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Getting to Know the Gotan Project

By Mark Fisher
Published: Thursday, September 30, 2010, at 11:41AM
Gotan Project

Fans were certainly disappointed when the French band Air recently announced the cancellation of their performance at the Shrine Auditorium in October. Fortunately, these same fans have an opportunity to seek refuge with other French musicians playing in Los Angeles this week.

Paris-based Gotan Project will be making a rare special appearance at Club Nokia L.A. Live on Saturday, October 2nd, making the show one of only four North American appearances on their Fall/Winter tour.

The last time Gotan Project played Los Angeles was in 2006 with Zero 7 and Matthew Herbert at the Hollywood Bowl for KCRW’s World Festival series. The legendary radio station welcomes them back to Downtown L.A. this time around thanks to the Ooh LA L.A. Festival.

The culturally diverse trio consisting of Philippe Cohen Solal, Eduardo Makaroff and Christoph H. Müller formed in Paris more than 10 years ago. Although it may sound strange on paper, Gotan Project has managed to successfully mix tango, jazz and folkloric music with various electronic samples and beats. They’ve done it so well, in fact, that BBC Radio 1 DJ and tastemaker Gilles Peterson took notice and introduced the musicians to his global audience by way of radio spins. Since their formation, the group has released three studio albums, sold more than 2,000,000 records and performed in over 400 concerts around the world. The group has also picked up several TV and film credits along the way including “The Bourne Identity,” “Ocean’s 12” and “Knight and Day.”

Gotan Project is touring in support of their new album Tango 3.0, which was released in April 2010. The record includes contributions from Dr. John (“Tango Square”), football commentator Victor Hugo Morales (“La Gloria”) and the late Argentinean author Jules Cortázar (“Rayuela”). Gotan Project’s live show offers a captivating and unique performance that offers plenty of interesting eye candy and live instrumentation. It would be an injustice not to mention the pinstripe 3-piece suits from the 30s that the band wears on stage.

Founding member Müller took a moment to hang up his fedora and speak with blogdowntown all the way from Paris for this exclusive interview.

MARK FISHER: How did Gotan Project come to be?

CHRISTOPH H. MÜLLER: I grew up in Switzerland and started with electronic music in the early 80s. I had a band in Switzerland that was successful in the late 80s (Touch El Arab). After that, I moved to Paris in the early 90s and met Philippe Cohen Solal. We worked together for a few years on different kinds of music, which was somewhat electronic. We also worked on films, visuals, advertising and that kind of stuff. At some point, Eduardo Makaroff (who moved from Argentina to Paris) got in touch with our label. He had some ideas of doing something with his tango music and that is how this all came together.

MF: Why did you move from Switzerland to Paris in the first place?

CM: Actually, there were two reasons. At the time, I was studying History and Sociology and could get a scholarship for my studies. During this same time, I had a music project with a singer from New York who lived in Paris. We did a record together and this brought me to Paris to work together with her. It was electronica-folk music. I was supposed to stay for one year and now it’s been almost 17 years.

MF: Would you say that tango was a strong influence from the beginning or was it just something that came to be?

CM: When we started, we were one tango musician and two guys coming from electronic music. This is how the project started. Our idea was to try something with the music and experiment with this style. We were looking for new inspiration within the electronic music we were doing. We were working with Brazilian music and other stuff, but were looking for a new kind of feeling. We wanted more club-oriented music at that time. Tango seemed to be a very interesting angle, but not very obvious. It started off as some kind of one-off experiment.

MF: Were you into electronic music growing up?

CM: When I started getting interested in music, I was an electronic music “purist.” My big influences were Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra, early Depeche Mode, The Residents, and a lot of new wave/post-punk music. Gradually, I started to evolve by getting into early hip-hop like Afrika Bambaataa. I then started getting interested in traditional music from different parts of the world. I began to discover jazz which I didn’t know very well. I continued to evolve and got into Latin American music. It seems to be some kind of natural evolution.

MF: Gotan Project is known to perform a very visual live show. Can we expect the same with the latest tour?

CM: Absolutely. We have a completely new show very much based on visuals. We have completely new videos. It’s really different from what people may have seen in the past. We’re still Gotan Project with seven musicians on stage, but the videos may be even more important than before.

MF: How are these visuals coordinated? Does someone come to you with ideas?

CM: There’s a video artist named Prisca Lobjoy. She has been working with us from the very beginning. She does our videos and CD covers. For the first time ever, she came into the studio while we were working on the music. She listened to the music and we brainstormed ideas. This time we developed the visuals almost parallel to the music. I think the result is very interesting. She doesn’t illustrate the music. It’s like another story or layer to the music. I think people can really get into the music through the images. Thy give you more access to it.

MF: Air and Phoenix are pretty big in the States. Are you fans of these acts and are there other French artists you’re into?

CM: We know the guys from Air pretty well. We’re definitely aware of their music. We really like Daft Punk. There are some younger electronica producers that are also interesting.

MF: You’ve been to the U.S. before, but how’s the reception here?

CM: I wish we could visit more places. It looks like we have good support on the West Coast and in New York and other parts on the East Coast. It’s been difficult to touch other parts of the United States. It might be that our music is in Spanish, which seems to be a little bit of a handicap.

MF: What are some the countries that are responsive to your music?

CM: Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, and France. As they say, no one is a prophet in their own country.

MF: What connection do you have with football and the World Cup?

CM: We did a track (“La Gloria”) on the new album with a really famous commentator named Victor Hugo Morales. We basically wanted to do something with football. We like to play around with the myths and pop icons from Argentina. People like Evita Perón, Diego Maradona and Che Gueverra. Tango and football are big there. We wanted to do something different with a twist. The track is like a fake football game. People think we used a sample, but Morales recorded it specifically for us. He’s a very busy guy.

MF: You’ve been to Los Angeles several times. What are your thoughts on L.A.?

CM: I love playing in Los Angeles. It’s an incredible place. We spent time in Hollywood, but I’ve never even been to the beach. We played the Hollywood Bowl in 2006 so this is now my favorite place.

MF: The new album just came out in April. What are your plans from here?

CM: I think we’ll tour until the end of 2011. I also hope we’ll come back to the U.S. next year. We’re lucky to have this worldwide audience.

MF: Are there any artists that you’d like to play or work with?

CM: We wanted to do a track with Gil Scott Heron. We had this track and wanted some spoken word and singing with political content. It was a dream, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. We played together at the same festival in Austria this summer. We met and spoke with him. He was completely open to it, but somehow it fell through. It would have been great. You never know though. It could still happen.

I also like this guy from L.A. called Flying Lotus and a band from Argentina called Tremor.

MF: Are there any messages that people should pick up from your music?

CM: I really hope people get inspiration from our music. What we’re really trying to do with our live show is to give people something for their ears, eyes, heart and brains. It’s important to be inspired and stimulated on all levels. We hope people will stay open-minded to new and interesting music.

Tango 3.0 Tour Teaser

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