The young French producer Petit Biscuit put “Sunset Lover” on SoundCloud in the summer of 2015, when he was still just 15 years old. The single is a lolling master-class, the logical conclusion of mainstream electronic music’s turn away from aggressive, hard-charging tracks in recent years. Petit Biscuit boiled his tune down to just a few elements: a guitar line, mostly single notes with space between each one; a hand-clap; a basic kick drum; a pitch-shifted-and-chopped vocal that sounds like a baby experimenting with speech for the first time.
“Sunset Lover” has now accumulated more than 180 million streams between Spotify and SoundCloud, and it climbed to No. 13 on the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart. Even though the track is instrumental, fans are so enamored with it that you can Google “Sunset Lover lyrics” and find that people have invented some words to help them sing along. Last year, Petit Biscuit included the song on an eponymous EP, and he played his first American gigs earlier this month.
During a brief stop in New York, Billboard Dance caught up with Petit Biscuit to talk about his impressive rise. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How did you get into music?
When I was five or six, I talked to my mother: Mom, I want to learn cello. I don’t know why. She enrolled me in music school to practice. I’m in the same music school now. I practice cello, but I have my project on top of that. I started with cello and then learned piano and guitar. When I was 11 or 12, I discovered all the things you can do when you compose on a computer. It was also very important to have my first computer to discover guys like Flume or Bonobo or Tame Impala who aren’t on the radio in France but have a big influence and make me see music differently. Bon Iver or Frank Ocean — you don’t hear them in the radio, but when you go in the world, everyone knows them.
I discovered SoundCloud and musicians with just 300 followers who make really good music. When I saw this, I told myself, why not me? I tried to find a good name to describe me with. When I searched for a name, I wanted something humble. Petit Biscuit is French too, and it’s very sweet. When I started my project, I made a lot of music with just a piano, so it was more sweet than today.
Why the cello?
I’m really curious about music. Maybe I saw someone on the TV. It’s one of my favorite instruments today. It’s a really interesting instrument. I don’t use cello at the moment — I want to use more guitar and piano. But I think it would be good to use it at some point.
When you play cello at music school, you feel like you just have to follow the music sheet. You can’t express yourself. Electronic music gives you the liberty to choose different textures, different instruments. That’s why I love it so much. I like to spend a few hours just to find the right texture on my synthesizer.
When you first heard Flume or one of those influential musicians, what did you like?
It was something new for me. Those guys were creating a new movement of electronic music with future bass. And when you hear Bonobo’s music, you can hear some influence from different cultures. That’s something I appreciate a lot, because in my family it’s a blend of culture. My father is Moroccan and my mother is French. I grew up between two cultures.
Do your parents play music?
I’m the only one. They appreciate music a lot; they don’t practice it.
When did you start writing your own songs?
I think four years ago. When I discovered how to make music in my computer with Fruity Loops, I wanted to take the time to learn everything I could do with the software. I had musical technique already. I started Petit Biscuit two years ago. You can’t learn all the things you can do in two years — it takes more time.
And what led to “Sunset Lover”?
It started with the vocal chop. Friends of mine sent me an a cappella. I wanted a collaboration with piano and lyrics, but its destiny ended up being different. I chopped and pitched it to make a different melody, and then added guitar. It’s a very song-like construction. In electronic music, most of the time you have the drop — it’s about the drop, the break, etc. “Sunset Lover” is more about the chorus and verse, even if there aren’t lyrics.
You use vocal chops a lot on the EP — what do you like about that particular texture?
When you do a vocal chop, there is no language. People all around the world can appreciate the music. It’s just about melody. It’s really cool to be known just with vocal chops and not with song lyrics. But I think the next step is add some lyrics.
You keep the drums simple on “Sunset Lover,” which is also unusual in a lot of electronic music.
It was really important to be concentrated on the melody. The production is really simple. It’s just about a good kick, a good clap — I added a flamenco-like clap in the back.
How long do you think it took to make that start to finish?
One or two days. Not long.
Did you feel like, “this is a hit?”
When I finished, I sent it to all of my friends to ask if I had to release it or not. I wasn’t really sure about this track. They said it seems like a good track.
A friend of mine helped me to spread it. There wasn’t a real strategy. When you’re 15, you just think about spreading it all the people you can touch. It moved really fast. I think in one month, just on SoundCloud and with a video on YouTube, there were already one or two million streams. And the streaming just exploded after the release of the EP.
Your EP ends with a burst of energy on “Iceland.”
I wanted each track to be a different landscape. I want to show to the public that I’m good to make some chill tracks but I like to make some punchy tracks too. That’s why I especially love “Iceland.”
After getting so many streams on a track, do you feel like you have to achieve that again?
When I compose, I don’t think about all the listeners. Maybe I think about the fans I met during the show — something more human. When you see all the listeners on Spotify or social media, it’s really cool, but it’s also just a number.
Does “Sunset Lover” get played on the radio in France?
It’s well-played. Almost too much!
Do you remember when you first heard it?
It was funny because I don’t listen to the radio. I was on holiday with my parents and the turned on the radio. When your family hears your track on the radio, they’re like, “whoa!” I was the least enthusiastic of the family when I heard it.
What has it been like learning to perform?
Today I’m really comfortable on the stage. I try sometimes to make some little improvisations on the guitar and have fun. It’s important for me to show people who found me on SoundCloud and Spotify that Petit Biscuit is a human project. I can be closer to the fans.