Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos on Philippe Zdar and chances of a UAE tour

Speaking hours after a memorial service to friend Zdar, the frontman praised the French producer for his love for life

Singer and guitarist Alex Kapranos performs with Franz Ferdinand at Jazzablanca festival in Casablanca, Morocco on June 2, 2019. Picture by Sife El Amine/Jazzablanca
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When it came to making their Arab world concert debut in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, Franz Ferdinand made it just in time.

With production crew setting up lightning rigs and stage equipment that came on the back of trucks from Tangiers, all was ready for the Scottish indie-rock favourites to take the stage and headline the opening night of the week-long Jazzablanca Festival on July 2.

Fortunately, with the band arriving less than two hours before their gig, they caught a break when it came to the city’s notorious traffic conditions to arrive on cue and deliver a trademark dance-tastic performance.

The energy was high, the hits (yes, their anthem Take Me Out was included) were played and the band left to a raucous cheer. The Casablanca mission was well and truly accomplished.

However, when meeting front man Alex Kapranos at 2am in the hotel lobby, it was hard to recognize him from the man dancing like a disco lothario on stage not along ago.

He was still in his stage get-up of a slick black suit and white shirt. Only this time, the loosened black tie, which on stage affected a rakish appeal, complimented his exhaustion level.

“It was a great gig,” he smiles weakly. “But it was a terrible day for us as a band and me, personally.”

Philippe Zdar’s love for life

Kapranos goes on to explain that hours before he and band members joined a large gathering of the world's pop, dance and rock community (including the bands Daft Punk and Air) in Paris to bid farewell to Philippe Zdar.

A giant of the electronic music scene and considered one of the finest producers of his generation (he collaborated with Pharrell Williams and Kanye West and produced the seminal 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus by French band Phoenix), Zdar passed away on June 19.

In the official announcement, his agent stated that Zdar accidentally fell out the window of a Paris high-rise building. He was 52.

“It has really shaken up the band badly,” he says. “With Zdar gone, it is not only a loss for us but for the world. He was only 52. He had another 25 years of making absolutely incredible music.”

In addition to working on the last album, Dreems, as a member of the influential electronic music duo Cassius (out two days after his death), Zdar also produced Franz Ferdinand's latest album Always Ascending.

Released last year, the group's fifth record brims with vibrancy as they dialed down their angular guitar attacks to embrace a new synth heavy sound. Standout tracks such as the disco burner Feel the Love Go (which the band dedicated to Zdar in their Casablanca gig) and the dubby beats of Finally exemplifies the album's personality, which is an equal mix of joy and sophistication.

That is the Zdar effect, Kapranos confirms.

“And that’s because Philippe was pretty much a renaissance man. Some producers you work with just like music, while some others just like engineering,” he says.

“But Philippe not just liked all of the arts, but all of life. He liked the best food, the best films, the best in literature and the best in music. He had incredible taste and that included everything in his life and what was around it. And that came into his work, which is all about making the decisions and that is what to choose to have in and what to choose to have out, as well.”

Their new album is meant to be heard in full

That philosophy resulted in Always Ascending being one of Franz Ferdinand's most satisfying albums.

From the onset of the recording process, Zdar was adamant the band focus on creating songs and not singles. Following his maxim that ‘all the other songs become jealous if you say what the single is,’ the band finessed the material to their full potential and left the radio-ready tracks to emerge naturally.

“By working in this different way it means the songs are best heard together as a complete album,” he says.

"And the reception has been really positive and we are so pleased with that. We kind of knew that it was going down well and when we started playing the new songs in the shows."

Survivors of the 2000s rock explosion

With the band celebrating 17 years since its formation in the Scottish capital Glasgow, it may be too early to class Franz Ferdinand as rock veterans.

Perhaps the better word is survivors. Tearing into the scene with their stomping calling card Take Me Out and their classic 2004 self-titled album, they are one of the handful of bands; others include English rockers Arctic Monkeys and New York's Interpol, that endured without serious interruption from the rock explosion of the 2000s. This is in contrast to other scene leaders such as The Strokes and Libertines who managed to essentially break up and reform again.

With so much written about that period, did Kapranos feel he was riding some sort of cultural zeitgeist at the time?

“Not really to be honest, because we always saw ourselves as a distinct band. But there was a lot of bands from that time that I respect, like the Fiery Furnaces and The Hives,” he says. “But what is collegiate? I would say no and that’s just because we came from Glasgow and we had more in common with the bands that came from there. But those that were our contemporaries, with exceptions being a group like Sons and Daughters, didn’t make it to the public eye unfortunately.”

They want to come to the UAE

While a few new songs have already been written for a new  album, Kapranos says the band is focusing on touring the rest of the year.

Casablanca joins a range of new territories Franz Ferdinand played in as part of their two-year world tour, which also included a 2018 tour of China, the Georgian capital Tbilisi last month and an upcoming show next week in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

Kapranos says he is keen to add the UAE to the band’s growing tour calendar.

“We would absolutely love to go there and play,” he says. “Tell the promoters to come on and give us a shout, we are ready.”