Shaking up the Parisian music scene with a smooth cocktail of disco, electronic pop, New Wave, and a splash of indie rock is a talented new quintet worth giving a listen to. The Aikiu is made up of Alex Aikiu (lead vocals), Julien Vichnievsky (keyboards), Barnabé Nuytten (bass), Nuno Cordeiro (guitar), and Tatiana Mladenovitch (drums). Together they distill elements from music across decades, amounting in a sound that can only be described as fresh timelessness. We've been addicted to their hoppy, bass-infected song "JUST CAN'T SLEEP" since it came out in 2010, and we're stoked on the band releasing its very first LP this year, co-arranged with Pilooski (Discodeine) and produced by The Shoes' Guillaume Brière.
A four-track EP that you'll be able to win in our giveaway this week (follow us on TWITTERfor details to come!) is a taste of their soon-to-be-released LP. The EP scampers through a sunny field via fast-paced drums and twinkling piano ("Pieces of Gold"); revisits the Strokes' effervescence but with more sultriness ("Somehow"); and offers a heartfelt throwback to 80s melodrama ("20th Century Ghost"). Topped off with the delightful, almost dumb redundancy of the goofy instrumental "Barbarella," this aural sneak peek is as feel-good as it gets. Oh and did we mention the artwork is by by the incomparable French art directors M/M Paris?
To know more, we conducted a Q&A with the lead singer Alex, and even got the band to put together a mixtape of some of their favorite stuff. The downloadable mix is molasses to the ears, and coasts seamlessly through Tchaikovsky, Koudlam, Nicolas Jaar, and some of the Aikiu's own tracks. ___________________________________________
1. October - Tchaikovsky
2. Pieces of Gold - The Aikiu
3. I Will Fade Away - Koudlam
4. Somehow - The Aikiu
5. I Need a Doctor - The Drums
6. Take It Out on Me - Chairlift
7. I Didn't Know - Tristesse Contemporaine
8. D'un Taxiphone - Isabelle Adjani
9. Rendez-Vous - Cerrone
10. I Need Somebody to Love Tonight - Sylvester
11. Darkside A1 - Nicolas Jaar ___________________________________________
Sofia Cavallo: How would you describe your sound?
Alex Aikiu: I would describe it as a pop with New Wave influences. The songwriting itself is rather classic; we tried to have an interesting mix of organic and electronic in the production. It has more to do with soul music than club music, but you could still dance to most of the songs. It's all pretty much emotionally driven.
SC: Do you see yourself as reviving disco?
AA: The two first EPs we put out were truly disco-influenced, especially "Just Can't Sleep," produced by Pilooski (Disodeine), which was a tribute to New York's Studio 54 era and the club scene back then. He also produced "The Red Kiss," which had house beats but it was a proper homage to 80s pop––like Cindy Lauper, New Order and OMD. On the full-length album, there is no dance track, but the way the songs were written is quite similar to dance music: they were recorded mostly in a home studio with computers before we added guitars, drums, and many keyboards. So it may be perceived as "organic synth pop."
SC: You've lived all over the world, having grown up in northern and West Africa, and having studied law in France.
AA: Yes, I was lucky to be able to travel so much as a child, though I felt a bit uprooted sometimes. My dad has always been an adventurous person, opening businesses all over the world. Sometimes they worked out, sometimes they didn't, so we moved around a lot. As a result, we would discover the world and open our minds to new cultures and ways of thinking. I see him as romantic character. SC: At what point did you ditch practicing law for making music?
AA: I moved to Paris at 19 and studied law for awhile, but it was more to please my parents than anything else. Then I got signed to a major label that had me move to New York to work on the album. There, the record took a direction I wasn't really happy with or sure of. I was singing on loops and there wasn't anything really personal in what we were doing. The project didn't work out, so I came back to France and decided to start all over again, with new songs and the right people. It was a hard decision to make but I needed to feel 100% right about my work. That's when the project went from being a solo project to a band, the Aikiu. It's a music family, I would say.
SC: How did you and your bandmates meet?
AA: We all met when we were 18 after we graduated from high school, and we kept in touch. When we came together for The Aikiu about four years ago, Julien was already working on songs for several music projects, and Barnabé was in a band in the South of France. Now only time will tell if that was a good choice for them! [Laughs] They are my best friends, so I hope the adventure will reinforce our friendship even more. Recently, Nuno and Tatiana have joined us for our stage performances.
