The Modern House Quintet is a French duo quickly earning a name for themselves thanks to their always interesting take on house and techno.
Musicians in every sense of the word, the pairing are the sort of act who take great pleasure in pushing their machines to the max, with the end results boasting the sort of sophistication for which the French themselves are renowned. Releasing primarily through their Modern House Quintet label, the pairing have released just short of ten records, with each one woth-checking-out as much as the next. Indeed, quality is a hallmark of every release, so it’s no real surprise to learn that they’re quickly making a name for themselves amongst discerning heads.
We caught up with one of the elusive duo (the boys prefer to let the music do the talking, for the most part) to get their thoughts on a variety of subjects and find out a bit more about them. Without further ado, here’s what went down…
“it adds a little mystery and charm to stay ‘anonymous’, or obscure. “
Can you remember the track, album or night out that made you want to create music of your own?
There’s not really one track or an album in particular. It has more to with the fact that we both listened to a lot of music when we were younger: punk-rock music for one, jazz and rap music for the other (electronic music came slightly after). As in literature, when you’ve read a lot, you start to write a few things on your own and you see what happens (for some people anyway). Applied to music, I guess it was the same thing for us.
And at what stage did you begin to take music production seriously? Are you guys qualified musicians or are you entirely self-taught?
Self-taught! But we always took music production seriously. We discovered FL Studio and liked computer music programming. Then we moved to Ableton, started to buy some machines and read instruction manuals.
So how long did it take you to get to a stage where you were comfortable with the music you were making? Are musicians ever truly comfortable do you think?
We were really comfortable the first time we played (we always are). It was also very exciting. We can only speak for ourselves though.
As live musicians, you obviously rely on hardware a lot. Do you have a favourite piece of kit that you tend to use on most of your tracks? And what is it that you love about using this sort of kit?
The Pyramid (Squarp) is one of the favourites because it acts as the main Midi clock and sequences all our synthesizers. It’s the bandmaster, on scenes and during rehearsals. It offers us a lot of liberty in terms of managing all our Midi sequences. The TR-909 is also a favourite, of course. And we like our Akaï filter very much (MFC-42). Also, a special mention for the TR-727 (which is often under-looked) because it provides great percussions (congas, bongos…). The way we work on stage – without any computers – always ensures us and the audience a different live every time because everything can happen. For example, one time, one of the 909’s keys wasn’t working properly so we had to swiftly find a way to transform that flaw into a strength. In addition to that, we never really follow a precise tracklisting (we do have some notes written though). To summarize, our kit allows us to both improvise and create an opposition between raw drum sounds and some more mellow synth lines. Now, the challenge is to renew some elements in the songs and to add complexity to the live performances, to not get bored and to enhance the connection between the crowd and us.
Have you tried making music with laptops or do you feel it’s impossible to replicate the music you make on software?
I guess it would be possible. We like and we use softwares but, when it comes to playing music on stage, the ‘fun factor’ is far superior when you use hardware entirely, especially when there is more than one musician. Hardware is also something we’re more comfortable with on scene. That being said, at home, in the studio, we work with a computer, amongst other things. But basically, whether it’s during live shows or in the studio, we use machines that allow us to set quickly in music what we have in our heads.
Are you guys DJs too?
A part of us was, a long time ago.
Lets talk a bit about the label. What inspired you to set it up? Did you try and get your music signed elsewhere beforehand?
We set the label up simply because we were tired of hearing « tracks are good but… ». Consequently, we decided to set it up by ourselves and look out for the reactions (which were positive). Besides, we like to determine when a vinyl record is going to come out, aside from the classic time period where the vinyl is being actually made (now, we’re used to the schedule of the mastering/cutting studios and pressing plants’).
You tend to stay relatively anonymous online and for want of a better phrase, ‘let the music do the talking’. What’s the idea here? Is this a conscious thing?
