You cannot speak about electronic music without both: mentioning or coming across the name Nicolas Chaix alias I:Cube. As the co-founder of Versatile Records, as part of Chateau Flight alongside Gilbert Cohen and as one of France’s most significant producers Nicolas was responsible for one of Dance Music’s defining tracks, ‘Disco Cubism’. Furthermore, the Parisian remixed or worked with artists such as Joakim, Tornado Wallace,Vermont, Prins Thomas just to name a few in his more than two decades lasting career. In a nutshell Nicolas Chaix has dedicated himself to music, and music has found a source to trigger emotions through Nicolas’ work. Shortly before his first live performance for Nuits Sonores Festival in Lyon, his first live set in more than four years, and shortly after the release of ‘Double Pack’ and ‘Etire en avant’, Torture the Artist had the honor to have one of the very few interviews with Nicolas as the artist has always put music over being in the spotlight.
I:Cube: Hello, I’m in Paris right now, rehearsing for a live performance in Lyon for the Nuits Sonores Festival.
Torture the Artist: May 4th was obviously the date which music lovers shall mark in their calendar since your ‘Double Pack EP’ and the 7“ including your track ‘Etire en avant’, which was originally produced in 1996, was released. Let’s focus on the latter first. What made you release one of you early releases in 2018?
I:Cube: I’ve been listening to some old music I’ve made through the years (going back to 1989). It was recorded straight to tape in a very naive way. There’s something in these tracks, a certain feel, a rough energy, that encapsulate this teenage period. I thought this ‘étire en avant track’could work well as a B side to Abel’s Edit of ‘XXXX’. It has the gritty funk mood, and a silly, almost annoying sample from a French gym exercise spoken record.
This early musical period has a special place, as it was done with no real knowledge of how all the music I loved was done at the time. I think some of it is the best music I ever made, even with all the mistakes. I wish I could still make music in that way.
Torture the Artist: How emotionally bound are you to your early music and your musical approaches in 2018?
I:Cube: Obviously this early musical period has a special place, as it was done with no real knowledge of how all the music I loved was done at the time. I think some of it is the best music I ever made, even with all the mistakes. I wish I could still make music in that way. In a totally free and spontaneous way. Nowadays, I have to struggle to avoid certain traps, (being obsessed with the details, spending too much time on a track and losing the initial energy, giving too much attention to the mix). Getting lost in this impossible quest for perfection, and losing all the vibe, at the end.
Torture the Artist: What’s a memory/ story that immediately pops up in your mind when speaking of a track of yours from the past?
I:Cube: Leaving all the machines switched on for weeks (because some sounds and setting couldn’t be saved), recording only 1 minute of a track, and erasing everything. It was more about the fun of making music that was important, I didn’t care to finish things. Coming back from all the public libraries I visited in Paris, with a bag full of CDs and records, ready to spend hours finding samples – also a cheap way to discover music. I would do this every Saturday afternoon and spend the weekend playing with all these samples.
The best part is often the moment when first ideas sparks, when it’s still totally free, when it’s almost like the track is writing itself.
Torture the Artist: Has there ever been a track of yours that you couldn’t enjoy as much as when you produced it, and why?
I:Cube: I have loads, actually the best part is often the moment when first ideas sparks, when it’s still totally free, when it’s almost like the track is writing itself, and you are just there adding to the process. I like when some tracks are made almost by themselves, in the moment. ‘Troglo Dance’ is one of them.
Torture the Artist: Now let’s speak about the aforementioned ‘Double Pack EP’, which also marks Versatile’s 120th release. As the title states it is not an album but one of the very few EPs that you have released in the last couple of years. Which experiences or personal events does the EP cover or depict for you?
I:Cube: An intense period stuck in the basement studio with no daylight, but with serenity and love all around. Although the ideas came quickly with a natural flow, it took me some time to get everything right. I tried to achieve the best mixes for every track, to the point that I was totally lost and wanted to give up and throw everything away. I had no pressure and no real plan. These tunes can sound a bit retro-ish without being nostalgic, as though stuck in a dimension of their own. I like this feeling and think it is what gives the overall vibe of the EP
Torture the Artist: What was a memorable moment when producing the EP?
I:Cube: The track ‘Troglo Dance’: this track was done almost in minutes. Switch on the machines on a Sunday afternoon, start to jam with the sequence and play with the sounds = done. I wish this scenario could happen more often.
Nowadays, I know it’s the norm to add a certain weirdness on a dance record.
Torture the Artist: Generally speaking, which musical frontiers do you want to cross and which have you crossed with the ‘Double Pack EP’?
