Saturday, January 05, 2008

Before The Robots Ruled The Earth

Motorbass - Stereogramm Gelato

Motorbass - La Doctoresse

Motorbass - Les Ondes
Motorbass - Neptune

Before Daft Punk made robots sexy and redefined dance music, placing Paris at the centre of the house music scene, a collaboration between fellow Parisian's Philippe Zdar and Etienne de Crécy would help to lay the foundations for one of the most fertile periods in French music history. Both Zdar and de Crécy would go onto create seminal albums as individuals; de Crécy under the Super Discount moniker, and Zdar enjoying commercial success with Cassius, alongside Hubert 'Boom Bass' Blanc-Francard. Boom Bass and Zdar also recorded as La Funk Mob for Mo Wax.

As Motorbass, the duo released two EP’s on their own label in 1993, ‘1st EP’ and ‘Transphunk EP’, showcasing a sound that combined old school hip hop and funk influences with heavy basslines and the traditional thud of 4/4 Chicago house. A fine example of their nascent sound was ‘Stereogramm Gelato’, which sampled the bassline from the Fatback Band’s ‘Wicky Wacky’, adding a solid house beat and various bleeps and tranced-out effects for a funky and unique take on house music. Another side to the Motorbass sound could be found on ‘La Doctoresse’ from the ‘Transphunk EP’, mellower in its construction, with a jazzy, trip hop vibe shared by F Comm’s brilliant, laidback jazzster St Germain. The duo signed for PIAS dance offshoot Different in 1996, releasing a second EP, ‘Ezio / Les Ondes’, before delivering the indescribably awesome ‘Pansoul’ LP, which is where I came in.

‘Pansoul’ is one of those albums that I have never grown tired of. It is an absolute classic, and would probably get far more recognition if it hadn’t been for the staggering global success of Daft Punk. It is far less commercial, but hugely innovative and massively influential. When listening to last year’s universally acclaimed Burial LP ‘Untrue’, I kept trying to work out what it reminded me of and finally I realised it was ‘Pansoul’. Check out ‘Les Ondes’ and ‘Neptune’, and the way the minimal snatches of vocal weave in and out of stark, dubby, atmospheric beats. 'Pansoul' is nowhere near as dark as 'Untrue' and injected with funk rather than paranoia, but in the same way that ‘Untrue’ was hailed as the sound of urban London by night, ‘Pansoul’ is an evocative soundtrack for a night on the tiles in underground Paris.

Tracks like ‘Flying Fingers’, with its sampled hip hop beats, scratching and twanging bass, add a head-nodding suss to the proceedings, and you won’t hear a better demonstration of funky, filtered French house than ‘Wan Dence’ – not even on a Daft Punk album. ‘Pansoul’ has everything – it is specific to a certain era in music, but manages to remain timeless; it defines a sound, a time, a place, and creates a mood that appeals both to the mind and feet. It’s one of those albums I only ever want to listen to from start to finish, where each track follows perfectly on from the one before. Sure, download the tracks I’ve posted and you’ll get a rough idea of how good this album is, but you really need to buy it, roll yerself a fat one, stick on the headphones and lose yourself in the wonder of ‘Pansoul’. I own three copies – vinyl, CD and the 2003 reissue 2CD on Astralwerks, which contains the first two EPs as a bonus disc.

Search eBay for Motorbass - it's all out of print at the moment but you can pick up the CD and LP on eBay
Motorbass discography
Etienne de Crécy MySpace
Phillipe Zdar MySpace