Listening to intelligent dance music producer Qebrus feels a lot like entering another dimension, his music stumbling its way through electronic chaos, leaving the listener unsure over what just happened.
The arcane nature of this music can sometimes be unsettling, nightmarish even. However, at his best, Qebrus creates a thrilling atmosphere that’s distinctly alien and forward thinking.
Having developed a cult following via Reddit and several IDM forums, Qebrus’ experimental sound went on to catch the ear of RJD2, Tom Middleton, Otto von Schirach – a frequent collaborator – and Aphex Twin. Yet the French IDM artist, real name Thomas Denis, largely remains an enigma, with his independent releases, released on indie labels including Love Love Records, Detroit Underground, and 5YN7H Rec, barely getting any promotion and little information known about Qebrus on a personal or artistic level.
Perhaps the closest we’ve come to gaining a genuine insight into the inner workings of Qebrus is via an email interview he granted with online fanzine Snare Rush, during which Denis reiterated his commitment to originality: “I try to inspire me more than anything. To fight my influences and never to be like others.”
However, this was a rare glimpse at Denis on a human level, with the majority of his answers keeping with the alien-like concepts of his music. When asked where he was currently based, Qebrus cheekily responded: “I am an egnamien so hermaphrodite. I reside now hidden in Micronesia, where I could set up my laboratory research on different plant samples I’ve found on your planet. I would also like to create music in my spare time.”
When it comes to concrete facts about the artist, what we do know is this; earlier this year Qebrus passed away from unknown causes, his blossoming career unexpectedly cut short. For his fans, the fact a Facebook video emerged of Qebrus smiling in the audience at the Day For Night Festival in Texas as Aphex Twin played his song Vclnmtr provided solace, serving as validation that the late artist was indeed something special.
“At that Houston gig there was that guy Qebrus,” Richard D. James remembers in this month’s Crack Magazine cover story. “He had this crazy ASCII syntax for all his track names, really alien sounding music. He died recently, just after that gig. And somebody had found him in the crowd, they were just scanning through the crowd and someone identified him and he’s smiling away while I’m playing his track.”
That someone was Qebrus’ agent and manager Sarah Lachhman, who got in contact to flesh out the story: “I booked him to perform at my Day For Night Defunkt Records after party the night that Aphex was playing, although we had no idea Aphex had even heard his music.
“It took months of planning and he was hesitant but we finally convinced him and got him to fly over. I also briefly introduced him Aphex backstage right before the set but I don’t think it clicked with Richard that he was Qebrus. Thomas was ecstatic when we heard his music being played and I hurried to snap a quick video. He was awestruck.”
Tokyo-born DJ Object Blue is another Qebrus fan. “I just loved his attention to detail plus his total commitment to having fun. All of his tracks are so fun, full of energy, and unconcerned about any limitation of style or genre,” the Tobago Tracks affiliate tells me. “His song Argq was an immediate favourite, I’ve played it out during techno sets too, the crowd loses their shit. I cried during my first listen of his album EXOPHOBIA [which was released on indie French label Bedroom Research] because every single track is breathtaking.”
More somberly, she adds: “I just regret not writing to him in the three month window between my first listen and his passing. I would have loved to have told him how much his music moved me and to have thanked him personally! Now it’s too late.”
With his discography feeling almost overwhelming in density – both in terms of output and sound – we’ve chosen five key tracks that offer the perfect entry point into Qebrus’ universe.
Smell This PicFrom Le Mystère Des Femmes Fontaines (Vaatican Records, 2008)
It’s tempting to think of Qebrus as someone committed to creating ugly, bleak futuristic soundscapes, but the first track of his debut 2008 album Le Mystère Des Femmes Fontaines serves as proof he could also conjure up moments of more tranquil introspection. The strings that come in around the one minute mark here are hypnotic in their beauty, providing a beating heart and cerebral edge to a track filled with high-pitched keys and mischievous vocal samples. Aside from some occasional ambient experimentation, this is about as chill as Qebrus’ music gets.
Rainy MondayFor Waiting (self-released, 2015)
Rainy Monday creates a nightmarish dystopian vision via a mishmash of sounds that intricately pay tribute to the sci-fi horror genre as well as 16-bit video game soundtracks. Perhaps it’s testament to the producer’s envelope-pushing nature that it’s also one of his most accessible works, and a perfect starting point for someone looking to find an ‘in’ to his discography. The fact this track comes from For Waiting, an album listed as being released in 7 January, 2036, is telling of its creator’s foresight. This is what the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack perhaps should have sounded like.
ArgqEXOPHOBIA (Bedroom Research, 2012)
Argq is what might be played at rave on Saturn attended by martians. The distorted synths are violent in nature – reminiscent of Kanye West’s On Sight and sounding as if they wish to do the listener actual harm – yet the melody remains lively enough to make you nod your head. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but exactly the kind of chaotic duality Qebrus excels at. Just when you really get into the track, Argq abruptly melts away into a bizarre blend of otherworldly sound effects. The track is taken from EXOPHOBIA, an album released via Lille netlabel Bedroom Research that is held up as the producer’s very best.
VlcnmtrEXOPHOBIA (Bedroom Research, 2012)
Beloved by Aphex Twin and also on 2012’s EXOPHOBIA, this track sounds like a spaceship’s engine powering up, its urgent drums like heart palpitations. It’s an uncomfortable listen, sure, but it’s also a sadistic thrill ride. Qebrus takes listeners to a dark new universe at a breathtaking speed, taking comfort in the idea that not everyone will be able to last the full trip. You can see why Aphex Twin gave it a co-sign.
ᐛᢰXᒣ ᐂ MᒷᢳᐉFrom ᐔ ᐌ ᐂ ᐍ ᐚ (Love Love Records, 2017)
Music rarely sounds more alien than on the ᐔ ᐌ ᐂ ᐍ ᐚ EP, released on Colchester’s Love Love Records. The intro is like a more experimental interpretation of the haunting tribal chanting noises that play during the opening credits of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining. The various sci-fi sound effects which follow are both jarring and transcendent. When responding to a thread about the producer’s untimely passing, Reddit user tronkqs said: “Qebrus is not dead, he just left Earth to continue his quest to take every biological sample in the universe”. These are THOSE samples.
Stay tuned for a whole month of Aphex Twin on CrackMagazine.net
A Qebrus tribute release is in the works, featuring Tom Middleton, Otto Von Schirach and unreleased music for DEFUNKT Records. All sales will be donated to his family.