Time to Chill

French electro-chic conquers the United States

Suddenly, during the spring of 2001, Hotel Costes was everywhere. Everywhere that mattered. Almost simultaneously, the groovy yet relaxed rhythms spun during and after dinner in the lobby of the lush four-star Parisian hotel by French DJ Stephane Pompougnac could be heard over the chatter at well-appointed brunches on Key Biscayne, amid the clatter of silverware in cozy restaurants in Coconut Grove, and in counterpoint to the swish of raw silk at ultracool clothing stores on Lincoln Road.

Pause a moment in your analysis of the finale of your favorite HBO series, and you would hear Shirley Bassey's swinging love song "Where Do I Begin" reinvented as a downtempo heartbreak anthem. Look up from your cappuccino and copy of Vanity Fair and bounce to the funky bass and electronic snare of Cujo-Superstars of Rock's "Apollo" playing at the outdoor café. Tell the waiter: "Track twelve, please." Your psyche slips into the way-out drums of Nickodemus's "Cleopatra in New York" as you finish your crème brûlée.

Ah, to be upscale and cool. Or to put it more precisely, upscale and chill. If Spain's José Padilla invented the laid-back and lush electronic genre known as chill over sunset cocktails at the Café del Mar on the island of Ibiza, Pompougnac brought chill indoors and infused it with the spirit and myth of Parisian café society.

Hotel Costes is not just for dance fans
Hotel Costes is not just for dance fans

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From 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays Admission is free. Call 305-865-1100.
Saks Fifth Avenue in the Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave, Bal Harbour.

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"When you have to make people dance, that's one thing," the DJ tells New Times while cozied up on a couch squeezed in beside the caterer's station on the back patio of the South Beach club Rain during a Winter Music Conference showcase last March. A compact, handsome man in his mid-thirties, Pompougnac speaks English slightly less badly than New Times speaks French, and so we are interrupting the interview every so often to ask a handler to translate or to exercise our right of first refusal of the seafood hors d'oeuvres heading out on the caterers' silver trays. A delicate shrimp in hand, the DJ continues, "At a restaurant, some people just want to have dinner -- no music. I have to prepare everybody to enjoy the music. I have to teach them to listen to a new style."

The guests at the Hotel Costes learned their lessons well; soon they were asking the DJ for music to take home. Pompougnac got the idea that his own chill approach should not be confined to the four walls of the Hotel Costes, where he provided an elegant electronic backdrop to diners and dalliers at the hotel's outdoor café -- however exquisite the garden or gilded the sofa cushions. His Hotel Costes should be broken into little digital bits for all the world of chic to hear.

The hoteliers acquiesced, Pompougnac says, somewhat reluctantly at first, to lending the institution's name to a DJ compilation. "For the first disc, I had to do everything myself," he points out. "I even took the picture for the CD cover." But when so many proved so eager to own a piece of the Costes's aural essence, the hotel happily lent its name again and again and again up until the recent release of Hotel Costes, volume 5and counting.

But for now we are concerned with Hotel Costes, volume 3. For although volume 1 opens with a delicious rendition of the Rodgers and Hart standard "My Funny Valentine" by a band called Big Muff and volume 2 boasts "Sympathique," a delightful French sing-along by Pink Martini whose French chorus we've deciphered as I don't want to work/I don't want to eat breakfast/I just want to forget/And so I smoke(now what could be more glamorously French than that?), these attractions alone were not enough to alter the atmosphere on the other side of the Atlantic.

Volume 1 and volume 2 with all their charms were available to buyers in the United States through the South Florida-based importer MSI Music, which carried both titles among, as they say in the biz, its 80,000 skews -- the row upon row of CDs that line shelf upon shelf in MSI's enormous and immaculate warehouse just off the Palmetto. Volumes 1 and 2 sat waiting for Windows shoppers at Virgin, or Tower, or Amazon.com to place an order. But who knew those were the two titles anyone wanted among all those skews?

Only a very select few knew, until the people at French label Pschent approached the importers at MSI looking for a deal. "[French] labels were saying, 'We don't have representation in the United States,'" reports Ruben Leyva, vice president of sales for MSI. Even without any promotion stateside, Hotel Costes volumes 1 and 2 did a decent business. The idea of what might happen if someone did push the series was enticing enough to seduce Leyva and his boss, MSI president Ben Colonomos, into the marketing and promotion business after fourteen years of importing and distributing discs from Europe, Australia, and Japan. "With volume 3, we started to work the Hotel Costes series," says Leyva, "more like a record label."

And how. "We've moved close to 200,000 units of products from the international labels," claims Leyva. "A little over 110,000 on the Costes series alone." That's a tidy little niche, especially when the music industry at large is in such dire straits. MSI has been promoting French lounge and chill with events like the WMC showcase at Rain for Pompougnac and his playmate, French house DJ Charles Schilling, last spring and a late-night showcase for the two DJs at Mynt. MSI has also thrown a party in Paris in the Hotel Costes itself and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the old Maxim's. Most recently, MSI co-hosted a party featuring Pompougnac and Schilling with the Elite Modeling Agency in the newly reopened Limelight nightclub in New York.

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