After an eight-year hiatus, French electronic producer Agoria has released an all-new LP that goes by the name of Drift, and for good reason. We caught up with the producer to find out more about the unified ethos behind these songs, why he took his time, and what we can all learn from Formula 1. Fresh off his double-header Coachella performances, we present Agoria discussing the art of life.
So, tell me a little bit about the album. Let’s talk a little bit about Drift and the Drift genre.
In my eyes, Drift is a way of life, it’s a way of thinking, it’s not really a genre. Every day I’m connected with people from all different kinds of areas, social groups, and genres of art. I spent the last few years in the studio and I would be interacting with a designer one day, the next day with an actress, and the next week with a director — I was in the middle of so many different types of influences, kind of drifting from one thing to the next. Every day, there was some kind of jump in the discussions I was having, in the mood, in the topics, yet it was all still so interconnected.
I think in my music, and what I wanted to express in this album, is that you can assume both your guilty pleasure and leftfield opinion. I feel that, in music especially, we all like to classify what an artist should be and what we expect from him or her. Thankfully streaming platforms, like Spotify, have helped to get people more open-minded than they were before. You can listen to indie, rock, hip hop, R&B, techno, house, whatever, and I love that variety. So that’s exactly what I tried to do with Drift. I wanted this album to be a journey while you listen to it, from the first minute to the last. Sometimes it’s very disorienting listening to something and thinking to yourself, “Where am I?” I tried to be pretty eclectic.
Yeah, as a driving art, drifting is very fluid and controlled.
Yeah, I’ve actually just been asked to participate in the Formula 1 event in Paris shortly after the release of Drift so maybe I will drift for real, haha.
That would be amazing, I love Formula 1. So how do you deal with keeping things in the same storyline when your approach is to be interdisciplinary and inter-genre? A lot of artists approach album-writing differently and I’ve heard different opinions — from kind of just soul purging and letting all of the art come out and then piecing the story together and also from people who have that journey already planned ahead of time. So when you’re approaching writing an album and keeping it diverse, keeping it eclectic but also being cohesive and wholesome from start to finish, how do you approach that?
Like, when I’m preparing it?
Yeah, in a creative sense, like writing a movie or a book for instance. Because I think an album is the novel or the feature film of music, it’s a long form of storytelling. For some people, they start with one song and then the next one and the next one and all of a sudden they have a long piece of art that they feel is an album. But for others, they will have an idea or a vision for the whole project right off the start. With regards to drifting between topics and being eclectic, do you go step by step? Do you have an entire vision planned already?
I think there are two different approaches. One is very intuitive, you go step by step. The other is very conceptual, where you haven’t even written the first note but you already know how you want it to turn out at the end of the project. I’m the son of an architect, and I think my approach to creating an album is very similar to that of building a flat or a house. I think I need foundations. When I start creating an album, I first try and build the foundations of it. The tracks that I feel when I first start will end up being the most relevant of the album and will give it the color. It’s about finding the foundations of the album and then, from that, building as many levels as you want— for example, I did around 30 tracks for this album and I just put 10 of them on it. I could make around three albums just because the foundations of it have been very clear to me from the beginning, so that’s how I built this album.
Yeah, I think that’s a wonderful answer and I think that does give a lot of insight.
I also write books, just for me — and I think it’s the same thing. When you write a book, when you start, you already have an idea for the spine in mind. You need the spine to then find all the little stories within the story. As for creating music, it is a very similar process to me. Even when you create a single track, you start by getting the foundation of it. Most of the time, for me, it’s starting with the bass and the kick because once you get the bass and the kick sounding right together, you can do everything else. For instance, the human ears, the frequencies that we like to hear, like the foundation of the groove and the bass pave the way for all the high-frequency melodies.
Yeah, it seems like an interdisciplinary approach in the way that you are already interdisciplinary.
I don’t want it to feel like making music is algorithmic, or mathematical. It’s not, because when you get this base of working and when you form these habits, the funniest thing is trying to deconstruct it and to be disruptive of it. Most of the time I’m just trying to find the melody of the piano, and start from that, or by just recording a voice and building a track on it. I think to keep your creativity alive, you need to — when you get the foundations down — to say, “okay, I get it, let’s forget that I get it, and let’s go somewhere else with it”. When you get these two sides together, and you face them, that’s when you create good music. I think you need chaos to find the grace.
Yeah, I mean different buildings would require different foundations, right? If you’re building a bridge, you need things to be very engineeringly directed, very structurally sound and the aesthetics are less of a part of it. But if you’re building a hut and all you need is a roof and a couple pillars, then the start and the approach is different. Everything still needs its foundation. So I think it’s the same with music, the analogy is there. Different songs will start in different places and you can disrupt how you begin the creative process.
