Air’s Jean-Benoît has teamed up with New Young Pony Club’s Lou Hayter for one of the albums of the year so far. Welcome to Tomorrow’s World.
Words: James Lawrence
Photos: Amaury Choay
Owned by David Lynch and designed with his neo-noir thriller Mulholland Drive in mind, the luxurious décor of Paris’s Silencio club is just peculiar enough to suggest an air of decadence. Especially on this weekday afternoon soundcheck, empty of people save for a handful of technicians. In the narrow confines of the bar area, yellow lighting casts the room into a soft glow. Framing a small dancefloor, a dozen leather stools are arranged symmetrically around a grid of polished black tables, a chrome ceiling creating dimensional claustrophobia. On a stage framed by a wide
golden arch, two illuminated silhouettes stand either side of a carefully erected assembly of lit-up musical hardware.
Suddenly, a slow progression of modular pulses channel through two understated yet powerful wall-mounted speakers, followed by a trailing shard of feedback. As the lingering delay echoes around the room, the synthetic smoke clears on stage. The figures are the two members of Tomorrow’s World, Lou Hayter and Jean-Benoît Dunckel.
Mixmag are in town to meet the Anglo-French duo ahead of a gig to promote their self-titled debut album. Dunckel is one-half of globally acclaimed electronica outfit Air, while Hayter is the former keyboardist and backing singer for New Young Pony Club, who in recent times has focused on her solo endeavours as The New Sins. Steeped in cinematic grandeur, the 11-tracks on the LP hark back to the early Air sound, combining the plaintive nu-wave of their 97 breakthrough ‘Premiers Symptômes’ and the infectious Bastille-pop of their watershed album, ‘Moon Safari’. With the single ‘Drive’ set to follow October’s well-received ‘So Long My Love’ EP, Hayter and Dunckel will spend the coming months touring the world in the run-up to the album’s release.
We meet the pair in Dunckel’s extensively equipped studio in the Montmartre area of the city. Upon arrival, the Frenchman leads the way through a small mews to a cabin-like studio sporting a shabby lick of matte red paint where he and an equally welcoming Hayter are rehearsing their freshly revised live show.
Causally leaning back on a majestic Steinway & Sons grand piano in a nondescript V-neck and collar combination, jeans and plain grey trainers, Dunckel, a youthful 43 under a thin layer of
stubble, epitomises relaxed composure with his thumbs hanging out of his pockets and an approachable smile. News that the day’s schedule has changed due to bad weather is met with a carefree shrug before he informs the room, to his own self-amusement, that scientologists own the surrounding complex.
Hayter is 10 years Dunckel’s junior and rather more striking. On the books of one of London’s leading modelling agencies, she’s tall and slender with long, honey-blonde hair. “I’m not really a model, but being registered helps with opportunities – My Bloody Valentine recently enquired about my availability through it,” she says. Dressed in a slim-fitting black ensemble, her bright red lipstick giving her a 1950s starlet look, she’s also well connected in dance music circles. She speaks of her involvement in the early 2000s with both Trevor Jackson’s iconic Output label and the equally scene-defining Nuphonic fold. Clearly shaped by East London’s postmillennial creative movement, she still occasionally DJs in the Hackney area. Whilst she speaks of The Horrors’ remix on their forthcoming EP and about talking to Daniel Avery about his future availability, Dunckel seems more interested in speculating with the photographer about the scientology network within Paris.
Back at Silencio, the soundcheck now over, the pair are backstage in a well stocked yet surprisingly underwhelming dressing room bordered with chipboard. Seated at a square table, the conversation moves on to why Dunckel decided to take a break from Air.
“We were coming to the end of a cycle, the end of our period with EMI, so after that it would have meant going completely independent, because we had been becoming more and more independent every year,” he explains. “We had been doing a lot of projects and soundtracks aside from albums and I just wanted some time to make songs for a while”. He’s non-committal as to when, or even if, Air will regroup.
The subject moves to the forming of Tomorrow’s World. In the summer of 2010, with Dunckel contemplating the idea of working with a female vocalist on a side project, a mutual friend put him
in touch with Hayter. Their first meeting was after a New Young Pony club gig in Paris, where they decided to hook up again at Air’s studios. “I’d been a big fan of Air since they began,” remembers Lou, “so I was very excited to get the call. Over the course of three days in the studio we made ‘Drive’, ‘So Long My Love’, ‘A Heart That Beats For Me’ and ‘Think Of Me’”.
Dunckel takes up the story: “But we ended up doing much more – Lou would come to Paris and we’d write some songs together, and we soon had enough for an album. With the exception of ‘Inside’ (the album’s last track), where I already had the strings, it’s all been made together.”
And yes, the name does have something to do with the BBC’s long-running science programme, says Hayter. “We were texting ideas and I liked ‘Tomorrow’s World’. I remember it growing up and
it has the Moog and Kraftwerk associations. It felt retro, but also looking to the future.” Prompted to describe the Tomorrow’s World sound, she smiles and hands the question straight over to her partner, who has clearly given this considerable thought.
“I think it’s the consequences of love, a night-time sound, nostalgic and maybe a little painful. It’s supposed to be cinematic, maybe slightly erotic, but sometimes like a nightmare,” he says.
“JB says I bring an eighties sound, and he brings a seventies sound”, adds Hayter. “Yes,” agrees Dunckel. “I believe the music that you hear until you are seven or eight, growing up, slips into your subconscious.”
The Silencio gig is the duo’s 10th live show and their first since returning from a recent run of North American dates in New York, San Francisco, LA, Washington and Montreal. Having used purpose-made visuals by Trevor Jackson for the US shows and with the band’s session drummer absent due to prior commitments with ex-Velvet Underground member John Cale, both agree there will be more emphasis on Hayter’s stage presence tonight.
In the past she’s said she was daunted by the prospect of fronting a band, and during the soundcheck she repeatedly asks for minor pitch tweaks to the projection of her voice, as well a seeming concerned about a short lead on her microphone that limits her movement on stage. “I’m untrained,” she says, “I taught myself over the last seven years and I guess it was an organic process – I was writing music and I wanted to sing.” Dunckel has no fears. “Lou’s voice, it’s low, not polished, it’s like a twentieth century hybrid – a good voice for nu-wave”.
By 10pm, Silencio has filled out with a culture clash of moneyed Parisian hipsters, slightly dishevelled music types and jetsetter wealth staying at The Ritz, who’ve obtained their entrance through the nearby hotel’s concierge. The odd, mismatched crowd actually suits the strange little venue, and the atmosphere is buoyant , with complementary vodka and Champagne cocktails going some way to feeding the buzz. The dancefloor is empty with the stage cloaked in heavy, gold-trimmed velvet curtains. The leather stools are all occupied by The Ritz crowd, while bleary-eyed musos lurch in the shadows, busily knocking back the free booze. With the DJ fading a featureless house track out, the curtains slowly draw to reveal Hayter in a long, shimmering dress adorned with thousands of sequins. Lit by electric blue spot-lighting she has all the presence of one of Lynch’s screen sirens. Seconds later her stirring vocals float over the opening chimes of the album’s first track. The effort was worth it. Tomorrow’s World is here, tonight.
‘Tomorrow’s World’s self-titled debut album is released on April 8 via Naïve