The best of Philippe Zdar: 10 essential productions
The super producer leaves a remarkable legacy
Following the tragic death of electronic music legend Phillipe Zdar on Wednesday, we take a look back at his seminal works to remember the icon and acknowledge his extensive impact.
His influence was enormous. Alongside peers Daft Punk, Zdar was one of the pioneers of French Touch. His work with Hubert Blanc-Francard aka Boom Bass as musical duo Cassius saw the release of albums such as their debut effort ‘1999’, which was pivotal to the movement.
And he was not only famous for tracks he wrote. The super producer worked alongside countless musicians in studio sessions, including names like Phoenix, Chromeo, Serge Gainsbourg, One Republic, MC Solaar and Franz Ferdinand to name a few.
Cassius’ latest single ‘Calliope’ was only released on June 7, and their latest album ‘Dreems’ dropped today, June 21. Zdar had so much more life to give. But instead of focusing on at what could have been, let’s celebrate his remarkable legacy. We’ve compiled some of his most essential musical offerings in the list below.
Cassius 'Cassius 1999’
The standout debut Cassius album saw Zdar and Blanc-Fernard work together to create a record laden with techno grooves, disco samples and killer hooks. Three vibrant singles from the album, ‘Cassius 1999’, ‘Feeling For You’ and the funk-fuelled ‘La Mouche’, were released beforehand, stirring a cultural moment that saw Cassius join the pantheon of dance music legends.
Cassius ‘I <3 U SO’
Another Cassius number, this track was released in 2010 and is perhaps the best known result of their partnership. It’s an anthemic house track that samples Sandra Richardson’s impassioned first lines in ‘I Feel a Song (In My Heart)’, and also inspired remixes and orchestral versions too. The track’s fame shot up further when Jay-Z and Kanye Wesr sampled it in their Watch The Throne cut ‘Why I Love You’.
MC Solaar ‘Paradisiaque’
One of Zdar’s most significant offerings to French music was his input to Senegalese-born, French rapper MC Solaar’s work. Among this catalogue of work, Zdar worked worked with Casssius partner Boom Bass and DJ Mehdi to co-produce MC Solaar’s funk-rap album ‘Paradisiaque’ in 1997. The production complemented Solaar’s witty French lyrics with impeccable beats, helping to establish the MC as one of France’s greatest ever rappers. The album topped the French charts and was certified platinum.
La Funk Mob ‘Ravers Suck Our Sound And Get Fuck’
Before forming Cassius, Zdar teamed up with Blanc-Fernard for earlier project La Funk Mob to experiment with music production. The La Funk Mob output was slower and more relaxed than their Cassius-era tracks, favouring a more downtempo style that was nonetheless exciting. Their remix of Bomb The Bass’ ‘Bug Powder Dust’ is a notable slower banger, whereas the increased speed of experimental track ‘Motor Bass Get Phunked Up’ hinted at what was to come with its techno leanings.
Another interesting note to this story is Goldie was allegedly not happy with the title ‘Ravers Suck Our Sound And Get Fuck’. He was rumoured to have asked for Photek to make the track ‘Into the 90’s’ for release on his label Metalheadz because he took personal offense to the track’s name, and wanted to show ravers could still kill a beat at a slower tempo circa 90 bpm, hence the track’s title.
Phoenix ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’
Sticking to his French roots, Zdar helped out indie band Phoenix by co-producing their classic 2009 LP ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.’ He mixed and produced the album for the band and also contributed some instrumental flourishes.
Zdar once said he would never allow artists with ‘bad music’ to record in his personal studio, “I have the feeling that it might enter the walls. I believe in vibes.” Phoenix passed his litmus test, recording the whole album in Zdar’s studio in Paris. It achieved critical acclaim, featuring heavily in 2009’s “Best of” album lists and also the small matter of winning the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 2010.
The Rapture ‘How Deep is Your Love?’
Another album Philippe Zdar worked in the studio on is The Rapture’s 2011 effort ‘In the Grace of Your Love’. The piano-lead tones of lead single ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ lended well to frontman Luke Jenner’s distinct vocals, with an infiltration of sax in the middle of the track teasing the dancier format Zdar is so famed for. The album as a whole didn’t necessarily get the best reviews, but the quality of this track alone was enough todelight many. Music critic Andrew Gaerig called it Jenner’s “finest moment”, becoming a “galloping, piano-driven tour de force that so many Chicago house revivalists have failed to nail”.
Cassius ‘The Sound of Violence (Franco CInelli Remix)
Franco Cinelli’s take on Cassius’ 2002 track has become an Ibiza classic. While the original album it features on plays host to four remixes of the track, Cinelli’s is most effective, still killing it across the White Isle each year. By stripping the track back to focus on more minimal beats and bringing the vocals to the fore, Cinelli draws it away from its disco sound, transforming the track into a soulful house anthem, perfectly cooked up for the Ibiza sunset.
Club 75 (Cassius, Justice, Busy P & DJ Mehdi) ‘Mixmag cover mix’ (Mixed By Zdar Of Cassius)
Whilst not strictly a production, this mix which Zdar personally created for his 2009 Mixmag cover alongside a whole bunch of French stars should not be missed off the list. It’s choc full of Zdar productions and was mixed live by the main man, celebrating the short-lived but acclaimed musical project Club 75. 10 years on, it still bangs.
Motorbass ‘Flying Fingers’
Zdar paired up with Etienne de Crecy for this project. The duo came together as Motorbass, bringing out the album ‘Pansoul’ on which this track features, with some seeing it as the starting point for the French house scene and key in pushing it to global recognition.
‘Flying Fingers’ is one of the standouts of the album. It’s a slow burner that gradually builds up minimal disco grooves, becoming a low-key anthem requiring only a hint of vocals. Uncomplicated, straightforward disco.
Hot Chip ‘Melody of Love’
This single, part of the band’s new album out today, is yet another of the many colourful productions he has left behind. Stemming from a gospel instrumental track, Zdar’s electro hand plays a massive part in the tune with the electronica at times overshadowing the whimsical lyrics of the band. The emotion of lines like “Do you have faith in the world? Cos it’s hard to see in the world” are overridden by the dance tendencies of the song with Pitchfork insisting “The scale of the music is just immense, enough to dwarf the silliness of the words.”
The spirituality of the track, assisted by the Gospel section towards the end makes it almost seems like Zdar was using these last tracks to impart his philosophies. The release of this album alongside a new Cassius album today, shows just how active he still is. With so many projects still on-going it’ll be no surprise when his legendary status lasts.
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