Paris’s Dirtyphonics draw on energy that doesn’t have to be plugged in
There might be nothing new under the sun, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cast new light on familiar ideas. Consider the case of Dirtyphonics, a Paris-based quintet: half drum and bass collective, half rock band. While the idea of a live drum and bass act is nothing new, Dirtyphonics’ unique approach — playing live on a crazy array of gear including four turntable decks, three mixers, two samplers and a Game Boy — has garnered them significant momentum and a string of awards across Europe, including “best newcomer producer” at the Drum and Bass Arena Awards. More than one prominent publication has already called them the future of live drum and bass.
Calgary will be the first stop in Dirtyphonics’ inaugural Canadian tour, the first chance for Canadian audiences to experience the group’s unique sound live. For Playte and Pitch-In, Dirtyphonics’ two DJs, the energy of a live show is what really injects the group with its rock-band vibe.
“When you’re playing as a DJ you’re alone or with your MC,” says Pitch-In. “And that’s cool, but when you’re with five [other people] and you can look at your friends onstage each making a different part of the track, and look at the crowd, and feel and play off of that energy and add your own part, it’s amazing.”
“The communication is everything,” adds Playte. “On top of communicating with the crowd, each of us onstage is communicating with each other to bring a song together. So, it’s more like being in the middle of the party, rather than the ‘DJ versus crowd’ that most clubs are used to.”
Since Dirtyphonics started performing in 2006, feeding off an audience’s energy has been an essential part of its mix. Far from spinning a rehashed set list every night, the crew puts together each song live providing unrivaled flexibility in building and maintaining a dance-floor vibe.
“Depending on the sound system, on the crowd, on how you’re feeling that night, we’ll play each song a different way,” says Playte. “We might give the drum machine more space, or play parts a bit more subtly, or energetically, depending on what we’re feeling on the night.”
“Because we have control over every track onstage,” adds Pitch-In, “we can do things differently every single night.”
From the beginning, the idea was to create electronic music with electronic equipment without losing the thrill of live performance. Even with four decks and a repurposed portable gaming system, Dirtyphonics’ sets have always been more about the humans behind the machines.
“We wanted that rock-band energy and feeling,” says Playte. “[We wanted to be] making music you’d hear in a club, but played in a rock-and-roll way, with that group presence onstage.”
A proper listen to any of the Dirtyphonics’ releases makes it obvious that the group’s taste for live feel and creative improvisation carries over into the studio. Their new single, “Quark,” pulses with an insistent groove and intriguing shifts in tempo and the currently unreleased “Hoverboard” employs an endlessly evolving loop of the main theme from the movie Back to the Future as its main hook. If there’s new light being cast on a familiar formula, Dirtyphonics is finding it in that live energy.
“A lot of the ideas that end up on our records come from ideas we have when playing together live,” says Playte. “Even in the studio, everyone is doing something at the same time, adding parts, working with a piece of equipment. It creates a real life feel, and a real human groove in all of our music.”