We talked with microqlima, the independent label that fights for the French pop music scene
microqlima, a label that beats to their own drum. A label that “oscillates between sun, soundscapes, and brain-storms”, to use their own words. A nebula of metaphors that describes a Parisian talent agency coveted by many artists in Paris, and most definitely by many artists throughout France.
The labels that can brag about having always been successful are rare. And yet, microqlima is one of those exceptions in the French music industry; a label that has been able to guide to success each and every artist it has decided to develop. microqlima is a label initiated by Antoine Bisou, a former manager that works on developing the careers of artists such as Pépite, Isaac Delusion, L’Impératrice, and the very recently signed Fils Cara. They rarely sign new artists, but when they do, they hit the nail on the head. How do they do it? We tried to find out their secret by asking questions to Antoine Bisou, the founder of the label.
From the creation of a label to the signature of French pop figures.
Where did the desire to set up microqlima come from ?
Basically, around 2014 I was the manager of L’Impératrice, Isaac Delusion and Fishbach, and I wanted to set up the label, because I wanted to showcase better what I was doing. I wanted to have a bit more freedom as well. I had a vision of management that was very personal and very emotional, and I experimented a lot with my artists. I had left the label I had created a few years before, which was called Cracki, and I really did everything by myself. What I was doing ranged from developing a website, to graphic design, to accounting, to applying for grants, to pressing vinyl records and selling them from my garage, and even booking dates because artists didn’t necessarily have a tour manager. Basically, I was already doing the work of a label, within my capabilities of course. And it also came from something that goes back a long way, that is to say, that I’ve always been independent. I made music when I was a kid, I made rap, I made beats, and even though it never went further than my bedroom and my MySpace account, I learned how to code a website, I learned how to take pictures, I learned communication by spamming my friends on MSN, etc. I’ve always been able to do it myself. And I learned how to finance my project by working at the market at 5am to buy myself music instruments.
We put on a pedestal the “entrepreneurial artist” who does everything themselves, I don’t agree with that idea at all. […] Most of them are not supermen and need to surround themselves with a team.
Without fully realizing it, I was already doing everything possible to do around music. Today, it’s nothing out of the ordinary, but I think it’s still very accurate, and in the end, I was closer to an entrepreneur than an artist. And it’s even more diverse today than if it was my project, it’s a little less schizophrenic, and I think that’s the situation that many artists encounter today. We put on a pedestal the “entrepreneurial artist” who does everything themselves, I don’t agree with that idea at all, some artists are extremely gifted at doing a lot of things on their own, but most of them are not supermen and need to surround themselves with a team. Even the best Beyoncé and the best Daft Punk have created a team around them. It’s not easy, doing this alone, and especially since you might completely forget to make good music! You don’t have the time, and your mind is polluted by numbers, by details… So when I take a look back, I feel like I’ve always had it in me.
I chose microqlima, which was a word I had already found in 2010 to host events in Toulouse, France, and I thought at the time that microqlima could very well be a label name, so I kept that word. I think it was the day after I turned 25 that I created microqlima. I said to myself, I’ve tested a lot of things, now, from 25 to 30 years old, you have to create something. Which I did ! Although, I didn’t want to create a rap label, I didn’t want to create a dubstep, techno, or house label. In fact, each artist has their own climate, their own microclimate, and so each one has their own style. It’s an eclectic label, by definition. Also, but I didn’t know that until later, our activity is pure development. We use the metaphor of a garden here, we don’t plant large industrial plantations, we represent very few of them, and we plant the seed ourselves. We have artists who, when I went out to look for them, didn’t exist before ! We accompanied them from A to Z.
And that makes a great transition to my next questions, how did you select your artists? Is a long-term collaboration somehow the key to getting an artist where he needs to be ?
Rather than longevity as a goal in itself, it is rather to make the artist succeed, the goal itself.
First of all, I come from nowhere, I didn’t have an inheritance, I didn’t win the lottery, so I started with a hundred euros, that’s it. So we didn’t have a choice, we try to do little but we try to do it well, and we try to make it last. So rather than longevity as a goal, it’s more about making the artist succeed as a long term goal. And it’s okay if an artist is popular for six months, but, to use my metaphor again, we work without GMOs. So maybe sometimes you’re going to manage to make something grow very quickly ! But I don’t know if it will be of very good quality.
