From murky 140 to silky liquid drum & bass, and all the in-between. Visages’ sonic palette has a wide range, but there is a common thread: It’s sophisticated – high quality, avoids the mainstream, and expresses emotion.
With such a mature sound, it’s hard to believe they’ve only been together as Visages since 2018. But since then, they’ve risen in parallel with the South of France to the forefront of underground drum & bass. Alongside them come the resurgence of Redeyes, and the ascent of artists like Monty and Trail – all of which are part of the French drum & bass nucleus known as Toulouse.
Visages’ most recent showcase comes as a single on Alix Perez’s 1985, titled Ange / Démon – a collaboration with their Toulousian brother, Monty. It’s the perfect example of the aforementioned ‘sophisticated’ sound they trade, and it’s foundations start with their most reliable ingredient; emotion. Leaning into the feeling of mourning, Valentin wrote Ange, handing it over to Monty to finish off.
The collaboration led to two trap-driven 140 beats – complete with whomping bass, and busy, but beautifully produced synth and sample activity. That marks their first release of 2023, but you don’t have to look far back to find a trove of ridiculous tunes, and you can bet there’s plenty more on the way very soon – these guys keep their foot down and maintain excellence.
We sat down with Etienne and Valentin, two of the four that make up Visages. Among a good deal of infectious laughs from their side, we chatted through the new collab with Monty, life in Toulouse, what it’s like to work as a four-piece, and what goes into the distinctive Visages sound.
So when I was doing research for this I found that you only started releasing together in 2018. What were you guys doing before you joined forces?
Etienne: We all made music, but just on our own. Then at some point – when we were all having fun together, organising events and stuff – Valentin and I started making music together, along with Kévin and Tom. From there is when we came up with the idea of making this kind of ‘band’ in Visages.
How did you meet each other?
Etienne: We are all from Toulouse, So we all met at drum & bass parties and general involvement in the scene. There has always been a lot of drum & bass here. We felt like we all had a nice relationship, so that’s why we decided to start working together.
Valentin: Yeah we were having a lot of fun – at first it was loads more fun, and not so much making music!
There are not many four-pieces in electronic music, I can’t think of any others aside from Fourward. What’s the dynamic like, and how do you get stuff done?
Etienne: It’s kind of changed since the beginning. At first, we were writing new music together, all in one studio. We did that for a long time, and then we started making music in our own homes and grouping up to finish them off when they were close. Now, it’s changed where it’s mainly just us two [Etienne and Valentin] doing all the music production. But still, we kind of have different tasks. I’m more into mixdowns and finishing up the tracks, and Valentin will get the main ideas and vibes down a lot of the time.
So it’s just you two making the music at this stage?
Valentin: Yeah. Etienne is more technical, I’m more on the creative side – and Tom and Kévin have got full time jobs, so it’s really hard for them to make music all the time like we do.
Etienne: It’s more like a passion or hobby for them – when they want to come make some music they can, definitely. It’s not often, but we still do some sessions all together in the same room.
Valentin: Having all four in one room together can be quite hard.
Etienne: Yeah – but I think it was important to do that at first. We wanted to create a unique vibe – because we all have different influences from music, so we wanted to merge everything together to try and create something different to what others were doing.
What are those influences?
Valentin: Well, Etienne is more rock, ambient stuff, and anything cinematic or jazzy.
And for me, it’s more French hip-hop, rap, reggae – I like all styles, but really into hip-hop.
What about when Kévin and Thomas? Do they bring different vibes into the studio when they join?
Etienne: Yeah, Kévin is very into rock music, he used to play a lot of guitar – he’s really good at it actually. And he loves psychedelic rock and progressive rock. He also gets into rap, and so does Tom. But Tom is also very into techno. So everyone has a different influence.
There is so much variation in tempo and style on your releases. I’m wondering how your influences lead to these different outputs…
Etienne: Well Valentin is the spirit of the whole Visages sound in a way – I really trust him on that, everything he makes for us is always good.
