She dominates the French electronic scene, and is recognisable enough that she is only known by her first name – Chloé. Known for her ambient work in original film soundtracks and her feminist mindset in the world of male DJs, Chloé chats to us about her influential self-made label Lumière Noire (Black Light), her entrancing work, and the new soundtrack she has produced for the French blockbuster Arthur Rambo, Laurent Cantet’s eighth feature film, which depicts cancel-culture and art in a modern light.
Your career from a late ‘90s DJ in France, pioneering women’s participation in the craft, to an esteemed electronic musician with her own record label is full of accomplishments, movie soundtracks and albums. To anyone who does not already know Chloé, how would you describe yourself and your music?
I'll try. I have been involved in the electronic music world since the mid-90s. I have been performing as a DJ worldwide, in clubs, and at festivals. I am always looking for music to play - going through house, minimal, techno, electro, no wave, indie, and ambient records. I am fascinated by the challenge of building a musical experience and sharing it with people. I'm also a producer of four albums and several EPs and remixes. I make music for movies and contemporary dance shows. I play live solo if I have an album released or for my ambient, audio-visual project titled SloMo A/V. I've played at concert halls or in arty places too. I also perform as a duo with Bulgarian marimba player Vassilena Serafimova; together, we produced the album titled Sequenza, which was released on my label Lumière Noire in 2021.
Since then, after two introspective first albums you described as self- portraits with the Kill the DJ label, you decided to start your own label Lumière Noire, the contrasting name of black light in English conveying the contradictory spirit of the label which has not defined itself to one kind of electronic, lo-fi, or techno music. After over thirty releases by various artists under this label, what would you say have been the highlights?
Lumière Noire means black and light. The two words are perceived as opposite, but their combination to me is an expression of movement or elevation. The two words also recall the black light from the club: the kind of light that reveals what can't be seen. My primary motivation for the label is to release artists who have their path - a particular colour without necessarily resembling a precise style; and, of course, music I fall in love with. I like seeing the label as an evolving platform - a space where artists and myself are free.
Lumière Noire releases mainly club music, but we remain open to artists working across genres. We releases music from artists like Sutja Gutierrez (Phylax Society, LP) is musically positioned somewhere between the cosmic of the late 70s, the recent cold wave, and more dance-floor leaning techno. Also, the album of Destino (Yuksek's side project) made music coming from experimental sessions in Xavier Veilhan's Studio during the Venice Biennale. We shared the same inclination to shift away from the club format to tell stories.
There is also an essential graphic dimension in the label with the contribution of Dune Lunel Studio, which takes care of the visual identity of Lumière Noire. Just had a special night at 104 Paris Arts for the second time (10th June); for this occasion, Dune Lunel Studio has made a limited edition Lumière Noire fanzine. The expression creative entity allows us to group all this and to leave the field of possibilities open to other things. I put the same level of excitement on each release. I respect on a human level and musically all artists we've released.
Your latest EP Counting Stars with You (musique femmes) includes music you composed for the choreographic work Counting Stars with You by Maud le Pladec, a feminist dance production about the marginalisation of women composers from the Middle Ages to now. Why did you think it was important to create the music for this choreography?
In 2020, I co-produced the soundtrack with composer Pete Harden for Static Shot - a piece by choreographer, dancer, and performer Maud Le Pladec. It was created as a constant climax with Ballet de Lorraine's dancers. The year after, I produced the soundtrack of Counting stars with You (musiques femmes), - a second collaboration with Maud Le Pladec, made for the 2021 season of Montpellier Danse. This piece is a militant, feminist creation - an exploration of the marginalisation and the representation of women composers from the Middle Ages to the present day. It's a tribute to woman[ly] composers. We summoned historical and contemporary figures like Kassia de Constantinople, Barbara Strozzi, and Giovanna Marini. The work questions the dominant aesthetic models of the music industry and the ways of thinking about music heritage through a political and poetic manifesto. Maud le Pladec and Ictus Ensemble's Tom Pauwel chose the vocals from existing compositions that have been forgotten or overlooked by history. The body language in the dance piece is based on the dancers' voices, breaths, and songs, creating a dialogue between the performers and the music. I am currently working on the music for Maud Le Pladec’s new dance project called Silent Legacy. The piece takes the form of a duo performed by Adeline Kerry Cruz, an eight-year-old girl who comes from the radical dance style called Krump, and Audrey Merilus, a professional dancer with a diverse contemporary style and technique. It will be presented at this year’s Festival d'Avignon.
Does part of you resonate with this story of female persistence in music, as you were once part of a heavily male-dominated DJ scene?
When I was younger, I never thought in terms of gender. I played guitar when I was a teenager and never wanted to be in a band or become a singer. I just wanted to make music as a form of expression. At the start of my experience in clubs, I realised that the scene was male-dominated. It was rare to meet other women DJs or producers. There were stereotypes about being a woman in the club scene. I could notice it whenever I was involved in some projects: at the beginning of my career, I was often requested to do vocals, which was fine but not my goal. Also, there were gender fee disparities. This is probably one of the main reasons I kept doing my thing, my way. I had the chance to be a resident DJ at Pulp for a long time, a place where I met a group of women working together and supporting each other. Things have got better since then. We see a generation of women DJs and producers booked at prominent festivals and clubs. Women are still underrepresented but it’s good to see bookers and promoters being aware of it and think about equality.
Moving over to the world of film, you have worked on various film scores and worked on accompaniment music for various choreographies, such as producing a soundtrack for the 2012 re-release at Cinémathèque de Paris of Alfred Hitchcock’s previously silent film Blackmail (1930), Marie Kremer’s first short film Le Pérou (2014), A Decent Man (2014), the documentary Guru, une famille Hijra (2016), and Paris La Blanche (2017). Why did you decide to work on original motion picture soundtracks alongside your own music?
