By Amanda Gordon
Photo by Octave Abaji
Sunareht is here to serve up more euphoria on the dancefloor. The Parisian producer, born Sylvain Dessagne, stretches samples to their emotional limits. After starting the Paradoxe Club label along with fellow French artists Le Dom, Birol and De Grandi in 2016, Sunareht released two EPs, Hyul and Sagas, in the following two years. Just last month, Sunareht performed a set with his label mates at a Boiler Room Paris show.
Before finishing up my own studies in the French capital, I had a chance to sit down with the Parisian producer to chat about his influences, upcoming projects and his ideal club.
Amanda: Could you talk a little bit about your musical background and some of the stuff that you grew up listening to?
Sunareht: My mom used to make me go to music classes when I was very little, like maybe six or seven. At the music school you would learn one instrument a week, and if you liked it you could stay with it and learn more. I ended up doing the saxophone. Then I went to the drums. I really liked the rhythmic approach. I also had a small band when I was 14. I had a group of two friends with me. It was very crappy, but it was my first experience in creating music. At home, my mom had a big vinyl collection. Lots of classics, disco stuff, Bob Marley and the soundtrack to Blade Runner. I also remember listening to the group Art of Noise and being really moved by it. My stepfather used to listen to Massive Attack and bands like that. He played it really loud in the living room. I liked the bass [laughs].
Amanda: When did you start getting into more electronic music?
Sunareht: A neighbor that lived either upstairs or downstairs from our apartment, I can’t remember, he had a massive music collection with lots of stacks of CDs. He would just give me stuff like “Listen to this, listen to that, take whatever you like.” I ended up taking a lot of stuff and putting it on my iPod. I really liked some ravey stuff and some stuff from Aphex Twin.
Amanda: When did you begin DJing and producing? Which came first?
Sunareht: The producing came first. When I was 16 maybe, my friend asked me, “What would you do if you could do anything?” I said “DJ” out of nowhere. I never thought about it, but I was always amazed by guys like Aphex Twin and I was trying to think about how they made music. In my head, I thought there were a lot of little sounds fitting together. It seemed really hard and tedious. When I was 17, a guy in my class was producing rap beats. He showed me how to do it, and it was way easier than I thought. So I’ve been producing stuff for 10 years now.
Amanda: Getting into some of your most recent music, your first EP, Hyul, has this unique stuttering effect. It sounds very ethereal. Would you say it draws from the French filter house tradition of sampling?
Sunareht: When I made the track “Mole Hunt” as a single for Paradoxe Club, I was playing around with certain effects and ways of treating the samples. I really love grimey sounds, so this track was like my take on that kind of music. I used that same sample technique on the Hyul EP.
Amanda: Paris is often overshadowed in terms of its club circuit by cities like London and Berlin, but it seems that things are starting to change with new venues opening up around the city and in suburbs like Montreuil. What do you see happening and where do you think the scene in Paris is heading?
Sunareht: It’s been really hard for us in the past few years. We used to have a club called the Social Club. That’s where I was going like three times a week for a few years when I was like 18 to 23 years old. They had some jersey club nights, trap sound nights, I knew I could go there during the week because it was free. I was broke at the time so I was going there for free by myself. I didn’t drink anything, I was just there for the music. I would go from midnight to 6am.
We were talking with Teki Latex and everyone about how we could make the music in Paris a bit more of our own and not a copy of club tracks or tracks from the UK. At the time, I was like either I do that type of music and move to London or we stay here and try to do something a bit new in Paris, so we decided to create the Paradoxe Club label two years ago.
Amanda: It seems like Teki Latex is a driving force in the Paris scene.
Sunareht: When I was 18, I started downloading tracks from blogs on the internet and stuff like that, and I ended up on the Canblaster track. He was a guy from France. I thought it was really nice, and eventually that led me to Teki and other Club Cheval guys like panteros666, who released an EP on Sound Pellegrino, Teki’s label.
I went to see them play at Social Club. I also knew Teki from his rap years, everyone in France knows Teki from his rap years. He always has had a vision that I think is really interesting, so being close to him now is crazy.
Amanda: You grew up in Paris, so what are some of your music influences from the city?
Sunareht: Daft Punk, easily. When I was little, the Daft Punk albums were coming out and they were everywhere. When I was 10 when Discovery came out and I would hear it on the radio all the time. I think it really influenced everyone.
The whole filter house scene was really big in France. When I would drive around with my friends in middle school or high school, we always played Daft Punk and stuff like that. It’s really French.
Amanda: The French also seem to love Michael Jackson and disco. Why do you think that is?
Sunareht: The disco demolition stuff that happened in the U.S. never happened in France, so disco never died here. In France disco morphed like it did in the U.S., but in France it was still on the top of the charts. In the U.S. it was more underground. I had my disco phase when I was 16, and I still use it for samples.
