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Interview

With live-show dreams, France's Arno Cost debuts "Head Up" on Size Records

By Dan Carter
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For all of France’s scattered contributions to electronic music, Arno Cost has proven an outright yardstick for quality. Inaugurated alongside homeland peer Norman Doray and propelled forward by landmark releases like “Magenta” and “Cyan,” his distinct blend of uplifting and melodically refined club cuts, though sparing, have maintained his standing as a middle-ground master in the ranks of modern house music.

But modern times call for avant-garde measures, and as Cost’s credibility on the global club circuit has continued to spiral in proportion to his studio output, so has the resilience of his work. Having pushed forward with his own take on wobbly peak-time electro house with 2012’s “Lifetime,” the new year beckoned Cost to step up to the ranks of Size Records, for whom the French producer delivered one of the most thick-skinned extensions of his studio capabilities to date. On a rare day of downtime for the Parisian big-roomer, Beatport News caught up with Cost to discuss his Size debut, “Head Up,” the power of the French touch, and his dreams of becoming a live dance act.

While your studio output remained positively sparing last year, you remained very active on the touring front for 2012. How are you feeling about the way things are panning out at the outset of 2013?

Last year was very busy with gigs and studio time, so it may not have been the most obvious kind of busy to the outside world, but I sure felt it. I played several times in America and Brazil, as well as a lot of European shows along the way. I also got to hit the studio with David Guetta and prepare myself for a strong run of releases for 2013, so it feels like the start of the year has been just as strong for me.

Needless to say, electronic music has reached an unprecedented peak in global attention. How do you interpret this sudden surge of enthusiasm, and do you see it lasting long?

Right now everyone is interested in the music. I feel like this is the music of the future, and what we are seeing emerge is only the beginning. It was surprising to see how the US got into it and how the rest of the world followed suit—every club plays house now, and you can even hear it on the radio. It is exciting for those of us who have been doing it for a while to see how this can unfold further. This may be a really good time for DJs and producers, but it is important for us to not let that get to our heads.

You were born and raised in Paris and have voiced considerable enthusiasm towards your home nation’s reign over electronic music. Do you still consider France to be a key driver of inspiration for you?

I hold my French roots pretty close to heart, especially towards the French touch sound, which inspired me a lot during my earlier years. The times may have changed and trends come and go, but I look to keep that melodic sight that their productions held within my own. As much as I respect my national peers, people like Deadmau5 and Eric Prydz have had a huge influence on me, thanks to that huge melodic vibe they continue to drive into the heart of electronic music. Personally, I want to be the guy that can bring the two together with a firm big-room edge.

It seems to remain the million-dollar industry question, but what was it about French house music that allowed it to take the world with such force?

It was hard not to be inspired by all those amazing producers associated with its heyday. They were the first to bring something new to the table where Europe is concerned. At the time, Daft Punk’s first album, Homework, was so new and fresh; people had never heard anything of that stamina before. I think that is why people still love them—even when they disappeared they would always return and do something that had never been heard before. That is what made them so special. Guys like Alan Braxe and Bob Sinclar set the precedent for French house producers fairly early in the game, and you really feel a sense of belonging within that side of musical history. I have yet to hear a truly persuasive explanation of what the exact formula or magic was, but France changed the game in its own way.

Many of your homeland peers have commented on France’s now floundering club scene. Is this something you have personally noticed over the years?

While I am still very proud of being French, they are right—French house music scene seems to be dying on its feet slightly. Not so many clubs are playing middle-ground music, and their mindset seems to have thinned, so it is either mainstream or underground music. For someone somewhere in the middle, such as myself, it is hard to get particularly involved or active. Luckily I have enough of a global career to not let it bother me, so I chose just to remember the positivity and pride I did take from that scene rather than dwelling on what was.

Talk us through how you first approached your sound and how this has developed since you first entered the spotlight back in 2006.

