Gotan Project: Tango gets a makeover

After a five-year wait, Gotan Project fans are in for a treat: the second album's even more eclectic, they tell Phil Meadley
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The Independent Culture

Gotan Project's new album is named afterthe beloved racehorse of the Argentine cancion (a form of tango) maestro Carlos Gardel. The horse is Lunático and, according to Christophe H Müller, the Swiss producer, the album is named because "the mood changes from one track to another in a slightly deranged way, and because great horses belong to the tango code".

The rise of Gotan Project is a remarkable one. The French producer Philippe Cohen Solal started out as a music consultant for leading European film directors such as Lars von Trier and Bertrand Tavernier in the Nineties. He contributed to the first French Touch compilation in 1991, and worked with French electro pioneer Pierre Henry.

Müller was a well-known figure on the Swiss electro scene before moving to Paris where he met Cohen Solal (in 1995) and formed the dance imprint ¡Ya Basta!. A number of side projects emerged such as Boyz from Brazil, Stereo Action Unlimited, and Fruit of the Loop. The unifying factor was the duo's love of Latin music and various styles of left-field electronica. Of these creative projects, the one they thought would have least success was Gotan Project: a collaboration with the Argentine guitarist Eduardo Makaroff that attempted to update the tango sound.

"We were doing Brazilian hybrids and other bits and pieces where there was more opportunity to expand," says Müller. "But with Gotan Project there was no flexibility. Tango had a bad image at that point. People thought it was music for old people - boring and rather corny."

They turned this outmoded perception on its head by adding beats and visuals to coincide with the highly charged, sensual nature of tango dance steps. "In Argentina, the visual side of it had become clichéd. Even the dancers and bandoneons (the tango accordion) had taken on a corny image. We tried to avoid that, even though, musically, we immediately saw that Argentinian tango isn't corny at all. Not only because of guys like Astor Piazzolla, but going much further back than that." They released the album La Revancha Del Tango in 2001 and, much to their surprise, it was an international success. Even Argentina embraced this reworking of the tango sound, coining the phrase "electro-tango".

In a way, the format of the first album was a straightforward one: construct a dubbed-up cover of Piazzolla's tango classic "Vuelvo al Sur", add film-noir references with a cheeky lounge version of Gato Barbieri's theme from Last Tango in Paris, and gain a couple of alt-rock cred points with a reworking of Frank Zappa's "Chunga's Revenge".

After moving to Paris ("it's the second capital of tango music"), Makaroff became the conductor of the Club Tango Orchestra at La Coupole, the legendary brasserie. He added milonga (an older variation of the tango) and various folkloric guitar styles to Cohen Solal's and Müller's beefed-up tango concoctions, and tracks such as "Santa Maria" and "Triptico" were given that much-needed organic authenticity. Additional guests included the bandoneon player Nini Flores, Patrice Caratini on upright bass, Gustavo Beytelmann on piano, and the Catalan vocalist Cristina Vilallonga. All appear once again on Lunático.

"For the first album, we wanted to bring back tango to the dance floor," says Solal. "On the new album we wanted to make something more akin to a rock or pop record."

"The thing about tango is that there's so much material still left to explore," continues Müller. "Like jazz, it's one of the great musical styles of the 20th century. It's as big as pop or rock. The first album just touched the tip of the iceberg. There's the whole folkloric side of the music as well. It's tango with a big T."

Solal likes listening to alt-country, and Tucson's finest, Calexico, collaborate on the album's first track, "Amor Porteño". "They did a remix of a track on the first album, and we loved it," says Müller. "We returned the favour by remixing one of their tracks, and realised there was a chemistry." One of the most inspired and effective tracks is "Mi Confessión", featuring the Buenos Aires rap collective Koxmoz. "We wanted to create a collision between golden era tango from the old guard, and new rappers from the suburbs of Buenos Aires," Müller explains. "We asked Apolo and Chili Parker from Koxmoz to write a rap with a tango vibe, in the same way a tango songwriter writes, but using rap references. Our piano player and double bassist explained that it worked so well because to be a good tango singer you need good diction, and Apolo does that really well. That's why tango and rap can work."

'Lunático' is out now on ¡Ya Basta!/XL