Across nearly three decades of making music, French producer SebastiAn has simultaneously remained a dedicated student of his craft and established himself as one of its pioneering talents. Working with regional rap groups and studying the work of fellow forward-thinking electronic artists, among them Daft Punk and Björk, eventually gave way to the genre-bending Total in 2011. The debut album’s glitchy electro-house bangers cemented SebastiAn as one of the genre’s most singular voices and an artistic force to be reckoned with.
Collaborations with some of music’s heaviest hitters soon followed. SebastiAn has remixed many of his inspirations, produced for marquee names like Frank Ocean, M.I.A., and Fall Out Boy, and more recently lent his hand to film and fashion. His latest full-length release, the soundtrack for French director Édouard Salier’s TROPIC, features 17 compositions and a collaboration with The xx’s Oliver Sim.
When he’s not scoring films, producing, or working on his solo material, SebastiAn is finding the time to compose original music for Saint Laurent. We sat down with him to talk about his ongoing collaboration with the luxury fashion house, TROPIC, and why electronic music presents a world of endless possibilities. Read SebastiAn’s interview with The Untitled Magazine below.
You have such a versatile career as a producer, composer, and as a solo artist. How did you first get started making music?
In the nineties – I was something like thirteen – the samplers and the computers started to become more affordable. They weren’t just for the professional studios anymore. Hip hop producers were at their best, creatively. Electronic music was changing the game – people from Warp Records, Björk getting Mark Bell as a producer for her classic Homogenic album, and of course, Daft Punk with Homework. Something was happening. At this time I was making beats for hip hop guys, but the electronic scene was offering so many possibilities too, so I started to try to find the bridge between my two musical crushes.
Who were your musical inspirations then, and who are they now?
I started in hip hop, so all the new producers from the nineties, like DJ Premier, RZA, Timbaland, the Neptunes, the Trackmasters, and Rockwilder, were incredible to me. Almost at the same time, the electronic scene was writing a new chapter. Aphex Twin, Autechre, LFO, they all looked so free in what they were doing.
My brain kind of refused to make a choice between all these types of music, so I unconsciously drew from these inspirations to build the musical bridge that became one side of the Ed Banger sound a few years later.
How has your creative process evolved since your debut album, 2011’s Total?
I have to admit that I didn’t change my setup for years. Total was made with the same equipment that I’d had since I was thirteen – a sampler (AKAI S950) and an Atari 520ST with the Cubase 1.
I’ve kept the same process, but I have all the computers now. Nothing’s really changed, in fact, except that I use some softwares I didn’t used to have. Steinberg, Native Instruments, Arturia…
You’ve made music with many big names over the years, including Frank Ocean, M.I.A., and Charlotte Gainsbourg. What do you look for in a musical collaborator?
Everything depends on the artist I am working with, but the first thing for me is to help them to find exactly what they want, even when they don’t know it’s there or what it will be. I feel like a midwife in a way. I’m helping them give birth to what they have inside. Sharing, not just through music, is the most joyful and interesting part of a collaboration.
Your most recent release is the soundtrack for TROPIC, a sci-fi film from French director Édouard Salier. What first attracted you to making music for film?
Most of the artists I know have a picture, some kind of movie in their heads when they make music. I don’t. I have not a single image in my head. I just get “feelings” from music. That’s why I like to have pictures – movies, images – from filmmakers, so I can bring my own sensations to them.
Why did TROPIC resonate with you, as an artist?
The mood. The dystopia. I’m a huge reader of dystopian books. I liked the world Édouard Salier came up with, the fact that he chose to describe the near future in a realistic way, the fact that it exists in the “real world,” and [Salier’s] angle that it’s not just because things are evolving that humans are facing problems.
What did the process look like? Did you work closely with Salier?
He lives in Paris and so do I, so we worked closely. He’s the most patient and kind guy I’ve worked with. He trusted me a lot. Strange thing for a filmmaker, he doesn’t let his ego take over. Everything is in service of the project.
The soundtrack includes a version of “TWIN” featuring The xx’s Oliver Sim. How did that collaboration come about, and how was it to work with him?
Salier and I thought the song would sound great with a singer, so we thought about Oliver Sim because of his vocal character. We really liked what he was doing, and it was matching perfectly with the idea we had of the song. Oliver asked to watch the movie beforehand so he could find the mood for the writing. He did, and we have this beautiful result!
You also have an ongoing collaboration with Saint Laurent, which began when you did the music for its Fall/Winter 2018 campaign. What prompted you to lend your talent to fashion?
It started years before – in 2015 or 2016, I think. At the time I was finishing the Charlotte Gainsbourg album Rest. She is close to the fashion world, especially to Saint Laurent. Anthony Vaccarello, their creative director, came to listen to the album, and he loved it, so he asked me if I wanted to make the music for the show. At the time, choosing music that already exists was the way to go for fashion shows. I didn’t know anything about fashion, but I when I saw all the production involved, I said to Anthony, “Wouldn’t it be way more interesting if the music was made especially for the shows? They are so big, so excessive – I see them as short films. Let’s make a soundtrack for the collection.” The Saint Laurent team asked me if it was even possible because the time of production is very short. I never had more than three or four days to create everything, much less a week. I said, “Let’s try. We’ll see.”
Vaccarello was excited about the idea. I thought it would be for one or two shows, but the concept worked so well that I did all the shows from then until now. Seven years, to be precise.
What inspires you to continue working with them? How do you keep things fresh?
The rush is the key. I have a very short time to create everything. In a way, the brain is useless for making this happen. The brain is even an enemy, having the ability to take your time and overthink is not always a good thing. I like the rushed process. You just have time to make. Nothing else. In that rush, you can create surprising things.
Your last album as a solo artist, Thirst, was released in 2019. Will there be a new one on the horizon anytime soon?
With Thirst, I didn’t get to evolve or promote the project because of the pandemic, so I turned the page and started some new things from scratch. There will definitely be a new album as soon as possible.
Where would you say you are right now, creatively? Is there anything in the works that you can tell us about?
I consider myself a forever learner. I’m in the constant process of learning. There are always new things to explore and discover. My technique is also evolving a lot, so there are many things I want to try. Searching for unexpected results and losing yourself to reinvent what you do is the best way to make music.