Motorbass - Pansoul (25th Anniversary Edition)

  • A 1996 landmark of French house that almost sounds better today.
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  • "We'd told ourselves: 'We're like the Wu-Tang, starting things left and right,'" Étienne de Crécy once said of Motorbass, the duo he formed with Philippe Zdar. "It wasn't classic showbiz, we weren't showing our faces, we weren't a real band. It was more a matter of collaboration, a bit like in jazz. Actually I was often saying: 'Motorbass, it's jazz.'" It makes sense that de Crécy name-dropped both hip-hop and jazz in the space of a couple of sentences, because those influences ooze from every pore of Motorbass's only LP, Pansoul, oft remembered as a touchstone for the then-incoming wave of French dance music. Truth is, when it was released in 1996, it sounded widely different from anything else in the country at the time—or anywhere in the world. Pansoul will forever hold a special place in my heart. Looking over my Discogs collection, it's the second record I ever bought as a high-schooler. I was catching the tail end of the blog house era while slowly piecing together the genealogy of this music, one YouTube rabbit hole at a time. It was around 2010, when Cassius—Zdar's other, more renowned duo—were huge all over again. So was de Crécy, and record label Ed Banger was still in its glory days. The UK had post-dubstep, France had Pedro Winter's extended family. I was dreaming of moving to Paris, vaguely aware and envious of the reaction cooking up in other corners of the capital. I didn't know much, but I knew this record was somehow foundational, and that was enough. Fast-forward ten years and the landscape looks very different. Zdar died tragically in 2019, just as Cassius were about to release their latest album. Paris has more appetite for ultra-fast techno than for the kind of sugar-coated, neon-drenched beats that once bounced off the now-defunct Social Club's walls. Now, ​​Ed Banger celebrates Pansoul's 25th anniversary with a remastered edition. It's often claimed that the album kickstarted an era of French electronic music populated by filter-happy producers who would birth the Ed Banger/Institubes generation a decade later. (The two members of Motorbass remained central and influential figures in this ecosystem.) And while Pansoul was certainly influential on the whole filter house wave that was about to unfurl, I'm struck at how little it seems to foreshadow the French Touch sound, listening to the album today. Instead, Pansoul lures you in with a spectral trip-hop number ("Fabulous"), made up of a few slippery hi-hats that gleam through a thick fog. It's toe-curlingly good when the boom-bap beat finally drops four minutes in, a harbinger of the weed-fuelled journey to come. Pansoul is a marvel of interlocking samples summoning ghostly echoes of Isaac Hayes ("Les Ondes"), Diana Ross (floating among harp-like keys on "Ezio") and Sun Ra, who asks about the latest news from Neptune in the title track. It's hauntology through the lens of two voracious French stoners, repurposing their jazz and funk forebears for the club generation they were mingling with. Even the artwork exudes a dusty, sepia-toned air that reminds me more of the Mo'Wax school (which Zdar contributed to) than anything from their home country. This all gives the album a jazzy, even suave, charm, but there's also a gritty side. "Wen Dance" touches on filter house before throwing down some breakbeats, while the junglisms of "Paryscide" are every bit as ominous as their counterparts from across the Channel—think jungle fabriqué en France. "Flying Fingers" has a distinctive sound, like a camera shutter, shrieking through a bumpy hi-hat pattern funkier than what many lesser producers can squeeze out of their whole drum machines. This is the kind of streetwise sensibility—think mid-'90s rap records—that keeps Pansoul edgy. Mind you, Zdar had already been busy behind the mixing board since the early '90s, working with MC Solaar on his era-defining albums—he mentioned lifting samples from the studio of the influential French rapper, whose acolyte Jimmy Jay is also behind "Flying Fingers"' frantic scratching. Hell, with its crafty sampling, some of the funkiest drum sequencing this side of the East River and a decidedly marked hip-hop bent, this album sounds just as New York as it does Paris. (Kenny Dope is another obvious influence.) The Kenny Dope reference is illustrative: Pansoul harks back to a time in the '90s when scenes and genres mingled much more thoroughly than today. On this LP, there's an outsider sensibility at work, as Zdar and de Crécy were apparently discovering and immersing themselves in the capital's various bubbling scenes week-in week-out. The two were living together then, and their pad must have been a cauldron of influences, cherry-picked from the ecstasy-fueled rave and club scenes, their collections of dusty jazz and funk records, and the French and American rap landscapes ("Flying Fingers" ends on a Gang Starr sample). All this resulted in a timeless record propelled by unbounded curiosity and the joy of sonic experimentation, filled to the brim with funk, grit and groove. 25 years on, its youthful spirit hasn't aged one bit.
  • Tracklist
      01. Fabulous 02. Ezio 03. Flying Fingers 04. Les Ondes 05. Neptune 06. Wan Dence 07. Genius 08. Pariscyde 09. Bad Vibes (Mix) 10. Off