TEPR Talks Leaving Yelle, Learning to Trust The 'Artist In My Head' on 'Inquisifunk' EP
Any Hipster Runoff reading, neon skinnies-wearin', blog house lover worth their v-neck remembers TEPR. His remix of fellow French artist Yelle's “A Cause Des Garcons” was an underground hit in 2007, thanks in equal parts to fat synths and a music video centered on three men and their decidedly-unique dance moves. It had a select few American kids across dance floors looking mad silly as they drunkenly tried to “Tecktonik,” a wild mix of vogue arm work and b-boy shuffling more likely to knock drinks out of nearby dancer's hands than get you laid.
For those who investigated, his early to mid-2000s albums Côte Ouest and En direct de la côte became crate digger favorites, but as the sounds of Justice and Soulwax gave way to the heavy screeches of Skrillex and bombastic chords of Swedish House Mafia, the bright synth slinger was missing in action. He found himself sucked into the pop world as a touring DJ and studio producer for the aforementioned Yelle, and while it saw him take the stage at two Coachellas across two world tours, it left him feeling anxious to get back to the dance floor.
Reverting to solo was easier said than done, though. The dance music world had shifted dramatically, and Tanguy Destable needed to do some serious soul searching in order to become TEPR once again.
“I think I did come back to the real me,” he says, “which is making dance music with a lot of harmonies, a lot of melodies, too mainstream for the indie scene, and too indie for the mainstream.”
Somewhere in the middle lies Inquisifunk, TEPR's four-track reintroduction to the world. It follows 2015's Hypnotease, released on French producer Yuksek's label Partyfine, but Inquisifunk is out on Parlophone / Warner. The major release had Destable working overtime to make a strong statement, and while earlier works explored wild sounds with a sometimes off-color sense of humor, this offering digs deep for a downright autobiographical look at an artist all grown up.
“I have a tendency to lose myself,” he says. “I wasn't methodic back in the day, and now I work on that a lot. I have to cut the bulls--t and just stop being a silly teenager.”
At 37 years old, his wayward years had more than a good run. He came up in Brittany, a region in northwestern France. It wasn't exactly the center of hip-hop or house culture, two of TEPR's biggest sonic influences. To hear him tell it, there was about one dude in his town that listened to the same music he did, and it happened to be Jean-François Perrier, aka GrandMarnier, Yelle's founding member and producer.
“Back in the days we were chatting on MSN,” he laughs. “He was like, 'I made a track and my girlfriend [Julie Budet] sings on it, and it was 'Je Veux Te Voir.' At first I was a little bit like 'well, that's a shitty song. I don't like it,' maybe because I was jealous.'”
They started a “friendly fight,” TEPR releasing his back-to-back albums in 2005 and 2006, GrandMarnier and Budet working on Yelle's debut LP Pop Up. A few months before wrapping the album, the couple asked Destable to come on board and help with the finishing touches.
“I said yes, of course,” he remembers. “We were really good friends, and we still are.”
Pop Up was mostly finished, but he made tweaks here and there, and mostly joined the group on tour. So went the first Coachella appearance in 2008. When it came time to record follow-up Safari Disco Club, Destable's influence was much heavier. The album peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Dance / Electronic Albums chart in 2011. In support of the record, Yelle opened 14 shows of Katy Perry's California Dreams Tour in 2011, touring North America after that. Then another Coachella that year, and finally, a victory lap at home.
As the dust settled around him, Destable realized it'd been five or six years since he released anything on his own. The world outside was caught in a dance-music fueled hysteria, and TEPR was becoming a distant memory. He went to his longtime friends and partners, thanked them for the memories and opportunities, then walked toward challenge.
“I was so scared to release anything,” he says. “I wasn't sending any demos to anyone. I was in a loop like, 'What should I do?' It was the explosion of EDM, so I was like 'Okay, dance music is something else now.' I'm not good at social networks. I don't have good jokes on Twitter. I don't have cool Insta stories. I just have my music, and apparently it might be a little bit boring for what's being released.”
For three years, he was outwardly silent. He tried his hand at trap, pumped out some minimal, attempted future bass -- it all sounded terrible to him. He didn't have that kind of energy in his music, and if he was being honest, he didn't want to. He just wanted to make steady, four-on-the-floor, danceable music.
He turned to the work of his idols. He found Stuart Price of Jacques Lu Cont and Thin White Duke was still making funky, driving dance. Eric Prydz was still making nine minute progressive house tunes, with a pop song plopped in between. Even deadmau5 was riding the same sound from eight years ago.
“Everyone was screaming around me 'just do your thing,'” he laughs. “I thought, 'Maybe I am just stressing out too much, and you just have to do what you like.'”
Inquisifunk is a tribute to all the things Destable likes most. It opens with the title track, a direct tribute to the pulsing house of Frankie Knuckles. It's dark, muggy, and sexual. His buddy Kiddy Smile hopped in the studio to lay down a repetitive vocal to complete the vibe.
“I remember Steve Angello saying in an interview ages ago that today, people jump to electronic music, they don't dance anymore,” he remembers. “With 'Inquisifunk,' I wanted a danceable track form start to finish. Its a loop, and you dance on it. Its a moody loop, its a club thing. It's not a festival track.”
Track two is “Soundtimental,” his love letter to the blog house era, or French Touch 2.0 sound that pervade the mid 2000s, the soundtrack of his earlier days. It's a driving sound, funky with a pounding beat and big snares, “a little bit nasty.” “Arrée” is TEPR's interpretation of what dance music is today, “a bright clear sound, not too distorted, super wide,” and the EP closes with the most personal track, “Hello E,” a song dedicated to the producer's young son with a deadmau5-esque atmosphere.
“He was born a year ago, and I wanted to welcome him,” he says. “Ive always been super into melodies, huge sounds, and arpeggiated harmonies. I wanted this song to be like the end title, and I think it finishes the EP in a nice way. [The EP is] like a roller coaster, you have a lot of flavor, a lot of emotions, a lot of different feelings while listening to it.”
When it comes to his forthcoming album, TEPR wants to distill his message into something more straightforward.
“I've been working on it for a year now,” he says. “It started the wrong way. I was way too influenced by way too many things. I got lost, and from the one track to another, it was completely different. It sounded like a best of of many producers that live in my head. So, I stopped for like eight months, and it's a good thing because, to be able to do some music, you have to stop doing music. I came back to the studio and it was all clear. I kept the best from all of these songs and I just produced it the way I wanted it to sound. I literally stopped listening to other music, and finally [started listening to] the artist in my head.”
TEPR's first full-length album in a decade is most likely coming to a headphones near you in early 2018, though you can enjoy all four sounds of Inquisifunk, out on Parlophone / Warner, below.