The most important thing for us, is to build a career. And you would be a fool to focus only on the next single and try to believe that it’s going to work all of a sudden, because we don’t have the power to do so, we don’t have the strike force… the “GMO”, may we say, is money in this metaphor. And still, we are very ambitious, we still put the money in, but instead of putting it on marketing and sponsoring, we’re going to put it all on the image, all on the “good” music. Our hope for survival is to make sure that the music will still be active in ten years. What’s interesting is when you don’t stream much, but you come back to the music and listen to it again. There your project is profitable. So rather than putting on a pedestal novelty, new and ephemeral music, afterwards we are not visionaries either… what I regret a little is that today, your first album you’re going to be praised, and after that there’s no one left. There’s a general tendency to “squeeze” the artist while there’s still time, with 25 reissues, while he’s still “bankable”. So we say no to disposable music, no to programmed obsolescence, and yes to sustainable development.
Yet, we still made a strong artistic choice, which is to keep very few artists, in addition to having artists who each have their own style. There is somewhat of a rule in the music industry that says that out of ten artists, nine don’t work and one works. Instead of signing ten or twenty artists just because we like them, we prefer to keep very few artists, and since we have no choice, it has to work. We put all our forces on it and if we chose the artist well at the beginning, and if we accompany them well, it will make for a long story and we hope that it will progress.
The label develops and grows between taking artistic risks and festival creation.
In another register, and by that I mean the signature of a new project, the announcement of the signature of the artist Fils Cara definitely caught the attention of a lot of medias. Not only did you decide to commit to a new artist, but on top of that, you signed a rapper ! An event that can reveal a lot of things in the life of a label.
How did you find Fils Cara ?
For Fils Cara it’s very simple, it was a coincidence. I’ve never signed an artist that sent me a demo – well, you can even tell me a demo it’s also a coincidence, but the meeting with Fils Cara happened because we regularly schedule events. We organize about fifteen events a year, and for the programming of Houle Sentimentale, I had a list of artist links that I had to listen to, that we had gleaned on Youtube, and among a thousand artists and a thousand rappers, there was this guy who had a song about a theater director, and I said to myself, well, it’s funny that he talks about her, it’s funny. So that intrigued me, and I met the guy. I immediately fell in love with him, with his person. The guy talks to me in the same sentence about Kate Bush, Alkpote and Vald. He talks to me at the same time about Greco-Roman mythology and Flemish painting… It was fascinating, and the guy has such an exciting life, such a way of thinking about things that I immediately told myself that I don’t care if it’s not at all what people want to hear, in any case, it would be too interesting to work with him ! So I went with that. It’s as simple as that. He’s an intelligent person, with whom there’s a good feeling, who makes great music of course, and who we used to listen to over and over again at the office, but it’s not just that.
Yes, more importantly you felt a special connection with this person !
Yes that’s it. It’s like a marriage, I’ll never sign something if I think it’s just going to work. That’s the worst thing. I sign an artist because there’s a real osmosis, there’s an personality behind it.
And how do you produce a rapper like Fils Cara, who doesn’t fit into any box ?
The worst thing is to fit in, the worst thing is when you release an artist’s record and it doesn’t make any noise. It’s indifference, it’s what you want to avoid.
So right before, just an addition to the question you asked before, if I signed everything I like, we would end up really poor ! We sign artists that are special, singular and have strong personalities. So, Fils Cara, I knew that he does rap, he is close to Lomepal, but I felt that if tomorrow we wanted to do folk, or a piano-vocal concerto, it would still be interesting. And that’s what I look for ! From there on, very well if it doesn’t fit in ! The worst thing is to fit in, the worst thing is when you release an artist’s record and it doesn’t make any noise. It’s indifference, it’s what you want to avoid. As a result, the whole purpose of development, because we are also publishers, at this moment when I meet him, it’s in August 2018, and the first EP he releases in January 2020. So in fact, in this interval there, we found him concerts, we discussed a lot, we exchanged books, and we made music.
