During the Zebra Music Festival we had the chance to talk with Hightone drummer Dominique Peter and guitarist Julien Oresta. Hightone is a Lyon, France-based dub band, and although their following in China is small, their name is well-established in electronic-music circles. Having just arrived on the afternoon of their gig to find that their keyboard was broken, the other members were busy trying to figure out a solution for the evening's performance, which would put a close to the three-day festival.
Julien Oresta, aka "Aku Fen." Photo by Leo Chen.
You've been to China, but is this your first time to Chengdu?
Last time when we toured we wanted to see more of China, but it wasn't possible due the tight tour schedule. So I came with my girlfriend for one month and had a really nice time.
How is playing in China different from playing in Europe?
Well things here just started, and we could feel that. But Hightone always gives 100 percent—that is our level. Unfortunately we didn't really have the time to check the sound system fully.
Do people here know your music?
Only in the Hemp House.
What do you think about the festival?
It's fun. It's OK.
How did you guys come together to form a band?
We went to school together in Lyon when we were young, like 20 years ago. We were like 13. We are the same guys from the very beginning.
A lot of bands would have broken up in that time. How have you stayed together?
Maybe because we developed slowly with good people, and we a created a label, "Jarring Effects." We worked in the indie way, we are people that produce the music we love. We are all friends. It was like that, but with a major label would not have been the right thing, it's not the way of Hightone. There is a lot of political elements in the life of Hightone that helped to support and continue the project ... we have some problems but it's OK.
Do you live together?
Wild guess: You started out playing rock?
We played rock, punk, and post-rock. In the UK there was a connection between the punk and reggae music at the beginning of the '80s. Time after time we listened to the first reggae record, after that the first dub record, and finally we started to play electronic dub and move dub to another direction. We did our first maxi in '98, in 2000 our first album, but it was like 1996 that we started to create Hightone.
Dominique Peter aka "Selekta Dino." Photo by Leo Chen
You're often credited as being France's first dub band.
At the beginning we were thinking we were the first and only. At the same time there were two other bands—Improvisator Dub from Bordeaux, and Kaly Live Dub [both on Jarring Effects], but we were the first band to do dub with instruments and live. The English did some dub, but using machines, you know. They produced in the studio and after that they directly plugged into the sound system. We just discovered this band, Revolutionary Dubwires [UK dub formation that started in 1991] which played in the mid 90s. But in France we were first.
You call your style 'dub'n'bass' and you've stuck to that for a long time. Where is your music headed these days?
Typically we are free in music and it's always electronic dub, because we want to do this. But we love dubstep, drum'n'bass, jungle. We love the history of electronic music. So we are open to the music. Maybe dubstep is the last big influence for electronic music.
Do you make enough money to survive as a band?
We make enough money, but it's not a lot. It's never enough. [Laughs.]
Even though you're an "underground" band, this tour was supported by the French government, right?
Yes we get some money, but don't forget, we also pay tax—a lot. Well, it's better than touring somebody like Celine Dion around.
What's your next project?
Dub Box. It's for vinyl, it's a mix album, but it's already sold out. Dubinvader is the next. There is one track on the [remix album] Zentone called "Dubinvader." These were the two last projects. But I think your question was actually about the new album. After the tour we will sit down and make one, next year.
With all that producing and touring you still find time to run Jarring Effects?
Less and less, because Hightone takes most of my time. I help [with the label], but not full time.
Is it more difficult to make money with releases considering the decrease of CD sales?
We are a little bit famous in France, so it's OK. But it's more and more difficult for fresh artists to continue. They are less likely to take financial risks.
So have sales dropped?
On the web it's growing slowly, but CD sales are less. We have to find a new solution to fight against the new laws in France against file-sharing.
But in China everybody does it. You don't hunt people who copy your music.
No, no, we don't do this. We want to find a new solution. For me it's the web industry who must give some money to the artist.
Hightone closed out the final night of the Zebra Music Festival. Photo by Dan Sandoval.
Last question: Why are you guys last on?
We don't know. We just arrived and have to go on next... .
This interview was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife, issue 23, "streets."