“The Ballad Of The Big Machine”

“The Devil At My Door”

By Emilie Simon.


Such has been the hyperbole surrounding the female led synth pop revival that at times it’s been difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff and rescue legitimate contenders from the raging sea of PR propaganda.  And so whilst lesser artists surf the tsunami of hype, French sonic auteur Emilie Simon has been quietly assembling something of a mini- electronic pop masterpiece in the shape of her latest album “The Big Machine. Emilie, hailing from Montpelier, in the south of France, a former student of musicology at the Sorbonn, specialising  in medieval music and electronic contemporary composition, has been at the vanguard of experimental electronica in her homeland since 2003.

Ever one to rise to new challenges and, after winning numerous awards in France Emilie relocated to New York. Her latest album ‘The Big Machine’ is her reaction to the ‘Big Apple’ as seen through European eyes and reflects the relentless raw energy and drive that the city exudes. The Rentals Matt Sharp described the album as “the sound of someone with a tremendous gift, digging a little deeper and going a little further”, but it’s also an album that finds exactly the right balance between experimental and commercial pop.  Doubtless Emilie will be anointed with the inevitable title of  ‘Kate Bush for the 21st century’, a  label so often bestowed upon female artists whose vocal style resonates with a certain timbre that it has almost lost it’s meaning.  And whilst drawing such parallels may be initially flattering they don’t actually reveal ‘the whole story,’ and possibly the best way to understand how Emilie works is to see her perform live.

Emilie’s live set up makes Kraftwerk look like a skiffle band, surrounded as she is by gizmos and gadgetry, her left arm encased in what appears to be form of cybernetic appendage plucked straight from the pages of a Phillip K Dick novel. Known simply as “The Arm” and developed by Cyrille Brissot of IRCAM this high tech gauntlet makes Emilie resemble a post bionic transplant, vogue model, but in practical terms it allows her to invoke all manner of high tech wizardry when playing live. She may well employ cutting edge technology to produce her music, but amidst the throbbing sonic pulses, glittering synthetic sounds and soaring melody lie songs of real depth.  ‘The Big Machine’ captures Emilie at her most accessible which should appeal to both fans of both commercial pop and slightly more avant-garde experimental electronic music.

We asked Emilie about amongst other things,  her music, her decision to relocate to New York and Iggy Pop. . . and here’s what she said-

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VP:  How did you originally become involved in making music and what attracted you specifically to electronic music?

EMILIE: I started studying music very young; I went to the “conservatoire” when I was 7. I was interested by different types of music. Later I decided to study “Musicologie” at La Sorbonne in Paris. I liked   electronic music but I really got into it when I discovered the IRCAM in Paris. I got fascinated by the textures, the landscape you could create with some specific software, like discovering colour when you only saw black and white! Using the computer meant that I also felt very independent artistically. I could spend as much time that I wanted, experiment, explore without having to ask anything to anybody, it gave me a lot of freedom too.

VP: You’ve recently moved to New York, what made you leave France to set up base in “the Big Apple”?

EMILIE: I was travelling a lot and played a few times in NYC. After my previous album tour I decided to go there for a vacation. I loved it so much that I decided to stay and live this experience fully.

VP: Your new album “The Big Machine” was apparently inspired by New York, what would you say were the major themes running throughout the album?

EMILIE: I was very curious when I arrived in NYC, I was interested in everything around me, the culture and the people. My life changed a lot and I had a totally different way of seeing things. I was living in the moment, directly plugged to the energy of the city. Of course my songs were influenced by this new environment.

VP: When you play live, you have an electronic “arm” developed by Cyrille Brissot of the IRCAM , how does it work and what does it enable you to do ?

EMILIE:  This is an amazing instrument for me. The one I use on stage now is the 3rd generation. This is a controller; it can control anything I want. I use it for controlling specific effects on my voice, also on some beats, it can of course also trigger loops, etc

VPGrinue to the technical nature of your music do live performances take a lot of planning?

EMILIE: Yes, a little bit. Especially for my solo setup!

VP: In 2005 you produced the soundtrack for “La Marche de l’Empereur”.  How different is it writing a soundtrack for a specified project as opposed to an album that allows you free range?

EMILIE: I love writing for a movie for different reason: the music I write is in this case directly inspired by the pictures, the movie is like a frame and my music is a reaction to it to express feelings and ideas.  The pictures and the music and sound design should create something else, something magical.

VP: What sort of artists would you say have inspired you and influenced your approach to music?

EMILIE: Probably the ones I listened to when I was a child: The Beatles, Crosby, Still Nash & Young, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and also Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel. Later I listened a lot to The Cure, Nirvana, also Massive Attack, Bjork, Tricky. I also loved The Who, the Small Faces, David Bowie, Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and so many more!

VP:  You’ve done a remarkable cover of The Stooges “I Wanna be Your Dog”, what drew you to  that song?

When I was a teenager I was listening to “I Wanna Be Your Dog” all the time with my friends, a lot of young bands I knew were covering it too. A few years later when I was a student in Paris, I was thinking of this time and decided to cover it for fun. It ended up on my first album. A few years after, Iggy heard it and gave me a call to tell me that he liked it a lot. That’s a good story!

VP:  Electronic music is very much in-vogue at present, but there are those who say it can sound impersonal and cold. I’m sure you could put a convincing argument to the contrary?

EMILIE: Electronic music could be so many things really. Of course you can produce cold music with those tools, but only if that’s what you’re looking for. For me, electronic music means home made, hybrid, personal, curious and open music. You can create your own rules. When I wrote my album “Vegetal” (2006) all the textures used to creates my beats were coming from natural elements: Fire (“En Cendres”), air, wind and whistles (‘In The Lake’), Water (“Swimming”), Stones (Fleur de Saison). Everything is possible!

VP:  You’ve recently performed a debt showcase in London, any plans to return later in the year when your album is released?

EMILIE: Yes, I’ll be back soon for more shows, probably in July, but I will let people know for sure on my Facebook-MySpace and Official website.

VP:  Five words to describe your music would be ………

EMILIE: Electronic songs, melodic experimental pop.

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Live In London Review by our chum Catshoe

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“Dreamland” -Emilie Simon.