The post-punk guitars, stripped-bare machine grooves and proper songs of album 'Dancers'. DJ Mag linked with Tim to talk stepping back from the dancefloor, originality and the vibrancy of the UK dance scene...
“I consider this album as the end of a cycle,” says Frenchman Tim Paris of his debut full length, 'Dancers'. “I’ve been producing almost 10 years and have done many different types of electronic music.” He’s not wrong, because over the course of the last decade he has released everything from electro house to off-kilter tech via sun frazzled disco and stripped-bare soft techno. In that time he has appeared on labels like 2020 Vision, his own Marketing Music and Tiefschwarz’s Souvenir, but most recently it is with synth-obsessed Canadian label My Favorite Robot that he has formed his closest ties.
There is something about the music that label releases that marries up perfectly with Paris’ beautifully chilly and stark visions of the future. Clearly obsessed with electronics and alien sounds rather than organic instrumentation, it is something of a shock to learn that the man’s main musical influences are of Afro-American origin, despite more obvious parallels being drawn with contemporary peers like Daniel Avery or Raudive and their weird machine workouts, though he does concede that the studio where he wrote the record “is also responsible for the general colour”, which in this case is a muted, buffed metal silver lit up with neon hued melodies or dirtied with nicotine riffs and scuzzy lo-fi basslines.
“You’ll be surprised, but my main musical background definitely leans towards black music in general, from soul to jazz to disco,” he muses. “And now for a few years I have been obsessed with classical music. None of these things are clearly suggested in 'Dancers', but this record is a picture of a certain moment of my musical life: it certainly does not embody the whole of it. The album is a way to sum up all my interests and explore them with more of a songlike approach.”
Explaining that his music has grown “a lot simpler as I try to get rid of all the unnecessary cosmetics and artifices” over the life of his production career, the human grit and roughness of 'Dancers' also saw Paris work in a different fashion than has been his norm up to now. “I usually devote an awful lot of time to my tracks, trying to figure out the best options. I changed my approach for the album and forced myself to compose music in a more instantaneous manner. Each of the songs is based on my first intentions but I tend to write tracks that are pretty long with different sections inside. For 'Dancers', this didn’t feel relevant because when there is 70 minutes to express yourself, you don’t need to say it all in each individual tune.”
It is likely that sentiment, that true understanding of the long-player format, that makes 'Dancers' such a success where many other electronic full-lengths fall short. Rather than stuff each track with too many ideas, or simply churn out a bunch of brainless and ultimately boring bangers, the dancefloor hardly figured in Paris’s mind during the writing of the album. “My plan was to explore as many genres as possible. I suppose when you listen to the full album you realise each track has different influences and references, whether it’s new wave or ‘50s lo-fi rock or Detroit electro…” he tails off before recognising the disadvantages of such an ambitious and widescreen approach. “To make all these styles coexist inside one record was the real challenge!”
But he made it work, and despite the mutant fusion of non-4/4 influences on the album, it is still one with a steady and infectious pulse running right through its core. “The album is called 'Dancers' as that dancing element is at the centre of my love for music,” offers Tim. “The ‘dancing’ factor is also what glues all these different tunes together, but it’s not really the dance floor I had in mind… I love dancing and do so everyday at home or in the studio, it’s part of my life, yet the dancefloor of a club is a different beast as most of the time it falls under a certain category of music, so a large group of people can dance to it. I certainly didn’t care much about my tunes being played in a nightclub for this project.”
Although Paris had been closely involved in the French music scene, he has been happily based in London for the last seven years. It was a move that came about because of the attraction of the English capital’s “vibrant music scene”. At the same time, the move has kept Tim on his toes owing to the “restless competition, which makes things pretty stressful” and he has interesting things to say about the differences between the two countries and their respective music scenes.
“In France there’s a tremendous ditch between popular and quality music. Whereas there isn’t really a difference between underground and commercial music in the UK, and that’s amazing: however edgy your sound might be, there are still hopes for you to get popular.”
Popularity — in the strictest, most underground sense — is something that has come to Paris thanks to his collaboration with fellow Gallic star Ivan Smagghe. The pair irregularly DJ and produce together, and in fact have a full-length album coming soon. “I met Ivan in Paris almost 20 years ago as he was working at the Rough Trade record shop (they used to have one in Paris). Paris was a pretty small scene for electronic music at that time and it didn’t take long to meet all the people involved. We had a night together circa 2001 called Politics of Dancing. Then we hung out again in London as we both accidentally ended up moving here, and in 2008 the time was just right: Ivan had left Black Strobe and was craving to make some music, and I was a bit exhausted of working on my own so we started producing together. He’s such a brilliant person to work with, he’s just exceptionally fast at spotting what’s worthy or not, and I think we give each other a certain form of confidence that allows us to make such ‘risky’ music with It’s A Fine Line.”
Collaborating is something Paris has done often (as is remixing, with a whopping 45 included in his vast discography) from working with Partial Arts to producing with Pete Herbert. More recently he has worked alongside a range of talented vocalists and it’s those sorts of collaborations that feature on 'Dancers'. Rather than diluting Paris’ unique message or disturbing the flow of the LP, though, names like Georg Levin (a BBE and Sonar Kollektiv associate), Forrest and Sex Judas all help elevate tracks way above mere dancefloor fodder.
“When I cooperate I normally have an idea that has inspired the track, and submit that to the singer. I like to ask them to step aside of their usual register, as with Coco Solid, for instance, who is mainly a hip-hop singer but because I was struck by her voice in the Parallel Dance Ensemble I thought she would fit perfectly in a more new-wave(ish) musical environment.”
It’s an approach that works, and like the one that informs the music he releases on his own Marketing Music label, all serves to add to the electronic music conversation rather than re-hash what has gone before.
“I am not trying to invade the world with my brand, but look out for music that is odd, original, quirky, surprising. I don’t really see any point in doing a label to release a specific kind of music and try to rally a certain scene. There is so much electronic music coming out each week there’s no need to add any more standardized records to the pile.”