It’s a gamble. If something is singular enough, special enough, sincere enough, it will find its audience eventually.
We made the first EP, which was very rap orientated and which very quickly didn’t correspond to what it became. We then made him play at Qui Va Piano Va Sano in 2019, and we realized in fact that “wow, you have a great voice, we didn’t know”! Without autotune, just your voice supported by piano like that, the songs are incredible, so in fact, you are a singer ! By the time it matured, we had to go back to the studio, make other songs, work work and work. So on the contrary, all the work was done so that he doesn’t correspond to what’s trending, so that he finds his way, his own microclimate in fact. And then, we market what we want, and it’s a gamble. If something is singular enough, special enough, sincere enough, it will find its audience eventually. So the Fictions EP that came out a month or two ago, it’s the first one that matched all the work we’d done so far, it’s the summary of his artistic development.
And you have never been scared, at any time, when your artist has evolved and changed artistic direction ? You have never been afraid that your artist doesn’t know where he is going ? It’s a question that I think a lot of managers would like to have an answer to.
No, on the contrary, the artist doesn’t know where they’re going when they are out of inspiration, when they are washed out, when they’re tired, when they’re on tour, when there’s nothing exciting… whereas when they don’t seem to know where they are going, that’s when it’s almost the most exciting. Precisely, there are a lot of things to say, a lot of things to look at, a lot of new things happening in their life… on the contrary, an artist is for me a pioneer. When an artist writes, they let their unconscious speak. Without knowing it, they are already writing about things that will materialize in six months, in twelve months. There is a kind of magic that takes place. That’s why it is often said that artists are a bit visionary, they use their imagination and we get into their unconscious. For me, not knowing where we’re going is normal and doubting is an artist’s characteristic. They are visionaries, they are scouts, it’s absolutely logical and on the contrary, I encourage them to explore! It’s even my work.
For a while now, you have been working on the development of the Qui Va Piano Va Sano festival, a festival that brings together not only your artists, but also many other artists from the French scene who are causing a sensation, such as Yseult, Myd or Pomme. Where did the idea come from?
Good question ! Actually it comes from Nils Frahm’s Piano Day, which is the 88th day of the year, just like the 88 keys of a piano. We said to ourselves, on the 88th day of the year we’re going to do something too, 88 minutes of music, and we programmed a first event. We always looked for concepts that were a bit singular, the idea was that we would present artists from groups or musical styles that are not used to singing alongside someone playing the piano. You take an artist, a group, you just put them next to a piano, and it reveals themselves completely. There’s a certain magic in a capella performance, or with a piano, it reveals the song, it reveals the beauty of the text. And it’s a major test to know if the song is good, when you take out all of the effects and instruments. And we also wanted to surprise the audience ! Okay, you love Angèle, but now you’re going to see performing acoustic versions of the song just for you. We just wanted to create something special, and it’s working really well.
And how did we manage to bring together such big artists ? It came along pretty naturally, they’re our friends. The first year it was Juliette Armanet, L’Impératrice, the following year it was Angèle, whom we had met on tour, we had Flavien Berger play, we had Ibeyi play… we had several artists play who were originally from our entourage. So little by little I imagine that it snowballed and that the artists are delighted to do it ! It’s very scary for some artists, but everyone comes out of it with a feeling of baptism of fire, you know, for those who are not used to it at least. It’s a real experience and it’s a real challenge. It’s really cool to be able to offer that, and typically, for Fils Cara, it was a real revelation for him ! Even Voyou, he was telling me that a year or two ago, in the preparation of his set, he had to compose things on the piano, and that created the song “Il Neige”, which is the only piano-vocal track of his album and which is my favorite ! I was so happy to learn that it’s thanks to Qui Va Piano Va Sano that it happened !
In addition to bringing something new to the festival landscape, was it also a way for you to showcase artists you believe in ?
Yes, of course, since we’ve typically had Fils Cara play, but it’s also a way for us as a label to show what we love. It’s also to create our universe, so yes it’s obvious, it’s an editorial choice. Yseult, for example, it’s insane what she does. Pomme, with just a guitar and her voice, it gives incredible shivers. And this year, for example, it was Iliona, which is the new signature of Art Side, another label, and it’s great. It’s an editorial choice, but it’s also a classic programming choice.