Amanda: When you sample do you use vinyl at all?
Sunareht: I don’t have the gear to sample vinyl. I have no music theory knowledge. I took like three piano classes, so I know notes, but that’s about it. I used to try to compose and make my own synths. I have a bit of knowledge in synth-making and plug-ins, but I’m more inspired when I work with samples. I think it’s more like sculpting than production. I take something and I sculpt the part I like.
Amanda: What is your approach to DJing and working a crowd?
Sunareht: I think having seen a party from start to finish for years and years, I kind of know what makes people come and stay on the dance floor. So I think the biggest thing is to keep people on some kind of edge.
Amanda: Have you thought about traveling and playing your music elsewhere?
Sunareht: I’d love to. I’ve only played outside of France once, it was in Berlin.
Amanda: Why do you think it’s hard to incubate a new scene in Paris?
Sunareht: I don’t know any other cities, so I can’t compare. I mean, people say that trends start in the U.K., then they go to the U.S. and then to Paris [laughs]. We have to wait until it becomes popular in the U.S. before mainstream people in Paris start to like it.
It’s like grime. We had to wait for the U.S. to like it before getting it in Paris, like with Skepta or Stormzy. It’s right there, but we had to wait for the other side of the world to like it. The exception is French rap, of course.
A shift came when a lot of the clubs started to play a bit more techno. They tried to make Paris more like Berlin, but that’s not Paris. I think people that are doing techno now like people were doing techno 20 years ago is the same as someone doing some weird guitar thing from medieval times. It’s a bit extreme, but you’re more like a historian than a musician. It’s like how some people want to live back in the 1920s, it’s the same thing with techno. They want to be in the 1990s, and I don’t think it’s healthy for music as a growing, functional thing. It can’t only be nostalgia.
Amanda: You mentioned before about how you and Teki were trying to build a sound that doesn’t pull directly from the U.K. and is more of your own thing. How are you guys at Paradoxe Club trying to shape this new sound?
Sunareht: We made the label because we saw that a few cool artists from France were on the English labels or were trying to move away from the scene in Paris or trying to affiliate with other scenes around the world. So we said we had to do a label for French people, somewhere to release music that pushes an artist’s vision.
CLUBKELLY was with Crazy Legs, which is based in London. Sylvere was with the Sans Absence crew in London. We were like “Ok, we need to do something here for French people.” So we made a compilation with all the artists we could get at the time. Some people said no, but we asked around to artists we liked in France. It became the Boss Rush Compilation. That was really cool. We just want to push everyone we like to do their most original EP. We’re not a label that’s like “You have to give us your EP now.” We want our artists to give the best of themselves.
Amanda: Where is your favorite place to dance in Paris?
Sunareht: That’s hard. I love to go to Le Chinois in Montreuil. There’s a good energy and stuff, but the sound system is crap. I would really like to see a place with a good sound system. This year I went to clubs in England for the first time, and they have great sound systems. So, why not us? It’s a bit sad. I think we need someone that is really passionate about pushing boundaries in electronic music to create a club in Paris, someone with money [laughs].
My ideal club would be a small, dark room with a great sound system. I feel like in a dark club people don’t care as much about their image or how they dance. They’re more into the music and they let go more. Maybe it’s scary for some people, but I really like the freedom of letting go. We need that in Paris.
Amanda: You recently released a pair of remixes to Eric Pyrdz’s classic dance hit “Call On Me” with CLUBKELLY. Why did you guys decide to remix that specific song and how did the collaboration come about?
Sunareht: So he sent me a track that was a remix of “Call On Me,” and it was a bit similar to what I do. And I was like “Yo, I should put this in my mix.” And then I just decided to do my own remix. He ended up doing one as well, so we decided to release them together.
Amanda: Any new projects in the works?
Sunareht: I did my first live show a few weeks ago. I was working on that since my EP, so I made a few new tracks for the live show. I have three new tracks I really like and loads of drafts. I’m thinking of doing an LP next. I’m going to try to expand my style a bit. I’m trying to do something a bit more interesting in the long play format.
Amanda: How would you say your style has evolved since the release of Hyul, your first EP?
Sunareht: That’s interesting because I think “Hyul” is still my favorite. It took me like three years to make it, just trying stuff out. When it was finished I thought, “Ok I really have something here.”
Amanda: Earlier you talked about looking for a certain emotional effect when sampling. Could you elaborate a bit more about that?
Sunareht: I usually cut up a sample randomly and then play around. It’s really like an instrument. I use my fingers [mimes piano playing], and then when I get in the mood, it’s sort of a trancey thing. I’m really in the mood and I’m like “This sample right here sounds good, let’s find something that can go after it and extend the emotion.” So then I have two sample splices, and then three. When I get hooked on an emotion I have to record it as soon as possible because it’s not gonna last. It’s a really small moment. I’m just trying to expand it as much as I can.