Ali + The Stolen Boy is the solo project of Paris-based singer songwriter Alix. With their single Garçon Raté, their fragmented roots come together to create a unique fusion of hip-hop, electro, art rock and chanson française. This direction is embodied in their first EP, Garçon Raté, where Alix mixes different genres using acoustic instruments like harp, guitar, violin and percussion, hip-hop beats and electronic sounds. Originally obsessed by the great female jazz singers and folk singers of the likes of Violeta Parra, Rosa Balistreri and Nina Simone, Alix’s work is influenced by artists such as Stromae, Arca, M.I.A, St. Vincent and Anohni. Alix writes, composes, sings and co-produces in French and Italian.
In Conversation With Ali + The Stolen Boy
Singer-songwriter Ali + The Stolen Boy is breaking boundaries between cities, genres and genders
With a sound that is a unique fusion of pop, hip hop, experimental electro and rhythmical elements from folk music of the mediterranean, Ali + The Stolen Boy is a unique voice emerging on the parisian scene. Alix, the artist behind the moniker, grew up between France and Italy. This upbringing is translated sonically in a unique juxtaposition of cultural references and clashes, as they fuse chanson française with reworked pizzica beats. Ali + The Stolen Boy recently released Garçon Raté, their first EP. As Alix delves into piecing together their own history – scratching round for details from their own past and that of their family, scattered across France, Italy and Germany – the EP relates the story of the exploration of their own coming of age, notably in terms of gender. We sit down with the artist to discuss representation, mutualising resources and self-determination.
In your work so far, you’ve gravitated between three cities: Uranus, filmed in Milan, Errore del Sistema, based in London, and Garçon Raté, filmed in Paris. What’s the story behind your relationship to the three cities?
As you can see, my life is quite a mess, also geographically, and has been especially in the last two to three years. The pandemic didn’t help. Between launches and grinding to a halt because of lockdowns, and trying to reach collaborators on the other side of Europe, it has been and still is a journey. The EP has traces in it of all this. The songs that I wrote these past years are sort of a journey. I’m trying to figure out who I am today, and what I am doing, what my place is as an artist and as a citizen as well.
So it was very instinctive to work in these three cities. It was all very personal, because they are three cities in which I lived in or grew up in.
Milan is linked to my origins and is a place where I spent lockdowns. So I wanted to connect with those roots and start from where I was geographically, as the pandemic gave us another perception of borders and connections. Uranus is linked to collectives, activists and people that I met in Milan, and I wanted to celebrate people from the community that I met there, to represent it on screen and sing about it. It’s a sort of manifesto track. I lived in London for a while. I’m really influenced by music and stuff that London has produced, culturally. I wrote Errore del Sistema there, when I was wandering drunkenly through the streets of Dalston at 5am. I was broke and London is so expensive; that song captures the violence of that experience. Which is why it made sense to film the music video there.
Garçon Raté is my homecoming single, after all these journeys. It’s also maybe the most important, the most intimate; it’s the most important song for me of the album, and it gives the title to the EP. I wrote it in Paris, and it talks about an emotion linked to memories, the desire of self-emancipation; a lot of stuff that melted in my mind and in my body when I wrote it.
I’m very attached to the concept of finding a way back, maybe because I love to go to a lot of places and to change a lot. There’s always, at some point, a way back in life, which is never the same. So it was time to go back to Paris to finish the album. That’s the place where I live. It’s the place where I grew up. It’s the one place in the world that I love more than anything else.
There is often a sense of searching in your music…
Definitely, funny you should say that. I’m starting to see it in the EP now. I discovered that I was writing about searching for myself and trying to understand who I am. Aspects and fragments of my story came together, talking about my origins culturally, but also in terms of gender. I don’t fit into the category of man, or girl or boy, so how can I be someone and who am I?
I feel like there are a lot of references to my teenage years too – it’s a state of mind, of questioning, of transitions.
I can see it now: it’s the album that I would have wanted to listen to as a teenager. I’m not a teenager anymore in terms of biological and social age maybe, but I still feel and see the world like a teenager. I write for people who are teenagers, no matter their actual date of birth. I’m for self-determination of age also, so I stand by that!
