Answering the video call a few hours after the drop of his latest single, ‘Just Want Happiness’, Folamour is on fine form. Other than a joint release with Jitwam in 2020 and a series of remixes, the French producer has put out just one single between his last album, 'Ordinary Drugs', and this latest release. It’s clear that he has spent the last two years working on something special and below his chatty exterior is a little nervousness.
“It’s been a bit of a stressful day actually,” he admits. “It’s like the first stones of something I’ve been working on for years now... it’s quite different from what people are expecting from me. I’ve really worked hard on making something that is a journey through a lot of different atmospheres and really not club-orientated. So I’m always stressed about how people are going to react to surprises.”
And surprise is precisely the emotion I felt upon first listening to ‘Just Want Happiness’. Folamour had already begun moving away from the strictly sample-based sound of Umami when Ordinary Drugs dropped, but this new single sees him make a committed move into full-blown composition. There is barely a sample chop in sight on the four minutes 39-second track with live guitars, organs and even a horn section offering the listener a feeling of an earnest hopefulness.
“I always wanted to do that at some point,” he explains. “But it’s a long process to learn how to write like so many live instruments...So when I started making music I decided to go where my skills were, so using more drums and guitars and everything else and sampling for the rest.”
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Speaking on the single before it’s release, Folamour described ‘Just Want Happiness’ as being “about birth, departure and encounters as [much as it is] about loneliness, mourning and abandonment; it is lucidity and hope.” His intention is evident from the opening moments of the track, moving gracefully between feelings of agony and ecstasy.
“I wanted that song to be about life in all it’s diversity. Of course, it’s about the harshness of living in big cities nowadays and living nowadays is always a bit special. But it’s also about hope and happiness, it’s about waking up in the morning and feeling hopeful about life.”
The result is a varied and exciting signpost for the new album set to be released later this year. The album in question has taken him two years to write, in equal parts helped and hindered by lockdown. With the enforced break delaying any touring plans, he had the freedom to nurture skills that had taken the backseat for years.
“You know when I entered the first lockdown in March last year I was sure I had 90% of the album, and then when we finished the first lockdown in May I re-worked 40% of that...It was just great to have time to experiment more without touring to have full weeks of work on the music. And this is why I’m able to sing on some songs.”
Singing is not something anyone would have ever associated with a producer known predominately for soul and disco-infused DJ sets, but if the 12 months have given us anything, it is the time to do what we never normally would.
What it has also done, however, is curb a thriving international dance scene. Millions of producers and fans have been forced indoors, depriving them of the experiences they feed off in equal measure. But to Folamour, he sees only a bright future for the industry.
“It’s a bit of a rough statement, but I think it’s going to be great for dance music because I think that if there is something to say about... the quality of electronic music in the last 15 years, it’s that you can feel people... don’t put enough time into it. DJ s are touring all the time, we are really touring all the time in a normal year. So we don’t have much time to write music.”
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He goes on to explain, “you can feel when you listen to an album that a lot of time had been put into it, like when you listen to a Bonobo or a Floating Points album... But besides a few, most artists are not working enough on electronic music, are not pushing it too far because they don’t have time.
“It was like a vicious cycle... So I think it’s going to be great because all these artists that may create amazing music, but never did it to that extent because they didn’t have time are going to have it. I think in the next few years we’re going to see a boom in electronic music.”
As the founder of his own label, Folamour is more than aware of the importance of championing innovative but unheard music. His label, For Heaven Use Only (FHUO), grew from his own early frustrations as a young producer struggling to make an impact with his music. However, as his profile began to grow in size and stature, FHUO has since become a sounding board for other promising up-and-coming producers. Tour-Maubourg, Tochigi Canopy and Madcat have all released music through the French imprint since 2017, and to the label’s founder, it has given him a unique sense of satisfaction.
“It was great for me because I had great music to listen to and it was amazing for everyone. And I was really excited about working on that and in a way, in a humble way, to be able to reach to someone and say ‘I’m going to do my best for you and put out the best record you can do.’”
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But there was one release he took most pride in.
“Tochigi Canopy were old old friends of mine and I’ve been friends with him for like 10 years and I knew he was making that kind of like soundtrack ambient really analogue music... I knew that no one wanted to release that... And it’s maybe one of the things I’m most proud of in my entire career because that record was so special... and if it wasn’t for FHUO, that album would never have been released.”
In all, the lasting impression you get when speaking to Folamour is that he is someone who just loves the music in his life. ‘Just Want Happiness’ is certainly his most leftfield release to date, but it is something he has committed to wholeheartedly. The new direction it signals is certainly not one many would have seen coming, but it is most certainly the culmination of a career’s worth of work.
“I’m quite happy in a way that it’s hard for me to write about happiness,” he outlines. “Because I can find that balance between my gigs that are really happiness-oriented and joyful and all those pretty emotions, and on my music when I produce I’m more focused on nostalgia, I’m more focused on memories.”
It’s been a strange 12 months for us all. But if there’s something we can all be thankful for, it’s that the process of musical innovation has been accelerated ten-fold. We may not be able to go to see Folamour live any time soon, but we at least have the chance to revel in the work of a musician realising his true potential.
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Words: Ben Miles / @BenRMiles
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