As his latest record drops unannounced into record shops, to the delight of devoted fans, we celebrate the mystery of one of house music’s most reclusive and captivating producers.
Just who exactly is Pépé Bradock? The media shy producer has been entrancing music fans for the best part of two decades. He has furnished house with some of its deepest and most interesting leftfield hits, as well as possibly its oddest track. All the while quietly building one of the most masterful discographies in the genre. On current form, you can reliably expect him to pop up once or twice a year with a slice of vinyl magic and his most recent record 'Exodus8' finds him at his most raucous in a while.
But despite the reach of his music, outside of his small circle of contemporaries that include French producers like Ark or Chateau Flight, very little is known about him. He rarely gives interviews and the few he has are peppered with eloquent prose and suggestive of an academic mind. To celebrate his career we pore over the minute details to paint a picture of one of house music’s most eccentric minds.
Auger’s first entries onto Discogs were made in 1996. His ‘Trankilou‘ collaboration with Guillaume Berroyer AKA fellow respected Parisian Ark delivered the 'St Glin-Glin' EP on French label BPM. The track ‘Bill Collector' from that EP was selected to feature on the ‘Future Sound of Paris’ compilation at the time, which to outside ears serves as an early window into one of the world’s most fertile dance music scenes of the late 1990s.
Months later Daft Punk’s ‘Homework' would be released and the world at large would decamp to Paris to pore over French house, but in 1996 ‘Bill Collector’ and ‘Last’ from the VA Backchich, signposted some core elements of the Parisian style, borrowed from the New York/Jersey house sound of producers like Kerri Chandler or Tony Humphries and that would later be heard in the styles of notable Parisian deep house producers of the 2010s, such as Brawther.
Auger would later combine again with Ark on the killer Escalope De Dingue EP from 1997 that veers from tough house to hip hop and is laced with expertly sourced hip hop and soul samples throughout. Loaded with house bombs and sublime downtempo grooves it is a watershed EP for the Parisian sound of the 90s and lead track ‘Atom Funk’ was heavily championed by Daft Punk at the time and featured on numerous compilations.
Is 'Deep Burnt' the ultimate B side? It’s impossible to talk about his music without referencing his most famous track. Hiding away on the flipside of a release on KiF Recordings from 1999, the track is arguably Europe’s greatest contribution to deep house. It sounds as fresh now as it did on release and Discogs sharks have long traded in silly prices for copies. It was re-released again on his Atavisme label at the end of 2017 as a two track EP containing different edits of the track.
“Deep Burnt” is a banal bit of techno with violins and a tambourine, Cubism for ravers. A potentially impolite reappropriation, but a sincere one. Juvenile and sonorous sleight-of-hand,” he told Red Bull in 2015. “I dreamt it up while working as a smuggler of hip hop etymology: dealing in sonic relics, vinyl miner, at a time not so long ago when a rare disc was a Grail, the prize claimed by those willing to travel for it, to plunge their fingers in to the dust and to spend their last dimes on a whisper of soul to share.”
Discussing the differences between the two edits he explained: “The two sides of this bootleg present the same track with subtle but manifold differences, that I alone know – micro edits, micro processes. We have the choice between admitting that it’s the very same track that got me in trouble in the first place or getting into the strict analysis of minute details, splitting hair til we burn out.”
His debut album as Bradock, ‘Synthèse’ collected some of the standout tracks from his early career, alongside some material recorded especially for the project. It still serves as an unsung landmark of the late 90s French house sound. Where the likes of Daft Punk and Cassius got most of the credit for the movement, ‘Synthèse’ laid down one of its most important contributions to dance music.
As statements of intent go, 'Life’ the lead track from this first EP on his label Atavisme is one of the greatest opening gambits for a house label ever recorded. Many current leading house and techno artists including fellow Parisian Molly cite it as a major influence on their work. The label began life in 2000 and has carried the bulk of his original output to this day and with the recent release of the 'Exodus 8' EP, is now on its 18th original release.
