To say that Flashmob, the new album by Vitalic, is eagerly awaited would be a slight understatement. This is the first major release in four years from Pascal Arbez-Nicolas, one of the world’s leading electronic producers. Like Daft Punk or Aphex Twin, the Frenchman is a disco visionary responsible for shaping the sound of modern-day electronic music, whose name alone arouses intense emotion in his countless admirers. And once again, across Flashmob’s dozen songs, he sets the agenda for others to follow with a masterful display of raw synthetic power that not only reveals thrilling new ways of generating pleasure, but breathes fresh life into past practices.
Flashmob is Vitalic’s poetic interpretation of disco, but not the bell-bottomed or Balearic kind – more disco as a sensibility, a personal approach. These new tracks have been called “ballsy disco” in France, Pascal says, and you can see why. Listening to the exquisite high-energy bliss-pop and full-blooded new-beat of Flashmob is like being intoxicated and kissed, deeply, by a beautiful, stubbly stranger. Manhandled, yet prickled with goosebumps. Roughed up, gently. There is sweat and amyl nitrate in “Terminator Benelux”, “Poison Lips” and “Second Lives”, but brilliant sunshine and unbridled joy, too.
A daring successor to 2005’s OK Cowboy, Flashmob is an album that effortlessly evokes the hedonistic attitude of disco – reducing its essence, in certain places, to the sound of a snare, to a single handclap – while Pascal’s audacious production and compositional genius give the songs a timeless quality. “The idea was to make different songs, different styles, as if viewed through a disco tube,” he says. “I used technology that would have made it impossible to produce this album five years ago. I mixed many diffrent styles, from R’n’B to Jean Michel Jarre with Justice and Metro Area.” After just two listens, you’ll notice how Flashmob bristles with ideas and that each one, however tiny the detail, is executed perfectly. You’ll appreciate, too, that no one sounds remotely like Vitalic, though many have tried. He is still, unquestionably, the master, the one all eyes are on.
Those encountering Vitalic for the first time are in for a treat, so too those who’ve longed for this second record. “To make these tracks,” Pascal says, “I put myself in a mind that was similar to when I made the “Poney EP” – disco and experimentation mixed with tracks that are still easy to understand.” The four-song “Poney EP”, arguably the finest techno 12-inch of the decade, was Vitalic’s 2001 debut. Over the next few years, armed with the blistering euphoria of “La Rock 01” and “You Prefer Cocaine”, Vitalic blazed through clubland like the Wagner of rave – the flying V – a fearless metal-disco warrior slaying tens of thousands across Europe with his searing live show.
Pascal still plays live almost every weekend, and during the week he takes care of his music and business affairs, which include his label, Citizen, in his home town of Dijon. He receives so many offers to perform that he can pretty much pick where in the world he would like to play. Belgium, UK, France, Japan or Spain are obsessed by Vitalic. He’s a megastar in Malta, for example. With the arrival of Flashmob, a brand new live show has been developed which, through the use of sheets of mirrors and lights, explores “augmented reality” and promises to be absolutely spectacular. Although Vitalic has yet to have a top ten hit, his live show is recognised as one of the best of its kind, and in this respect, his reputation precedes him. This new show should take Vitalic to the next level, on a par with the Chemical Brothers.
Vitalic has always operated with ruthless efficiency. Each live show was brutally effective: Pascal was the rave Terminator, regularly annhilating arenas in Japan or Brazil with tireless versions of “La Rock 01” and “Valetta Fanfares”. For OK Cowboy, too, he chose to reimagine rock’n’roll as ecstatic, choppy grunge on “My Friend Dario” and “Newman”. With Flashmob, he took a totally different approach “The Vitalic people know is straight to the point,” he says. “So with this album I wanted something more arty and romantic. I feel I have more freedom with this album.”
For some time, Pascal was unsure what style of music he should make. He listened to what he calls “bamba”, the fizzy, FX-strewn melodic techno of Stefan Bodzin and Proxy, the Russian producer, but couldn’t make that style of music himself. He took inspiration from NYC disco doyens Metro Area, and tried to emulate the softness of their tracks in his own. In the end, Pascal decided he didn’t care what he did, relaxed, and began work on the record 18 months ago. “Little by little I started, and the more you make music, the more you can make music too,” he says. “‘Alain Delon’ [so named because Pascal imagined the piece would accompany the credits in a film starring the French 60s heartthrob] took maybe three hours to do.”
The songs are short. Only “Still”, an enchanting Moroder moment, spills over five minutes. The others hover around the four-minute mark, which for an artist with a background in DJ culture is unusual. Ironically, Pascal was persuaded to trim his new tracks after playing with Ableton on his laptop. “With computers, no one needs two-minute introductions anymore. On Mr. Oizo’s last record the songs are just one minute and a half.”
This editing also brings into focus Flashmob’s pop appeal. “Poison Lips”, for example, is a breathtaking disco romp that hurtles into space, carried by the swooning alien-vox of Pascal’s old friend, Brigitte. “Your Disco Song”, the first single, is a frisky 8-bit synth-pop with a hefty kick, penned for Pascal’s party pal, Popeye, who, after a heavy weekend, often gets the blues at the start of the week. “I told him I would make a disco song for him to feel better on Mondays and Tuesdays, and it worked.” “Terminator Benelux”, meanwhile, is exactly how you’d imagine a track called “Terminator Benelux” to sound: imposing and voracious, in an early-90s Belgian rave style. Pascal’s regular collaborator, New York chanteuse Linda Lamb, sings on “One Above One”. Pascal himself, his voice mangled by effects, burbles on the buzzsaw boogie of “Chicken Lady”.
As for the extraordinary title track, “Flashmob”, Pascal says: “I needed to make a song that was epic techno and a dancefloor filler. And I like the concept of flashmob. I have only seen it on TV and thought it was like theatre. I saw clips of one in Strasbourg’s main square where 300 people reenacted the last scene of Titanic and they passed a boat around – it was crazy. The idea behind flashmob is really poetic and also contemporary, because all you need is the internet and a phone. This wasn’t possible 15 years ago.”
In this culture of instant everything and incessant hyperbole, Vitalic, stoic and dependable, a pillar of strength, represents a more traditional way of doing things. If Pascal had spent another few years perfecting Flashmob, it would still have been worth the wait. Now he’s back, with an album that’s not just comfortably one of the year’s best, it’s a defining moment in the development of popular electronic music. Everyone else, it seems, has a lot of catching up to do.