Alan Braxe keeps his studio window open at all times, even in the depths of winter. This decision is partly scenic, partly practical. Surrounded by an assortment of drum machines, compressors and modular synths, he perches at his desk with a view of the verdant countryside of southern France for company. Along with the occasional invigorating gusts of wind to wake him up, this enduring stalwart of French house music makes three trips to the nearby village for coffee each day. On a sunny Saturday in late February, I accompanied two of these trips, pumping up the hill in a rinky-dink comedy car. It’s not that Braxe likes being smashed against the dashboard, but with a suspended license, this glorified golf cart is the only vehicle he’s allowed to drive.
Now 50, Braxe – whose real name is Alain Quême – is thoughtful and measured, with a weathered melancholy that he hugs to his chest. He also smokes prodigiously, barely passing half a cigarette before stubbing it out and jumping off to another tangent in the conversation. One of his two teenage sons, an avid coder who makes gallant attempts to converse entirely in English when I visit, berates him for burning in a glass goblet during lunch. “I’m divorced,” Braxe shrugs.
In the afternoon, Braxe’s younger cousin Stéphane, better known as fellow French house icon DJ Falcon, joins in a video link. Even at 49, Falcon still carries the carefree attitude of a skater. He’s a bit hungover after hanging out with old friends in the Parisian electro set, basking in the anticipatory glow of a big comeback that’s been simmering for a very long time.
The duo’s new double A-side single, “Step By Step” / “Creative Source”, marks the first time Braxe and Falcon have released a record together, as well as DJ Falcon’s first original material in 20 years – an absolute aeon for any artist, but especially one in the always forward field of electronic music. “Creative Source” is a thick slab of disco house, all slap bass and choppy vocals and heavy filtering – a familiar pattern to anyone who’s listened to a dance music radio station in the last 25 years. “Step By Step”, however, serves as a curve ball. It’s the kind of blockbuster AOR anthem you’d hear over the credits of a John Hughes coming-of-age movie – a blockbuster 1985 hit from a parallel universe.
At the center of “Step By Step” is guest vocalist Noah Lennox, aka Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, in a surprisingly full and clear voice. A fan of both producers, Lennox jumped at the chance to get involved. In a separate interview, he says the repetition of the song’s title phrase throughout the verses, chorus, bridge and coda reinforces it as a hopeful mantra. “It reflects how inspired I was by their sampling work,” he explains. “They can come up with short, meaningful phrases that hang over the entire track and only increase the power.” Lennox’s satisfaction with the final product is palpable. “It’s rare that I listen to things I’ve done or worked on, but I listen to this all the time.”