"I’m a Cliché" is the name of the first single released by British punk band X-Ray Spex back in '77. It's also the name of a record label that was founded in 2004 by French DJ slash producer Cosmo Vitelli. Unlike most punk bands in the late '70s, X-Ray Spex was more about fun, rather than rage (or really anything else). This is something that Cosmo found particularly admirable of the band, which became one of his favorite groups growing up. And much like the punk and new wave bands he looked up to as a teen, Cosmo Vitelli developed a no-compromise, against-the-grain work ethic and never looked back. You can't really pinpoint a specific record that transitioned him into electronic music as he was into everything, but I think the well-roundedness and infinite curiosity plays the most crucial role in this story. These are essential traits for one to possess if planning to start a label, and luckily for Vitelli, he had all the right pieces in place to do so. He'd never tell you that though. I'm a Cliché was originally launched as an outlet for his own material without depending on anyone else, but Cosmo really saw the project move forward after signing early releases from soon-to-be-big artists such as Simian Mobile Disco, Yuksek, Azari & III and Runaway. From that point onward, the label gained universal appreciation for pushing a balance of club hits and songs to listen to at home, all tied together with the unique aesthetic that represents it along with the artists involved. After doing a few pieces on I’m a Cliché releases, I was presented with an offer to talk to Cosmo Vitelli himself. Of course I accepted, but I knew I would have a lot to ask (sorry Cosmo!). Thankfully, the tastemaker extraordinaire took the time to answer each and every question to the fullest while weighing in on facts about his upbringing, spanning to the new sounds from his band Bot'Ox.
I wasn’t part of this world. Not excluded, just not part of it…I’ve never really been comfortable with the clan thing.
What’s up Cosmo, how are you?
Fine, except that it looks like I’m gonna tell my life in the next lines…Ok , let’s go.
So, let’s start from the beginning. You released your first recordings as Cosmo Vitelli back in 1998 on Disques Solid. What sort of things were you listening to at the time, and what musicians were inspiring you to make music at that time in your life?
I’ve always been into almost every kind of music, and I had been part of indie bands before, but when I really started producing electronic music I was really into the Rephlex/Warp/breakbeat thing back then, programming endless beats “in the style of” producers like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher or Mike Paradinas.
I was also into the Detroit pioneers, from its electro side, Cybotron, some Metroplex (I remember “Play it Cool” by Model 500) etc, to the most ascetic techno, like Robert Hood or Jeff Mills/Axis. That was the electronic music I was into back then. I guess you can't tell listening to my stuff.
Tell us about your experience growing up into music in Paris. How was it different back then, and in what ways have you seen it change?
I arrived in Paris as I was 19, so I didn’t really build my musical culture there. Most of the producers/DJs or label managers knew each other since ages and came from the same college in Paris or the rich suburbs. I wasn’t part of this world. Not excluded, just not part of it. That was new for me, and I’ve never really been comfortable with the “clan” thing.
As a kid, did your family have much of a musical background? Were you introduced to similar sounds from your parents' record collection, or did you discover it yourself or through friends?
My parents were not so much into music. I built my musical culture thanks to the radio and the record stores. I think that a 20 year old kid today can’t imagine what would represent a record store back then. The one of my hometown before Paris, Clermont Ferrand, was the center of the world for me. I’m forever thankful to the guys running it, who made me discover all the great music that I never stopped listening to after that.
I’ve never considered it a hobby, but never thought of myself as good enough to make a living out of it. It took me a long time to be able to deal with this contradiction.
You are often tossed into the whole “French touch” thing, but you didn’t seem to associate directly with the key figures of that movement, nor were you into records produced during that time period. Which era in music were you more interested in?
Yes, I’ve always been kind of “around” but never really part of any scene, if there’s been such a thing. I was on Etienne de Crecy’s label but my music had nothing to do with what people called the "french touch" (I’ll never get used to that expression). Pedro Winter (Busy P) was my manager a few years later but I’ve never been linked to the Ed Banger thing. It’s like that.
It’s true that we didn’t have the same cultural background. Most of the people of these crews were really into house or hip-hop. Contemporary hip-hop has never really been my thing, and house music back then was everywhere, with tons of shitty filtered/funky stuff released every week, so I quickly got a bit allergical to it.
Were you in any bands prior to producing music by yourself and DJing?
Yes, I released a couple of singles with a band that I won’t mention, and produced a singer before I got signed by Solid after sending them a demo made with an Emax sampler and an Atari. Great gear, btw…
So at what point did you realize that it could be something more than just a side hobby? Or did you always take it very seriously from the beginning?
That’s the drama; I’ve never considered it a hobby, but never thought of myself as good enough to make a living out of it. It took me a long time to be able to deal with this contradiction.
Me I was just a lo-fi guy. Maybe that’s what seduced them.
At the time of your first releases, you were putting stuff out alongside Alex Gopher and Etienne De Crecy. How did you meet them, and were they some of your first friends in music that you saw on the same page as yourself? Was there always a solid community around you, or did that take time to build?
The reason why I got in touch with them is that I was (and still am) a big fan of the Motorbass album, produced by Etienne. But it was not on Solid.
I could not say a single bad word about them, they’re great people who really helped me back then, but honestly I still wonder why they released my first records. I was the weirdo of their catalog, my music had nothing to do with what they would usually release. They were all coming from the studio world, had been working in the biggest ones in Paris and were great technicians. Me I was just a lo-fi guy. Maybe that’s what seduced them.
It seemed that sharing music was always your main objective without any further intentions, especially since you were a music journalist for a while too. But you seem to have mixed feelings about that job. Would you care to explain why you reflect negatively on that part of your life?