Etienne: Everything that we wanted to make with Visages from the start, Valentin understands perfectly. And he knows how to write it in the studio.
Valentin: Yeah it took a long time to get there. But now I think it’s pretty cool, a pretty defined sound.
Etienne: It’s polished. Now I think we can continue to evolve the sound into different vibes.
Yeah I agree that your sound is very well defined, even though you cross tempos and genres.
Etienne: I think what we listen to has had a big influence on it. We listen to a wide variety of stuff – and I think this helps us try out new things and experiment with D&B. We don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. A past example is how we used to listen to loads of dubstep around 2010 – Caspa & Rusko, Skream & Benga, Joker, those guys. Then when we went to Outlook festival and saw them around 4 years ago, we remembered how great 140 is. We thought: what if we make just 140 for a while?
Valentin: Yeah – following that we set aside a lot of time for dubstep.
It also feels like in the last year you’ve had a significant level-up…
Etienne: I think it’s due to us growing up a bit. I don’t listen to D&B and dubstep much anymore, like I used to on a daily basis. But I do listen to a lot of other styles of music. The music we listen to is constantly evolving, and we are evolving as well – growing up and changing tastes. So we’re just trying to capture the vibe of what we’re feeling and hearing, and putting that into our own productions.
So you touched on the unique Visages sound and spirit before. Can you describe that to me a little more?
Etienne: I think it’s really hard to find one word or one sentence to sum up what we try to make.
Valentin: I think it’s emotions! We try to find an emotion – to make the listeners feel something. For me, that’s the most important thing, and the hardest thing to do, because we’re making electronic music with loops and digital sounds.
Etienne: Yeah, you’re right – even for the very heavy and angry drum & bass, that’s still an emotion.
What techniques are you using to elicit this emotion for the listener?
Valentin: It depends on the day really.
Etienne: Yeah definitely. Sometimes you can just play something on the keyboard and catch a vibe, or find a sample that relates to something going on in life, and you get the inspiration.
Valentin: When I’m listening to other people’s music and I hear a new tune that sparks emotion for me, I try to recreate the same emotion with my own samples and tools. But yeah, it’s all about emotions. As you say Etienne, not just for liquid, but for any tune.
Do you think life experiences – what’s going on at the time – bleed into the emotions you’re trying to write?
Valentin: Yeah a bit, a bit. I mean, my life experience kind of is just my studio!
I think it does though – I just lost one of my cats recently, and I went to the studio and wrote a tune about it. I sent it to Monty and he really wanted to finish it – that became ‘Ange’.
Sorry for your loss! That’s interesting through – so that’s where the celestial theme came from with the new single?
Etienne: Yeah, well when Monty got involved, he said he wanted to include it in his next EP. We were like, no, we want it for our next EP! So in the end, we thought let’s just make a collaborative single. We had Ange, and so we thought the best move here would be to make a track called Démon..
Valentin: The opposite emotion!
Etienne: And the story behind Démon is, we were in Monty’s studio, finishing off ‘TEK’ actually. After we finished it, we wanted to try something else…
Valentin: … yeah something using drill beats with some bass elements. Trying to make something fresh. There’s a vocal for it which is in Arabic – and it’s something really dark – something like “I’ve got poison in my blood”. Really demonic stuff.
So yeah, it’s two opposite emotions in the two tracks. Plus, Alix said yes, so that’s the final seal of approval.
Yeah it’s a cool theme, and probably one of the trappiest things I’ve heard from you guys. Do you often like to use a theme when putting tracks together?
Valentin: Yeah we try to – it doesn’t work every time but we always try. Especially how you said above with life experiences. When I’m sad for example, I’m more productive, and funnily enough, I’m actually more likely to create something more positive sounding.
Etienne: And when you’re happy…
Valentin: …I want to make something dark!
Another example for starting with a theme was with TEK – we went in with a strong idea of what we wanted; to make something not-for-the-club, but more for an outdoor sound system. In the South of France there’s a lot of free parties in the woods, so we wanted to create something in 140, with the energy of those parties.
