It’s hard to believe that Hugues ‘Bobmo’ Rey has been firing out leftfield dancefloor bombs for nearly a decade. Bursting onto a French scene that already bustled with stars, from the (then) new kids Justice over at Ed Banger, to the ever-present robot-headed statesmen, the boy from Bordeaux still managed to carve a name for himself within the space of a couple of hyped-up EPs. His sound was an anarchic, colourful mix, taking the noisy electro of the day and pushing it in unexpected directions — throwing in tattered-edged house, wonky stabs of techno granite, B-more bass pressure, hip-hop aesthetics and a big sense of fun.
“My production was really ghetto!” he laughs of those foundation years. “I wasn't good at it — I was writing in my bedroom with my old PC and bad speakers… I didn't know anything about producing and mixing a track.”
He cites a crucial turning point as occurring four years ago. Now firmly ensconced in the Parisian scene, Rey found himself with access to a proper studio. “This changed everything. Para One, Surkin and many other producers were also in the same building, it was really exciting to share this space with them; share new demos and ideas, talk about compression at lunch! I was in the studio every day. Then we decided to launch Marble, and I did the EP 'The Cliff' — it was the beginning of something: I was able to do different stuff than I used to. From this point I was thinking I should explore more and make an album.”
Marble was the ideal platform to make this move from. Emerging from the ashes of Institubes — an umbrella label that eventually collapsed under the strain of its own financial weight — Marble was created as a viable, streamlined solution to continuing the sound the main Institubes players, Surkin, Para One and Bobmo were creating. Suddenly the trio went from working in a tightly constrained situation to being able to release what they wanted, when they wanted. “Institubes managed many, many artists. They had three sub labels at the end. It was a difficult and long process to release an EP. With Marble we try to be really reactive and fast — it's not easy to make music and manage the releases, which is why we aren't signing too many new artists. It’s me, Para One, Surkin, and now Myd and Canblaster have joined. Sometimes we’ll make vinyl but it's not a necessity.”
And this brings us bang up to date. After eight years honing his craft, Bobmo has finally readied his debut album. Given the fitting, optimistic title 'New Dawn', the record is an attempt to distil all his obsessions into a timeless dance album. “My main idea was to do a club album, mixing all my influences and getting something coherent at the end, which wasn't easy because it's very varied! I tried to make an album that we can’t really date. It's like a tribute to the music I love and I've tried to bring it into the modern world — it’s very personal: these are my influences — I’m not pretending to show the future or make radio hits, I've only tried to do something honest. And I think that's a good way to do a first album!”
Whilst Bobmo may have tried — and in many ways succeeded — to make a timeless dance album, one decade looms large over 'New Dawn'. From the lush synth swoons, to the bursts of hard acid and 909 crunch, 'New Dawn' is a child of the '90s. It moves easily from the blissful pads of 'Memories’ near beatless ambient drift, rich with wide-eyed, tripped-out melodies that nod to Orbital’s finest work, to the Surkin-assisted 'Mind Control', where Rey mainlines the filthy analogue grit of Daft Punk’s debut, cribbing the saw-toothed bite of 'Rolling & Scratching' to great effect. It’s to his benefit that he doesn’t merely draw his influences from the '90s megastars — he’s just as interested in the tracks that were influencing them, digging deep backwards to create something new.
“I’ve been inspired by a lot of key singles from Chicago on Trax records, Dance Mania, Relief, and UK stuff like the early LFO, 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald... R&S stuff too. There's this Chicago track from Ron Trent called 'Altered States', I've listening to it for years, it’s probably the biggest influence for me. It sounds really rough, ghetto and hypnotic at the same time: the drums are bangin’ really hard but there's this deep chord, really trippy over it, and this is precisely what I love and what I tried to do on my album, mixing both sides. I was also listening to new stuff like I:Cube's last album, Daphni and James Holden's 'The Inheritors' too.”
Bobmo’s fascination with '90s innovators has a freshness to its touch, precisely because it is all so fresh to him. Despite having grown up in the decade, as a teenager he had no interest in the music that’s shaping his sound, sticking avidly to hip-hop, and actively rejecting dance music. He explains that his first tastes of electronica only came through listening to the wilder edges of rap, with the freaked-out synthetic beats of groundbreaking NYC hip-hop experimentalists Anti Pop Consortium offering a window onto a whole world of rave — so why is it that he’s now decided to make an album that harks back to an earlier time? Is it purely nostalgia? And is he, an artist who always previously pushed into new forms, tacitly admitting that dance music has run out of ideas?
