Where does the album format stand in contemporary dance music? Is it obsolete? I:Cube thinks it just might be.
It’s an age-old question, of course, whether dance music really works in an album format. There are few examples of dance producers releasing classic albums, and even fewer who’ve done it while keeping the dancefloor in mind (Burial’s Untrue, to take a recent example, is as much a nocturnal pop record as it is a garage one).
It’s a question that French house veteran I:Cube, a contemporary of Daft Punk’s, struggled with for years before releasing this year’s “M” Megamix, a storming collection of dance tracks cut off at their peak. Most tracks on “M” Megamix clock in at around the two minute mark, and there’s no long intros or outros – it’s just hit after hit after hit. It’s an album defined by instinct and physicality, rather than over-thought (as I:Cube reveals in this interview, he figured out the tracklist in five minutes). And it’s one of the albums of the year.
Obviously what first stands out about “M” Megamix is how it’s structured: short tracks, short intros, quickly chopped together. Why did you choose to approach it today?
“I was a bit fed up with the format of the album for dance music. I don’t think it’s really relevant anymore to make an 80 minute album with 10 minute tracks. For a long time I didn’t release an album, I preferred to just release singles – I thought it was the best way to reach people who were into my music. It was kind of by accident that “M” Megamix even happened, I just had all these bits lying around and thought ‘why not do it that way?’ At the end of the day it’s listenable, at least for my ears, and I like the way it’s… not even full tracks at times, just ideas, get them out then on to another one. Your brain, your mind doesn’t have too much time to think, and I think that’s how people listen to music now, very quickly. People haven’t listened to full albums for around 10 years now.
“I also didn’t want to think too much seriously about it, a lot of it is just having fun, making music and enjoying making music, and putting a lot of stuff on one CD to make everybody happy. I suppose it’s generous [in that way].”
Do you think the shift in how people listen to music has affected dance more than other genres?
“Not really. The dance album has always been a kind of paradox, it’s not at all what dance music’s about – it’s about tracks, they’re put together for one night, in one context, such as a club or party. That’s when it makes sense, it’s with the people, the soundsystem, the DJ obviously. So with [dance music] albums, it’s been about adopting the pop or rock music format, and to be honest… now, the way everything has exploded, and all the influences as mixed together… You know, I can’t even think of many great dance music albums [regardless]. So in a way, this format was a way to escape that trap.”
Obviously you’ve released several albums in the past. Is this something you’ve struggled with before?
“With my first album I wasn’t thinking much about that, it was very straight-forward, I was enthusiastic and just really happy to release an album. But in 2003, I just decided ‘no, I don’t want to do it this way anymore’. So I released Live at the Planetarium, which was related to an ambient live [performance] I’d done, and [with "M" Megamix] I wanted to go back to more simple things, the dance music that I loved, more simple structures.”
In terms of structuring it, namely the tracklist, was that something you also did quickly and instinctively?
“Yes, with the final tracklist I did it in five minutes I think. I wanted to put them together quickly, then at the end, I kept almost the same order. [I'd taken two years to make the material, so] I didn’t want to spend another year thinking about how the order. I wanted to stay instinctive.”
In past interviews, you’ve spoke about the importance of naivety in music. Is this something you feel applies to this album?
“I try, I try. It’s hard, because my ears are more trained [than before] and it can be really hard to stay fresh. I think the only way would be to change completely, and work with a new genre or a new set-up. You have your own gear, your own tricks and your own comforts. I like some sophisticated stuff, of course, but I think with dance music, some people need to return to a more basic approach, following this era of [a focus on] sound design – minimal, and all that. In dance music, I can feel it coming back to something more physical. I prefer it that way, at least.”
Do you feel this beat-tape style approach is something you’ll do on future albums?
“It could become a series on its own for me, a mixtape every two years or so. For the moment, I don’t know, but it gave me confidence that I have a format that works for me, so why not? I don’t know if I’d do something exactly the same, but why not keep this format, or change it, make it a radio show for instance? Everything’s so blurred right now that a mix can be considered an album, and vice versa. Who knows?”