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Interview: Cosmo Vitelli

Interview: Cosmo Vitelli

Cosmo Vitelli is a tastemaker extraordinaire (even if he’s reluctant to admit it). His boutique I’m a Cliché label has steadily built a devoted following in its first five years of existence, unleashing the likes of Yuksek, Simian Mobile Disco, Canyons, Azari & III and Runaway on the record buying public. On top of his work as a label chief, Vitelli continues to innovate and surprise with his own productions. The recent Blue Steel EP, released under the Bot’Ox moniker, was described by Juno Plus scribe Tony Poland as “that most difficult of achievements for electronic music producers – a finely crafted slice of three minute pop music”. With a Bot’Ox LP on the way in 2010, we spoke with Vitelli via email about running a label, why Paris is “annoying” and his potential career in A & R.

Why did you decide to start I’m A Cliché, and where did you get the name from?

I first started I’m a Cliché as a home for side projects and an avenue to release music made by my friends. Quite soon I realised that it was a great way to remain artistically independent and release more or less whatever I wanted. The name was just taken from a classic of one of my favourite bands, X Ray Spex.

How much involvement do you have in the day to day running of the label?

Too much. First of all I’m a musician and producer but sometimes my days are not long enough to run a label, putting out nice releases and producing the best music that I can. I’m stretching my time to the limit right now!

Where did you grow up and where are you based now?

I’m based in Paris, and I’ve spent the past 16 years here, which is far too long, as Paris is probably the quietest and most annoying European capital. Before that, I spent many years in a town in the centre of France, Clermont-Ferrand. I grew up in Africa, and lived in both the Ivory Coast and Cameroon.

On the Moments of a Crisis compilation, there is quite a difference between Holidays and Overtime in terms of the label’s sound. How far do you think it has come in 5 years?

Overtime, the first CD in the compilation, is made of tracks released on I’m a Cliché since the label started five years ago. The choice was subjective, I just chose the ones that I still enjoyed listening to. Holidays – the second CD – was a selection of unreleased tracks by artists I like and feel close to. Some already had a history with the label like Runaway or Alixander III. I asked the other ones to send me unreleased material just for the label, and selected the ones that were the best fit for the whole project. I never think in terms of styles or genres – if the track sounds nice to me, that’s the main thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s dub or rockabilly.

How do you search for new talent?

Honestly, there’s almost too much to check now. It’s everywhere. That can be nice and exciting, but sometimes such a huge quantity of music is just too much. I rarely get demos anymore, except at some gigs sometimes. Most of the time I check online, on Myspace, blogs, things like that. I get in touch with people, just to know more about them, and sometimes a simple contact can turn into something interesting years later. You never know, it’s purely instinctive: I spend a lot of time trying to listen to most of what I’m sent, and sometimes I feel “that’s it, we’ve got something here”.

“Do you know a better place than a car to listen to music?”

Do you think it is easier to find new talent these days with the internet, or is it harder than ever to find a gem?

I couldn’t say, but the ratio of talented people has not increased simply because everybody is able to put music online. You still have to search.

Does it sit comfortably with you to be known as a tastemaker?

Am I? I should get a nice job as an A&R in a major company then…Oh sorry, major companies don’t exist anymore!

Can you tell us how you came across Azari & III and Canyons? They were, in my opinion, two of the breakthrough acts to appear on the I’m A Cliché compilation.

I had released a 12” of Dirty 30, aka Alixander III (half of Azari & III), two years ago on I’m a Cliché and we’ve always been in contact. One day, I was checking some music and I heard “Hungry for the Power” … I didn’t know who it was as I didn’t have the title ID, it was just an mp3 file, but I wanted the track as soon as I heard it. As for Canyons, I just happened to listen to their first 12” on their own label Hole In The Sky, and I met them in Australia when I toured there.

Are you proud when you see acts that you have broken on your label go onto bigger things?

I’m a musician and producer, so it’s not the kind of feeling I have when releasing other people’s music. I’m a big music lover and I just like the idea of helping people, but what happens next is not really my problem. I don’t plan on buying Geffen in the next few years.

Let’s talk about your Bot’Ox project… How did you find Anna Jean, the vocalist for “Blue Steel”?

Bot’Ox is my main project at the moment, I run it with my buddy Julien Briffaz. We just finished our LP and it will be out on I’m a Cliché in May. We are also working on a live act at the moment. Anna Jean is a friend of ours. She’s part of a band called Domingo, and we have our studios in the same place. I didn’t have to use any of my special tastemaker talents to find her!

Bot’ox seems to have a car theme in all its artwork and press pics – why is this?

Do you know a better place than a car to listen to music?

“Blue Steel” is simply superb – have you felt a positive reaction to it?

Thanks. Blue Steel is a pop song. It’s funny to see that nothing can compete to pop music, in terms of reactions and feedbacks. It’s just one of the many faces we want to explore with Bot’Ox.

How are your own productions coming along? Have you got any solo work or remixes coming out?

I just made a remix for Runaway a few weeks ago, I sometimes do things alone, but at the moment Bot’Ox takes all my time and there’s no frustration in that. But very soon, I’ll have more time to come back to my own solo work.

Do you get a chance to DJ regularly? Do you still enjoy it as much now as, say, 10 years ago?

I do earn my life as a DJ, that’s my “official” job. I still like it as much as before, maybe even more, but it’s like trying to go out and party with friends every day. It can’t be a party every day. So sometimes, yes, I wish I could make a gig last 12 hours, and other times it feels like the worst job ever.

“I never think in terms of styles or genres – if the track sounds nice to me, that’s the main thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s dub or rockabilly.

What has been your most memorable DJing experience?

I played in a big club in Moscow in 2002 the night the Russian army attacked the Dubrovka theatre occupied by terrorists with hundred of hostages. There was a curfew in town and nobody was allowed to go out. But the promoter was really drunk and asked me to play anyway. So I played for three hours in this big, deserted club. Coming back to my hotel, I saw on TV that the assault happened during the night and that there were hundreds of dead people  -about 300 as far as I can remember…very weird indeed.

What does 2010 hold for you and your label?

I’m a Cliché will release some more dance music 12”s – or should I say files? The first ones are Ettiem’s first single, and an Alixander III EP. And we have important albums for the label coming later too. Personally, the Bot’Ox LP is something important as I have been working on it for so long.

Interview: Aaron Coultate