Braxe + Falcon’s "Step By Step," a French house-inflected power ballad sung by Panda Bear, arrived as frontrunner for song of the year almost immediately upon its March release. Eight months later, the fact stands, and “Step By Step” remains the most played song on FREAKS ONLY this year by a wide margin.
More than 20 years after the duo of Alan Braxe and DJ Falcon began releasing 12-inch records on Thomas Bangalter's Roulé label, the pair’s body of work stands up to scrutiny (see: the inescapability of "Music Sounds Better With You"). The timelessness of their outputs is in large part owed to their reverence for ‘70s disco — a sound you'll find returning with a vengeance in dance music — and pioneering the production and engineering techniques that have come to be known as “The French Touch.”
(Fun fact: Stoner-rock gods Dinosaur Jr. were also hugely influential on DJ Falcon, Busy P, and Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk. Try that one on for size the next time you need to make small talk with some fellow music-lovers.)
Braxe + Falcon bring that same sempiternal heat to the DJ decks, as flexed on their non-stop party of a guest mix for FREAKS ONLY earlier this year. They’re offering an in-person taste with just three US shows on the heels of their debut “Step by Step” EP, including an inaugural LA gig on Nov. 12 show at El Rey. Ahead of the fête, we caught up with Braxe + Falcon to chat about the origins of “Step By Step,” other happy accidents, and pandemic revelations.
KCRW: What was the original idea behind the song "Step By Step"?
Alan Braxe: The original form was an instrumental. It was a very basic demo that we did seven years ago, but kind of forgot about. Two years ago, we played it for Peter Berard at Domino Records (now Smugglers Way). He said, "This is a cool instrumental, you should try to make a song with it." At some point, the idea came to send it to Panda Bear and he wrote a song on top of it. It was super fast, super easy.
Did his contributions hew closely to what you had in mind, or did he bring something completely different?
Braxe: We sent him the instrumental with no comments at all. We just sent reference tags [of his own material] that we really liked. But we said, “You're free to do whatever you want to do.”
DJ Falcon: And to be honest, we were shocked. Like, there was pure magic. I think it took him 48 hours. When we had the demo, it was straight bomb — everybody knew it. We were so happy when we got the demo. On top of that, he's such a nice guy. It was such a good surprise.
The road to the “Step By Step” EP has been years in the making. When did your collaboration begin?
Braxe: We did our first sessions together around seven years ago, and we recorded quite a lot of demos. We spent like two months together at my place, and we recorded instrumentals. But at that time, we were probably not ready to accept that we were tempted to do music outside of the four-to-the-floor format. Two years ago, during the lockdowns and with all of the changes in the world, it helped us to relax and to realize that none of this was important. Most important was just to release music, should it be four-to-the-floor club music, or ballad, or whatever.
Falcon: To add to that, I think during [the height of COVID lockdowns] everybody had a lot of time to reflect on things. It became more obvious after COVID that we should release this music, so it just came naturally. The other thing is that, when we decided to make music, it was at the same time I was releasing the track [“Contact”] on Daft Punk's album [“Random Access Memories”]. I got super busy traveling a lot, so it was maybe not the best time. We also have to say that Peter Berard from Domino was so supportive and was a big part of this. I think maybe we needed a third person to push us a little bit, you know? And so thanks to Peter.
What are some of the musical common grounds that you share, in terms of influences or musical heroes?
Braxe: I'm not sure it would be easy to select names specifically. But I think that’s not just Stéphane [DJ Falcon] and I, but a lot of French musicians — people like Justice, or even [Daft Punk’s] Thomas or Guy Manuel, we have a lot of different music from any channel. And so it's hard to pick up something specifically. In the finished product, it sounds in a specific way, but what we like globally in terms of music is really wide. It can go from hip-hop to rock and roll to gospel music to classical. We obviously have a kind of funny fascination for repetitions and loops and stuff like that, too — the sense of restriction into music when you just keep it to the most simple form. But yeah, we love music globally.
Falcon: I'm really close to Pedro Winter [a.ka. Busy P]. And as we were skateboarding at a young age, there was this band that we all love and I found out that also [Daft Punk’s] Thomas and Guy-Man loved the band, and maybe surprising, but it's Dinosaur Jr. It’s just metallurgic and there's something special about it. I got influenced a lot because I was into skateboarding. We used to read a Thrasher Magazine, and it was all about rock, hip hop, heavy metal — all kinds of music, but they really mix it all together. And when we discovered electronic music, we still had this influence from rock. For example, I love Phoenix, but on my side I had my sister listening to Stevie Wonder and Prince. For me Prince is a huge influence. So we also have this skate rock approach. It really helps to be way more open-minded.
Are there more demo tracks beyond the ones that made it onto this EP?
Braxe: Yes, there are quite a lot of demos, but sometimes there is a long way between the demo and the finished product, or not at all. It takes time to realize that maybe the demo is in fact a finished product. It's kind of a process. But yeah, we have quite a lot of music on the hard drive, but it's not finished yet.
Falcon: Also, I have to say that when we started spending time in the studio together, the goal was never to release music. It was just a curiosity to see what we could do together. With the history we have — we're cousins, and we both released tracks for Roulé — it felt obvious that we should work together at some point. But for me, I never put pressure on it, because I don't really care about releasing music. For Alan, maybe it's different, but when I'm in the studio, I just want to have fun by myself. I'm curious to see where it could go.
Was your approach to the work similar once you were in a studio environment?
Braxe: Yeah, we work in similar ways. We're not good at playing the piano or guitar, so we rely a lot on technology. What sampling or modular synthesizers can offer in terms of happy accidents… We switch on the machine, play with stuff, cut and splice edits, and just wait for luck to happen.
Falcon: And we rely on our taste. Being in the studio is witnessing some happy accidents, but you also have to make choices. And so it's a good thing we have a pretty similar taste. I really trust his taste, and I think he trusts mine. I think that's key.
Braxe + Falcon bring their trustworthy taste as a duo to the stage for the first time in LA this Saturday via their FREAKS ONLY x KCRW Presents show at the El Rey. If that’s not enticing enough, DJs GODDOLLARS and Paradise of A Club Called Rhonda will be throwing down to open things up. See you on the floor!