Album Review: Vitalic – DISSIDÆNCE Episode 1

[Clivage Music; 2021]

‘Returning’ is a funny word. It means coming back to something, but also indicates a shift towards a new direction all over again – which could sometimes imply going back to where we were in the first place. After all, it’s been a year and a half virtually without dance floors, and all new dance music releases seemed to either exist in a parallel utopian universe, or blatantly mock us in the face.

But Vitalic never gave in. After his 2019 album with side project KOMPROMAT, he diligently returned to his studio and crafted the first part of a musical journey that coincides with his 20th career anniversary: DISSIDÆNCE Episode 1

Described by Vitalic himself as a “celebration of celebration, time-travel to an era that may not exist right now, but which will […] be reborn from its ashes to burn bright once more, in all its raging glory,” DISSIDÆNCE Episode 1 is simultaneously a flashback and a flashforward of the producer’s entire musical career, gathering bits and pieces of a specific space and time we know exists but can’t pinpoint exactly when or where.

“Haute Definition” is pure Vitalic, so no wonder it was chosen as the album’s opener. A trademark strong, insistent beat and a slightly italo-sad melody that together with the French-sung lyrics and an atonal layer serve both the 4am warehouse illegal rave and the Paris Fashion Week runway.

Slightly more low-tempo, “Danse Avec Moi” is probably the closest to a romantic ballad we could expect of Vitalic, while “14AM”‘s vocal loop echoes Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” whilst never straining away from the eurotechno universe.

“Cosmic Renegade” emerges as the unsuspicious highlight, throwing us back to his Poney  days by representing French touch at its best, laced with dark-tinted techno and a twist of despair. It’s an aesthetic and stylistic nostalgia that he also employs in “Lost Time”.

Closer “Carbonized” travels further into industrial and post-punk territories without ever becoming too monochromatic; although French electro often relies on that impossibly narrow frontier between genius and tacky, Vitalic has somehow largely renounced to the gold and pink-coloured sonic gimmicks in order to embrace a much heavier, almost solemn pathos. The battle of high art vs low art is thus rendered obsolete, allowing techno to be elevated to a Louvre-deserving status.

DISSIDÆNCE Episode 1 is much more somber than its predecessor, 2017’s Voyager. Where Voyager carelessly played with slightly more accessible pop terrains, DISSIDÆNCE Episode 1 goes deeper into late night beats and nonstop techno epiphanies. An example is “Boomer Ok”, one of those techno parade growers that comes fully equipped with the neon headband and the water bottle in a turn-of-the-millennium blissful innocence. Drugs were pure, phone service was scarce, and – as far as we can remember – we had a blast. Didn’t we?

Now that Daft Punk have bowed out in what appears to be a final and official goodbye, which living electro heroes are still left standing? Will Vitalic declare himself available to carry the crossover flag to the international world, piercing genre and geographical barriers in that universal love language of sweating together on the dance floor?

Sometimes it feels like only techno can save the world; other times, that it will be the last thing played just before the apocalypse. But it’s Vitalic’s remarkable ability to outpour a retro-futuristic mood into what often transpires as perfect embodiments of unspeakable happy-sadness that instantly transforms him into one of the horsemen, miraculously soundtracking the decline of a civilisation that stubbornly insists on pursing the fated path into the abyss.