In 2014, Soundcloud was on the brink of casting a massive shadow over the music industry as they stood tall to usher in what would be known as ‘The Soundcloud Era’. During this time, not only were there a range of underground rappers making a name for themselves and crossing over to mainstream status but also a plethora of producers experimenting with different sounds and were blowing up. And one of the producers that were (and still is) waving the flag high for France and the French touch was Kartell – a Paris-based producer under Roche Musique with an ever-morphing sound that traverses Hip Hop, French House, Electronic, Disco, and R&B.
His rendition of “Like I’m on Fire” is honestly one of my favorite songs of all time, particularly since that was probably one of the first songs I discovered on Soundcloud, and it's timeless while simultaneously capturing the ‘new’ sound of that era. Since then we’ve seen Kartell continuously experimenting with his craft and that has led to tours across the world, millions of plays, and a fan base continuously thirsting for new music from him. He went silent for a while, and then this year he delivered arguably his best work to date titled Daybreak… A 6 track EP decorated with luminous synths and infectious rhythms that seamlessly encapsulate the sound of summer. In this interview, Kartell shares with us the process behind the creation of Daybreak, why he went silent and much more.
What were some of the moments you cherished the most when you were still young and making music in your bedroom?
I remember when I made my first track in my bedroom, I was 15 years old and I made a 4 minutes house track. I played the track on repeat for hours and hours the same night, thinking how cool it was that I came up with something that wasn’t anything before. Those moments were pure euphoria and stuck with me after that.
At which point did you realize that you had 'made it' in music?
Not sure I can say that to be really honest. There are brief moments where the ego is flattered when you really connect with people, a special gig or a release that came at the right time. But this doesn’t last and you set yourself new targets and achievements, it’s an infinite journey with yourself. I feel like I’m really lucky to have people who understand what I do and who have been listening to my music for the last few years but that doesn’t make you entirely established. It’s good energy though and I think being in between, as an outsider, is actually a very comfortable position, because you can experiment more than someone who has a lot of expectation from the audience on the music he is about to put out. It’s a freedom to try new things that I would like to keep.
What I really appreciate about your discography is that your sound keeps evolving and you keep experimenting. At this point in time do you still feel associated with the aesthetic of French Touch/French House?
Thanks, glad you’ve noticed that. French house is definitely at the center of where I fell in love with music and how I started my career as a producer. French touch actually covers a lot of genres that I connect with: hip-hop, house, electronic, funk, disco, ambient, even some post-rock. DJ Mehdi is a great example of that versatility. But when I make music I really don’t have that in mind, I just do what I feel. I have to say that for a while I tried to keep my distance from the pure French house scene because a good part of it seemed to be going in circles on SoundCloud at the time. I saw the limits of that sample scene quite early. I wanted to try other genres and express myself differently. But now I’m coming back to it more and more, playing a lot of French house in my sets and finding real pleasure in listening to a great sample-based track.
It's been about 5 years since we actually received a project from you with the last being Last Glow. Can you share with us what was going on in your life that encouraged you to take a break from releasing?
After my EP Last Glow in 2016 I traveled a lot, played many DJ sets in Asia and the United States. I got married, bought a place, became a dad. I knew this period was a turning point in my life and I wanted to make things right to really come back with the music I wanted to make. It took some time but I’m proud of the results with Daybreak and it opens new doors for future releases.
How does the title of the new EP Daybreak fit in with the story you're wanting to tell?
I’ve always been obsessed with light and how it affects your perception of the world, even changing your mood. When I was in the process of making visuals for the EP, I had different options but this vision of warm summer light really stuck with me since my childhood, I had to go with that. Daybreak is the rebirth, the beginning, and the end. It’s something new that reflects my life and my music.
What aspects of your production changed going into the making of Daybreak? And what were your studio habits like during its creation?
I wanted to create an organic feel to the whole EP while keeping my electronic approach. I wrote most of it as midi but it was missing some of these unexpected happy accidents that make a groove. I worked with an incredible musician, Max Baby, who brought to life many of the tracks with the right basslines and little instruments tweaks here and there. I actually had many of the tracks done months or years prior to the release, the studio habits during the finalization of the projects were mostly to redo some takes live and bring them to life.
The track that took the longest to complete and why?
The longest is probably "Time" which I started writing in 2018, I had many different versions and I knew this one was the track I wanted to come back within in a proper project.
My favorite track is definitely "Crossing Paths" with SG Lewis - what a vibe! How did you guys meet, and what was one of the things you learned while working with him?
Thanks! We first met in London in December 2017 for a 3 days session at his studio, a lovely guy to hang out and work with. We had connected before with the "No Less" remix I have done for him. We ended up writing different tracks and one of them came out on his 2018 EP. When I started gathering tracks for the EP I knew I wanted to have him onboard. I came back to London for a week of the studio in 2019, including recording "All in" with Che Lingo, and spent one afternoon with SG where we wrote "Crossing Paths". He is really fast at gathering ideas and really sees where it needs to go, while keeping a very friendly mood in the studio, just lovely times.
In your opinion what are some of the key elements that produce the best collab relationship between artists?
Knowing each other is a plus, but sometimes you just connect really fast with someone you never met before and the magic happens in a few hours. That’s the dream thing. But most of the time you have to work on different levels, being open-minded, try new things, let yourself go but also being able to say no when you don’t feel it the way it’s going. It’s a balance between being really focused, productive, and having a good time.
I'm curious to hear how the Electronic music scene in Paris was like when you first started, compared to now?
I started playing in clubs in 2013 when the nightlife in Paris was really booming, with new clubs opening every week and a new exciting scene, mostly around a comeback of house and disco. It was a blessed time to get started in music honestly for me. Now I would say it’s a little bit more spread out, new scenes have popped up with a more radical approach to electronic music. Big techno festivals are really a thing like everywhere else in the world. I saw some clubs really pushing a new scene when I started and I want to see that again. I guess it’s a little bit harder now, with the post-covid thing, but we have many active people with bright ideas, so I’m not too worried
What's an area in your craft where you're feeling unsure about and really looking to improve on currently?
I really tried to perfect my mixing and mastering skills lately and I feel pretty good where I’m at right now. Now I feel like I need to learn more guitar, bass, and drums, being able to jam with myself, and to come up quickly with some ideas or sampling materials. I’m moving to a house outside of Paris this September and I will have room to build my home studio, that’s also one of my targets, to have my own optimized space with the instruments I want to work with.
An album that made you rethink what's possible in music?
Weval's The Weight. Just an incredible album, with many influences and a sound design that is out of this world.
Okay so, 1) an artist/band you’d love to have a D.M.C (deep meaningful conversation) with 2) An artist you think would be rad to party with 3) An artist you would love to be your mentor. You’re welcome to select from artists who are dead/retired.
- Quincy Jones - I heard he is really open minded and attentive to younger generation
- Mac Demarco