When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with movies. I was probably looking for an immersive experience to get lost in. I was fascinated by the power of sound, music, and image. Somehow I came to music through movies. I have always been involved in the club scene while stepping into other types of collaborations. My sound reflects this approach, I guess. I am always looking for cinematic sounds when I DJ or produce music. I didn’t decide to work on original motion picture soundtracks. I was approached by directors like Lidia Leber Terki, who invited me to work on their movie. It’s a fascinating process to be part of a collective work.
Do you believe that electronic music is the most effective way of accompanying a visual story? Why?
Electronic music can build textures and go beyond the world of acoustic instruments. It can go in some places where the border between sound design and composition is thin. It can create complex sounds, futuristic drones, soundscapes, and ambiance, but that doesn’t mean it is the most effective way to accompany some visual stories. It can also be straightforward and close to acoustic sounds. There are a lot of approaches to electronic music. Some of my favourite movies don’t even have music! Each film has its character, and electronic music wouldn’t fit everywhere as directors have their aesthetics and will make choices - they are the ones guiding the story.
Recently, you have worked on the soundtrack for Arthur Rambo, Palme d’Or winner Laurent Cantet’s eighth feature film, which is set to premiere in Spain in April. The film depicts the story of young Parisian writer Karim’s rapid fall out of public favour after his anti-semitic, misogynistic and homophobic Twitter account under the name Arthur Rambo is uncovered by the media. I read that you composed the soundtrack to accompany the main character, and translate a person “on the edge,” a genius with a dark side. What is the process of writing your music to accompany a character?
Karim's character lives a profound moment of loneliness in front of everyone but does not want to recognise it in the right away - the music speaks about this mental state. His character evolves during the movie, and the music follows this slow transformation. At the film's start, the music is soft and organic; it gradually becomes more saturated. This approach allowed us to play with the idea of sounds and warmer ambiances, to evolve towards melodic, minimalist moments as well as to colder and electronic sounds. The shifting ambiance reflects Karim's mental state. In the end, it is the story of a fall.
The film is set over one day, after Karim’s extremely offensive hate-speech Twitter account is discovered and documents the destruction this causes on his personal relationships and newfound success in the literary sphere. The soundtrack portrays panic and disarray in an unsettling manner, electronic pulses echoing as Karim runs from the eyes of the public on the metro, for example. How did you create this sense of dread in the soundtrack that accompanies his downwards spiral?
The scene in the metro is the first moment where Karim’s character feels everyone turns their back on him. People discovered he was behind this alias on Twitter and the offensive speech. Laurent Cantet told me that he wanted me to build the pieces in progression so that each sound could become an original piece later on. He mentioned this duality between soft and more saturated sounds, adding that it was essential to play with this duality; this is how I produced the piece called « A la dérive » for this specific scene.
I saw that musician Gaspar Claus played cello for this soundtrack, allowing you to transform the sounds of his music into a mixture of something between acoustic and electric, combining abstract electronic sounds with more traditional styles of music. Why was this important to you for the Arthur Rambo soundtrack? Is it reflective of the two sides of his character, and the satiric meaning he claims is lost in the character of his hate-speech account?
Laurent Cantet wanted to have electronic music for this movie. The scene mainly takes place during the night, and Karim's character is someone challenging to identify, and electronic music here helps describe this ambiguity. The music theme needed to create moments of suspension and illustrate this impalpable place in which Karim finds himself and realises as he goes along. The idea was to find a more accomplished type of sound later in the film. The music needed to evoke the mood in which the character is, but also the way the characters around Karim feel betrayed. I worked with acoustic and electronic sounds to reflect the character's warm and cold feelings. Cello has an extensive range of textures and tessitura. From these sound recordings, I've reworked the material and transformed it so that they become another material mixing with ambiances created with electronic sounds. These textures act at the beginning as guidance and impose themselves more and more.
How does the film’s main theme of transparency in this modern world and cancel-culture resonate with you, as a musician?
The movie questions the mechanism of social networks and cancel culture that is rising and taking on an increasingly significant role in many people's lives - in the intimate, social, and political space as well as in the younger generation. The film’s narrative is based on a true story emerged from a series of openly racist, anti-semitic, homophobic, and misogynistic tweets that the author had been publishing for years under a pseudonym. Laurent Cantet chose to take the distance of fiction as he did for Jean- Claude Romand in L'Emploi du temps - he is careful not to judge him, but neither forgives his character. He treats the disturbing portrait of Karim, allowing his ambiguities and contradictions to manifest. Free speech and artistic expression don't let everyone say everything; as musicians, we do have a responsibility. We have a community of listeners. We want a society where discrimination isn't normalised as it has been in the past. The roots of electronic music come from a community that stands for minorities and against harassment; we cannot forget this and have the duty to preserve this safe space.
What is next for your diverse career? More music, more soundtracks, or both?
I find a good balance between soundtracks, music production, DJing in clubs and at festivals, performing concerts with Vassilena Serafimova or performing for my Slo Mo A/V live project. I’m not waiting around for more to come as I need space too, but I am also aware that any new project can be inspiring and an opportunity to improve. Also, our world is changing, and we need to see how our scene can progress, and think more collectively about global questions related to climate concerns. There are opportunities to mobilise our community for change, adopt more eco-responsible behaviours, and build knowledge to make positive change.
Upcoming SloMo Live A/V dates:
June 18th - Body & Soul Festival (Split Hills, Ireland)