Alain and Stéphane Quême, or Alan Braxe and DJ Falcon, are indisputable architects of the French Touch -- the emotive house music conjured from looped samples with an inimitable Gallic flare that emerged from Paris in the mid 90s. A source of infinite inspiration, time and time again subsequent generations of dance music producers have cycled back and discovered the joys to be found in the stomping repetition of endlessly tweaked and filtered disco and soul sound grabs. The French Touch is the sound of the French imitating their American teachers and here and now it comes back around, just like the loops the records are built on.
In 2022 these two originals will present their first ever collaboration as Braxe & Falcon in the form of the Step By Step EP, released on Smugglers Way. The release represents a sublime distillation of their shared musical essence, a revelatory realization and a compelling expansion only conceivable for them at this point in time.
Despite being cousins, neither was initially aware of the other's musical pursuits. It was Thomas Bangalter who intervened and told Falcon of his plans to release Braxe's debut Vertigo on his famed Roulé imprint in 1997. Shortly after Bangalter released Falcon's first EP Hello My Name Is DJ Falcon in 1998. Both had pivotal, separate collaborations with Bangalter -- Falcon with Bangalter as Together ("Together," 2000 & "So Much Love To Give," 2002), Braxe with Bangalter as Stardust ("Music Sounds Better With You," 1998). "It was a time of youthful nonchalance in which we barely knew what we were doing," the duo recall. "It was a world of discovery, just making music without any preconceived notions or rules. Our state of mind at the time was very DIY, similar to punk, but with different types of instruments." Braxe went on to release a dazzling catalogue of upper cuts -- solo outings, collaborations, productions and remixes for others. Falcon meanwhile pursued DJing, on a seemingly never-ending DJ tour of the most renowned surfing destinations in the world, taking photos in his down time, and sidelining production to a more private pursuit. Choosing not to release any new music outside of a few remixes and collaborations since 2002, Falcon's most visible credit in the last 10 years was as co-producer/writer on Contact, the explosive closing track of Daft Punk's 2013 megalith Random Access Memories.
The two of them came together with the intention to work on something new, with no ideas, plans or outcomes in mind. In the studio it became evident that neither was in the headspace to make strictly club music, and both were looking towards something that went beyond the dance floor. In the process of realizing what they didn't want to do, it became clear what compelled them to make music in the first place. Both Braxe & Falcon insist they're not musicians -- with no formal training they started out making music with samplers, which inevitably gave way to an obsession with the magical, microscopic moments in the songs of others that could be flipped and transformed into something new and intoxicating. Their passion for the process remained and they set out to recapture the naivety, the imperfections and the joy of their first adventures in music, filtered through their decades of experience not only making and playing music for dancefloors, but living life outside of it. "Using modular synthesizers in the production of our new music and the happy accidents they generate have helped us reconnect with the punk spirit of the early days, freeing ourselves from convention," they say. "Our love for the oscillation between melancholy and hope that emerges from our use of repeated musical phrases and loops is as inspiring to us today as it was twenty years ago."
The EP is built around 3 axes: acoustic drums, modular synthesizer, and looped samples -- third party samples or resampling of the two's own music. It opens with "Step By Step," an ecstatic vocal drone with a pleading chord progression of syrupy synthesizer, as if Braxe's "In Love With You" had been baking on the dashboard for a quarter of a century. The production alone is hypnotic, with the addition of a vocal from noted French touch fan Panda Bear the track transcends anything in the catalogues of all three artists to something completely majestic, resplendent in its glowing, lush simplicity. "The instrumental could be seen as a downtempo variation of the Roulé era club tracks," say the duo. "Panda Bear wrote and performed amazing vocals and it transformed the instrumental into a beautiful song, which in its final form could be defined as a power ballad with French house DNA." The skeleton of "Creative Source" came off an old sampler of Falcon's, and the familiar euphoric rush of a perfectly uplifting sample chopped, filtered and repeated comes on strong. A short, ambiguous vocal refrain (from the Creative Source song "I'd Find You Anywhere," written by Pam Sawyer and Flying Lotus' grandmother Marilyn McLeod) that deftly dances around a looped horn blast, dance music needs little more when it's this potent. "We love to repeat and hammer simple messages just like 'Together' or 'In Love With You' in our respective past releases," say Braxe & Falcon. "Hammering the message could be seen as people demonstrating and shouting a simple message crucial to their existences." "Elevation" is another vocal feature, this time Braxe & Falcon's live drum groove and pulsing synth parts complimented by Sunni Colon's languid, urgent delivery. "Love Me" is arguably the most club ready of the set, the basic, propulsive rhythm, ascending bassline and a sample of Arnold McCuller's "Gringo" are impressively effective at driving the two word vocal sample to cathartic delirium.
That Braxe & Falcon should live separately abundant careers spanning decades only to keep coming back to the spirit of their origins feels appropriate given the form much of their music has taken -- reverential but perpetually evolving. By the same token it's not hard to imagine the tracks that come out of their combined endeavor looping into the sunset, indefinitely.