Ivan Smagghe and Tim Paris on It's A Fine Line

We catch up with French production duo Ivan Smagghe and Tim Paris to discuss their eclectic London-based collaboration It's A Fine Line, ahead of their upcoming show at The Berkeley Suite

Feature by Max Meres | 10 Oct 2016
  • It's A Fine Line

Having released EPs on the likes of Live At Robert Johnston, with remixes on Young Turks and Soma to boot, It’s A Fine Line have cemented themselves as both highly credited DJs and producers in dance music. Comprised of Parisians Ivan Smagghe and Tim Paris, the duo have been producing together since late 2007, but it was only in August of this year that the pair released their self-titled debut album, on Smagghe and Chloe's label Kill The DJ.

The record calls in guest cameos such as Kill The DJ artist C.A.R. and Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos, and is flanked by critically acclaimed visuals from Irish artist Gareth McConnell. Evidently, the LP oozes with artistic credibility from the get-go, but what do the duo themselves have to say about it?

“We started IAFL around 2007/2008, but the ‘album’ project only became our focus around 2012,” they explain. “We didn’t have a label running after us to deliver the music, we just wanted to make something long format without any external pressure, no deadlines, no style – just a record we liked. It's obviously been a long time in the making from an external point of view, but it felt natural like this.

“We tried not to use any path or ideas we had explored in our previous work, but the foundations of our collaboration remain the same – the only rule we set ourselves is not to set rules, and not to force ourselves to do a functional dance music record. Don't get us wrong, we love these records as well, but not for this one. We listen to a lot of different things and it all feeds in, alongside images, books and life in general. It can be quite disconcerting for people and may sound like we're jumping ship at every track, but life is too short for one kind of music. Maybe the next one will be very monolithic and will only take six months to make.”

Through listening to the album, the duo’s diverse influences become apparent. From the simplistic, prodding bass-notes juxtaposed to diving arpeggios in Disco Cluster, to dystopian cosmic grounds of Vaguement Froid, the LP succinctly refuses to fall into one genre.

“The album is a reflection of our musical whims... whims is the word,” they say. “The tracks may have been long to make, but not ‘overthought.’ Electronic music needs to feed from other music styles and sounds, that’s the whole concept of IAFL. It’s all about playing with opposite aesthetic, wonky beats, music styles that weren’t associated before or should not be. It's not a DJ album, and we’re not sure we see the point in these, at least not for us. It's dance music but only to the point that you can dance to it.”

“There are hundreds of influences, quotes and causes that participated in the making of this album, it would be impossible to list them all. We have been using references and then removing them but some may still remain as sort of ghosts in the machine. It’s the basis of our work, mixing genres which usually shouldn’t match, or being influences by people who were already recycling set genres, such as Suicide.

"Sometimes it works and sometimes not, but it makes us feel sane. We’d rather do an interesting tune that’s not enjoyable to listen to, something that opens perspectives rather than your run of the mill fodder. That said, listening back, we don't think it's a difficult album, and it was not intended as such.”

Bridging the gap between vision and sound

Perhaps the standout track of the album, The Delivery, held up by a simplistic yet steady bass-line and laced by the catchy vocals of Alex Kapranos, is complemented by equally endearing visuals from Gareth McConnell. Psychedelic, sensual, and suitably pink, the relatively short manifestation takes the viewer deep into the grease-rock meets contemporary dance world of IAFL.

“The visual work came after the album was finished. Ivan bought Gareth's book Close Your Eyes from Conor, who runs Donlon Books on Broadway Market, and It’s A Fine Line was at the end of the recording process. Gareth’s images were like a revelation for us, we never looked back. The choice was really to have an artist taking over all the imagery, we wanted the project to be going through a single vision. The number of music releases is endless these days, we wanted to have a visual representation that stood out and would be pretty straightforward to identify.”

“Gareth’s book was the starting point, the reference. He has an incredible amount of archive and a true force of vision in his work. All in all, it was a very intuitive and natural collaboration. It was a completely ‘natural shock’ though. Gareth's visuals imposed themselves, they fit our universe perfectly and were the direction we were after – pretty strange and very accurate at the same time.

“There was never any conflict – we knew, he knew. We certainly envisaged our music was going to be conveyed through a video project but never influenced the way we wrote it. Some people may see some of our music as ‘cinematic’ but that's just us being cinematic, not a worked on process.”

The collaborators behind the LP

“We usually like to have the singer join in once the track’s foundations had been laid down, but it’s a collaborative process as the vocals always create new perspectives. Alex, C.A.R. and Olivia de Lanzac are all incredibly talented, and feel very close to us.

“Alex Kapranos happens to be Ivan’s neighbour, so it was just luck that brought us together. C.A.R. was formerly part of a rock band called Battant and we helped them produce their albums a few years back. Olivia is a bit of a different story, we never actually met her. She was singing on a record that haunted us for ages (by Quad Throw Salchow, we even rang the producer to ask him what kind of FX he was using on her vocals – he said none), she has such a peculiar voice, it’s very rare that you hear someone with that sort of tone and pitch.

“Everything was originally done in our studio in East London using an extensive amount of gear and instruments spanning from the 40s to nowadays. We apply the same rule of unorthodox mix of styles with the hardware, always trying to create some aesthetic clashes, yet we're not gear-heads of any kind.”

The release of IAFL maps out both Smagghe and Paris’s ability to seamlessly produce thought-provoking electronic music, while also showing a mutual understanding of each other’s musical traits.

“Working on a long format pushes you to apprehend music-writing differently so it differs from our previous works. It’s also the project where we pushed ourselves the furthest. There’ve been many difficulties to tackle while making the album, making for some exhausting moments. It’s also pretty confrontational to work as a duo. Even though we don’t put any egos in IAFL, there are still some moments of compromise, of course.”

And as to the future? “We’re drowned in promotion right now, then we'll get back to work. On what? We don't know. Why plan when you can afford not to?”

It's A Fine Line play The Berkeley Suite on Fri 28 Oct (£8+bf, tickets here)