Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Michel Moers From Telex - Exclusive Interview for elektrodiskow.com!

We are very honoured to have a rare and exclusive interview with Michel Moers, singer with Belgian elektro maestros Telex. Their seminal 1979 single Moskow Diskow had a profound effect on the electronic scene both in Europe and North America providing a template for Techno, House and a plethora of genres to come.

They continued to be celebrated in underground clubs across the world  throughout the 80s with dance classics like Brainwash, Peanuts, Raised By Snakes and L'Amour Toujours (featuring Sparks) and are feted by House and Techno godfathers Larry Heard and Carl Craig.

- What are the origins of Telex? How did you all meet and why did you decide to form an electronic group?

Marc (Moulin) had an alternative music project of on a label he called "Kamikaze", a well chosen name !
Most of the recording sessions were at Dan (Lacksman's) studio. I was one of the 'alternative' musicians/singers/writers.
Dan was a pioneer and already had 3 Moog modules. he had started to make pop electronic music in the 'Pop Corn' style. Marc , a jazz musician, also had a MiniMoog he used for solos and bass lines.
With us three in the same room, Marc thought we could mix our skills and do some kind of 'continental' music as opposed to music coming from abroad and mainly related to rock'n roll/ blues. This music would be electric/electronic, no guitars, and would 'speak' about our own environment,... pop music, as opposed to some kind of unstructured or experimental electronic music, rather than Wendy Carlos' titanic work.
Well, the machines were so simple at that time that the sound was well defined from the very beginning.

- You had pop hits in Europe with Twist A St Tropez and Rock Around The Clock and then you dropped the incredible Moskow Diskow (the inspiration for the album Elektro Diskow!).  When I play that track to people who don’t know it they can’t believe it was made in 1979! Could you tell us a bit about how you created it?

About the covers we made:
we chose anthems to define our (musical) vocabulary and show the difference between these originals and the music we wanted to do. Twist à St Tropez was a very famous "FrenchYEYE" hit in the 60', Rock around the clock was of course THE rock ‘n’ roll tune, Ça plane pour moi became a punk anthem and La Bamba....

About Moskow Diskow:
As I said machines were really simple then, monophonic sequencers, no MIDI and Marc was an excellent keyboard player.
He started to play a bassline of straight bass/snare drum patterns, then Dan programmed electronic high hats to give the idea of a train.
Then came the idea of an old-fashioned train whistle. Trains weren’t using that sound any more, but it is like when one wants to make a watch or make time a noise,  "tick-tock" - no clock or watch makes that sound any more but it’s still the best way of representing it..
Then came the lyrics, we always liked to play with clichés and at that time one of them was disco, also American snobism using french words like "fantastic", "le bag" etc, and also, among graphic designers there was the trend for russian constructivism....
Talk over with an instrumental melody indicated that the voice was in instrument and not a lead.
Put that together, and it makes Moskow Diskow!

One funny thing about that song: we tend to think it inspired Michael Jackson for Billie Jean, using the same chords. In an interview he said he got his idea when hearing a European electronic group on the radio.
We like to believe it was Telex, ;-D

One thing that Telex brought to the Elektro Diskow scene, I think, was a feel for groove and bass. Were you disco fans?

We were disco fans for the groove it brought, not for the glittering side :-) and we adopted the simple disco bass drum pattern for many of our tunes allowing the bass and other instruments to move inside that tight frame.
As jazz musician, Marc was always searching for the groove, and as I said he played a lot of tracks himself, without any programming.
Moreover, analogue instruments gave off some kind of groove by themselves, simply because electricity was not stable and the sequencers were not very accurate.

It's funny to remember that many people at that time thought that electronic music was cold.

- Were you clubbers? Did you draw inspiration for your records from the club scene?

I was the only one going to clubs. In general, musicians do not dance ;-)
But of course we listened to many different kinds of music and Marc had a radio show which made him listen to everything he received, and then he shared with us.
We never really checked our songs in clubs, ... when the 3 of us smiled, that was the test.

- Were you aware of the effect records like Moskow Diskow and later tunes like Brainwash were having in clubs both in Europe and the States?

We were not. From the beginning, we thought our music was disposable though more important than us as people. We tried not to appear or make concerts. So, even if we made TV shows (because there were no videos at that time) it was not our favourite activity, being introverts, the 3 of us :-). We spent most of our time in the studio.
Well, we were aware of royalty statements and press articles but this did not really show us how influential we were.
Even with our last record, 5 years ago, for many weeks our site was visited more than 1000 times a day but this does not mean we sold many records!

- Did you know about the emerging New Beat movement in Ghent, Belgium ?

Yes, and we were asked to make some remixes of our tunes in that direction, .... a waste of time :-)
In fact, some of our songs just worked as they were, like Radio Radio.

- Another great facet of Telex was your sense of humour (on tracks like We Are All Getting Old). Was this a conscious thing?

Humour was part of the goal. We were brought up in a surrealist country, Belgium, where humour is probably the only  way to survive :-)
We've been invaded by everybody, being the centre of Europe', on the way of every conquerors. One needs to be able to keep one’s distance to resist :-)
In that sense we were quite inspired by the 'cartoon' humourist environment we lived in since our youth, mainly with Hergé, Jijé, Franquin; E.P Jacobs.

About We Are All Getting Old: my grandmother was complaining she was "getting" old, I answered she only started before me but that we were all getting old.
It sounded interesting to make a song about a forbidden subject in pop music: not being young.

- Telex inspired many of the young musicians coming out of Detroit and Chicago in the late 80s. How did you view the new House sounds?

With a lot of warmth. It was interesting to see how electronic music was really getting groovy, how electronic instruments were becoming more related to the body, almost like guitars or saxophones could have been before.
In fact we had been imported into the USA in '85 mainly with the track Peanuts which had a lot of airplay. We received three offers to make an LP, one I do not remember, but one from Atlantic, and one from Tamla Motown.
People thought we were black. Unfortunately we chose Atlantic, who were launching a new electronic division which turned out to be not very succesful.

- You famously called a Telex Best Of ‘ I Don’t Like Remixes’ – do you really hate remixes? Are there any mixes of your records or other people’s that you like?

Well, this was the era of top models and DJ's, who we felt were the most superficial and less innovative cultural figures of our times.
In many remixes of our tunes we could not even hear any trace of our music and we thought that this way of recycling was a waste.
Of course there are excellent remixers bringing new strength and ideas and not everybody is on our blacklist. Carl Craig is the first name that comes to my mind.

- Do you hear echoes of your music in today’s records? Are there any contemporary artists that stand out for you?

Many sounds are the same, even in other kinds of music but more efficient because of technical progress with compression etc, and maybe more 'dead' also because cut and paste culture produces ‘clones’......  more related to us La Roux, Mirwais... More than the music, the appearance of the Young Professionals in their video D.I.S.C.O reminded me a lot of our humorous side.

Big thanks to Ian at EMI Belgium for his help in organising this interview!

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear from Michel. I remember when Telex were on Top of the Pops doing Rock Around the Clock I thought he was the coolest guy, sitting reading the paper while the song was no more important than scratching your nose. I hope he and Dan will continue to work together and produce more great music.
    Michael Gallagher, Scotland