Although he played guitar from the age of 14 in several jazz funk bands, it wasn’t until Auger laid hands on his first sampler, an Akai S950, that the roots of what would later become Pépé Bradock began to sprout leaves. His skill as a sampler is evident throughout his career, and he views sampling as an important gateway for the wider world back into the important and sometimes lost music that have contributed to his sample library. “Sampling culture generates culture” he told Red Bull in 2002.
The number of interviews with the French luminary are in direct contrast to his musical output. There are a lot of records out there by Bradock to grasp, but there are less than a handful of interviews online that give us a clue to the man behind his records. Two of the three that surface in Google searches are with Red Bull’s Music Academy. The first was recorded in 2002, just four years after the release of his most famous track, ‘Deep Burnt’ where he came across as a delicately spoken, shy but nonetheless intelligent music nerd. But in a written interview for Red Bull over a decade later, his words overflow with cryptic and poetic prose and often reference history, suggesting an academic knowledge of the subject.
“As someone well acquainted with an elephant, and having been through all sorts of things for the last 15 years, I asked myself this: what if Abul-Abbas was an albino elephant, a treasure of the Orient; one of the gifts of caliph Haroun Al-Rachid of Bagdad, in the era of the Arabian Nights, for the Franc king of Aachen, Karl der Große, brought back through Jerusalem, with disregard for danger, by Isaac of Narbonne, in all fearlessness?” he told Red Bull and later in the interview revealed: “I’ve been haunted recently by this sentence from Nahman’s Chaise Vide: “When there is no more sincerity in the world, whoever wishes to turn away from evil has no other choice...” So let’s do this heartily, let’s be crazy and full of good intent: let’s dance to the sound of trumpeting elephants, or not.”
Most of Auger’s recordings as Pépé Bradock can only be found in vinyl format. It’s a reclusive trait that speaks volumes for his love affair with wax and one that implores the music fan to roll up their sleeves and seek his music out. His records are peppered with the kinds of samples that belie the work of a master digger and a childhood steeped in soul and rare jazz.
He grew up surrounded by inspirational music, his mother played piano and sang while his dad was a sound engineer. The contents of their record collection, peppered with classics by the likes of jazz legend Miles Davis, served as a rich sampling hunting ground and springboard for his musical output later in life. Like many diggers, he cites Japan as one of his favourite countries to hunt for forgotten gems.
Everything Auger lays down as Bradock seems painstakingly thought out and none more so than his titles. Whether suggesting culinary influences (‘Attaque de Boulangerie,’ ‘Escalope de dingue,’ ‘Homo Sandwichus’) or revealing a witty sense of humour, (‘Swimsuit Issue 1789’) or a knowledge of history (‘A Bunch Of Cephalophores’), they portray the work of a careful and precise academic mind that rarely tosses an entry into the world that hasn’t been scrutinised over at length.
Some artists develop a reputation for remixing that at times threatens to overshadow their original work. Bradock is renowned in the industry as a master remixer and one who can somehow transmit originals that might seem a thousand miles away from his own work, into his own inimitable.
The springboard for that reputation was his work on West Coast duo Iz & Diz. Using only Diz’s original beatbox vocals and a solo created by sampling the vocal and replaying it with a midi guitar, he created one of the most important tracks of the decade, his ‘Remix for Friends’ take on ‘Mouth’.
He has been described as a gentle French eccentric and at points in his discography, Auger has revelled in oddness. Is it possible to make a record that extracts humour from suffering? It certainly sounds that way on his 2007 'Rhapsody in Pain,’ surely one of the oddest house records ever made and constructed mostly from sounds of people in pain.
Although its sounds are gruesome, you'll have to work hard to stifle a giggle while listening to it. 2008’s 'Hints of Delusion' finds him in a similarly daft mood. His sense of humour runs throughout his work, most notably so in the name Pépé Bradock, which he claims is an in-joke.
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