Throughout the ’90s, Emmanuel Top was one of France’s key techno producers, known for a style of acid-driven techno encompassing both raging rave anthems and experimental sonics that were more abstract, perhaps, but every bit as visceral.
NovaMute brought records like his single “Spherique [Sferik]” and the album Asteroid to a global audience, and from 1993 until 2001, his label Attack Records turned out dozens of records showcasing Top’s raw, uncompromising vision of techno.
Then, for all intents and purposes, Top disappeared from public view. Ten years went by. Trends came and went; the “French touch” was forgotten, and the new Parisian “electro” sound came to take its place. Minimal techno, a genre Top could claim some credit for helping develop, became ubiquitous for a time, then peaked and fell out of favor.
But in October of last year, without any fanfare, many of Top’s old releases began trickling into Beatport. In March, Top turned up on Terence Fixmer’s Planete Rouge label with his first new EP in a decade, and he followed with two more new singles for Attack. Today, Planete Rouge releases yet another new single from him, “Cyclic”/”Flux,” which finds the producer taking his sound deeper than ever before.
We’re honored to have been granted an interview with the publicity-shy musician, who spoke to us about his break from recording, his return to the studio, and his love of hypnotic, minimal forms. Read on for the full Q&A.
Emmanuel Top, “Cyclic” [Planete Rouge]
First of all, the inevitable question: What have you been doing all these years? It looks like you took a break from releasing records between 2003 and this year. Were you making music at all during this time?
In 2003, I needed to make a break, because all music industries change and I didn’t have a clear vision of the market. All the majors wanted to produce techno. A lot of independent labels fell down in bankruptcy. The mind and spirit of techno music changed. It wasn’t like the beginning, just making music for the music, for the pleasure of detonating the dance floor, without any commercial pressure.
You made a record just for fun; you didn’t think about money or celebrity, you tried to put in a real spirit—work on all sounds and arrangements, make something creative. I didn’t feel this in 2003. I don’t think I lost it, because I’ve always reacted when I heard a good track. I think I didn’t like the business around techno music. That was the reason I needed to make a break.
Techno, house, or electronic music, however you want to call it, needs spontaneity for creativity. It’s a real feeling.
And the logical next question: What brought you back to making music?
When you love music, it’s for life. Sometimes, you want to forget, but like I said, when you hear a good vibe, you start to think, to imagine. These vibrations all over your body. You can’t control it… and one day, you restart.
Emmanuel Top, “Assemblage” [Attack Records]
Let’s talk about your label Attack Records. Last year, you began digitally reissuing much of the back catalog, and in the past couple of months you’ve released “Dominos” and “Assemblage.” Are these new tracks or do they come from your archives?
I want to release all my catalog on digital. It’s not finished. I’ve got a lot of old, unreleased tracks. “Dominos” and “Assemblage” are new tracks, produced in 2011.
And then of course you’re also recording for Terence Fixmer’s Planete Rouge label now. How did that connection come about?
With Terence, it’s an old connection. Always we have the passion of electronic music. I really like his integrity in the face of the market. It’s the reason that, when he proposed me to release my tracks on Planete Rouge, I accepted immediately.
Emmanuel Top, “Flux” [Planete Rouge]
You’ve always been associated with acid, for good reason. But the new releases for Planete Rouge definitely move into some new territory. The 303s are no longer apparent; “Addiction” and “Flux” both have what appear to be real, sampled drums on them. Have your recording processes changed significantly with the new material?
Yes, I’ve always been associated with the 303’s sound. I really like the acid sound, but I’m little bit disappointed to be reduced to an instrument. I could make music without a 303. I’m fascinated by the hypnotic power of the music. I think, now, it’s time to move on and offer something different. Keep your style but with an evolved sound. It’s like a painter: find your style and develop your work around your lines, like a signature.
It’s really difficult to produce minimal, because you’re limited to the atmosphere and you must keep the attention of your audience for the duration of the recording. Just with the sound, you enter into your mind, remember events from your past, project your future, consider your position in society. It’s something very special but very intense.
Sometimes this atmosphere feels good, because it’s very limited, basic, like a square room. You know the diagram very well. It’s a reassuring environment. But sometimes, you feel uncomfortable. A sensation of fear, stress, nervousness. You lose control because you’ve never heard this sound before. When did it finish, and where did we go? It’s not a logical thing. You haven’t experienced this situation before. You touch a part of Art. The Art is not always for your pleasure. It’s often to create a reaction from you. Positive or negative, whatever…
My set of materials changed in regard to the past, with a big studio. Now you can produce with a laptop and some good software. But I always work and check the sound in a big room. I have always worked with frequencies. It’s really important in my work. Working with real drum is a return to the origin. A loop. Everything is cyclical.
Emmanuel Top, “Addiction” [Planete Rouge]
One thing that interests me about your music is the way you’ve always moved between two opposite poles—on the one hand, the heavy, almost industrial-strength rave tracks, and on the other hand, much deeper, sometimes ambient, almost psychedelic investigations. The new Planete Rouge releases seem to be bringing those tendencies together, in some sense. What are your thought processes when you’re making different types of tracks, especially on the more experimental side?
Opposition. Things are not interesting without opposites. It’s a fight between atmospheres. A contradiction in your mind to push your limits.
Do you have a particular type of DJ or venue in mind when you’re making your music?
I think about nobody and nothing. I just try to be myself and transcribe my vision in my language with my codes.
As one of the early heroes of the French electronic scene, how do you feel about the way the scene has developed in the past 10 or 15 years? And what artists or labels are inspiring you today?
More and more people make music. It’s a good thing, the chance for everybody. During the last 15 years, we saw some real artists from France seducing the planet. Of course St Germain, Daft Punk, Air, La Funk Mob, Justice. The “French touch,” like we said. But for me, techno is universal (I don’t like this word). I’ve been very surprised these last years by Africa, with artists like Culoe de Song, really fresh with new tendencies.
Are you playing live at all, or do you have any plans to do so? Or do you prefer to focus solely on studio productions?
I’ve always preferred producing music, but I haven’t ruled out playing sometimes as a DJ in good events. I just didn’t like the celebrity or the popularity.
Finally, what more can we expect from you in the coming months, either on Attack, Planete Rouge, or elsewhere?
I’ve always been more interested in my next record than the one before. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Every new record, you come back to life—la renaissance.