What does Monty bring to the table when you collaborate?
Etienne: He has a specific sound. Very acoustic drums, but still punchy. And his bass is very distorted, and sometimes he has this specific sort of wonky mid-bass that he brings to the tunes. But when it comes to working together, he catches the vibe very smoothly. He’s also great at mixdowns, he can spend hours on them.
Valentin: He knows what he wants, but he’s open minded too. We work really complimentary with Monty. But he’s a really good friend first of all, and afterwards he’s a really good musician. So it’s really easy to work together. We understand each other.
Did you meet Monty around the same time Visages was formed?
Valentin: Yeah, it was about ten years ago at the drum & bass parties in Toulouse. So many people came together there.
Etienne: Trail too…
Valentin: Yep. Redeyes, The Clamps, Signs. We are all friends.
Etienne: It’s a small world, but its like a family, basically. Very intimate.
There’s clearly something special going on in Toulouse. It’s really a sophisticated sound. Where does that come from?
Etienne: I think it’s because the promoters started bringing parties with really underground lineups. So we were able to discover and support so many artists compared to Paris. Drum & bass parties in Paris are much more mainstream. But here in Toulouse, like in Le Bikini, back in the day you might have a lineup of Break, Rockwell, Lenzman, Phace & Misanthrop – that kind of stuff. So having the full spectrum of drum & bass in Toulouse was great. We’re so grateful for the promoters, they really brought the drum & bass vibe down here.
Valentin: It helped us to find our way. To find out what we love, and where we want to take our music.
1985 Showcase w/ Alix Perez, Visages & more – Le Bikini, Toulouse
Before, you mentioned a lot of forest raves happening in Toulouse. Is that unique to the area?
Etienne: I’m not too sure – we don’t attend these types of parties anymore. We’re too old! I think there are a lot of them around the South of France – but I think they’re happening everywhere to be honest. During the summer, it’s crazy. It used to be that you’d need a phone number, and you’d call a guy who would tell you a series of cryptic directions to find the location, so that the police couldn’t come and shut it down. So when you fall out of the loop like we have, you don’t really here about these raves so much.
When were you guys attending these?
Valentin: When we were around 18 or so – like 10 or 12 years ago.
Is this where you met Monty and Trail and those guys?
Etienne: That was more in Toulouse, really just through going out in small pubs and clubs.
Nice – good times!
What’s it like working with Alix? I feel like his productions have varying levels of Toulouse-influence as well…
Etienne: It’s very straightforward with him. It’s super cool, because when we have new music and send it over – it’s a quick yes or no. If he says yes, he has 100% trust in us, and we go ahead and finish it. It can even be a small work-in-progress – like a 16 bar loop or two-hour idea. When he says yes, we know we can finish and take it further. He never intervenes and asks us to add specific things. It’s yes or no.
Valentin: Also what’s cool with Alix is he’s from Belgium – and we love the guys from Belgium! And when he was young, he spent 5 or 6 years in the South of France – so, firstly; he speaks French, and second; he knows the French vibe. So it’s really easy for us to work with him. It’s not even work, it’s more of a friendship. We are big, big fans of Alix.
I didn’t know he spent such a long time in the South of France as well – that explains a bit about his sound.
So my last question – I said in my 2022 Artist Review for UKF that you guys were my top pick. What are you going to do in 2023 to make me choose you again?
Valentin: We’re going to just try and keep the vibe that we started with.
Etienne: Yeah, maintain that Visages spirit and try to keep the momentum going. Evolving, experimenting, and keeping the momentum is the main goal I’d say.
Valentin: We also want to keep making music with people we like, and people who influence us. We just want to keep it up! Keep it natural, spend time in the studio, have fun, drink coffee, spread love. We are really happy what’s happened with us as Visages – it’s such an amazing thing. We do work hard, but we are really lucky also. So we’ll just keep trying to make good music for us, and for everyone else.