Top 10 of the Decade - third entry
Vitalic - La Rock 01
(international Deejay Gigolos 2001) (series growing here)
There might be years of pre-ownership speculation about a tune you go on to love, especially if you have no idea which is the right remix or which label it came out on first or even if it is the right one. That was the case for me with Vitalic’s La Rock 01, first out on hell’s International Deejay Gigolos in 2001. A compilation favourite, notably appearing on 2 Many DJs’ first, this stalker took on its own life in the musical world and its own form in my mind, before I finally had a copy via his debut album in 2005. Ever since then it has been the one track I go to if I want rave alienation, a quick rush to a dark hole of oblivion.
La Rock derives much of its energy and momentum from an explicit repudiation of uplifting/funky mores, placing it firmly in the European industrial line. None of the pleasing gratification or pay-off we’ve come to demand from rave is evident here, unless nightmarish fairground rush is your default setting. It builds along the lines of standard techno, adding in percussive ticks and claps and little synth incidentals before the bassline signals something even nastier to come. Nihilist in the sense that it is just a banging rocker offering no salvation, in that it steals standard rave sounds and exploits them in such a way as to reject any generic discourse (does it fit into techno or electroclash, who cares?) and exists only to (dis)please itself. A grand statement of nothing-from-a-discredited-something, ill prepared to offer any resolution or way forward. A tune to accompany the collapse of culture into ground zero rubble.
The main riff – the standard digital arpeggiated line ubiquitous to the all the main popular genres but especially associated with electroclash – gradually filters out of the bass and unwinds up and down as you would expect. It could be a verse line rather than the stand-out sound but for the intensity with which it is delivered. The only other non-breakdown element adds shuddering synth lines to the cold rush, and as a piece they come round three or four times before the chink of light signals the ending.
I don’t often recommend or replay this tune to others. It’s too demanding to fit in with functional techno and trance, too unsophisticated (and too well known) for serious house afficionados and too nasty to ever convert the guitarboys; indeed you would play it to them to prove their prejudices on dance. Not necessarily due to its sonic palette, all of which are universally established, but for its soulessness, its lack of humanity. Changing domestics mean I can rarely give this the full treatment on the loudspeakers, but on the headphones, out and about late at night, I turn this up so it distorts.
Ok Cowboy is a decent album, displaying in full Pascal Arbez’s Jarre/Moroder fetish in the modern context and much lighter on the hole than Rock. But it might be said Arbez, a Frenchman living in Dijon of Italian descent (tho' this site has him born in Ukraine and living in eastern Germany), was one of those artists who struck gold on his first go. Other album highlights Poney 1 and Poney 2 also appear on that first Gigolo ep.
Arbez chose ‘Vitalic’ to get away from his techno output as Dima but there is a certain irony in that name when it will be forever associated with this death march of a tune.