Interview Exclusive | Valentin Stip
by Joshua P. Ferguson
Even at the young age of 22, Valentin Stip has spent his entire life steeped in music. The Parisian born musician dedicated his youth to studying the piano and classical music, before a relocation to New York left him without his instrument of choice. Turning his attention to Ableton, thanks in part to a then fledgling Nicolas Jaar a couple years his senior in school, Valentin Stip the producer was born.
Fast forward a few years and Valentin has grown into unique voice in electronic music. His debut LP, Sigh, hit the shelves last month via Jaar’s Other People imprint, and the producer is now poised for his first DJ tour which touches down at Chicago’s Smart Bar Thursday March 13. Ahead of the show, Valentin and Dialogue Inc’s Joshua P. Ferguson spoke over Skype from his New York studio to discuss the sprawling, experimental, and lovely Sigh, what it’s been like learning to DJ, and his high school days with Nicolas Jaar.
You often talk about how your early days making electronic music were a substitute for not having a piano around. How natural was that transition for you?
It was quite natural. At the point when I started playing around with Ableton I had stopped practicing music of any kind for the past three months and I was boiling over the top. I really got into it right away—but in a very radical way. Instead of directly trying to make things that were related to classical music, I was making hard electro really, and trying to learn how to make beats. Later, the meeting point between the two became more blended, leading up to the album where I’ve just started using the piano again.
Besides the piano, do you find that you are using your classical knowledge when you compose music?
My aim with music is what it can make you feel. That is definitely linked to what I’ve liked and how I’ve experienced classical music. The more I do, the more I also try to understand the technological aspect of it to combine that classical background with something more, not futuristic but which has more possibilities and can go further in some way.
What were some of your first introductions to electronic music? Were you a fan prior to beginning production or was it more just the reality of your situation?
I had listened to a little bit before, but it was hard dance stuff from Belgium and the Netherlands. Maybe it had some intrinsic relationship, but it was very far removed from when I started. Slowly I became more interested in the sounds themselves. If there was one name I could give, it would be Minilogue. When I first discovered their music and saw them live in Montreal in 2010, it really blew me away and gave me a new vision of what was possible with electronic music and what I wanted to try and do with it.
In terms of your new record, did you have any thing specifically you were hoping to accomplish with it?
There was the reunification of what I’d learned with electronic music and my piano playing, which I reinserted in my compositions just for the album. I was also trying, through that reunion, trying some subjective reflection into all the memories that the piano carried with it for me since I’ve been playing it since I was seven years old.
Listening back to your early EPs, I also sense a greater confidence in your production. Do you feel that way too?
I really got comfortable with abstract arrangement, which allowed me to build songs that were unconventional to listeners’ expectations and the album is mostly this new kind of cinematic arrangement that I was trying to do. There is still some sampling, but it’s more textural than melodic because the piano is taking such an important place.
You mention trying to articulate memories or experiences from the past. Are you please with how that’s come out?
Most of the time I was more surprised than pleased, but in the end I was always pleased because some of the piano takes on the songs were single-take improve where I would close my eyes and just let my relationship with the piano speak, rather than try and express something directly. Those moments are representative of the satisfaction I got. Musically, I was able to get to parts of myself that maybe I wouldn’t even admit to. It was quite introspective that way.
Are there any particularly vivid moments that became songs that you can share?
I don’t think there’s anything concrete. It was definitely very vivid, but more in terms of feeling than images. Sometimes, I dug so deep I was at a lack for images or words for what I was finding.
With the record coming out on Nicolas Jaar’s Other People label, tell us about your background together.
I’ve known him for almost 10 years now. We went to high school together. He was in the year above me, but we had some friends in common because he was already making electronic music and since I was playing the piano since I was very young we shared something through this, but it was always very benign, or very subtle. At least for my part, I didn’t realize how much we were sharing until I started making electronic music. I was just sending it over to him to get his opinion because I knew he’d been doing this for a while and then he asked to release one of my tracks. It all started from there.
In this new phase of your friendship, has Nicolas played any sort of mentor role in terms of your production style?
I can’t deny he’s a big influence on the way I work and he’s taught me a lot over the years, but I still like to think that I’ve developed my own style. It’s true, we do share a lot in terms of what we do.
You guys have a shared love of the experimental side of dance music.
Yes, it expresses itself sonically through the resemblance, the aesthetic properties.
So you’ve picked up deejaying to tour for the record as well. What’s it been like learning that side of the culture?
It’s totally opening my mind to stuff—how to mix, all the different techniques of mixing, and how it influences the way I make music, and how each sound relates to each other. Deejaying has opened up this tunnel that I’m digging into. It’s making me want to use more machines because I’m getting used to the tactile aspect of touching records and influencing music that way. I'm starting to use synths and build pedals that way.
What have your sets been like?
There’s definitely a lot of influence from cinematic arrangements. It’s less drops than it is closing your eyes and letting yourself go into it. It’s definitely different than the record though, I try to adapt a lot to a dance floor situation.
You’re 22 now. How else do you spend your time?
Well, I read a lot and I write sometimes. I studied philosophy in college and have developed a lot of crazy ideas that I may one day try to, uh, “concrete-ize.” But mostly I spend my days going from the computer making music to the piano, maybe playing some music, then maybe playing some records. Music plays a pretty integral part right now.
STREAM | Valentin Stip Sigh