Polo and Pan in wonderland

Article published on June 18, 2017
Article published on June 18, 2017

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

In troubled times, two French DJs got together to form Polo & Pan. They have now recorded their first album as a tribute to love and optimism. And what's inside the rabbit hole? An imaginary world of forest canopies, remote beaches and flying fish. An interview with two kids. 

A child runs down the street, waving his arms around. He yells unabashedly, zig-zagging and rolling from one side of the pavement to the other. Some would find that image alarming. "That captivates us," Polo & Pan say in unison. "This image represents someone letting themselves go, having no fear of self-expression." Since 2013, the two Parisian DJs have been dedicating their music to their favourite theme: carelessness. They are often compared to Disney cartoons, and embrace a "sort of naïveté" that allows them to go back to instinctive "essentially very simple things". On 19 May this year, Polo & Pan summarised three years of "cherished childhood memories" in their album Caravelle

« These days optimism is frowned on »

With mischievous irony, the promo shoot for the album takes place in a games arcade. Le Fantôme, a trendy bar in the 10th arrondissement, is a dimly lit space full of old arcade consoles. In front of a vintage PacMan, Polo and Pan epitomise a certain segment of French society which will sport trainers with a suit.

Badges on their jackets depict the Caravel, a multi coloured boat transporting their music into an imaginary world of trees, rainbows, and narwhals. Over the weeks leading up to the album’s release, each track was accompanied by a Technicolor video clip, with a very childlike appeal.

Sunshine, colour, and the possibility of an island. Is there a message? « Reach for optimism »« We seek out the light where we can find it » they clarify « We claim things like kindness, love, joy » This romantic triptych could easily have the group seen as a cliché. « Intentionally » according to the DJs, who have already remixed their critics. « These days, it’s frowned on to be optimistic. Simply because we all have trouble coming to terms with our own fragility. We always need to build ourselves a hard exterior, a macho shell. With everything that’s going on at the moment, the whole world has gone into an era of confinement and self protection »

It has to be said that Polo and Pan have been recording in strange times where it seems very difficult to make out Mickey for terrorist attacks and the rise of extremism. However, the two thirty somethings are determined to see the glass half full, even taking this as one of their inspirations « Traditionally, to be an artist, you have to plumb the depths of your weaknesses to succeed. We do the opposite, we mine our most beautiful memories for our songwriting »

One track of Caravelle lends itself particularly well to this method. The track entitled “Plage Isolée” (“Remote Beach”) was composed in November 2015 as a direct – and upbeat - response to the Paris attacks. « We locked ourselves away in the countryside and rather than saying “We’re going to grab Kalashnikovs and go fuck up some terrorists” we prioritised love and optimism» With lyrics like « These glances we exchange » and « delightful seashells », the remote beach is also a form of refuge for the group. « It’s also a kind of escape » they acknowledge. « We’re from a cosseted generation which has never lived through a war. With our childish eyes it’s difficult to confront that »

Mick Jagger and the Space Jungle

When Polo met Pan, however, he didn’t see the world through childlike eyes.  « I was in the process of walking through the valley of the shadow of death», confesses the curly haired baby faced half of the duo. Alexandre, nicknamed “Peter Pan” in the club scene, has a reputation however as being more sunny. « Alex has that ability to bring joy just from his mixing style» continues Polo, whose real name is Paul. « Beginning our collaboration was like therapy»

Pan is still surprised by his friend Polo’s dark side. « I felt at once that he was someone who was going to welcome me into his little dreamworld» he recounts « Paul worked on a lot of projects about the sacred, and hypnosis. It was this part of him, both mysterious and welcoming, which convinced me to keep going with our collaboration ». The two DJs met for the first time at the Baron, a Parisian club which has become legendary in the capital’s clubbing scene, as well as a place giving rise to a great deal of fantasy about its so called self importance. But the two men, who alternated sets behind the turntables, insist that at the time it was « dedicated to the art of partying, and somewhere that Mick Jagger was just another guest. « Most of all, it was our laboratory» Paul emphasises «We had free rein. That meant we could take risks »

To build their Caravelle, Polo and Pan began by sitting down and sharing their famous childhood memories. This discussion led on naturally to The Wizard of Oz, Mutiny on the Bounty, or The Jungle Book. But soon the conversation turned to travel. Caravelle would be the means of travel and each track a destination. Although while the idea is to travel, the source of inspiration remains the imagination. « In the end you’ll only find a very few places we actually went to» explains Polo. « For “La Canopée” (“The Canopy”) for example, we didn’t go to the equatorial forests. Still, from dreams and films, we already have a very clear idea of it. Music is also a way of visiting these imagined landscapes»

« In the end, the thread that holds this album together is its soundscape » continues Pan. « The sound had to be the metaphor for travel. Once we’d found our thing, we could travel anywhere we wanted to go » Their “thing” was the Space Jungle. Taken from a jibe, the concept became the way for the group to define their work. « It’s not just a style; it’s more like a way of making music. We are always trying to bring together two apparently completely opposing ideas, like very ancient music alongside a very hi tech production».

Sacre bleu. | courtesy of  Polo & Pan

« A nameless generation »

Clearly, Caravelle is afloat on bossanova, cumbia, electro, pop… «Polo & Pan don’t conform to any dogma» Alex specifies «We have too many fantasies to confine ourselves to any one style» In truth, the two DJs have so often remixed so many different things that investing in one particular genre seems impossible. On one hand, Polo ballasts the Caravelle with his musical experience with the Moroccan Gnawas, the descendents of former sub-Saharan slaves. On the other hand, Pan enriches the duo’s compositions by means of his collective project Radiooooo.com, a map where you can discover songs from all over the world, by decade and by style. « Essentially, you quickly realise it’s been a long time since any new musical genres were invented » interjects Polo «Until they invent a new instrument that can create a new style of music, all you can do is mix it all up ».

However, Polo and Pan’s desire to escape from everything has led them down the same route as a certain very prolific French scene. PapoozL’ImpératriceJacques or Isaac Delusion are other groups who have decided to create an imaginary world out of a little bit of paradise and musical syncretism. « None of us are making the same music, but we do feel very close » confirms Alex « These are people who don’t try to belong to anything, and we’re proud to be linked to this nameless, this genre-less, generation»

Such that the two artists think that this new wave cherished by the cosseted generation could become a phenomenon. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to see adult children running down the streets waving their arms wildly.

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Listen to  : 'Caravelle' de Polo & Pan (Hamburger records/Ekler'o'shock/2017)