France’s Para One broke out as a beatmaker, creating a distinct amalgamation of the style for French rappers TTC. He first gained widespread attention for the track “Dans le Club,” in which you can hear the glitched out precursors to his current sound. He branched out by producing for other French hip-hop acts like Antilop Sa and L’atelier, and releasing his solo debut Epiphanie in 2006.
We caught up with Para One in his studio, which he shares with the DJs from Birdy Nam Nam, and he soberly told us he had only slept for two hours. This kicked off our conversation about his work, the identity problems of the French, and more on the endless thoughts of his sleepless nights.
The Creators Project: What’s keeping you awake?
Para One: I think I’m having trouble getting sleep because of the imminent release of the album. I’m excited and a bit scared at the same time. The album was released last week in Japan and is out worldwide today. I guess it is normal to feel that way when you release an LP that really is important to you, and that’s precisely the case with Passion. I’m always dreading that Internet trolls will trash it eventually, although the feedback has been pretty good so far.
Everything went pretty well with your first album Epiphanie, right?
There have been mixed reviews. It was a radical album which brought several new things to the audience, but it also cooled many people down. This one is more anthemic, probably because it is way more mature. At first, I wanted this album to be experimental, but I have pop tendencies which naturally came out, making it easier to listen to. It’s not a demonstration of power like “Clubhoppn,” which is something I did extensively when I was seeking to display my worth. Now, I only want my music to be a reflection of my hyperactive disposition.
We can really hear that in your new album, especially with the interlude “Vibrations/Poisened Apples,” that you scratch.
Well spotted. I took advantage of my bad scratcher background, sufficient enough for me to do DJ Premier-like scratches. But in terms of hip-hop, people mostly know me for the productions I did for TTC, who wanted to create a new sound uprooting every 90s influence. I wanted to do something completely different and go back to the rap I grew up with. I actually composed this interlude in 1998-1999.
How did the vocal recordings go? It’s the first time we’re hearing so many different singers on your solo tracks.
I made peace with that. I used to produce using so many vocals with TTC that I wanted Epiphanie to be very instrumental. At that time, there really was an emphasis on rappers or singers, leaving producers in retreat. On this album, I wanted to assemble vocal tracks, but it went so well while we were recording in the studio that we ended up with real songs.
Your first album has a very French dimension, just by looking at the tracks’ titles. On the other hand, Passion has mostly English titles, and the lyrics are in English as well.
This is part of my universalist desire that fits with the record’s pop spirit. I assumed it was time for my music to travel abroad. It’s already the case, but in a club scene based on my remixes. If I really want to make an artistic proposal, it is necessary for me to let go of this all-French side, although this love for 90s rap is very French. The album also features many English deep house influences, but it is mostly influences that made an impact on French people.
There’s also a funk vibe to it, similar to Prophet or Club Nouveau. Even on the single’s cover.
Yes, Club Nouveau actually did a track called “Lean On Me,” but that’s just blind chance. I have great memories of the time when I used to go in the Quartier Latin with Tacteel to bargain hunt old jazz-funk vinyl. There was a free artistic ambition with obscene covers and incredibly abstract designs at the same time, and I really wanted to pay a tribute to this period. Slice and Soda was very funk and disco as well. I hardly talk about it as a reference because it’s obvious for me, but regarding this album, I tried to use funk extracts like samples with a digital twist. Regarding the musical influences that impacted French people, I think that we have a specific obsession for Larry Heard who wasn’t even a prophet in his own country. French people appropriated his music, just like they did with Todd Edwards or DJ Premier. That is mostly because record dealers, journalists, and radios used to point out a specific artist. Larry Heard is clearly a reference for me, if only for his bass textures. There’s been a revival of these kinds of sounds with Motor City Drum Ensemble and it really moves me.
Passion represents a complete break with Epiphanie, which was really cold, wintry and sad.
There are so many things I love about art—and not just about music—but I particularly love the fact that it allows me to be transparent. There was a long break between my two albums, and the listener can easily guess what has changed in that time. I used to work with very tight deadlines, even if it meant neglecting my releases. I was 24 when I composed my first solo record, which is indeed very sad and melancholic. At that time, I was still struggling with the neurotic problems you can have when you’re a stressed young man. Now that I’m more confident with my work. The ego dimension of my music has completely disappeared. I managed to carve out my niche, I can say whatever I feel like saying without racing with other producers. Although this album was conceived in my darkest hours, it reflects an appeasement. The biggest challenge was to find the right balance without getting too innocuous.
So is your new label Marble more relaxed than your previous label Institubes?
I guess so. It’s lighter. We have more control and we were followed by many loyal fans. Institubes was more protean. We have come to a stage where we know where we want to go. Each artist from the label does something different than the others, but we’re heading in the same direction.
Are you planning to sign a rapper?
Not yet. Even as a producer, I’m waiting to meet the right person. Today, I have the chance to choose the projects I want to undertake. I don’t want to produce some guy just because his manager is willing to cough up an unreasonable amount of money.
How did you chose the artists for the remixes of “Lean On Me”?
We gave it a lot of thought with Teki Latex, who was very committed to the conception of this EP. It was a bit special to pick “Lean on Me” as a debut single because it is not necessarily the catchiest track on the album, but I think it’s its best allegory. I didn’t want to mislead people with tracks like “When The Night” or “Every Little Thing.” As for remixes, we picked remixers from everywhere that we really admire. I’m a huge fan of Max Tundra, Salva, and Hdrvision, . We could have asked all of our friends to do a remix, from A-Trak to Brodinski, and it would have been played in every club, but I didn’t think it suited this track. I might do this later though, I’m planning to release two others EPs.
Will there be videos to illustrate your singles? There haven’t been many official videos for your songs except for the ones you directed for “Dudun-dun” and “Lean on me.”
There will be another music video directed by Club Cheval for the track You. When I directed “Lean On Me”, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. At first, I wanted to direct each of my videos but it was such a strong experience to go to Japan and shoot these images that the idea of not getting this exhilarating feeling back really bugged me. There’s two options: 1) Waiting to have an idea that really motivates me and I do everything it takes to make it possible and 2) Ask someone else. But more than ever, I’m ready to play the game. After all, it’s what I was trained for [note: Para One is a graduate of La Fémis, one of the most prestigious cinema schools in France] and even if I don’t have enough time to direct a full movie, I’ve been incubating a project for a while.
Passion is out today on Marble and Because Music. You can download it iTunes.