The French didn't invent disco, but they did help revitalize it. Daft Punk landed in the early 1990s with what can be called outer-space disco — an alien concoction of disparate sounds with filters and phasers galore. The Parisian duo is often credited as the chief necromancer behind disco's resurrection.
In the mid-2000s, another French act, Breakbot (Thibaut Berland), joined the scene with his disco-drenched remixes. Berland's vibe has been distinctly more traditional than that of his countrymen counterparts. Where Daft Punk might splice in elements of techno and pop, Berland's 2012 debut album, By Your Side, seemed to build exclusively from recycled resources of the late '60s and '70s disco.
By Your Side didn't gain great traction in the States but did see the artist acquire a dedicated following of disco traditionalists in France and abroad.
It took another four years for Berland to release a second album. In that time, Breakbot became a duo as Berland partnered with French singer Irfane, who sang on "Baby I'm Yours" and much of By Your Side. The vocalist became a permanent fixture, even joining Berland onstage for a Boiler Room set.
Released in February 2016, Still Waters is a confident if gentle departure from By Your Side. Where the debut felt relentlessly positive and adolescent, the followup is heavier and more mature. Where By Your Side could at times get jittery, Still Waters is steady and grounded. Where the former was steeped in disco and funk, the latter introduces spacey progressions and techno's deep, punchy bass lines.
We caught up with Thibaut Berland to talk about his newest album before Breakbot comes to play it for Miami at Bardot tomorrow.
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New Times: On Still Waters you introduce a lot of futuristic progressions and elements of space-disco. Was this an intentional departure from By Your Side, which is perhaps more traditional disco sounding?
Thibaut Berland: We've been listening to a lot of obscure cosmic disco tunes of late, so it influenced the sound of some the songs on the album. The opener for instance, "Back for More," can definitely be tied to that genre. In general, we tried to give the album some scope, and those tunes provide a nice contrast to some of the more classically structured pop songs on the record.
You’ve also introduced some darker, techno elements on Still Waters, which were essentially absent from By Your Side.
Once again, we spent a lot of time experimenting and also wanted to kind of upgrade our sound a bit. So yes, you're right, even if we're in a pop/funk/disco realm, some of the sounds used definitely have a techno/electronic feel to them. We're used to playing some house tunes during our sets, and many of our Parisian friends are electronic music producers, so it's only natural that you'll find some of that in the mix.
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The old album felt relentlessly upbeat and happy, but Still Waters has a heavier, more mature, more serious core. By Your Side can be jittery where Still Waters is grounded. Does this reflect your maturity as musicians?
Not only as musicians, but just as regular people going through life. Our music is the reflection of what we're going through. So some of the songs might be a bit darker, and some of the themes a bit heavier, but in general we're still very happy and want to share that feeling. We really tried to tailor the album as a journey. In practice, once we had 6-7 songs we were enthusiastic about, we started thinking about what was missing from the record for it to become a journey rather than just a collection of tracks.
How have you matured as musicians? In what ways do you approach production, remixing, and performing differently than you used to?
Whereas the first album was made mainly using a laptop loaded with plug-ins, we used a lot of outboard gear for this one. Synths, amps, effects, drum machines, pianos, electric bass and some elements of live drumming... We're trying to grow as musicians, so that entails looking into the technical aspects of production a lot and improving our skills. In as far as the live performance is concerned, we tried to reflect the more organic feel of the album on stage. It made sense to tour with a full live band, which is what we're doing now. That allows us to convey a lot more to our audience.
You’ve previously credited Prince as a major influence. How did you respond to the news of his death?
We were in tears. Not only was he a musical genius but he was also a part of our youth, so losing someone you've basically grown up with is a hard blow. His influence is so big it's hard to say where to start. We used a Linn Drum on pretty much every single track on Still Waters. That goes to show how much of an inspiration he was.