“Maybe I am nostalgic, but music is always interesting at its beginning; when something is really new. Like today with the new UK dubstep and the Jersey Club stuff, or the house music 30 years ago. I love when it's still naive. In the past the music was more focused on the style, on the feeling. Today the producers are focusing on the heaviness of their 'drop', they're making tools, utility music for the DJs, but there's no soul, they forget the most important thing. For example, I'm a big fan of Dance Mania records because of the vibe — and the quality of the music of course — but also because I'm fascinated by how 'punk' their records are. I try to keep this naivety from the golden age in my music, but still, I don't want to make it sound too old.”
Rey has fallen for the primal appeal of early dance records, for that time when incredible music was made with no rules and no restrictions, when the form was being invented and reinvented with every release, but he is just as enamoured with the urge to press forward as he is with sounds that characterise the old skool records themselves.
Take the recently streamed album track 'It Is Happening Again' — at first pass it’s a throwback to Joey Beltram-styled hard acid, the 303 squeezed to a rusted screech, a raging 909 rigidly body popping, snare rolls stripped down to a death squad rat-a-tat — all timeless warehouse shit. But listen further and you hear the classic house credentials being shaded by Bobmo’s mature sound design. The corners seethe with glitches and echoes, as though all the other sounds he loves are trying to kick through the walls.
Elsewhere, on 'I Want You' he constructs a lusty disco dream, with the French Touch overtones of his sweetly arping bassline smothered in waves of reverb laden strings, washing in on a tidal flow. Just as Burial’s music is infused with the blurry, distant echo of UK garage, Bobmo has found ways to represent the actual distance between his album and the work it references, using reverb and grainy textures to blur familiar motifs, creating an impressionist representation of dance history, something strange and new. This drive to push forward is one of the reasons he rarely bothers with the current vogue for fetishising analogue gear.
“Many producers are going back to the analogue stuff,” he explains, “and sometimes they're making the exact same music made 15 years ago. I think it's a shame. It’s hard to make things sound warm on a laptop, but mostly it’s what I’m using. I don't use a specific kit, I do everything with Reason, I have all the drum machines, soundbanks and tons of samples, and I try to mix them to get a unique sound. I also love to create my own synth patches — I like all the famous Juno synths which are responsible for all the big hits in the '90s but I don't want to use them again, it becomes too recognisable, it wouldn't be interesting for me. I don't want to sound exactly like these old classic tracks. Except if I want to do a real acid line, I will use a TB 303 of course.”
At its most modern, such as on current single 'When I Look', Bobmo forges what could be considered a Gallic response to Black Butter’s UK bass-infused update of Chicago house, combining timeless dance rhythms, soulful vocals, and an unerring knowledge in how to make a drop that’s cool, that bangs without just banging. There’s also a healthy dose of the naivety he previously mentioned, a sense of old skool rave utopianism running through the album. “Yes,” he agrees. “I try to put this innocence in my music. I'm very inspired by it. I called the album 'New Dawn' and later I found on the internet that there was a dance radio show in the UK back in ‘92 called New Dawn, The Meeting of the Minds. I listened to a few mixes from this show on YouTube and they’re awesome!”
This optimism is even — cautiously — extended to the French dance scene itself, with Rey suggesting that a previously disparate scene may be on the verge of coming together, surprisingly at the behest of an English benefactor. “The scene is a bit divided into record labels like us and a new techno scene which is emerging now, but it's going to change. Rinse France was launched few months ago and it reunites everybody here in Paris. There're many newcomers and new labels which are doing great stuff. I can recommend Clek Clek Boom, they’re doing straight techno with their own Parisian skills. And there's Sound Pellegrino which used to be part of Institubes as a sub label, they are still releasing great EPs and compilations.”
As for Bobmo himself, he’s just going to keep on having a good time. “I'm working on the live show at the moment, it's going to be fun! I'm also starting music for maybe a new EP for the end of the year. And already I’d love to start another album but I need to find time!”
Let’s just hope he does…