Two or three times a week, on his Myspace page, Yuksek gets an e-mail from Istanbul or Ankara saying “Hey, know what? Yuksek means “high” in Turkish!”. No, Pierre-Alexandre Busson didn’t know when he chose the name by instinct four years ago, partly for its sound and partly to buck the trend of English-sounding names that are common in electronic music. In recent months, the pseudonym has been collecting an ever-growing halo of buzz.
Yuksek, originally with Birdy Nam Nam’s label and wunderkind of the blogs, has crafted some of the dirtiest, most inspired remixes of hits by Mika, Kaiser Chiefs, Ghostface Killah (Wu Tang Clan), French rapper Booba, Tahiti 80… His fiery live sets, where Yuksek’s svelte, supple physique swoops between his vintage keyboards and FX board, have set alight concert venues, clubs and festivals. Now, the suave musician – anything but a clubber, strangely enough – is poised to let loose his first album, packed full of future hits called “Tonight”, “Extraball” and “I Like To Play”.
Yuksek was born in 1977 and spent his adolescence practising piano several hours a day at music school before realising that “the only job I could get was as a music teacher.” He was convinced that there had to be some other path to take. A fan of pop music, raised on The Beatles and Gainsbourg, amazed by the early West Coast rap of NWA and De La Soul and – above all – stunned in his early secondary school years by Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (the beginning of a chain of events that would eventually lead him to Lou Reed’s “Transformer”, what he calls “the unequalled summit of modern music”), he grew up to be an intrepid lad who decided, age 17, to stop the studying and start the adventure.
Little by little his reputation grew as one of Reims’ key pop figures, going from The Bewitched Hands on the Top of our Heads (authors of the great guitar-led cover version of “Tonight”, a hidden track on the album) to Alb by way of Brodinksi & The Shoes, to become the artist we know now. Yuksek also played bass guitar and wrote with electro-rock combo Klanguage. He soon found a passion for the art of making sound – whether it be the arrangements of the Beach Boys, the keyboard style of Ray Manzarek or the productions of David Bowie – leading him to produce the next Birdy Nam Nam and The Bewitched Hands albums. And since his adventure started at the end of the 20th Century, Yuksek inevitably, naturally, discovered electronic music. “Compared to pop, it had a freedom about it,” he remembers. As an admirer of the Warp label, he found it “great that Aphex Twin could release Window Licker and then, the following week, some weird experimental track that would be almost unlistenable.”
So are Yuksek’s tastes just all over the place? Not at all. The striking thing about “Away From The Sea” is precisely the coherence that he has been able to forge along the way. With disarming ease, he mixes pop hooks with dancefloor devastation, post-punk riffs and acid loops, disco grooves, experimental arabesque flourishes, house beats and catchy melodies. Within a track you’ll hear hints of both the Pixies and Scissor Sisters, or Squarepusher and Giorgio Moroder, or Mirwaïs and Daft Punk. Guests on the album include rapper Amanda Blank (Spank Rock), electrofunk duo Chromeo, psychedelic-folk group The Bewitched Hands and the dance-rock of Shit Disco. All of which show that Yuksek is the latest version of a generation unphased, thanks to the ‘shuffle’ button on their iPods, easily switching from – say – tough garage rock to a melancholic torch song, from a Chopin waltz to a hip-hop hit. A resolutely post-schizophrenic musician, you could say, whose outwardly electronic album hides a pop heart. Songs like “So far Away from the Sea”, “Freak’O’Rocker” and “This Certain Life” are proof enough.
So what’s the secret of the enthusiastic equilibrium of his finely crafted tracks? Surely not just his virtuoso savoir-faire, even if it does allow him to record his baselines and harmonic progressions in analogue, and instantly seize on the strangest chords he can think of… Well, first of all it’s his naturally spontaneous temperament: “I compose really instinctively,” he says. “I never think about what I’m going to do before going into the studio. I work fast and just let my mood guide me.” That it how, hidden away “far from the sea”, in his own studio situated in the basement of a basement, deprived of Internet and mobile phone contact, Yuksek lets his tracks develop into mini-epics, using his talent for twisted FX, sensorial rollercoaster rides and electrifying changes of tack. “I like it when there’s always something going on in a track,” he confides, before tentatively adding “perhaps because I’m afraid of emptiness?”
And that’s how Yuksek became standard-bearer of post Soulwax/Justice disco-rock club culture; by being cultivated and keen, mixing sonic strength and sensibility, sexy images and impromptu noisiness. Or, to put it another way, by blurring the boundary between hyper and surrealism – much like the novels of Kafka (that he loves) or the photos of Gregory Crewdson (which fascinate him and always say something other than they initially seem to). All of which helps us appreciate that “Tonight” abuses the clichés of the night more than it uses them.
Now signed to Sound of Barclay in Paris, the more pop-orientated Fiction label (historic home of The Cure, and now host to The Whites Lies, Snow Patrol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kate Nash) will release the album in the UK.
In 2009, Yuksek will starting his latest ascension, reaching “high” as his new Turkish friends would say. It’s only a matter of time before he hits the top.