My Evening with Anoraak
By Steve Vaynshtok
Upon arriving at the Hotel Urbano in Brickell to pick up Anoraak, I encountered exactly what you might imagine. Admittedly, I hadn’t the slightest clue what Frédéric Rivière would look like in the flesh, but I was met with a stylish young Frenchman whose outward appearance reflected the upbeat, dance-inspiring tunes he specializes in, holding in hand his gear for the night’s performance.
Rivière immediately comes off as a gentleman, very polite and with a charming French accent. We spoke about his fondness for playing in Miami and at Bardot specifically. He told me about how his tour had kicked off and a specific show in Kansas City, as well as how he enjoys playing for smaller, more intimate crowds as opposed to the bustling cacophony of a large crowd too hip to dance, with drinks in hand and too much to say. We talked about his show at Grand Central on the Drive tour as well. He mentioned he felt it had a really good vibe to it because everyone was clearly there for the music, not because it was trendy. As an attendee of said show, I can confirm that I saw the brilliance of that night in full effect.
Rivière started the Anoraak project in 2006, and has since released three albums via Grand Blanc, with one joint releasing with Naïve Records. His albums Nightdrive with You, Wherever the Sun Sets, and Chronotropic are all bubbly synthpop records bordering on the outskirts of dreamwave, outrun, and electro-pop, with a strong focus in disco/house-infused jams. He has an affinity for playing in America because that’s where most of his streams come from and where he tours the most. With the consistent quality of his music, it’s easy to see why he’s in such demand.
As we arrived at our destination, the Jolt Radio HQ in Wynwood, we discussed how endearing it is to have so much art and music-centric business on a single strip of what was previously just empty lots and warehouses. The attractiveness of Wynwood stood out as we reached the gallery that Jolt Radio calls home. It was plain to see at this point that this would be an entertaining and enlightening interview with an air of catching up with old friends, despite everyone just meeting.
Jolt Radio’s Mr. Jolt (aka John Caignet) greeted us warmly and set up a table and DJM for what would be the most spectacular in-studio I’ve seen at Jolt yet. As we watched Rivière set up his Dave Smith Instruments Mopho x4, MPC1000, and Arturia MicroBrute along with his choice of pedals, a few more members of the Jolt Radio family, Bourgeoisie, Shalenberg, and The Mice Lady, joined us in studio. Within moments, everyone was getting on like friends, cracking jokes and discussing the origins of the Anoraak name as well as how he got into the electronic music scene.
Rivière told us about Nightdrive with You being featured on Myspace Music US’s page and how his play count shot up, setting up the snowball effect of his music career from there. He mentioned being in a grunge band in the ’90s, having long hair and admiring the Seattle grunge scene. Relocating to a smaller Nantes flat forced him to acclimate to prissy neighbors, so he began using his laptop and headphones to make electronic music. Logic is his preferred program, and he refuses to use a laptop live because it simply slows down the flow of a live set.
We also discussed the endearing quality of an American burger and how some of the bigger cities here have some of the better dining fare. By the end of the interview, the room had warmed up in the sense that you really felt like everyone was comfortable and happy to be there. There was no air of a musician whose publicist had scheduled him for an interview with an impartial journalist who had Googled his greatest hits in preparation. You could clearly see that everyone there was familiar with Anoraak’s work and anxious to experience the music being performed live by the man who composed it.
When he stepped up to his setup at the end of the interview, Rivière launched seamlessly into the track that would end up being my favorite of the night for his Bardot performance. It was a real treat to see an electronic producer playing chords on a keyboard while tweaking the bass synth that had an MPC running sequences into it and changing the sequences for the drums and bass on the fly. From a musical standpoint, it was truly a sight in an age of “press play” performances. It was clear to see why Anoraak is so highly acclaimed and why his music and performances stand out from the fist-pumping DJs we’ve all grown so accustomed to here in Miami. I knew without a doubt that the show was going to be special, and with two flawless tracks out of the way and a few British cigarettes shared downstairs, I took Rivière to Bardot for his sound check, ready to catch up with him before his set.
I will admit, Bardot typically is the sort of place you’d find a bunch of trendy, stuck-up bros who grab women to try and whisper some poorly mediated piece of “game” into their ears. But the crowd at Bardot that night was full of lovely young ladies whispering about Foster the People’s DJ set and how excited they were to see Anoraak play before them.
I had missed Laura of Miami’s set and walked into Artime playing some jams. I bought a 1664 (in an effort to make the ambience of the night as French as possible) and headed over to the DJ booth to meet up with Anoraak, while letting Artime know he was killing it. Rivière and I had another conversation about why he specifically loves Bardot, mentioning how it’s a treat to see the pretty girls his shows attract, although he isn’t as big on groupies as he is in a longstanding relationship with his current girlfriend. During our discussion, he said something that really resonated with me, but I must omit it from my commentary because it was a private tidbit disclosed to me in confidence. I will say this: At that moment, I knew that the respect that had built up over the past few hours for the man behind the music was genuine admiration. With that thought he had shared, my opinion solidified that this was a truly fantastic individual, not just in his musical abilities but in his character as well.
It was 12:15 when he took the stage, and the room was nearly packed to the brim. Along the front of the carpet was a group of some of the prettiest girls I’ve ever seen, my friends from Jolt who Rivière graciously added to the list, and the pals I had brought along for the show. From the moment the music began, the entire room clustered around the eclectic sounds of the young French phenom. His level of focus was a sight to behold. When he launched into “Behind Your Shades”, I felt the energy in the room pooling around him. Each song blended seamlessly with the last, and he looked to be having a fantastic time, dancing along as he triggered loops and sequences, tweaked synth lines, and played riffs out on the keys. The sound was immaculate, and his control over the music was so precise you could compare it to alchemy.
Photography by Benjamin Levy
I remember specifically turning back to Mr. Jolt and exclaiming, “He really is Gandalf. He’s a wizard!” The crowd was packing in more and more as the set progressed, with smiles and drinks all around, everyone whispering small mentions of how great the music was and how well the show was going. At one point, Mr. Jolt and I agreed this may very well have been the best show either of us had seen at Bardot.
Bardot is one of those venues where there is no stage, no space, and no really intricate light show, so the quality of the experience always depends on the artist and the crowd and how the two interact. There was no shortage of energy and poise from Anoraak as he filled the room with textures and vibes that you don’t see at most shows. Even the interactions between the crowd and the music were obvious to anyone paying attention. This was what a good show was supposed to look and feel like.
Anoraak continued his set, looking up only every once in a while and confirming the pleasant atmosphere with a happy smile at the crowd. When he played “Nightdrive with You”, the excitement was palpable; there wasn’t a still body on the carpet, with everyone dancing both upfront and next to the bar. His set continued for a solid hour of disco-infused electro-pop/house music. When he finally stopped, everyone seemed dissatisfied with the silence. I shook Rivière’s hand and let him know what shining praise I had in store for him, having had the privilege to witness a set like that.
Foster the People played a DJ set after. Everyone left three songs in.