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Nummer – Spontaneity and Improvisation

The London-based French duo discuss their emergence as one of the most exciting productions partnerships in recent times.

Emmanuel Corre and Silvère Letellier have only known each other for around five years but it’s clear from speaking to them there is a strong friendship behind their work together as Nummer. Sitting in the living room of Letellier’s Dalston dwelling one afternoon in June, the pair spend the hour or so we talk finishing each other’s sentences and amusingly correcting one another. Occasionally, Letellier gets up to pick out a record from his sizeable collection to slip on one of the 1210s, a pleasant musical backdrop to our discussion. All of Nummer’s music is made across the hall in Letellier’s bedroom, an array of hardware stacked up either side of a computer on a desk to the left of the door.

The pair first met in London, Letellier had already moved from Grenoble to study when Corre followed his then-girlfriend and now-wife to the capital after escaping the suburbs of Paris and spending some time in Berlin. “After 3 months of just doing nothing and partying I felt I needed something a bit more serious,” Corre reveals, and he’s now been in the city for five years. This decision resulted in the pair crossing paths the day Corre moved to London, introduced by a mutual friend and they soon started playing records together, mostly at The Castle, a towering pub/venue poking out onto Commercial Road. Here the pair put on fortnightly, seven hour stints, playing all the records in their collections. I’ve had similar formative extended DJing experiences and these are what friendships are forged on.

Both confirm they had dabbled in music production prior to meeting, “we had some funny projects going on,” Letellier alludes without really going into details, whilst Corre admits to a rudimentary understanding of Reason, adding “it’s only as soon as we started doing things together I got into it.” Sometime around 2011 is when they claim to have started making music together, and there is some confusion on the exact date. It was only last year that Nummer started releasing music, so I’m interested to hear how the project developed over this period. Letellier is first to answer with a puff of his cheeks. “It was pretty relaxed when we started. I think it was really inspired by Emmanuel’s time in Berlin. So it was pretty digital and minimal at the beginning.” For the first two years, the laptop was their main production tool and Corre admits at one point they were creatively stuck. “For six months maybe, we didn’t finish one track as we were always stuck. Trying to get the sound better and whatever.”

The “game changing” decision to invest in a Juno 106 was where Nummer’s music really began to take shape. “It became a bit more interesting and we started having fun making music,” Corre states. The temptation to roll eyes at the story of another production outfit investing in gear may be there readers, but listening to Corre and Letellier it doesn’t come across as an attempt to crave authenticity. Instead it was largely a decision borne out of practicality, as Letellier explains drolly, “it is pretty weird when there are two of you working on a project and you are using a laptop, as one is looking at what you are doing and the other is moving the mouse. ”With hardware, “everyone is busy doing something, and interesting things kind of emerge from that,” he adds.

Who exactly does what when the pair are both recording music and playing live as Nummer then? “It depends where we sit,” Letellier responds to the first, “if you sit on the left there is the Waldorf rack and if you sit on the right there is the Juno 106.” It feels like the move towards working with hardware has been quite liberating for the pair, excited by freedom to improvise. With regards to their live sets, Corre tells me, “I like drums! On the live sets for example, I do the drums and he does all the synth samples.” Nummer have only played live a few times, but it seems to be something they are enjoying with increasing frequency. Watching Nummer having fun smacking it down at a Secretsundaze event earlier this year was part of the reason for me reaching out to interview the pair. “The more we do it the more we have fun on stage. We are more and more relaxed,” affirms Letellier.

The conversation moves onto their experiences of putting music out on Peur Bleue and Going Good and it comes across as quite contrasting. Corre and Letellier tell me Peur Bleue’s founder Anatole Baboukhian pushed them to deliver something darker than they’d been making. “It was a bit strange because the music is not very dancefloor on that record but we were very happy at the same time,” Letellier states, leading Corre to add laughingly, “we never play that record.” For his part, Baboukhian was happy to offer Nummer the chance to veer off into uncharted waters. “I think that when you ask to an artist to work on a more introspective project with a certain storytelling element, it is quite likely to end up with bizarre and darker tones,” he later tells me over email.

The way Corre and Letellier describe working with Going Good for the Reach EP (my own personal favourite Nummer release) the process seems a lot more natural. It came about as a result of Corre getting a job at Dalston’s Kristina Records in the months preceding Nummer’s Peur Bleue debut. This happened at a time when Going Good’s co-founder Brian Not Brian was still working there. In order to get through the daily downtime the shop encountered, the pair naturally took to discussing and listening to all kinds of music with some of Nummer’s work featuring.

Corre picks up the story, “Brian heard the Peur Bleue record and asked me ‘do you have some tracks for me maybe. You know?’ So we just sent him some completely random tracks and he said ‘cool that will be an EP’.” Both him and Letellier still seem very happy with how easy working with Going Good was. “We felt like he really wanted those tracks to be on his label and it was a real natural process with Brian, he is really cool,” Letellier adds.