Being a musician is like the opposite of an architect, because if you bring some chaos in your music, nobody will fall from the building. You know, I lived my childhood in a strange house, it was round. Everything was round, it was a circle; almost like in a cartoon. There were no angles.
Was it designed by your father?
So you mentioned this for a moment and it’s something I wanted to touch on in this interview, you were talking a bit about algorithms as a process. You were saying you don’t want things to be too algorithmic, but I know that you have a particular interest in AI and algorithms and how they are shaping music taste and music ingestion by fans. I wanted to pick your brain a little bit about that.
Yeah, of course. The first time I was connected to AI is when I was approached by Sonar festival in Barcelona. They asked me to create a 10-second track to send into space with NASA. And I was thinking, what can I send into space? What kind of message can I send to space? What do we know about space? And then I was thinking, if we were agreeing that we all live in kind of a simulation, like cited in many movies and books that reflect on the moment, Philip K. Dick did a conference in the ’70s and said that we are living in a global program in computer reality. So if we’re agreeing that we are living in this sort of simulation, or algorithm or AI, and only numbers can be the answer to send to what maybe an alien can listen to…
So I worked with a specialist on this, because I couldn’t write the code for it, and we fed it to AI. These computers could speak to each other, and after about 600 million iterations, they finally delivered what we thought would be the right language to send. After letting these two machines speak to each other for about the course of a month, it started to become a palpable language that made sense. It was very scary in a way, but also very beautiful in another, to witness this deep learning between machines.
Yeah, that’s definitely terrifying.
Yes, this does terrify some people. But I think people were terrified when the first cars were invented, or when we invented the printing press. I don’t think we have to be afraid of the technology itself, but maybe of how the technology is going to be used. As for the technology itself, no computers at this point have what we call “emotional intelligence.”
Yeah, I agree. I’m not sure about the emotional intelligence part because that’s really almost subjective, right? Because when you consider what human emotional intelligence is, it’s just down to a much higher level of computing, but it’s really just electrical signals responding.
Yes, it’s exactly that. When I say emotional intelligence, I am comparing it to what we call “emotional” as human. So, If we consider that the human emotion is algorithmic, then we can have this terrifying comparison. Actually at the moment I have a friend of mine, he has an amazing, huge company that is terrifying Google, Amazon and all of those guys because he managed to build an algorithm that fakes all the other algorithms, meaning that you don’t need to get all of the data from anyone in the world because you can fake the data by algorithms simulating the records. So we got that far in the process of simulations, that we get a simulation of a simulation. It’s deep –– this kind of “infinity.” That’s why I’m not that scared. It’s just like, people decide how to use it which draws the line between emotional intelligence and actual intelligence.
So I think we should be more careful about what human emotional intelligence is compared to a computer’s emotional intelligence.
Sure — that’s a conversation that is really important right now. As DSP’s like Apple and Spotify for instance: For a while they were testing just curating through algorithms, but now there’s been a kind of big investment into artists who are making music algorithmically proven. So they’re pushing a bunch of artists that don’t really matter into spaces in which people listen without questioning it. At that point it’s not about who the artist is, it’s about if what they are making is good enough to fit into spaces that people will listen to it without questioning it, they’ll kind of just ingest it and enjoy it.
But I think, personally, I get lost on the fact that I’m not sure if that’ll ever really be sustainable. Maybe it ties into what you were saying about computers never really having the same emotional intelligence as humans.
So they might not be able to ever create the same emotional response that music made by humans will.
The thing is we don’t have to compete with computers and we don’t have to compete with AI, we just need to use it the best way we can. I think the scary thing is that every time humans have tried to predict what is going to happen in the future, they’ve failed. So nobody really knows what effect this technology will have.
Do you think we’re getting closer and closer as we become more technologically advanced? For example: a movie from the ’70s predicting what’s going to happen in the ’90s or 2000s was a huge fail. A lot of sci-fi movies from the ’70s will have today exactly how is it but with flying cars, which was a ridiculous oversight.
I think the only prediction of the future that has been correct is the book 1984 by George Orwell. It’s one of my favorite books, and it’s wildly accurate.
Yeah and I think as our technology evolves, we are becoming better at predicting. You can look at things like the show Black Mirror which is more near-term.
Yeah, it’s interesting. What I think we need is White Mirror. If I was working at Netflix I would create a show called White Mirror because I think we need a show that portrays how beneficial and positive technology can be.
Yeah that would be interesting. Is there more you wanted to talk about in regards to the album or anything else?
This is it, this is what I love. With Drift, and with incorporating all of this technology, we are creating this kind of movie that wouldn’t have been possible five years ago.