Anyone who grew up in the ’90s will remember that, back then, popular dance music simply belonged to France. It was as though it had all been planned: suddenly acts ranging from Air and Daft Punk to Dimitri From Paris were bringing out funk-infused electro music that sounded at once completely fresh, and also undeniably all part of one, very Parisian, scene. ‘Electronic music provided us with a chance to get around the language barrier,’ explains BoomBass (real name Hubert Blanc-Francard, on the left side of the image). ‘A lot of kids in France couldn’t empathise with the mainstream French ballads. Dance allowed us to express ourselves with no words, or minimal English.’
Hubert should know. One half of dance act Cassius with Philippe Zdar (aka Philippe Cerboneschi, right), he rode that bass-warbling wave as it pounded up the River Seine a decade ago. If any track (not by Daft Punk) defined that era, it was their ‘Cassius 1999’.
‘I would say the beginning of the ’90s and today are my favourite eras of dance music,’ Hubert declares in a thick French accent down the phone from Paris. Seeing that he’s playing a set at Dubai’s Chi this Thursday night, it’s good to hear him include the present as one of his most creatively fruitful periods. Because, let’s be frank, Cassius have been a bit quiet of late. In fact, until this year’s (OK, very noisy) ‘Youth, Speed, Trouble, Cigarettes’ release, we hadn’t heard a peep from them since third album, 15 Again, in 2006. What on earth have they been up to?
‘We quit EMI, took all our tapes back from them and launched our own label called Cassius Records,’ Hubert explains. ‘It took time to build, but now we’re ready to release some more of our music. For the past few years Philippe and I have been working on so many different things, but now we are trying to focus back on Cassius and do what it is we do.’
Indeed, the pair have collaborated with so many other producers, musicians and DJs it’s a wonder they still remember each other’s pseudonyms. MC Solaar, Etienne de Crécy, Jocelyn Brown, Pharrell Williams, Steve Edwards, Wu-Tang Clan and, more recently, Phoenix are just a few of the people they’ve shared a recording studio and mixing desk with. But, dare we ask, who have they enjoyed working with the most? ‘I really loved Jocelyn Brown, and Pharrell was also really great,’ Hubert says instinctively, before doling out the standard industry answer: ‘But it’s hard to say which collaboration I preferred. With almost everybody we shared some special moments. I promise I’m not being diplomatic – it’s just difficult to say an order.’
Hmmm. We try to get a rise out of him via a different tack. In 2006, as part of the Cassius Workshop project, the duo provided the public with the a cappella version of their single ‘Toop Toop’. They received 450 remixes in return. But surely a fair few of these were insultingly bad duds? ‘Sometimes we didn’t really like the music, but it was never horrible,’ Hubert says. ‘With all the amazing technology around today, if you want to create something horrible you have to be really, really bad.’ How pragmatic. Does that mean, then, that anyone can be a DJ now? ‘Everyone can be a bedroom DJ. Everybody can use their computers and play music for their friends at a house party. But DJing at a packed venue is a different thing altogether. Whether you’re any good or not then all depends on the feeling of the crowd of people right there on the dancefloor in front of you.’ Another rather stock DJ answer then.
So what music gives Hubert that special ‘feeling’ these days? ‘I still listen to Serge Gainsbourg and other old French stuff. He wrote fantastic lyrics. But I don’t really listen to French music, I am not really into it,’he admits. ‘I do love this new Belgian band called The Subs. And The Resets from Italy – they are really nice, really cool.’ These are not responses we might initially expect from such a stalwart of the French dance scene. We decide to push him a little further. Might he say that Belgium and Italy are, possibly, the new France when it comes to fresh dance music? Has the scene shifted cross-continent?
‘Yes!’ he replies enthusiastically. ‘Belgium and Italy are definitely developing when it comes to dance. There are so many different sounds coming out of Europe right now.’
And what about Dubai? What does our fair emirate sound like? ‘The sound of ego. Of human ego,’ Hubert muses. ‘Not specifically the ego of the Dubaian people, but people in general. And I don’t mean it’s a negative sound – more like the sound of human ambition. Something very, very loud, whatever it is.’ And something, at least this weekend, with an absolutely booming bass line.