Its a warm bright afternoon in Brighton, one of those sparkly triumphant days that make you forget that, in the UK at least, most of the summer was spent dodging showers. The sun is out, the breeze is up; it’s the perfect time to meet one of France’s hottest up and coming techno producers, ne c’est pas?
Well, maybe not. Paul Regimbeau’s second album as Mondkopf, Rising Doom, is conspicuously free of summer anthems or club bangers to speak of. This is dance music that’s both thoughtful and dreamy, but as its title suggests it’s also sinister and at times downright creepy. It’s for darkened clubs and overcast days. Not beach parties.
Its also, well, how can we put it… not very French. Its easy to fall into the trap of thinking of music in terms of national stereotypes; we’ve all done it. But mention the phrase French dance music and you immediately think of filtered disco, Daft Punk and the cheeky insouciant electro of Justice and the Ed Banger crew. Mondkopf flies in the face of all these preconceptions. Its hard to square a Toulouse-born, Paris-based producer making music this dark, serious and, well… Germanic. “Yeah I suppose, he shrugs. I don’t tend to think of music in those national terms really. I was never into filtered disco, but I’m not reacting against it. Or anything for that matter.”
He says this with a bookish diffidence that you could easily confuse for moodiness. With a dark fringe and narrow eyes he has the air of a little boy lost. But there’s another reason why he might be feeling a bit coy. We’re meeting him just hours before he’s set to make his live UK debut at Digital and this is his first ever interview with the British press. He’s obviously nervous and isn’t confident enough with his English not to use an interpreter – on this occasion his manager, Guillaume.
We manage to ascertain that he’s been making tracks for over a decade now. Initially he tried his hand at hip hop before a growing passion for producers such as Autechre and Carl Craig set him on his current course. What hasn’t changed is the software he uses: a very early Reason package that he’s stubbornly loyal to. It’s partly because of laziness, he admits, “but also the fact I’ve mastered it means I can use it easily to express my ideas, like a traditional musician.
“More generally I don’t like at all the overproduced sound in electronic music – and the fact that the software has limitations prevents me from becoming lost in the endless possibilities. So it’s quicker this way. That said, I have thought about upgrading, but I’m afraid I won’t be as comfortable with the new stuff as I am now.
He chose the moniker Mondkopf (it’s German for moonhead) because of a reputation he had at school for being a bit of a daydreamer. “I found it hard to concentrate back then. Also the moon relates to the duality between black and white, and the duality that there is in my life – the fact that I’m a quiet person but I produce pretty aggressive music. To me music is like a catharsis, a way to express my demons.”
What demons could a good looking 24-year-old French guy possibly have?
“I’d rather not talk about that.”
Whatever went on during his childhood it left him as an unlikely fan of possibly the most extreme form of guitar rock known to mankind. “I’ve always loved doom metal and black metal – true black metal like Mayhem, Opeth, Barzum and the some of the newer bands from the American scene.”
Aren’t they the nutters who burn down churches and murder each other? “Well yes, some of them did. To me it’s important that music has an untethered, free quality and black metal has always had that. What I find in this music is a kind of melancholy melded with an extreme anger, a kind of reaction to the vertigo of unpowerness.”
Er… OK. Actually the black metal link starts to make sense once you clock the sleeve of Rising Doom, completely black except for its spidery gothic font and almost parodic titles – The Songs Of Shadows… Moons Throat… Where The Gods Fall. And whilst the music (thankfully) is free of screechy guitars, there’s a palpable sense of the ominous, of something deeply unsettling amidst the buzzing synths and horror movie samples on tracks like Days Of Anger.
His black and white obsession extends to the visuals that are a central part of the live show – a carnival of white light and abstract art that constantly spools, dilates and reforms as his set unfolds. Though Paul controls the light show while hes playing, the actual images have been carefully prepared by the Lyon-based agency Trafik. “At the beginning there was this idea of having something very minimal,” he explains, “just black and white. Then we met Trafik and we developed the idea further.
“The idea is for something that’s simple, abstract and violent, visuals with an almost disturbing energy. We wanted something texture-oriented. And we wanted to link to this old school rave feeling. Not the psychedelia, but the energy of rave. We had these ideas for moments when it is completely black and silent, except for shards of white light and sound that work like a thunderstorm.”
Great though it is, it is very monochrome. Is there room for any colour in his worldview? “You don’t need a rainbow to express powerful things,” he quips. “I am more of a nuanced person though. Let’s say I see the world in grey but my girlfriend brings me the touch of colour I need.”
Aww. Putting such a high premium on the visuals has its downsides though, especially in venues that aren’t set up for his son et lumiere spectacle. “There is this thing where each time we are going to venues, the lighting isn’t suitable at all. There is interior light or lighting that is more suitable for a house club. Its important there is no light. The music needs the visuals and no lights. I want to be the one that controls the mood of the light show.”
Unfortunately tonight’s Brighton show is one of those nights. Digital only has a tiny screen and Paul can’t get the technology to work. He’s deeply frustrated afterwards. “It was a bit of headache tonight. The show is kind of meant for bigger rooms…”
Three weeks later we manage to check out Mondkopf again in one such arena: the main room of Space in Ibiza. Quite a challenge, especially with an English dominated crowd who are largely unfamiliar with him. They take a while to warm up, but once the visuals are coming thick and fast and the music is pumping you can see the arms in the air start to go up. By the end he’s got them eating out of his hands.
It actually looked like he was enjoying himself. “Yes I was, he smiles. People think I’m serious all the time. But I can be frivolous too, usually with the people I feel closest to. I don’t think I’m that serious anyway, just shy. And it is easy to get the two confused.”
Mondkopf’s album Rising Doom is out now through Foolhouse Records.