SC: In between the solo project and the band, you also did some fashion styling.
AA: I've always done both music and styling at the same time. I started styling when I arrived in New York. I've always been fascinated by images and iconography––pictures, film, graphics––more than just fashion itself. To me, music is something very visual and very stylish. You plunge into your own imaginary world when listening to songs. And the creative work around covers, videos, and live performances is something crucial and exciting. I think the music we do is somewhat sophisticated, so the visuals also have to be. Doing styling and singing has always felt quite complementary to me. For this album cover and the global visuals, we're working with M/M. I'm a big fan of their work, and I'm very honored that they are helping me.
SC: Did you follow fashion growing up?
AA: Yes I had lots of fashion icons, but strangely they were always linked to music. Artists such as Grace Jones and Jean-Paul Goude, whom I got the chance to work with. Prince, David Bowie, Bette Davis, and Debbie Harry were all so stylish and very iconic. You could feel they were impactful on their time, even beyond music. I feel the same way about contemporary artists Björk and Karen O, because image is so important to them. I discovered a lot of musical acts through The Face back in the day. Before the Internet, that magazine was it! I loved, and still love, the Buffalo fashion movement in particular. Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, and John Galliano are my favorite designers––I've always been impressed by their mad and creative imaginary world and their savoir faire.
SC: How you start working for Jean-Paul Goude?
AA: Jean-Paul Goude was and still is one of my ultimate heroes. I grew up with his videos and pictures. His images contain everything that's touching to me: animals, energy, positivity, strong characters, movement, dance, glamour, humor, and incredible and precise styling.
I met Jean-Paul when I was working on a cover project for a magazine. In my mind, I had imagined the most perfect collaboration: Björk and Jean-Paul Goude. The art director of the magazine introduced us, we had long conversations together, and we've been working together ever since. It's been an intensely fulfilling experience. I've never met anyone like him before; he's a complete genius. He's not only an illustrator or a photographer. He's also a designer, a choreographer, a real Chef d'orchestre, and an amazing storyteller.
SC: What French music should we be listening to now?
AA: Some of my all-time favorite French singers are Bashung, Françoise Hardy, and Serge Gainsbourg. Of the newer bands, I like Koudlam a lot, but also Phoenix, M83, The Shoes, La Femme, and many more. SC: What's the first album you ever owned?
AA: My very first record was a 12-inch my sister offered me, Kim Wilde's Kids in America. I still love it now. There were very few record stores in Africa back then, so it was expensive to buy music, which was very frustrating. So we used to make tapes when visiting France and we would listen to them constantly after we left. The first records I ever bought myself were Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, andSuzanne Vega and Prince's albums. I think I first became interested in Prince because of the way he dressed––his style was fascinating. And it was the same for his music and his performances. The perfect balance.
SC: What's the last album you bought?
AA: Someone gave me the new Chairlift album, it's a very good pop record. Their singer Caroline Polachek is very magnetic.
SC: Tell us about your upcoming album.
AA: I'd say the album is personal, modern, and timeless and the same time. It has deep moments of pop and dance. The collaboration with Guillaume of The Shoes was very intense, sharp, and quick. We got along very well––he understood the moods and the mix of vintage and modern that the songs required.
The idea of working with Guillaume came from seeing The Shoes live and buying their album. I liked their epic sound and their energy, plus they have cool production ideas, great hooks, and a killer attitude onstage. Some of the sound textures Guillaume created are very dramatic and cinematic––cinema is a big influence on this record. One of the songs, "Let Me Freak Out," is a tribute to Werner Herzog's Nosferatu. Isabelle Adjani, who starred in the film, accepted to read some of the script and sing backing vocals. She is only of my biggest idols, so it really is one of the album's highlights for me.
Other films like The Warriors and the works of Brian de Palma, Dario Argento, John Hughes, and John Carpenter were also influential in the songwriting process. The rebel youth aesthetic––like the one in Rebel Without A Cause and Francis Ford Coppola's Outsiders, or even his daughter Sofia's contemplative teenage spleen––affected the album's lyrics. Timeless inspiration I guess.
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