In the Mix

Nicolas Wagner
Leanne Cloudsdale

French soundscape artist extraordinaire, Michel Gaubert is the man responsible for engineering the soundtrack to the world’s leading luxury brands. From an early childhood experience with his first record purchase accidentally being left on the back seat of the family car and warping in the midday heat, he’s been melding sounds and visual experiences ever since. 

I first heard Gaubert’s name mentioned at a summer BBQ in Maida Vale over a decade ago. The hosts had yanked their speakers out into the garden and were playing a compilation CD he’d produced for the Parisian concept store Colette. A vinyl obsessive and occasional DJ myself, I recall being secretly impressed, and perhaps a little jealous of the blend, tempo and variety, and asked my companions to burn me a copy. He was clearly some kind of musical forecaster, because it’s one of the only CDs I still play regularly – and it feels just as fresh now as it did back in 2005. 
Cited as fashion’s most influential creator of catwalk sound, his career began during the late 1970s, whilst working as a buyer for Champs Disques – an independent record shop that counted Karl Lagerfeld as one of its loyal customers. Gaubert’s career plans had been pretty much firmed up well before his teens, as he explains how “I always knew I wanted to be a rock star or work in fashion. I had a genuine fascination with pop stars and remember watching a programme on the television called Dim Dam Dom. It covered fashion, music and art in such a cool way that it helped me uderstand how much I really wanted to be a part of that world.”
So many of us take the symbiotic relationship between fashion and music for granted these days, thanks to the emergence of TV channels like MTV showing non-stop pop videos in the 1980s. Our exposure to this format, alongside evolving technologies, have totally changed the way we expose ourselves to music. Platforms like Spotify have transformed the way we forage for new genres, and although there’s been a recent resurgence in the appreciation for analogue formats, the vast majority of people still seem to prefer the lazy option of clicking through playlists as opposed to flicking through vinyl in a shop. 
When quizzed about the impact of our digital world, Gaubert remains optimistic, “I think we will still forage for sounds everywhere. Of course, finding new things these days is very different, and sometimes it can feel totally overwhelming because of the huge amount available. These days, I find I’m spending more time listening to brand new music than I’ve ever done before, alongside digging for things that have been forgotten about for years.” 
On the notion of what de- fines good taste, he elaborates, “When it comes to what constitutes good or bad taste I don’t care. My bad taste can be someone else’s good taste – and vice versa. From my point of view, the key to loving music is in the discovery of variety, and depth can come later. I believe taste is something that comes to you when you’re growing up. Whether you’re looking outwards towards your envi- ronment or fighting against it.” 
“As you get older, you want to get closer to things you missed back then, the things you yearned for in your younger years. I think sexual fantasy is also part of that world of good and bad taste, in the same way food is, and anything else that crosses your mind.” 
Having survived the glitter soaked, hedonistic disco days of Paris in the 1970s and 80s, Gaubert now leads a surprisingly clean-cut life, giving up cigarettes, his last vice “three and a half years ago” (clearly keeping count). Music is his only addiction these days, and with more than 20,000 records, 60,000 CD’s and a lifetime’s worth of tracks stored on various iPods, laptops and hard drives, the fact that he functions as curator rather than creator has never stalled his confidence. In his role as sound illustrator for the likes of an alarmingly long list of international heavyweights Chanel, Dior, Chloe, Loewe, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Valentino, he never fails to surprise the spectator, such as famously over- seeing full-blown orchestras for cat- walk shows at Chanel. Gaubert seems to possess an innate capacity to recognise the zeitgeist before the mass- es do, effortlessly pulling together musical smorgasbords, intelligently tailored to enhance a brand’s particular aesthetic and selling season. 
His vast record collection is “mainly kept in a storage: in boxes that are supposedly filed alphabetically. The ones I keep at home are much more precious and I keep those ones sorted by prettiness. In a world so full of everything, I find editing is my main issue. I am a collector – my taste is quite varied. Alongside records and CDs, I have a lot of books, clothes, furniture and other paraphernalia.” When grilled on the idea of Desert Island Discs, and prompted to reveal what 5 albums he’d take (or rescue from a burning building), Gaubert surprises me with his response, “I would save other things before the records and CDs, because I know I can always buy them again later, but finding my Yohji Yamamoto jacket from 1996 would be much harder!”
His home-life in Paris with partner Ryan includes the feline superstars of his Instagram account, cats Boris and Brad. “We’ve had them for 8 years now. We travelled to someone’s house up in the north of France. Even though they’re related, their personalities really differ. Boris is more like a dog really – always ready for action. Whereas Brad is much more discreet and easily frightened. It was easier to get the two cats at the same time, and I like my cats to be husky, which is why I wanted brothers.” We muse over the differences in cat and dog lovers, with Gaubert openly taking the conversation towards animal toileting preferences, “I guess picking up poop with a little shovel is way nicer than scooping a warm one up with a plastic bag. That’s the sort of stuff that makes a real difference.” Searching for the perfect way to close our conversation, I change direction completely by asking him what was the most important lesson that life has taught him. Unwavering in his reply, he simply states, “You should embrace it with confidence.” 
Get your copy of issue 5 here