It’s actually not so much about the ‘let the music do the talking’ concept. We merely think it adds a little mystery and charm to stay ‘anonymous’, or obscure. It’s always more romantic, exciting and enigmatic when you have to imagine things for yourself. We like when it’s subtle, when everything is not shown and given instantly.
Do you sort of feel like there’s a lot of bullshit in the industry and maybe it’s something you’d rather not contribute to yourselves?
We try to communicate a little bit, in order to maintain a kind of an online presence, but it’s less funny than making music!
Regarding France, do you get to play at home much? And how much does the country and your surroundings in general influence your music?
Sadly, we don’t get to play that much in France. Even if we’d love to. Maybe it is because we do everything ourselves. Besides, so far, we didn’t find any booking/touring agent. Be that as it may, it’s still surprising for us to have so few gigs. But let’s remain optimistic and positive! That being said, apart from the Syncrophone crew (Didier, Jonathan, Blaise, Jude) and a few other people (the Point Carré collective, Céline (Sundae), Aleqs Notal, Myako), we aren’t really part of the French scene, even musically. It’s not something that we chose intentionally by the way, it just ‘happened’ like that.
And electronic music aside, what are your main influences? Do you greatly influence one another too?
Yes indeed because we have very different academic and musical backgrounds. Regarding our influences, my colleague is really into Steve Reich, Phillip Glass and Terry Riley’s work (the minimalist American music scene), whereas I listen to a lot of jazz, mostly jazz between 1945 through 1965 (be-bop, cool jazz, harp-bop, and a little bit of free jazz like Eric Dolphy or Ornette Coleman).
Do you always make music together or do you have solo projects too?
Not always. Sometimes, one of us is doing the main sketches, the other steps in afterwards to coordinate all the sequences and make a few corrections. Sometimes, it’s the other way around. But I’d say that roles are quite well divided in the band: I’m more of a musician, whereas he’s more of a technician.
Regarding the latest EP, can you talk us through the vibe you were going for here and how it differs from your other work?
This time, the three songs are really different from each other. The first one (« Lisa ») is a piano-house track, in order to warm you up, with a few percussions and some guitar, whereas the second one (« Chora ») is more of a deep-techno-dreamy-ethereal song. As for the last one (« Schinoussa »), it was designed with the idea of something more raw and rough, like a heavy hybrid house/techno DJ tool.
Do you tend to get tracks finished quickly and work on them for days at time or do you regularly work together?
When the main idea is there, we work quite quickly. However, the sequencing and mixing parts require quite some time. It’s during this process that you handle all the specifics and give extra attention (and moments) to all the little details: amount and duration of various effects, panning, equalization. On the other hand, we sometimes also start a song from scratch, without any particular ideas. In these moments, where we have nothing concrete in mind, we merely jam with our synths and drum machines. The nice part in this process is that it’s where you can come across ’happy errors’.
And can you talk us through your studio a bit and your production process?
In the studio, we use a combination of hardware (analogue and digital) and software. For instance, we have several drum machines (Roland, MFB, Acidlab), a few keyboards and synths (Roland, Waldorf, Moog, a TB-303 clone), various pedal effects (mostly Strymon), some filters (Akaï, and one EQ pedal from this english brand – it’s one guy actually – called Bug Brand). We had a Korg Monopoly but we sold it. We also use plug-ins. However, we very rarely use samples. When a track is finished and ready for the mastering and cutting process, we keep the substantive core in order to re-arrange it for the live version, with different bass and synth lines. Consequently, live versions differ from the studio ones.
Finally, what’s next on the agenda for you both? What’s keeping you excited about the new year?
We’re releasing a new Modern House Quintet record (MHQ 007) at the end of January, followed by a Cyclades one (CYC 002) at the beginning of march. A live at the Djoon club (Paris) is scheduled in spring with the Point Carré collective. And 2018 is the year we find a booking/touring agent (we’d love to play in Amsterdam!).
The Modern House Quintet’s “Egee” EP is out soon on the Modern House Quintet label