It’s just that I was bad at that. I didn’t like writing enough, which you’ll understand, is a real problem if you're a journalist.
...we’re not obsessed with the functional side of dance music, and we like music at the boarder of different genres.
And a handful of years later you took it upon yourself to start a record label, which became I’m A Cliché. You got the name from a X-Ray Spex song, the iconic underground English punk band. Explain why you are such a fan of that band and how the punk rock ethics are applied to your work in dance music. Explain the message behind I’m A Cliché.
It’s actually hard to define what really was musically punk, but to me, its main legacy is that you could have a band, release records –sometimes very good—and have a technically limited audience. Quite the same actually happened a few years later with the early house music productions.
About X Ray Spex, I really liked them because they were a bit mine. When I was a teenager, nobody knew them around me. They were my special band. And they had something different; they were a teenage band playing for teenagers. There was no anger or fury, X Ray Spex was all about fun.
Did you know much about operating a record label when you formed it? Was it meant to only be an outlet for yourself and your friends? Were you surprised by the momentum it generated after releasing records from Simian Mobile Disco, Yuksek and Runaway within the first couple of years?
I didn’t have any plan. I had no idea of how it worked. It’s just that, like with being DJ, it has to do with sharing my love of music. I’m still excited by the new music we release.
Would you say that you have a certain sound or style in mind when it comes to things you’d release on the label, or do you not think that way? If it’s good, it’s good?
When I sarted I was just releasing stuff that I liked, but quickly I understood that if I wanted to keep on I’d have to develop a strong coherent identity.
I think that I’m a Cliché has one. It’s hard to define the real sound we have, but let’s say we’re not obsessed with the functional side of dance music, and we like music at the boarder of different genres.
What are some of the biggest or most important things you’ve learned at this point from I’m A Cliché?
At least this one thing; not to have too many expectations from a release.
The more you release records, the less you “fantasy” about them, which is good, cause the important record is always the next one.
Do you feel like the challenge of maintaining a label takes time away from being an artist? Is there a steady balance? Does running your label create a connection with other artists, giving you a break from isolation as a solo artist?
It’s a tough job. Really, you can easily feel schizophrenic. I still have a couple of things to do via I’m a Cliché but I won’t do that for ever, I’m a musician not a label manager. Or at least I hope so.
Let’s talk about the business of running a label in 2013. It’s equally depressing and exciting given the convenience and unlimited options due to the Internet and advanced technology. Do you feel that remaining independent gives you an advantage in terms of flexibility to not only adapt to the future, but set yourself apart? What are some of the benefits you’ve noticed due to the digital age?
The ones you mentioned. A digital release is so fast and cheap to do, you can focus on the essential, doing A&R. The bad side is that there’s nothing to earn there. We consider the records as promotion, that’s not where the money comes from. It comes from the gigs, publishing, synchs…
A lot of people think it’s easier to discover new talent today because of the Internet, but I think it makes it just as hard. You still need to search hard. With that being said, do you agree, and what are some of your main resources for finding new music these days?
I don’t really look for music. Except for the Red Axes or Azari & III who sent me demos. Most of the time I’m introduced to the producers by some friends in common. I receive a lot of music and try to listen to everything, but most of it sounds the same, it’s quite depressing.
…if you release each separately, build a story around them, with an artwork, remixes, a video, somehow it seems to become more important for the listener.
And what’s up with Bot’Ox at the moment? What spawned the decision to release the album as a series of EPs rather than all at once? I like how it’s basically broken down into chapters with a video and set of remixes for each…
We wanted to give each track a chance. The way you listen to music is often a question of context. We’ve experienced that; we played the whole album to some friends when a first version of it was finished, and when a few months later we would release the same tracks separately they would like it much better. They were just the same tracks. But if you release each separately, build a story around them, with an artwork, remixes, a video, somehow it seems to become more important for the listener.
So we decided to do that on six singles. The challenge was that the track could have their own life as a separate single, but could also be part of a bigger story in an album.
Do you find it refreshing to work as both a collaborator and solo artist? Do you feel that working with someone from time to time is an important balance to your own work? And do you plan to perform live again with the project this year?
At one point, I started to do music with Julien Briffaz mainly because it was much more fun. I had spent something like five-six years producing music alone and I was bored.
But now I feel that soon I’ll have to go back to this and produce music by myself a little bit.
Speaking of studio time, a lot of people I’ve interviewed before tell me that they treat the studio like a 9 to 5 job where they sit down with their gear and simply put it to use, even if they’re not composing a song or anything. Are you the same way?
Not at all. The main thing now for me is to avoid any kind of boredom. So whenever we spend too much time on something, or it’s getting too complicated or not fun, we change the track or instrument, or I do something else. It’s the best way for us to keep it light and do it as a game.
What would you say is your most prized studio piece and why?
Julien and I share all our gear. We have good stuff, but nothing “un-affordable” if you’re used to studio gear prices. Maybe an EMT 251…Everybody doesn’t own one. But we gave up a little bit on the endless quest of perfect gear.
When did you begin the edit service? The concept behind it seems pretty straight forward, but I find it to be a special thing. Can we look forward to the series continuing for a while?
We’ll keep on for a while, yes. We try to select carefully the ones we “release” (they're all free downloads) as there’s so many edits everywhere on the net, and many are pointless. It was also a nice way to open I’m a Cliché to some other producers we’re friends with or like.
So what’s on your agenda for the next few months? What can we look forward to from yourself and the label? Any tour dates coming up?
Still some Bot’Ox singles and then the album, mid-October. The Red Axes album too just after...And before the summer the first single on I’m a Cliché of In Fields plus a collaboration we did with aussie singer Sidwho.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice, what would you say?
Produce more, again and again...