Speculation about the future of the big-tent electronic music scene is a popular topic these days, but where some people see storm clouds, the French DJ/producer Martin Solveig — known for the single “Hello,” certified gold in the U.S., and for wide-ranging collaborations with the veteran soul singer Lee Fields and the rising production duo GTA — sees a landscape rich with opportunity.
“I’m very happy about this era of dance music,” he tells Billboard Dance. Solveig, fresh off the plane from Miami, is sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Soho, waiting for the pressure in his ears to return to normal. “The years 2013, 2014 had been a little bit narrow in the genres that were in the spotlight,” he continues. “In 2015, it exploded in every direction. Now it’s a really wide and vivid scene that we have.”
That makes it a good time for Solveig to start what he calls a “new chapter in my production life.” It kicked off last year with “Intoxicated,” a collaboration with GTA, and continued with “+1,” “Do It Right,” and his latest single, “Places,” which arrived on November 25th. Solveig describes the sound of these singles as more house music-oriented, and they have been well-received: the first three have nearly 210 million Spotify streams between them.
For Solveig, embracing house music is both a return to form and a semi-rejection of his recent past. House ruled clubs when he emerged in the French scene in the ’90s; the country’s best known contribution to dance music is still filtered disco, the lifeblood of Alan Braxe and Daft Punk. “It’s a sound I feel very connected to,” Solveig says. “What I prefer about that style is a kind of groove which is quite different from what people called ‘EDM,’ [which] is focused on build-ups and drops, reaching a certain energy peak at a certain moment of the track, which then translates a lot in festivals. House music is more music that you dance to from the first bar to the last bar. It’s a consistent groove over the whole track.”
But despite his familiarity with house, it did not provide Solveig with his most successful moments: his three biggest hits in France were souped-up rock/new wave cuts, a pair of collaborations with Dragonette — including “Hello,” Solveig’s only Hot 100 entry in the U.S. — and one with Kele, the singer from Bloc Party.
The producer seems unconcerned about walking away from this potential goldmine. “The mainstream success of a song is never really something that I have in mind when I make music,” he says. “I’ve released a lot of records. Some of them have had bigger success than some others. Especially now after all these years, my only concern is to produce a track that adds something to the panorama.”
That’s not always easy in the increasingly crowded world of house music — even the U.S. mainstream, which long resisted the music’s pulse even as it swept up European listeners, has taken to the sound. This means that dance producers are battling against top 40 masterminds (take, for example, Max Martin, who helped Ariana Grande channel ’90s clubs on “So Into You”) as well as some of the biggest names in hip-hop/R&B production (try DJ Mustard, whose beats for “Show Me” or “24 Hours” aren’t far from Solveig’s “Do It Right”) to get their songs heard.
Solveig doesn’t seem to mind the increased level of competition. “I’m not an old-school person,” he says. “I love to move forward.” Lee Fields, who sang on the producer’s tracks multiple times during the ’00s, echoes these sentiments. “He’s futuristic,” Fields says of his former collaborator. “If the term prophet would be appropriate, I think he would be a musical prophet. I don’t know exactly what he’s doing at the moment, but I know when it’s time for him to surface, he’s gonna be on time. We have yet touched the surface of what he will do.”
On his recent series of singles, Solveig says he aimed “to embrace modernity and to give a very contemporary touch to house music.” Part of this involves mixing the “persistent groove” of the music he cut his teeth on with the “peak energy levels” popular on the electronic music festival circuit. Another aspect comes through working with artists like the Norwegian singer/songwriter Ina Wroldsen, who provides vocals on “Places.”
Wroldsen moves adeptly in the worlds of pop — she has credits on songs for Leona Lewis, Britney Spears, and Demi Lovato — and dance: she’s the singer on Calvin Harris and the Disciples’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” which offered another faithful homage to clubs of the past. Wroldsen and Solveig spent three days in Oslo working on “Places,” which seems likely to enjoy the streaming counts of its predecessors. Here you’ll find time-honored house tropes — loneliness as a path to hedonism (“when I’m not with you, I’m not in control of what I do”), and a hummable, child-like keyboard riff — along with twitchy vocal fillips, the result of modern technological manipulation.
Vocal character is paramount for Solveig. “I’m very vocal-sensitive,” he says. Early in his career, he recruited Fields, a relative unknown outside of the soul circuit, to fortify several singles with his textured, unmissable voice. Solveig hears something compelling in Wroldsen’s singing as well: “She really has a very specific emotion in her voice that is very unique.” “I’m not going to mention anyone,” he adds, “but I had opportunities to record with some guys who are very big names, and I just can’t do it. I just don’t feel it. To collaborate on production with somebody coming from a very different environment is totally possible. But for vocals, it’s gotta be a yes or no.”
At the moment, Solveig has no plans to make another album. “You can develop a series kind of approach, each track being an episode,” he notes. “It’s a new way of releasing music. Having known different eras over the last 15 years, this way of working is quite new. In the ’90s, serious artists were releasing albums. This is not true anymore.”
He’s enjoying his new routine. “[Releasing singles] gives me a lot of freedom in the way I handle my career, and freedom is something that makes me very comfortable and very relaxed,” he continues. “It feels that the possibilities have expanded a lot,” he concludes. “I’m just a very happy artist.”