project. If I were alone playing a track from DJ SNEAK, Lil’ Louis or Kevin Saunderson without the global approach of the project, it wouldn’t work so well for an unacquainted listener. This audiovisual format makes the music more accessible.
Speaking of Saunderson, how did you meet him? I read that he asked you to remix Big Fun, the first record you ever bought.
I felt like I was meeting Prince or Madonna, it was unbelievable. When I was a kid, I washed my neighbors’ cars to make money to buy the single at the local supermarket. At that time, Inner City was all over the radio. Kevin Saunderson was looking for someone to remix his song for a Pias mix tape, and I think he liked my track La 11ème marche. Later on, I was lucky enough to see him training his baseball team and to play at one of his parties. It was a dream come true.
While you were composing the soundtrack for the movie Go Fast, you said that writing a scenario was like producing a music track. Why is that so?
At first, I wanted to be a screenwriter, so I studied cinema. Whether you compose a song or write a story, there’s always this research of momentum—this precise second when the viewer is seduced. Even with a very repetitive song, as it often happens in techno music, there is a moment where we lose footing. When this repetition becomes a hypnotic trance, it means you’ve reached the tipping point. But in the case of an evolving track, there is an introduction of elements (characters), development (narrative, dialogues), a beginning, an end and a momentum (which is often the break). Once you have these elements, a good piece should exceed these arithmetics. There is more madness than method in the creation of a good song or a good synopsis. This is also why we want FORMS to be partly improvised.
And how does your creative process differ when it comes to composing for someone else rather than yourself?
You have to serve the character of the movie, as well as the storyline. My first attempt was irrelevant because the music was taking up too much space and was putting the story out of sight. You have to stay subtle, but it really depends on the movie and the director. Sometimes, the music can be the main thread of the movie, but it’s mostly for art movies like Koyaanisqatsi.
Having a clear direction when you work for a movie is a true work of experimentation with specific guidances, so you’re going further in sound research. When you do an album, you’re so free that you can often get distracted. In electronic music, you can make the same track hundreds of times and test new sounds—it’s endless and it can be really dangerous. That’s why it’s so important to have a deadline. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t finish anything.
A glimpse of FORMS.
Are you planning to devote time to a movie project or has music taken up all the space in your life?
I would love to do other movie soundtracks, but I don’t have enough time to write. I usually write in airplanes, when I’m completely offline—it’s a moment I really like. But when you write a long project, you have to stay focused on it and it’s not possible for me right now. Perhaps when I’m 50, who knows.
What are your upcoming projects?
I’ve just finished mixing a new album from KID A and I’m currently remixing tracks for Woodkid, Tricky, and Tittsworth. I’m going to take a “break” in early 2013 to work on a personal record.