What from your teenage years influences you?
The sort of messy but extremely lucid chaos, maybe? [laughs] I don’t know if it makes sense.
Teenage years were the years that I discovered music, dance and theatre, as well. I was in love with pop culture, especially American pop culture: Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Missy Elliot, Lady Gaga. I was also writing and reading a lot of theatre and literature. Because I come from a family where I didn’t see a single book, no one was a musician and no one was an artist, I didn’t have a lot of immediate models close to me.
So, pop culture reached me in that context. Meanwhile I was also nurturing a very intellectual side, I had to prove to myself my ability and my legitimacy as an artist: I had to study, study, study to invent my own discipline to get to where I wanted to be, with tools that my surroundings didn’t give me.
In terms of Puglia, what place do those roots occupy in your music now?
I would say that it influences rhythmic patterns, beats, and melodies in my music. But what I do then is very far from that traditional music and culture. My discovery and appreciation of music from the South of Italy, especially Puglia, came fairly late on. I was actually already influenced by the language, the sound and rhythm of the dialect from Puglia, as well as by my grandmother and my parents as well.
I started listening to a lot of music from Puglia. Puglia is a melting pot of cultures and sounds. So music is a mirror of that, with a fusion of various types of sounds, from Turkish to Greek, or The Balkans. Musical traditions from the Mediterranean have a lot of common elements and instruments: you can find them throughout Southern Italy, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, the Balkans and Greece. When I start working on my songs, there is always a rhythmical pattern that crops up, that comes from this cultural heritage, I think. Sometimes, too, in my melodies, or in the scales that I used. It’s often the starting point, in terms of harmonies and rhythm.
In 2022, what would you say the most important thing is for representation?
Representation should not only be focused on visibility. The backstage of our job as artists is made by a lot of people behind the scenes. We finally have some amazing queer singers, black singers who have great platforms (still too few, a tiny percentage, if you look at the music industry and not those with the biggest reach). Even in the most successful cases, when you look at the crew, you realise there are people behind the scenes capitalizing on the lives of queer, trans, black or disabled artists. The money that we produce through our work and the resources, the cultural shift that we produce doesn’t end up directly benefiting our communities and our people.
I think it’s important that visibility should also empower, in terms of material and economic support, people that have limited access to music, access to arts, access to education, especially people from minorities.
I’m not a sociologist, I’m not a politician, and I’m not an economist. So I cannot think of countless practical solutions, I can just bring some ideas to the mix. Like the fact that there are more and more labels, production companies and agencies that are led by a community of people, not just by one person. People from minorities are creating networks; they are producing their own shit. It’s something that I think can create a new model for the future, also an economic and social model based on the mutualisation of resources, and on communities rather than single entities.
And in terms of the sound of your single Garçon Raté, what can you tell us?
I wrote this song in like 10 minutes. It was very quick. I did a first version on the piano, with a melody, chords, structure and lyrics. I knew what the emotion that I wanted to explore was.
In terms of the sound, I wanted it to be a Drum & Bass fusion with rhythmical elements, with a hip hop base, and elements and instruments from folk music from the South of Italy. I did a demo by myself. My producer Giuliano Pascoe picked me up with his car to go to the studio. I put the song on and we listened to it in the car. He was like: “OK, there’s a lot of ideas, we have to select them carefully, but I love it so let’s do it.” We arrived at the studio, and he sorted out the material straight away. He did an amazing job on it.
What are you most excited about?
The shows, for sure. With the release of the EP, we’ve started with some concerts across France and Italy, but the main tour will be in 2023, after the release of a second EP, which completes the first one. Music is a physical experience; it’s made to connect people. I really enjoy being on stage and performing the album, especially after the recent years that we’ve just been through. We need to sing, to dance and live music together.
Photography – Bex Gunter – @bexbehindcamera
Fashion – Patrick Clark @thepatrickclark
Talent – Ali + The Stolen Boy @aliandthestolenboy
Make-up + hair – Karine Valbrun at TWA Agency @karinevalbrun
Photography Assistant – Valeria Shashenok @valerisssh