It’s a sentiment shared by Brian Not Brian of Going Good, who told me what exactly it was about Nummer that resonated with him and label partner Salik Z. “The music we were presented with by Nummer touched on lots of things that we are passionate about musically: ambient, boogie, Detroit techno, jazz, fusion, deep house, electro etc,” Brian says, but notes, “it was also awash with some sort of weird, ethereal quality, like, it was a bit ‘fucked up’ but in the best possible way.”

Following that Going Good release, Corre and Letellier’s next move was to set up their own label, Nummer Music with the one-sided To the D 12”, a well-received debut transmission. How Nummer Music came into existence was less a calculated move and more a spontaneous decision. The track in question had been sitting on a hard drive for more than a year with the pair not having any plans to get it signed. Their friend Guillaume de Ubéda, of the Atelier Superplus design agency, was one of a few people to have heard it and quite randomly chose to make a video based around it. “Basically I saw the clip and I was like ‘wouldnt it be great to you know press it as a single-side thing’,” Corre tells me enthusiastically, with Letellier picking up the slack. “That next day I called Nick from Curved (Mastering) and said ‘I’ve got a track to master’, he asked if we could come immediately, so I went there with a USB key and we did the lacquer cut. It was super quick.”

By their own admission there was no grand plan with Nummer Music; that’s why they initially pressed To the D in such a limited quantity. “It was really surprising how well it all worked out actually,” Letellier tells me, “we did just a 100 copies of To the D as we thought we were just going to sell it to friends and on the website.” In three days it had sold out. “It was crazy because we never thought it would happen.” They express similar feelings of surprise to the reception given to Nitejams, the side project started earlier this year to issue some improvised hardware productions recorded straight to the mixing desk.

Reflecting on my discussion with Emmanuel and Silvère, it feels like there is a refreshing lack of bullshit to what they are doing as Nummer. Some producers with three or four 12”s in the bag in little over a year as well as their own label would begin to believe their own hype, but Corre and Letellier are their own worst critics. They describe themselves as “lucky” to have been booked to DJ in the clubs they have thus far, and when quizzed if they feel confident in the music they are currently making, both sound anything but. “We are still very surprised to hear or read good things about our music,” Corre reveals, adding with laughter they are both happy making music, “but find it quite hard to understand that people can connect to it because it’s just literally us having fun.”

This honesty extends to their knowledge of electronic music, which Corre freely admits has been a recent discovery. “We started playing house when we started buying house records which is four years ago. I never listened to house growing up, there was Daft Punk of course, but the stuff that we play now I literally discovered everything within the past five years.”

The future looks good for Nummer with several records due over the next few months. A second release on their label, Circadian Rhythms, will arrive in the coming weeks, whilst Brian Not Brian revealed Nummer will be returning to Going Good later this year. “Finishing touches are being made as we speak and we just have to transfer undisclosed amounts of cash into the Nummer offshore account,” is the Irishman’s jovial reply. Further Nummer material is planned on French label Fragil Musique, whilst Corre and Letellier’s bow as remixers comes in high profile fashion with a Linkwood refix due on Firecracker Recordings.

Given how busy they have been, it’s my turn to be surprised when Nummer inform me they only spend roughly five hours a week on making music at the moment. The reason for this is down to work commitments, with Corre manning the racks at Kristina Records and Letellier working as a software/app developer for a start-up. A positive of this has been they both find it easier to make music now. “Since we spend less time we are actually more efficient than when we had a whole week in front of us to make music,” Corre explains, adding “previously we’d probably make like one track whereas now we make a track in two hours.”

However, they’d both welcome the chance to work on their music together more often than the current situation affords them. Both Corre and Letellier give off a noticeable sense of frustration when the conversation turns to their feelings about living in London. “That’s a tricky subject,” Letellier states with a laugh. Initially Corre is quite pragmatic in his responses, noting the sheer amount of DJs and producers he’s met whilst working at Kristina Records, adding, “there is a good scene here and there is a lot happening for sure. If you want to see any sort of DJ it’s the place to be.”

But they make it clear living in London doesn’t offer the sort of environment they are both striving to work in. “Time’s an issue, space is an issue, and money is an issue; these are all things that are really complicated in London.” Letellier states, pointing to their current studio set up. “To just be able to wake up and do music all day and that’s it,” Corre adds wistfully. Where they both might go in the future is less clear, with Corre musing “we don’t have any fixed idea, we’ll just see where life brings us.” Spontaneity runs deep with this pair.

Interview by Tony Poland

Photography courtesy of Tom Medwell

Nummer on Juno