PARIS — Rare is electronic music that can stir and confound listeners to such a degree that they can’t tell if they’re feeling elation, sadness — or both.
In his brief career, Brighton, U.K.-based Stuart Cullen has achieved many such moments in his recordings as Pilote. And while still relatively undiscovered, having sold only about 10,000 albums to date, the 31-year-old’s infectious music has already found its way onto a popular mobile phone commercial in the U.K. and the stereos of several Paris fashion designers.
“A good piece of music, electronic or not, gives you a feeling,” Cullen says. “What I’m doing is expressing feelings I can’t articulate with words.” Indeed, when Cullen’s tinkling piano and dramatic strings vie for attention on the standout track “French Canadian,” it’s hard to tell whether he was feeling happiness or heartache.
Entirely self-taught on such rudimentary and basic equipment as an Atari computer and a drum machine, Cullen composes instinctively. His first album, “Antenna,” released in 1999, represented the best of five years of knob twiddling. Thanks to his record company, the drum-and-bass specialist Certificate 18, he had access to powerful computers to make his current album, “Doitnowman.” But he still takes a lo-fi approach. “I just sit down and see what happens,” he says. “I play with the equipment and a rhythm or melody comes up. Then I just hit record and build it up from there.”
While some electronic artists can spend days perfecting one beat, Cullen works fast. He wrote “Up and Down” in 80 minutes and it remains one of his proudest achievements. “The ones that come up easily, I don’t even remember doing them,” he says. “It’s really one of the best feelings.”
Cullen’s third album, “King Food,” is due out this fall. In the meantime, he’s releasing two four-track EPs, both titled “Mañana,” supporting them with live performances and DJ engagements around Europe.
His audience is relatively small and, as is the case with most electronic musicians, predominantly male. “It’s kind of like heavy metal I suppose,” he says, musing: “Maybe ladies like lyrics and men don’t.” That said, he’s been listening to a lot of old bluegrass and country music lately and has a hankering to add some female vocals to at least one track on the new album.
“I want to play more instruments and have other people involved,” he says. “Plain drum beats sometimes leave me cold.” Or, is it warm?