Pascal Arbez-Nicolas is the legendary French electronic dance music artist known as Vitalic, but he doesn't consider himself a producer. He's more of a songwriter who tells stories using the sound palette of techno house, he says, filtering his personal life through four-to-the-floor bangers with big kick drums and blasts of synthesizer.
"It's not so obvious," he says. "I'm not saying I'm lovesick, sad, happy, or high. It's not clear like this, but there are stories in my songs. It's not just about dancing on the dance floor and hedonistic things."
Massive digital visuals usually help clue in the audience during Vitalic's performances. From a creative standpoint, the sounds and images are part of the same package.
"I think there's a strong connection between music and technology and visuals," he says. "In fact, before I finish an album, I have the story, the concepts in mind, and it's very interesting to tell the story onstage with the visuals."
Speaking ahead of Vitalic's show at the Ground tonight, Thursday, March 8, Arbez-Nicolas says he'll roll out fresh takes on old material, including choice selections from his breakthrough debut EP, Poney, and his 2005 opus, OK Cowboy. He'll also mix in tracks from his latest album, the disco-inspired Voyager. All of his albums have been different, but Arbez-Nicolas says the textures of his synthesizer sounds have remained fairly consistent, and he's maintained many of the same sensibilities.
"I have a specific way of writing melodies, a way I would say is a bit French," he explains.
After more than 20 years of producing electronic music (Arbez-Nicolas laments he's "not so young anymore"), he has a sound that's progressive but still owes a lot to '90s house and techno. Despite dance music's
warehouse-rave origins, he strives to make music that's more than a soundtrack for drug-fueled parties.
"I like energy and beats and power," he says. "But, you know, yesterday I was at a party, and it was six hours of drum machine. I like big bass drums, but I was missing something. I think melodies bring something deeper to dance music. I try to reach something in between energy and melodies and give it a twist — something a bit weird, you know?"
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Because of his distaste for repetitive, one-dimensional dance music, he's dismayed to see that rave culture has returned in France. He's observed that kids are increasingly skipping the nightclub scene in favor of house parties in the suburbs.
"I really feel like it's 1997 again," he says. "I can go out to parties and feel like I'm 20. But it's funny, but I'm not so crazy about that moment anymore. Rave is really back. It's the same music with the same machines... It's good to have a foot in the past and a foot in the present, but now I feel like we've got both feet in the past."
From Arbez-Nicolas' perspective, electronic music must move forward — just like a good story.