QuinzeQuinze holds a unique position in the French music scene. The five-member band – or rather collective – was born out of a course they took together at art school, which had them create musical and visual pieces every two weeks (hence their name, that can be translated as “fifteen fifteen”). Even today, the influence of their artistic background is omnipresent in their videos, costumes and graphics: they have managed to craft their own universe that is also fed by the Polynesian origins of two band members. We had a conversation after their performance at Nuits sonores on their origins, mythology in their work and car bass in Tahiti.

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Interviewer: David Bola

Photo Credit: Laurie Diaz 

You met at an art school in Amiens, did you all already have a musical background at that time, or did music come later? 

Nobody really had any musical training, even today that’s not the case (laughs). Except maybe Robin who took congas lessons. He did it like you would do karate lessons. Julia did Batucada too. 

How did you go from that meeting to building a collective together? 

Basically it was through a course in this art school –  shout out to Michael Sella, the teacher who was in charge of this course – where you had to invent a fake band. It’s a school based on graphic design, so we had to create the visual identity of the band, a logo, take photos, make a website on the Internet, and a MySpace at the time.

We got involved, we started to really develop a visual identity, some covers. 

So QuinzeQuinze refers to the frequency of submissions? Every fortnight, in short? 

That’s exactly it. After school, we said to ourselves that we were going to continue producing, that we needed some kind of production rhythm because we thought we were a bit lazy. Each member of the collective had their side-projects and QuinzeQuinze was what presented the musical updates of these groups

It was split in two too. There was the interactive design part with installations and the music part where we were really fifteen people. Lots of friends, people who do video, code…

The interactive design part doesn’t exist anymore. We focus on the music and the image that accompanies it, but we have abandoned the interactive side. 

For music, the process varies, but as a general rule, it’s still one person who brings an idea, an intention, and from that intention, we start collaborating as a group of five. Basically, it’s one person who brings a story and a composition and then it bounces around.

© Laurie Diaz

So the music is collectively conceived, what about the visual aspect?

Marvin is in charge of the interactive part of the visuals, because he runs the website (quinzequinze.com). This website was our outlet. We used the interactivity of the web to prepare little digital candies. It was a way for people to participate in the piece by making the visuals evolve, or just by being in a kind of state of contemplation on small visual intentions. So in the end, today, it’s the only place where there’s interactivity. We’re trying to keep that little flame going.

What really struck me about the visual aspect was the texture of the models. I’m thinking of “Le Jeune”‘s video, where the characters seem almost tangible. How did you work on these aspects? 

For this clip, we thought it would be interesting to present the Polynesian origins of Ennio and Tsi Min. And so we took a theme that was less watered down than the usual image of Tahiti. We talked about the nuclear tests that took place between the 1960s and the 1990s. 

The idea was to present a bit of imagery around this theme. Not necessarily to do something very political either, but more to create a universe in which we evolve, which oscillates between the nightmarish and the dreamlike, where we see our characters altered by radioactivity. 

A lot of visual elements are represented in your clips, costumes, characters… which all seem to belong to one and the same background. Is the aim to create a mythology in which the creations of the collective QuinzeQuinze exist?  

Totally, yes. We like to do spin-offs to tell stories. Sometimes, three years later, we come back to a parenthesis that could happen within a story. Our narrative is meant to be a long one, existing from one album to the next, so that there is always a continuity in the story.

For Neva Neva you chose to shoot in Iceland, and it’s a place where there is a lot of spirituality among the inhabitants. Is that something you wanted to look for there? Of course, shooting in Iceland is also about breathtaking landscapes… 

The director wanted to bridge the gap between two island cultures. In Tahiti too, there is a rather special way of approaching nature. It was amusing to see two climatically completely opposite places that have a similar spirituality. To see the emphasis they can put on natural climatic events.

This climatic notion is a term you have already used to describe your music, to express its changing nature. 

Yeah exactly. So there’s a lot of us writing, composing for the band. There’s no single person who’s going to write everything, who’s going to take over. It’s everybody. Everyone will have at some point participated in the writing, the composition of one song or another.

As a result, the subjects and meanings of the songs change. Often, it’s the meaning that will lead to the musical style. That’s why we couldn’t categorize our music. Depending on our moods, the musical style changes. A bit like the weather.

© Laurie Diaz

As far as the Tahitian part of the group is concerned, you say that you grew up rejecting the traditional music of the archipelago. But in the music you make today we can hear sounds that come from that musical heritage. Is there something that has reconciled you?

The distance. Then, our relationship to this music was generational, you listen to local music at parties with your parents. At the time it was the beginning of the internet, you were connected to rap on M6 Music and RnB, so you didn’t care about local music. But in the end, once you leave, you miss it and you take a new interest in it, you also see all the qualities of this music. We’ve become curious to go and find these old music, these artists who transmit a bit of a special vibe. 

There is a movement from Tahiti that you cite as an inspiration, “Car Bass”, can you tell us more about it? 

Basically, it’s tuning, focusing on the bass. You can drive a piece of junk, but inside there is the equivalent of the Stade de France sound system-wise. In Tahiti, I have memories of bass, you wake up in the morning, in the neighborhoods and you hear the “poum-poum-poum”… But as there are more and more people, there is a little too much proximity, so they have to go to the valleys with their modified cars. They form a team, each with their own car and soundsystem. 

And it goes from car to car to blow up the bass because the batteries don’t last more than 20 minutes. Each person has their little minutes of glory. 

These are small cars, Partners. There’s only one seat, that’s for the driver. Everything else is just batteries, amplifiers, junk, there’s no space to get in. When the guy passes by your house, you can recognize him by the sound of his car. It exists in parallel with a movement launched by young DJs and producers in Tahiti, it’s close to moombahton and reggaeton, it’s called Deck

In fact, we created the Deck playlist on NTS Radio. The funny thing about Car Bass is that you have layers of power. Basically, the further you go into the valley, the more it’s reserved for the kings. You can’t take their place. You start at the bottom of the ladder, at the entrance of the valley with your gear, then you make yourself known, then you go deeper until you get to the circle, there are four cars, they are the big bosses. The biggest one is called “The Membrane”. 

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About the interviewer

David Bola is We are Europe Media‘s content editor. Formerly working at Radio Nova as a freelance journalist and hosts a monthly residency on Piñata Radio, with Ludotek, a show focused on video game music.

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