For a programmer yes, it’s a programming choice, but for a label I think it has another dimension !
Yes, it’s true, we like it, we’re not in competition with others, we like what everybody does, we stick together, it’s a bit like that. We are not a big family. We’re just alike, and it’s cool to get everybody together.
microqlima, what’s the weather like tomorrow ?
What’s next for the label ? A contest to promote new artists just like the Printemps de Bourges ? The opening of a booking branch ?
Ah, that’s a good question, especially during these times. I think today we’re concentrating on our job, which is to develop our artists, and to sell records, and that’s what it’s all about. I have a lot of ideas, like developing events, but actually, this period doesn’t help to take risks, and I think that unfortunately everything is tightening up a little bit, everything is retracting. We have to concentrate on our core business for the moment and make it work properly, for us to be safe and work safely. Now, in the future, I think there’s a new era for microqlima, and we’re going to sign more artists. We’re really going to expand, because internally we’ve been recruiting, we have great offices, it’s simple stuff but now we’re solid, microqlima was just me until 2017. It was really hard work. Then we created a company, I took my first intern in mid 2017, then two, then three. We’ve been stable for two years now. And now it’s really by signing new artists that we’re going to go further. But I have ideas, I have plenty of them.
And I see that you have organized a “virtual tour” for L’Impératrice, are other creative ideas to promote your artists on the web coming ?
Well, I’m afraid that containment will force us to be even more creative. The virtual tour is primarily a concept in reaction to the 70 dates of their world tour that have been cancelled. So we just said to ourselves, we’re not touring ? Well, fine, we’re going to recreate the same thing, but virtually, so with opening acts, with people who get beer packs at home, with merchandising. There are not a lot of artists who can afford that in France, who have an audience in Mexico, in the US… The concerts are obviously geoblocked, at the hours of the country.
Now, I’m not sure that the public is quite mature for this kind of operations yet, the time will come, but for now it lacks value. It’s really cool what we’ve done, the video of the concert is incredible, it’s beautiful, maybe one day we’ll broadcast it for free for everyone, but today I feel like we don’t have the platform yet. We haven’t yet had the idea that it’s going to transform this into a real thing. I have the impression that today we’re at the same stage as a label in 2002, and who would say okay, it’s the era of illegal downloading, how can we create a legal offer ? We have seen very amateur live instagram shows, how do you make people understand that you have to pay for it ? At the time, what was happening was that we copied the content of physical stores online, so iTunes basically, and we were a thousand miles away from imagining that today’s business model would be streaming ! So today, I think we’re still in the prehistory of that, but there’s a real market that’s going to open up.
Last question for the end, what do you think is the future of French pop music ?
Musically ? That question is quite vast… I have the impression that these evolutions that can only be analyzed after they have happened. Today music is composed of so many little niches in all directions. Maybe that’s true for you, as a white Parisian, 23 years old, but maybe it’s not true for you as an immigrant adult, living in the suburbs, I don’t know. There are so many possible musical niches that it would be very, very hard to predict what is going to happen. However, the only thing that I know for sure is that what is going to deeply impact popular music is rap, and that’s why there are so many sub-genres in rap today. There’s emo rap, there’s punk energy in trap music, sometimes rap tracks are close to just regular songs… I mean, Lomepal is basically Julien Doré ! There are as many sub genres of rap today as there were sub genres of rock in the 80s. And so, I sincerely think it’s impossible that the new generation of artists will not be influenced, really deeply, by rap. I’m not saying that everybody will be a rapper, I’m just saying that there’s a kind of dilution of this genre in the music that we hear today. I think that music reflects society’s aspects, and in times of crisis, it gives very interesting things, fortunately! It’s going to be very interesting to see what the younger generation – and again, we’ll only be able to analyse it afterwards, how an artist today is going to create in his room, with his state of mind…
As a music web writer for several years, I have developed a particularly devoted passion for electronic and alternative musics. From the ethereal melodies of Max Cooper to the introspective music and lyrics of Banks, my radar has me listening to the wide French and international independent music scene... all of this between communication plans for independent labels and artists !