Club Cheval Look to Channel Timbaland's Daring on Debut Album

Club Cheval 2015
Priscillia Saada

Club Cheval

Club Cheval is an unusual alliance -- a group of French producers with solo careers who decided to pool their resources in search of a new sound. Canblaster, Sam Tiba, Myd and Panteros666 released a smattering of material in 2012 on Bromance Records. Those songs shared some of the thick, buzzing textures favored by their label boss Brodinski, but this year, the four men re-emerged with a more nimble approach.

“From the Basement to the Roof” was the first indication of Club Cheval’s new direction. To get the full experience, tune into the group’s mix for the BBC around the 19-minute mark, where the producers play the a cappella version of the song followed by several reworkings, including an especially fleet “radio mix.” The tempo here is brisk, but the vocal (courtesy of Phlo Finister) remains downcast, even as it’s manipulated in unusual, chirpy ways. The effect is seductive: Finister’s brand of melancholy is odd but always two steps ahead, slightly out of reach.

More recently, the producers shared “Discipline,” which is agile, hard-headed and thoroughly hedonistic all at once. The singer, Rudy, maintains an even tone, as if all the “money, weed and liquor” he describes are just a dull fact of life. The ping-ponging synth that functions as a hook gives him away: It’s full of buoyant joy.

Billboard spoke with two of Club Cheval’s four members -- Sam (Sam Tiba) and Victor (Panteros666) -- about the group’s origins, their mutual love of Timbaland, and their Discipline full-length, which is slated to arrive at the top of next year.

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Were you always into electronic music?

Victor: I was more into death metal and progressive rock from the ‘70s. It was extreme, heavy. Than during my higher studies I met Sam and Myd, and there was this whole new electronic music scene that was alternative that was beginning -- it was really the early days. I fell in love with the new style of clubbing, and that’s how I started making electronic music.  

Sam: That happened in like 2008. At that time it was like the end of an era of really maximal music, really over-compressed. We loved it, but by then we started to get fed up with it. At that time I remember we got pretty into Night Slugs -- Bok Bok, L-VIS 1990, all these new British musicians. But also at the same time music from the U.S. -- Jersey Club, Juke. We pretty much mixed everything when we met. I was a fan of baile funk; Victor loved disco...

Victor: And trance! It was an age of innocence. Everyone was starting to do electronic music not knowing what was cool or not to do.

Sam: If Victor was more of a metal influence, I was more of a hip-hop and R&B one. I was a big, big fan of Timbaland already, and of course Victor liked it also, and Myd, and Canblaster. We realized it was a good way to cement our way of thinking: Timbaland was one of the first to use almost only electronic sounds when most of the beats were way organic. We liked this way of approaching things, trying new things that nobody expects but keeping it listenable for everyone. We don’t want to be an elitist band.

Victor: [Timbaland] was everywhere on the radio and at the same time it was really good. It was one of the most groovy things I ever encountered when I grew up.

Do you remember the first Timbaland thing you heard?

Sam: I think we all got really shocked when heard the first Missy Elliott things. And I think the one when I told myself ‘that’s crazy,’ the Justin Timberlake track “My Love.”

Some of those beats still sound wild today.

Sam: True. And that’s the goal for us. We want to be able to be listened to in 10 years. It’s a good challenge to make music that people can’t tell when it was made.

So all four of you met around 2008?

Sam: I met Victor at school. Victor was already for bit of time the drummer of Myd’s band, which was like electro-punk. Canblaster was a good friend of Myd also. We met up during parties, and we didn’t have to talk, it was really natural between us. We started Club Cheval really naturally, just sharing ideas -- Victor was always talking about music, I was always talking about music. Victor and I were less experienced in producing, so we learned from the two others, and they learned from us too. It was a big exchange of ideas and skills, and I don’t think it would have been that if it hadn’t been a four-person process. Usually what happens is there’s a band and then one of the guys in a band gets fed up and starts his own solo career. But it’s the absolute contrary for us: we all had solo careers before Club Cheval, and we merged those solo careers. We don’t have these ego things because we also have our private music life. I can do whatever I want in my solo career so there’s no frustration or no ego.

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How did you guys connect with Bromance?

Victor: We met Brodinski I think five years ago. We shared a manager actually. At some point, we started working with him on production, helping with him remixes. And then we became a real friend, and what we brought him in production, he brought us in experience, touring, and ideas. He’s a great teacher. And then he created his label with Manu Barron and it was really natural for us to be on that. It’s a family thing.

Sam: When we sent them our very first Club Cheval demos, we were still trying to find our style. They were really open to everything we did because we had a lot of energy and forward thinking stuff already. They knew the sound was not the good one, but they released everything at first, which was great.

Victor: A lot of labels would have been like, “Come back when you’ve finally got the project.” To them it was a good thing to showcase the evolution of the process. So when you listen to a Club Cheval track from three years ago, you can almost tell yourself, “is it made by the same guys?”

When you’re creating tracks, are you doing it in the studio or sending it back and forth online?

Sam: We share a studio, so when we start a project it’s on the Club Cheval computer, and then we all take it home and try different stuff. But the studio is the flagship.

Victor: What I always say is, for example, I’m sitting at the desk and doing things, and then I have no more ideas, or I can’t do something that somebody else would do better than me. I don’t even have to talk or say something -- I just stand up and go away and someone is going to take my seat and keep on working on that thing.

So you never feel like there are too many cooks in the kitchen?

Sam: No, because we always have something to do and work on other music projects.

How do you feel about the current state of electronic music?

Sam: I have the feeling that more and more good music is coming out.

Victor: We are positive people!

Sam: Three or four years ago you had one good EP every month. At the moment I can give you ten or twenty.

What’s the plan next? When is the album coming?

Victor: The album is already done.

Sam: Beginning of next year it should be coming out.

Did you work with anyone else on it?

Sam: We worked with a singer called Rudy from Miami. He really has a pure R&B background, but he’s open to new styles too. We met to write vocal melodies, but actually when we heard him singing, we fell in love with his voice. We used the voice as a musical instrument. So it was really important that he was there during the whole process. We wanted to have a proper, really beautiful voice. When it’s like that, you have to resort to the U.S. So we were working with a really big R&B and hip-hop producer from France called DJ Kore, and he’s the one who had a lot of experience and contacts. It’s thanks to him we had access to Rudy, who had previously worked with Chris Brown and The Weeknd.

And “Discipline” came out of your sessions with him?

Sam: I think when we recorded it, the track was a different one. And then he came back and he was like, "Wow, that’s a totally different song!" But that’s how we work.

You guys mix a lot of modern rap and R&B into your DJ mixes on SoundCloud.

Victor: I really feel like nowadays, rap and R&B are the fields which are the most innovative. They try more things than electronic producers in my opinion. Of course in electronic music there’s a lot of ideas, but these guys in R&B and hip-hop, they do it for mainstream things, and that’s really ballsy. It’s kind of Timbaland -- daring things for mainstream music.

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