From Mr. Oizo to 'Reality': The Music and Films of Quentin Dupieux | KCET
From Mr. Oizo to 'Reality': The Music and Films of Quentin Dupieux
Quentin Dupieux has been busy. Whether he's creating electronic music under the moniker of Mr. Oizo, or directing films, the French filmmaker and musician has had a full plate since he moved to Los Angeles five years ago.
As an electronic music producer, he has consistently pushed the limits of dance floor beats since the late 1990s, falling on the spectrum of the French wave of EDM artists, and Ed Banger Records labelmates, Justice, Sebastian, and Cassius. His music inspires legions of other artists as well. In Los Angeles, his work as Mr. Oizo has had a particular impact on the bass-heavy beat scene that developed around immensely influential Lincoln Heights music showcase, Low End Theory.
But beyond music, his hilariously bizarre feature films have been demanding attention too. He is the exceptionally rare artist who can take his work to international film festivals and turn up on stage at major music festivals like HARD Summer, where he's set to play on August 2. His last full-length, "The Church," was released through acclaimed, local label Brainfeeder -- founded by Low End Theory artist, electronic music producer, Flying Lotus -- last November, only a few months after his most recent film, "Reality," premiered at the Venice International Film Festival.
Dupieux moves back and forth between these two worlds seamlessly, garnering fans with both aspects of his work. In four years, he made four films. "I shot four small movies, very small indie movies with low budgets," Dupieux says on the phone. "It was kind of tough, but it was easy also in a way."
As a filmmaker, his projects embrace the absurd. In "Reality," which will be released in September on DVD/Blu-Ray, Dupieux tackles themes of obsession, whether it's a literal itch that won't cease long enough to save a TV host's performance or a filmmaker's obsession with capturing the perfect sound. The latter, Dupieux says, harks back to his own experience making the 2010 flick "Rubber," a critically polarizing, self-referential work, which features a sentient tire that rolls around the desert, killing people using its own psycho-kinetic powers. During that process, Dupieux searched for the perfect noise to convey the tire's anger. "I put a lot of work in this," he says, adding that, eventually, it was a combination of sounds that captured the effect he wanted. "I think that's why I'm making fun of it," he says. "Sometimes you fixate on a detail and nobody cares, really," he says.
Dupieux's own fixation on merging sound and vision started early.
He was 15 when he started making films. Music came later and as a result of his original ambition. While still in his teens, Dupieux was in the process of selling a short film and was asked if he owned the music used in the piece. He then learned that he needed to either license the songs or use music he owned the rights to. Dupieux chose the latter option. He bought a synthesizer and made music to replace what he had used in the short. In the process, he developed a love for making music as well. "It's something that I really need to do everyday, almost," he says.
His first hit was in a 1999 Levi's commercial he directed, featuring his music paired with a Muppet-like character called Flat Eric. The song "Flat Beat" and the commercial were very successful. Some musicologists even point to Dupieux's music as being one of the inspirations for the "wobble-bass" sound of dance-club phenomenon, Dubstep.
As Mr. Oizo, Dupieux creates electronic music tracks that are as well-suited for the dance floor as they are for the screen, capturing cinematic energy and tension and compressing it into the length of a scene. It is music that remains on the cutting edge and has amassed an international following.
For Los Angeles' beat music scene, Dupieux has a special meaning too. Elvin "Nobody" Estela, a resident DJ at the Low End Theory, cites "Analog Worms Attack," from Mr. Oizo's 1999 debut album of the same name, as a major influence on the beat scene. The track's static-y beat, chopped up vocals and turntablist-style scratches became a hit at the weekly bash. "That was the first song that all four Low End residents would play," says Estela, noting that DJs could play it at various tempos to give it slightly altered sounds. "We all had our own little niches in the beginning, but once we all got a hold of that, we wanted to play that and other songs that sounded like that."
Music, however, is not something the artist sees as equivalent to a job. "When you do music, you have to be inspired. If you're not, nothing is going to happen," he says. In film, he must follow a schedule, regardless of how he's feeling. "You have to be more involved," he says of filmmaking. "You have to work more." Dupieux handles many different aspects of his movies, from camera work to lighting to editing. "Making music is always simple compared to making a movie," he says. "Making music is me and a laptop. Making a movie, you have to explain everything to 20 people every day. At the end, it's very different." Of Dupieux's recent films, "Reality" had the longest gestation period. He started writing it before he made "Rubber" in 2010. While the script took a long time to craft, the film itself was shot in five weeks and took roughly two months to edit.
Dupieux's film and music work are intertwined. His own tracks have popped up in his films, and sometimes the music becomes part of the plot line too, like in "Wrong Cops," where one character plays Mr. Oizo songs, and another -- played by Marilyn Manson -- listens to his music on headphones.
Sometimes his collaborators crossover as well. Eric Wareheim, best known as half of the comedy team Tim and Eric, has appeared in two of Dupieux's films, "Wrong Cops" and "Reality." Wareheim also directed the bizarre video for Mr. Oizo's 2014 cut "Ham," featuring John C. Reilly, made-up as an obese miscreant.
Dupieux says that there are some similarities between his work as a filmmaker and his work as an electronic music producer. "Probably, when you make music, you have a sense of construction," he says. "You know when to bring in a new sound." He says this mirrors what he does when directing a scene with dialogue. "I know when the beat is right and I know when it's wrong," he says. "This is a real connection to music, I think. It's really the same. It's about something you can't really explain, but the groove is here, when two actors are having a dialogue. It has to be groovy. Everything should be on time," he says.
Dropping a beat and dropping a joke, Dupieux says, aren't too different after all. "What we call comedic timing is related to this, like the beat," Dupieux adds. "You can just kill a joke if it's not placed at a good spot."
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