It has been a pretty crazy journey, to say the least. Music is always evolving and developing; that is what keeps you hooked. Back then my approach was far more progressive and the melodies were a lot more upfront and apparent. As the crowds and scenarios have grown for live dance music, I found myself trying to make music as melodic as it was capable of holding its own both at a festival or on the club floor. That strong melodic stimulus always has to be there. I am always looking for progressions and moments that give people goosebumps—that emotional power is what really matters to me. The sound may have evolved, but the dream and schematics remain pretty similar.

It seems fair to say that your sound has grown somewhat more thick-skinned since the days of “Magenta” and “Cyan.” Was this simply a case of moving with the times and catering to newly attuned ears within the industry?

To an extent, yes. People had come to expect a pretty strong but melodic sound from me over the years, but with “Lifetime,” the sound got a lot more tough, so “Head Up” was all about trying something new but equally heavy rather than being latched onto something I had already done. There is a lot of competition where peak-time club music is concerned, and a lot of it is starting to sound the same, but “Head Up” felt natural to me and there was no over-thinking the process. Those seamless tracks are the most gratifying ones, in my experience.

How did the track end up in the hands of Steve Angello, and what did it mean to join the ranks of artists who passed through Size Records?

“Head Up” was finished at the end of last October. I gave it an early test run in Denver at Vinyl club and the reaction was just amazing. I had not expected such an instant surge of enthusiasm. When it came to finding a label, I figured I would run it by some of the Swedes and see what they thought. I gave it to Max Vangeli and AN21, who really took to it and started playing it at their shows. Steve ended up hearing it during a mutual festival appearance, and next thing I knew he was playing it as well. Within two days of finding this out, they had offered to sign it. There is no playing down a track for Size—it was a dream come true and a very proud debut for me.

Having witnessed your craft develop so rapidly over the years, does your outlook remain inherently positive for the state of modern house music?

You cannot deny that the scene is getting very crowded. As a result, visibility is getting a little harder for a lot of artists out there. On the other side, popularity is rising for the music and culture so rapidly that those who do listen to the music now come in much thicker numbers than they used to. You can see this plainly from the size of the club shows and festivals nowadays. It has been a very positive evolution in my books, even if sometimes people believe that house music is just guys like David Guetta and Avicii. Nonetheless, I am happy to be a part of this musical explosion in my own way.

Talk of your ACtive imprint has been circulating for some time now. Are we likely to see this emerge anytime soon, or is it a case of you waiting for the right moment to take the plunge?

The label platform is one I keep stepping back from. I was supposed to launch it around three years ago, but when it came to making the arrangements and taking the plunge, I said to myself, “No, it is too early.” I feel like there is more music to be made before I tie myself down to that side of the industry, as there is no denying what a big commitment it is. For now, releasing my tracks on bigger labels is vital to developing myself as an artist. Once that profile is fulfilled then maybe I can think about taking it into my own hands and signing other talents, but I don’t see any need for my own new label until I am in a position to see it done perfectly.

Given the global focus of your career these days, do you ever find getting the balance between touring the world and making music to be a struggle?

Sometimes I feel like finishing the music I start is the biggest challenge I have been faced with. I have so many unfinished projects on my computer; sometimes when my manager comes to see me he gets so angry just because of the sheer volume of good material I have which has never had the finishing touches put to it. I insist on trying to perfect it by my standards, and, regrettably, that process cannot be rushed. It is a challenge driven from a lust for outright quality, which I don’t think is a totally bad thing.

Given the positive start we have seen already, what else can we be expecting from you for 2013, and what further aspirations do you hold within your career?

There is a remix en route for Size Records and a few original productions still to see the light of day for the early part of 2013. I started something very special with David Guetta last year, so I am keen to finish that because it is a huge track with a really nice vocal. Having toured so much last year, this year is about getting back in the studio and finishing some of these tracks I have been sitting on for so long. The bigger-picture dream for me is that one day my music will be a live act rather than just a DJ set. I would love to see a day when I can play only my music in sets with real instruments and singers. I feel like the bigger festivals and shows can now cater to something of that scale. Being a DJ is great, but a live act just feels so much more emotional and liberating because people are coming for your music only.