by Matt Kalkhoff

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?

Okay, so that infamous "Lady Marmelade" query has absolutely nothing to do with this article, but it’s the only French I know and I thought it would be appropriate to lead off with a fancy quote. After all, we are in the midst of another French Revolution, only this one takes place on the dance floor instead of the battlefield.

With the runaway success of records like Daft Punk’s "One More Time" and Madonna’s highly publicized collaboration with Mirwais Ahmadzaï, the French electronica movement has effectively infiltrated the mainstream collective and catapulted a handful of once-obscure musicians to the forefront of the international music scene. Among this elite group is the powerhouse production team of Hubert "BoomBass" Blanc-Francard and Philippe Zdar. Better known as Cassius, their long-awaited sophomore album, Au Rêve (Astralwerks), offers a fascinating exploration of electronic soul music.

The two Parisians first met in 1988 while working at Hubert’s father’s recording studio. Philippe was studying to become a studio engineer while Hubert was learning the ropes as a studio teaboy. Initially enthralled by the hip-hop music scene, they teamed up in the early 90s to produce three albums for French rapper MC Solaar, and later released their own productions under the moniker La Funk Mob. Then in 1992, Philippe had an epiphany at a rave party that turned his taste towards techno and house music. Philippe first quenched his new thirst by collaborating with DJ Etienne de Crécy on several projects under the pseudonym Motorbass. He later convinced Hubert to produce a house track with him under the guise of L’Homme Qui Valait Trois Millards (The Six Million Dollar Man). "Foxxy Lady" was the result, and this surprise hit solidified their presence as emerging electronic artists.

Remix projects for Neneh Cherry ("Woman"), Bjork ("Isobel"), Depeche Mode ("It’s No Good"), Daft Punk ("Around The World") and Air ("Sexy Boy") followed. Primed for maximum international exposure, Philippe and Hubert formed Cassius (in reverence to Mohammed Ali), and in 1998 unleashed the British Top 20 club anthem, "Cassius 1999." The following year saw the release of their appropriately titled breakthrough album, 1999.

While 1999 was recorded in just three weeks, their second album took more than two years to complete. "We [hadn’t] finished the promo of the last album and we were already started [on the next one]," says Philippe with a laugh. The result is a clever intermingling of disparate musical styles that deftly employs the requisite electronic machinations along with a more sophisticated instrumentation that propels listeners along a whimsical if not unconventional journey. While erratic at times, the fractured beats and inspired vocal elements lend themselves well to creating a sexy lounge vibe that is curiously both ambient and frenetic.

Released in July, the lead single, "I Am Woman," has been burning up dance floors all summer thanks to the inimitable vocals of Miss Jocelyn Brown. Hubert and Philippe were honored to work with the legendary songstress. "She’s a great love of our life," enthuses Philippe, "We saw her sing in Miami two years ago and we did whatever we could to meet her and do a track with her." Their diligence paid off with this powerful introduction to their latest opus.

Joining Brown as guest vocalists on Au Rêve (The Dream in English) are other old-school artists Leroy Burgess, Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghostface Killah and Steve Edwards. Although a few filler tracks sound more annoying than entertaining at times, most of the 13 songs deserve close attention, particularly "Hi Water," "The Sound of Violence," "Under The Influence" and the album’s title track.

Despite the inevitable comparisons to fellow countrymen Air, Daft Punk and Dimitri, Cassius hold their own as innovators and purveyors of the increasingly popular French electronic milieu. Hubert and Philippe are not sure what the future will bring, but that’s okay because they prefer to live in the moment anyway. And considering how well everything is going right now, who can blame them?

© 2002 Matt Kalkhoff

This article was featured in October/November 2002 issue in DMA Magazine.