I:Cube: I think I know a bit more what I want, and how to achieve certain things. Some musical frontiers have already been crossed a long time ago. For instance, making music that is totally different from dance music. For ‘Double Pack EP’, I think I didn’t care to put some less conventional music on a ‘house’ EP. Nowadays, I know it’s the norm to add a certain weirdness on a dance record. At the end, I think I found a good balance and I’m more confident in releasing some less functional music (in a dance music context)
Torture the Artist: Imagine you are cooking a three-course dinner for the one you love and each course has to be paired with one track from the ‘Double Pack EP’. Name the dish for each course, and the track from the EP you‘d pair it with.
I:Cube: This would be quite simple.
- Entrée : velouté d’asperge (BIFURQUE)
- Plat: gardiane de taureau à l’ancienne (RAMURC)
- Dessert : salade de fraises bleues (FRACTALE P)
- Wine : vin des coteaux de Chaillot (FLUTES SOUTERRAINES)
Torture the Artist: As mentioned before you did not release a lot of music in the previous years. Was it an intentional break so that you can pool your strengths to produce the music which you eventually released in 2018?
I:Cube: I did release some music (under different names) and some remixes. I think sometimes you need to step out and do different things, explore new techniques and new music. The thing is I make music all the time, but decide to release only what I think is the most interesting.
Torture the Artist: What took up the place of producing music in the past years?
I:Cube: Nothing, it’s just a matter of cycles, you have to surf on the waves and accept some less intense periods (that are as important). Sometimes it’s good to have a break and do other things (taking some photos, do some drawings, do some graphic design etc.)
Torture the Artist: How do you generally give yourself a break from music?
I:Cube: Walking in Paris, finding some records, going to exhibitions and art shows, or make music with some friends.
Torture the Artist: What is it that you want to express with your music that words can’t?
I:Cube: I don’t know, I’m not very good at over analysing or putting words on all this, it’s just a another channel really. I find it’s the simplest way to be instantly somewhere else.
I would be more than happy if my music played live can trigger some emotions.
Torture the Artist: You will play your first live set in over four years at Nuits Sonores festival this year. What do you hope to accomplish when you play live? For example, do you want people to forget all their problems and be present, or do you want them to hear new and unique sounds?
I:Cube: I’m not really expecting the people to react in a certain way, but I feel usually the people are more receptive and curious when you perform live, the thing is to transmit this nowness and electricity to the audience which can be difficult sometimes with machines. I would be more than happy if my music played live can trigger some emotions. That’s the ultimate reward. You can achieve the same thing when mixing some records, but performing your own music live is even more challenging.
Torture the Artist: You are cited as a ‘key influence by at at least half of the country’s [editor’s note: France] producers’. (Quote taken from the additional press-kit that accompanied the music promo) What producer has left an impression on you lately and if you were a fly whose artist studio would you fly into?
I:Cube: Too many records and producers to mention but if I was a fly and I could also travel back into time, I would say – Bernard Parmegiani, Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus studio during the Basic Channel years, King Tubby, Cony Plank and Drexciya for starters.
Torture the Artist:What artist do you associate with the word ‘successful’, and why?
I:Cube: In any field, it’s what you achieve on a personal level that counts.
The thing with remixes is that you don’t have to think too much. You can experiment with new things and your ego is less involved.
Torture the Artist: A lot of remixes of yours have either been or are about to be released this year. Additionally from looking at your discography one can say you have a preference for remixing. Where does this preference come from and what does a track have to have so that you remix it?
I:Cube: The thing with remixes is that you don’t have to think too much. You can experiment with new things and your ego is less involved. In any case, it’s always an interesting experience, you learn a lot and it’s a challenge every time. If an idea comes straight away, I usually know I will be able to add something to the original version.
Torture the Artist: What has been the most challenging track for you to remix and had pushed you to your musical limits?
I:Cube: I remember a remix we did as Château Flight (Gilbert & I) a long time ago for the label, Mantis. We tried all sorts of versions, and finally ending up making this strange new wave remix. This remix gave us the opportunity to expand our musical fields in our music.
Torture the Artist: What has been the most beneficial release to further your career?
I:Cube: The first albums, because I felt more confident after, and I could buy some more studio equipment.
Torture the Artist:Who is allowed to criticize a track or demo of yours?
I:Cube: Anyone, there’s no problem with that.
Don’t believe the hype, take your time, go outside the studio, do different things. Listen to a lot of records and learn your history.
Torture the Artist: You have been part of the (electronic) music scene for nearly 30 years. What is a piece of advice you can give to upcoming or rising DJs or producers?
I:Cube: Don’t believe the hype, take your time, go outside the studio, do different things. Listen to a lot of records and learn your history.
Torture the Artist: What hope will you never give up?
I:Cube: May sound a bit silly, but I hope music will still help bringing people together.
Interview by Holger Breuer