French techno whizz Vitalic has taken four years to make his first proper album. And now he's going to clean up, writes Kitty Empire

'I am a techno guy, but I don't listen to techno albums because I think they are boring,' declares dance music's saviour apparent Pascal Arbez from his home in the countryside outside Dijon. 'I could have done one. But I didn't. I wanted to show other sides. I wanted to go further.'

On vinyl, Arbez goes by many names, but the most pressing of these is Vitalic (pronounced 'veetalique). His debut album, OK Cowboy, is easily the most important dance album that will be released all year. That may seem like faint praise. Dance music, as we've all been told repeatedly, is dead; someone performing mouth to mouth resuscitation on its lifeless corpse - even an intense Frenchman who doesn't suffer fools gladly, I'm repeatedly warned - couldn't make that much difference, surely. Could he?

But Vitalic is the Machiavellian body-buckler responsible for 2001's 'Poney' EP, a techno-derived meltdown whose most commanding tracks - 'Poney' and 'La Rock 01' - were like electrical prods towards the dancefloor: physically impossible to disobey. Featuring builds at once blatantly obvious and deeply satisfying, and rarely felt since Josh Wink's 'Higher State of Consciousness', it was among the best-selling techno releases of recent years. As though the euphoria weren't enough, though, 'Poney' came with a catch. It was about the suffering of funfair ponies.

Everyone who was anyone behind a set of record decks - 2ManyDJs, Erol Alkan, Aphex Twin - played it into splinters. And then... nothing. Vitalic worked on a few collaborations, but the follow-up album the world was waiting for didn't appear. For four years, an eternity in music.

It's here now, effortlessly outclassing the latest record by Daft Punk, whom Arbez greatly admires. ('It's not better,' he laughs modestly, 'just different.') 'Poney' and 'La Rock 01' are on it, as are newer, gracefully punishing tracks such as 'No Fun' and 'Newman'. But there are other moods on OK Cowboy, like the pulsating but thoughtful 'Repair Machines', the Air-like atmospheres of 'The Past' or the military tattoo of 'Valletta Fanfares'. It's a considered album, not just a cash-in on the dancefloor crack that was his signature four years ago.

'I wanted to show some other sides,' reprises Arbez, 'but without doing one hip hop track or one melancholic track because it's cool for girls, without thinking will it or won't it be techno, or too brutal or too soft and girly. I tried to avoid the barriers of belonging to a scene. I tried to act as though I didn't belong to anything.' Indeed, some of the tracks on OK Cowboy display a Mitteleuropean bent, like the accordion sounds on 'Polkamatic' or the strings on 'Trahison'.

'It does sound a bit tzigane [French for Roma Gypsies],' Arbez concedes. 'You don't know whether it's happy or unhappy.' The album is called OK Cowboy partly because of this 'cowboy attitude' to his techno roots, and because Arbez lives out in the sticks.

Arbez spent his childhood playing trombone in a jazz band before discovering the dancefloor. By his own admission, it took him years of slaving over crap second-hand synthesizers before he was any good. The Vitalic sounds, he says, come from this period of time, of trying to sound like Giorgio Moroder, failing, but developing a style of his own. The sampled guitars and Moogs and accordions on OK Cowboy are not samples at all, but meticulously recreated on old-fashioned equipment.

'The sound has a special colour,' he says, 'it has an effect I really like, which is a little like the Clockwork Orange soundtrack, where they recreated classical music with synthesizers. But not, like, cheesy.'

So is he going to save dance music? Vitalic laughs. 'No, I would try to save my own soul first.' And anyway, it's not terminal, says Arbez. 'In the UK, a lot of people say that, but I don't think it's really dead. I think the mojo of electronic music is turning. For some time it was in Germany and the UK, and some time in Belgium, now it's more in Spain and Portugal. But it might be back in the UK in a few months. It's always moving.' And right now, it seems like Vitalic has his hands firmly on that mojo's tiller.

· OK Cowboy is released on Pias on 25 April


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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