Had the chance to catch up with the extremely talented musician, producer and DJ, Madeon, at HARD fest here in California. I spoke with him right before he went on stage and was lucky enough to catch his performance as well - which included some amazing visual work. Below he talks about creativity, collaboration, his favorite synths and more.
Without further ado...
Synth History: What initially inspired you to go from DJing to producing your own original music?
Madeon: Oh, actually it's the other way around. I started producing music when I was 11 years old. I started DJing very late, in and out. The first DJ show that I ever saw was my own, you know, I just got invited to open by a band that I've done a remix for called Yelle. I said yes without any idea how to perform. I kind of had to figure out my own way of DJing by using controllers I had lying around, the Launch Pad, things like that. I just kind of figured that out much later and then quickly I realized that I wanted to build a show that was not necessarily limited to the expectations of DJing. The show I will do tonight and the live show that I've been doing is more of a hybrid performance where I use synthesizers live that I play, and I sing, and I move around and everything else. So it's not really DJing anymore. It's more like some kind electronic pop hybrid. For me, it started with production and DJ and performance actually came later.
Synth History: What are some of your go to synths? Hardware and plug-ins / soft synths?
Madeon: On stage I use the Bass Station by Novation quite a lot. I love it. It's not a vintage piece of gear, but I think it has so much character. It's got great distortion. Used all throughout the show and in the studio as well. So that's definitely one that I go to a lot. I have Juno-106 that I adore, but I'm light on synth hardware in the studio, to be honest. I try to be careful about what I introduce, it's like adding a member to the family. You want to make sure to give them proper love and care and not just collect. I don't want to be a collector that just has a wall of stuff. I have an OP-1 which I use sometimes to create textures. Usually I just use the weird physics sequencer and run it through reverb to make drones, so I like playing with the OP-1.
As far as soft synths goes, I'm a big fan of the work of U-he, they do Diva and Repro-1 and 5, which I use a ton. I think Diva is probably one of the finest soft synths, although I don't use it as much as I as I should. Lately I've been reaching out for the Repro which is a Prophet simulation that they have. So yeah, those are kind of my go tos with soft synths.
Synth History: Your music has been featured on a ton of video games. Was that a surprise when that happened? Did you have friends reaching out to you like, "Whoa, I just heard your song whilst I was playing ___"?
Madeon: It was such a surprise because I play games, but mostly single player Nintendo games. A lot of the games I was featured in were not games I would play that much, so I would experience it through people telling me their surprise and delight hearing it then - and now like nostalgically, because I was featured in FIFA three or four times over the years. Now I meet people that are like, "Oh yeah, I discovered your music when I was six years old, playing FIFA 12" or something. And that blows my mind, I think that's really cool. There was also this Playstation Battle Royale game where they used my song Finale as the whole intro sequence. For a lot of people that seems like a strong memory. And I love that because some of my most cherished memories are video game memories, playing with my brother and friends and those songs, that music resonates so deeply because you can hear it hundreds of times, you know, and so I'm so proud to be part of the memory of people. So yeah, I'm really grateful for those.
Synth History: What was it like collaborating with Lady Gaga?
Madeon: It was awesome. I got to work with her on two separate occasions. Back in 2012, 2013, when I was like 16 or 17, I worked on her album Art Pop and it was it was pretty involved. I spent several weeks and months with her, it was a really small community of producers making that album. She's so kind and talented. She writes all the lyrics, all the melodies like that (snaps fingers). It's incredible to witness her work. She has such a good ear for production and excitement for good sound design. So it was a pretty magical time. I mean, it was a lot of work and pressure on some level, but I really really enjoyed my time back then and she was very caring and nurturing towards me because I was so young. She transmitted so many valuable things, it inspired even the music and the show I do today. I got to reunite with her a little bit on the last album Chromatica where I co-produced with BloodPop, the song 911. So I got to see her in the studio again after a few years and that was a beautiful, beautiful moment as well, I was really honored to have a song and to continue that story. As far as I'm concerned, I find that the bigger, more legendary artists I get to work with tend to be the kindest and coolest. So I only have wonderful stories, to be honest.
Synth History: Do you have any dream collaborations?
Madeon: Yeah, I have a couple. I mean, I love the Beatles so much. I would love to work or meet Paul McCartney.
Synth History: Have you ever played a festival where he was next door?
Madeon: I feel like he's the kind of artist where they have their own artists' village, and they don't let you get close even if you're a fellow artist playing the festival. It's like, don't even try. But I only hear good stories about him being nice. So I'm sure if I ran into him randomly, he would be pleasant. I actually reached out to him on my last album. I was like, "I want you to play bass". I only wanted him to play bass on my song. I thought, maybe doesn't get asked very often to just be a session player. And the team reached out and said, "Oh, he's busy doing this musical. But thank you very much" It's like, (says sarcastically) you could have been on a Grammy-nominated album Paul McCartney, I'm sure that's never happened before?!
Synth History: Is there something in particular about the show tonight that you're really excited about?
Madeon: Yeah, well, first of all, playing in California is always special. I've been living in Los Angeles for a few years now. I'm from France, I moved here a couple of years ago. It's one of the places that I feel the strongest connection with my audience, so that's always special. I'm closing the stage, I'm getting to play my full extended live show, like 90 minute show, with massive screens and everything. So we're all very pumped to be able to show what we've worked so hard on for so many years in its truest form. The show is probably the thing that I've worked on, that I'm proudest of in my entire career, you know, it's so true to my taste and my dreams as a young artist. If I could see this show when I started, I would be happy that I got to do something like that. It's so true to what I love. It's very visual heavy, we're trying to create images you haven't seen before. I end the show like 20 feet up in the air and stuff like this. So it's pretty fun. I'm singing from a platform. It's all my fantasies. It's so wish fulfillment almost, like performing this tour is the most fun I have in the entire world. So I hope that energy and joy that I get from doing this show translates to the audience. That's what I wish for tonight.
Synth History: If you had one piece of advice, not even necessarily for a musician or producer, just to another creative person, what would that be?
Madeon: I have a theory that there's a formula to making good art and I'm going to give you the secrets. That's a very bold statement. But this is a formula that I've applied to a lot of things that I do that has worked well. I think to make good work, especially if you're trying to make a career out of it, you've got to make sure you have three ingredients, a little bit of each of these.
So one ingredient is a little bit of the zeitgeist. A little bit of what excites you about right now. What's in your environment, the stuff that resonates with you, the stuff that you love happening right now around you.
And then a little bit of something timeless, something that was always true to be good. Something that you can look back and learn from, like institutionally old material.
And then you've got to make sure that you have 1/3 of it that is incredibly intimate and personal, that's unique to you and your story. What I mean by that is, for example, I'm French and grew up in France. When I grew up, I heard a lot of French music and watched a lot of French movies that all of my peers around here in America have never heard about or seen. So I draw inspiration from stuff that I know maybe is not part of the general culture, but is part of my unique taste and story. Like my live show has some inspiration from, when I was a kid, I really liked doing magic tricks, you know. I learned things about angles and misdirection, things like that. Tonight, there are elements of the show that I wouldn't have come up with if it weren't for this background. So I try to make sure that I always include a little bit of something that I feel is unique or rare, that is precious, that's my little secret treasure.
So a little bit of that, a little bit of timelessness - stuff that you study, and then a little bit of what you love about right now.
I think if you have all three, you're probably going to make great art.
References: Synth History Exclusive, special thanks to HARD Fest, studio photos Charles-Edouard Dangelser.