In 1999, the term “going viral” was still 10 years off. Nevertheless, by the standards of the day, Mr. Oizo’s “Flat Beat,” did just that. It was an utterly infectious song written for a Levi’s® ad staring an absurd orange Muppet named Flat Eric. Its ubiquity presented a future where electronic dance music possessed serious relevance.
By Oizo’s (real name Quentin Dupieux) standards the song was just a “stupid loop.” The artist created it for the sole purpose of making the ad’s protagonist dance. While he never fancied himself a dance music producer, he created a cultural commodity that still reverberates. “Flat Beat” helped give birth to electro house, and thus EDM.
Making the Puppet Dance
The puppet/producer duo made their debut in the video for 1998’s “M Seq.” The song was the second release for Dupieux on fellow French producer Laurent Garnier’s F-Communications imprint. The filthy bassline and understated simplicity defined Mr. Oizo’s sound. They were also the perfect soundtrack to the misadventures of a cute orange stuffy name Stéphane.
The video’s oddball soundtrack and its affable furry friend caught the eye of Levi’s® ad folks. They enlisted Dupieux for a massive ad campaign. Dupieux never intended to make dance music a full-time gig. He wasn’t even a clubber. However, the process of composing dance music fascinated him.
At the heart of the earworm is a silly eight-bar bassline loop played on a second-hand MS-20. That wobbly piece of grime was raw, insane fun. Furthermore, it’s a sound uncommon to dance music. Spliced throughout is a cheeky female vocal from “Put Your Love (In My Tender Care)” by The Fatback Band. An inspired touch, the hook adds to the irreverence of the song. The final touch was a single sample from the Roland TR-606.
A Unique Drum Sound
Released as a companion to 303, the original 606 was only in production for three years. Like its sibling, the 606 wasn’t immediately embraced by mainstream musicians. On the contrary, it found favor in the underground. Embraced by bands like Sisters of Mercy, the 606 also found a home in the studios of Massive Attack and Aphex Twin.
Its ultra-slim kick wasn’t beefy like the 808, or sharp like the 909. However, in the context of this lo-fi electroclash beat, it was the perfect addition. In two hours Mr. Oizo created a soundtrack for an iconic ad campaign. After premiering in January of 1999, “Flat Beat” quickly achieved “viral” status. It was the song everyone knew and loved. Besides, it was an ego boost for clubbers to see a bit of themselves in the mainstream.
Widespread Cultural Embrace
The success of “Flat Beat” didn’t diminish its underground cultural cache. DJ support was phenomenal, and the song quickly became a genre-defying dancefloor staple. Everyone from Derick Carter to Fat Boy Slim played the track, a testament to its timeless quality.
In the years following its success, Dupieux felt his inspiration slip away. He released his debut album Analog Worms Attack, but it wasn’t until the mid-’00s that he got his mojo back.
French compatriots like Justice, SebastiAn, and Dj Mehdi began to experiment with a sound familiar to Dupieux. They combined house, punk rock, and electroclash in much the same way he had years earlier. Much of what Mr. Oizo did with “Flat Beat” became part of dance music culture. To think it all began by making a cute orange puppet dance.