In September, Barcelona’s John Talabot will bring his brand of crystalline house on a cross-continental tour of North America.
But unlike previous tours, Talabot won’t be DJing: he’ll be performing the music of fIN live, with album collaborator Pional in tow. After a string of headlining gigs, he’ll be opening for the XX on a handful of dates.
While our February interview with Talabot focused on the creation of fIN and his identity-concealing press photos, a recent conversation focused on the live performance experience, a relatively new one for Talabot.
“I know it will be hard…but I suppose we’ll make it.”
“It’s the most time touring and visiting more cities. I’m really looking forward to travelling by car through America, actually something that I always wanted to do. I’m travelling with my sister and a friend, too, so I’m really expecting… I know it will be hard – I’m not used to playing every day, one show, but I suppose we’ll make it.”
The American road trip is a pretty romantic thing, I think people here take it for granted.
“America is a huge country with really wild things, like nature and things like that. I’ve only travelled in America to NY, Washington, and LA, so I’m pretty excited to go to places like Colorado and places like that. I have my own idea of how it will be; maybe later it doesn’t correspond with it, but I have my own idea of how America is in the countryside.”
Was Primavera the first live date with this project?
“Yes, it was the first one and the most stressful one (laughs). We’ve done six or seven since. The thing is, like, it was the first time we were singing on stage and it was in front of 15,000 people, which was quite stressful…”
How are the challenges of a live show versus a DJ gig?
“I don’t know, I’ve been DJing for a long time, at home, at parties, in Barcelona, in some clubs, or whatever. DJing for me is more common and for me, making a live show was the real challenge. I wanted to try – I wasn’t sure if it would be okay, and I was thinking that I needed to try and if it goes bad I could always move to the DJ thing again, but it’s something that I wanted to perform in front of people and see if I’m able to do it. I’m a really shy person, so sometimes I have problems looking to the people or things like that [laughs], you know? But it’s something I wanted to do, and Pional, the partner I have on stage, he encouraged me a lot to do it and he wanted to do it, too, so we just thought it would be a good idea to make it possible.
“The first time we were singing on stage was in front of 15,000 people. It was quite stressful.”
“Sometimes it’s strange, because it’s not easy to bring a production album that you’ve done at home to a stage. It’s hard because there’s not a rule that you have to follow for electronic live shows, maybe for a band it is easier – you have the drummer, the bass, the guitar and maybe keyboards, but with electronic live shows you need to bring to stage some sounds that are not coming out from a specific synthesizer or instruments. Sometimes it’s pretty hard and you have to think about it. The most difficult thing for us was trying to develop how to bring the tracks to the stage.”
Are you trying to stay as close to the record as possible?
“We tried to bring more live things to the tracks. We have mics on stage, we have hi-hats and a crash, we have some toms, we have percussion and pads that we play, and we sing too, so actually it’s a live upgrade of the album tracks.”
Are you playing exclusively from the new album?
“We are playing the new album, one old song, and two new songs that haven’t been released yet.”
Did you play in bands or do any live music before?
“No, never. And it’s something that you can feel on stage [laughs].”
Like all music journalists, I’m a failed musician, so I’ve been on stage. It’s a different experience.
It’s quite nice to start a live show with one of your tracks and the people know it and start to sing it or whatever. That never happens when you DJ, you know? Or almost never. It’s quite a different vibe.”
As far as opening with The xx, how do you feel about bringing your sound to a new crowd?
“One of the things I like, at least from the American audience that I’ve known before, is they’re quite open-minded. It’s not people that will be there saying ‘oh, fuck, when is the xx show going to start?’ At least the audience I’ve noticed since I’ve been there. So, I dunno, I think it can work pretty well. We’re not really hard, not so soft as The xx, maybe that’s the only real deal. I think the mood will be a nice night, playing with The xx. Actually, they just told us they wanted us to do it when they saw our live show at Primavera Sound, so I suppose they know why they chose us. I think we like the same things sometimes. We don’t have the same public – they are more like indie and things like that, but let’s see how it goes.
“I don’t know who the perfect opening band would be for The xx, they are quite unique with their sound.”
“I suppose The xx know why they chose us.”
Traditionally, there have been producers who tour as DJs to get their music out there. Now we’re seeing more producers replicate what you’re doing with a live show. With the turntablism, crate-digging DJ set at one end and the EDM light show at the other end. With the backlash against producers who just push play, do you think there will be more producers that take the electronic set and do it live?
“It depends on what you want. Doing the live show doesn’t give you more money. It’s something that you don’t get as much money as DJing. Actually it has something to do with you as a musician, with your challenges, what you want for your future, what you want to reach… I knew I wanted to do the live show, it was a challenge for me – I’m not a musician so it was like a double challenge [laughs]. It’s something that I wanted to try, because I wanted to feel what play your tune is like. I think that my album worked quite well to do it. Maybe, if I’d done a techno album, I wouldn’t have done it with a band, I would have done something different.
“Many other producers have machines and they have gear but it’s more for the clubs. But I didn’t want to play my live show in the clubs: I wanted to play it in venues, because I have seen a lot of live shows in a club, and I am never happy with it. I think a club is for DJing and for playing records, and sometimes when there is a live show, I don’t know, it doesn’t work so well. Our deal was for that: we knew it would be harder and we would get less money or whatever. It was something we wanted to invest our time and money into.
“If you play in a venue, people come to see you, you know? When you DJ, sometimes people are there to see you, or they’re just having fun and they found a club and went in or whatever. At the end, playing a live show is really nice and DJing is really nice. It depends on your mood or what you want to do. I don’t know many producers that bring a band on stage, but there are a lot of people that want to play live and are trying to do. I think it’s good.
“Things are changing, because in the past, bands wanted to sound electronic, and now electronic artists want to perform like a band. It’s quite funny.”
“The masked photos are more interesting than my own face. That’s totally true.”
A lot has been made about concealing your identity. You don’t play with a mask live, do you?
“No, never. Actually the identity thing was related to the press photos, and I wanted to do something more artistic. But I never wanted to not show my personality or whatever [laughs]. It was more an artistic decision for the press. Some people thought I would appear with a mask on stage, and I don’t feel like that.”
Obviously, it’s not just Deadmau5, there are artists in your sphere like SBTRKT that perform masked.
“Yes, but SBTRKT used his mask as an identity for the artwork, as the identity of the whole project. They don’t play with full masks, you can see their faces. I really like it, but SBTRKT already did it, and I thought, I don’t need to hide my face while playing. Maybe the next photos will be another thing.”
The idea is to not talk about it, but of course it becomes the thing that people talk about.
“Yeah, but actually, the photos are more interesting than my own face. That’s totally true.”