From the subterranean, womblike confines of his aptly named 80 Hz Studio in Brussels, Belgium, Benoit Franquet, aka Pole Folder, has been quietly cranking out some of the more sonically expansive, psychedelic and bass-soaked club chestnuts of the past few years. He first came up on the general radar thanks to John Digweed, who kicked off his Los Angeles 019 (Global Underground, 2001) mix comp with Pole Folder and CP's “Apollo Vibes” and immediately signed Franquet to an open-ended contract with his renowned Bedrock label. Some half-dozen 12-inch slabs later — lurking among which are the weirdly undulating “Dust” (included on Digweed's MMII [Bedrock, 2002]) and the spacious 2-track EP Moon in a Blue Sky (Sunkissed, 2003) — Pole Folder now finally breaks out with Zero Gold (Bedrock, 2005), his first full-length artist album.
“I was thinking of a rollercoaster,” Franquet jokes, a distinctive French lilt spicing his words. “I wanted absolutely to go very deep into atmospherics, so the album is very mental, but it's also very eclectic in all directions — something that's mental with melody but also downtempo or more uptempo depending on the song. If all the tracks were too close regarding tempo, I might lose the attention of the people who are listening, so I tried to arrange some surprises to awake the brain.”
Acknowledging influences from Massive Attack to William Orbit to Pink Floyd, Franquet takes his production style a step further into the void by relying on thickly layered synth arrangements, hyperprocessed sound effects and a driving subsonic throb in the lower registers — all propelled by his smoothly syncopated beats. He also gets an able boost from guest sirens Kirsty Hawkshaw (BT, Orbital, Way Out West), Shelley Harland (Junkie XL, Delirium) and fellow Belgian Sandra Ferretti, with each delivering vocal performances by turns breathy, eerie or downright bone-chilling in their subtle but insistent power.
Franquet takes full advantage of that power on songs such as the hypnotic ballad “Faith in Me,” on which Hawkshaw's dreamlike voice is manipulated in several key spots to blend with a whistling monosynth line. “I would isolate the last part of the vocal with a delay on it, so the fade was very long, which made it easier for me to place a synth pad on the end of the line Kirsty is singing,” Franquet says. “I tested a few pads and used the one that was closest to her voice — if I remember well, the synthesizer was coming through the plug-in Atmosphere from Spectrasonics. It's very special and interesting to use for moods like this.”
Ever-present on Zero Gold are warmed-up bass lines, many of them generated by a bank of synths and synth modules that includes a Korg 01 and Triton, a Novation Supernova and a Clavia Nord Lead. “Salvation on Slavery Sins,” by contrast, captures a slide down the neck of a live bass and morphs it into a rolling rhythmic pulse. “On a keyboard, you can get very close to the organic feeling of a bass player, but with a slide bass, it's very difficult,” Franquet insists. “On that sample, we increased the bass frequency a lot — I think we are very close to ‘infra-bass,’ or something like this, which is very interesting on a good stereo system because the sound can go very low.”
As a veteran user of Steinberg Cubase (going back even to the pre-Cubase Pro 24 sequencer running on the Atari platform), Franquet has honed his sequencing ability to the point that it's almost second nature for him to consider how a song will sit in the overall flow of an album — much as a DJ would structure a club set. Most of the tracks on Zero Gold are mixed into each other, but instead of programmed rhythms, Franquet uses organic atmospherics and occasional processed vocals as bridges between songs.
“Pink Floyd was doing this a long time before me, so it's not really the idea of the century,” Franquet admits. “I do like this idea of keeping a link with the club scene where I was known before, but at the same time, I also like the challenge of mixing very organic and human elements with something very electronic. It's like having a rock 'n' roll soul in an electronic body.”