Influential electronic music producer

Born: January 28, 1967;

Died: June 19, 2019

PHILIPPE Zdar, who has died aged 52, was a French pop artist and electronic music producer who was most well-known as one half of the production duo Cassius. Comprising Zdar and Hubert Blanc-Francard, Cassius had their greatest success with the debut album 1999 – which was released in the same year as the title – and the singles which stemmed from it. In particular, the song Cassius 1999 was an enduring club crossover anthem, and a top ten hit in the UK and on the US dance chart.

The pseudonymous pair – Zdar’s real name was Philippe Cerboneschi, while Blanc-Francard went by the alias Boom Bass – continued to form a fruitful partnership as producers of their own tracks under the Cassius alias; their fifth album together, Dreems, was released two days after Zdar’s death in June 2019.

Yet, despite their subsequent career failing to recreate the full impact of their early releases (although 2002’s single The Sound of Violence went to number one on the US dance chart), Cassius’ place in wider pop history and Zdar’s own work as a high-profile and in-demand producer mean his legacy will be about far more than a couple of well-remembered pop hits.

Although they cannot lay sole claim to the advancement of the genre themselves, Cassius were key players in the development of the Paris-based musical scene of the late 1990s which came to be known as French Touch, and which bore one of the greatest impacts on the sound of international pop music in the two decades since. Alongside artists including Air, Daft Punk, and Etienne De Crecy – and alongside elder statesman of the scene Laurent Garnier and future stars including Justice and David Guetta – Cassius helped to inaugurate a sound which was breezy, optimistic and perfectly attuned to the needs of the dancefloor.

French Touch was perfect pop music, yet by its design – an authentic and well-tutored immersion in the sounds of classic New York disco and Chicago house on the parts of its creators – it was also definitively in tune with the demands of the most enthusiastic of club purists. Cassius 1999 (the song) was one of the genre’s key tracks.

In the end it was Daft Punk who took the sound of French Touch global, breaking America in the 2000s and achieving bona fide international superstardom with their 2013 hit Get Lucky, yet Cassius remained go-to collaborators for artists interested in capturing the genre’s sound. Collaborators on the pair’s albums included stars like Pharrell Williams and the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killa, as well as classic R&B and house singers Jocelyn Brown and Leroy Burgess.

Madonna incorporated the Cassius song Toop Toop into her performance of Into the Groove during her 2008 tour, while Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaborative 2011 single Why I Love You was built from a sample of the previous year’s Cassius track I Love U So. Yet in his later years, it was as a producer and mixer of others’ records – based out of his Motorbass studio in the Parisian district of Montmartre – that Zdar’s own influence spread. Many artists, it turned out, were looking for that same sense of accessible good-time intrigue which permeated Cassius’ sound.

Zdar’s first major studio credit following Cassius’ first success was as mixer on United, the 2000 debut album by the Paris-based group Phoenix, which was a low-key cult success; although he later recorded their international breakthrough successes Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009) and Bankrupt! (2013) at Motorbass. Other key album recordings he was involved in include Cut Copy’s Bright Like Neon Love (2004), Two Door Cinema Club’s Tourist History (2010), The Rapture’s In the Grace of Your Love (2011) and three albums in the mid-2010s by American group OneRepublic.

More recently he worked on Always Ascending, the acclaimed 2018 comeback by the new-look incarnation of Franz Ferdinand, and this year’s similarly-feted A Bath Full of Ecstasy by Hot Chip, which is due for release later this week. In his vision for perfect, uncluttered, good-time pop music with a thoughtful edge, Zdar the producer was a Nile Rodgers for the electronic age.

Philippe Zdar was born Philippe Cerboneschi in 1967, and raised in Aix-les-Bains in the Savoie region of France; his family were in the hotel business. He moved to Paris to study and, alongside singing in a punk band and playing drums in a metal group, one of his earliest jobs in music was as an assistant to the French studio engineer Dominique Blanc-Francard. He worked in the studio on records by French luminaries including Serge Gainsbourg, Etienne Daho and Vanessa Paradis.

It was Blanc-Francard who introduced Zdar to his son Hubert, and together they began producing for the French rapper MC Solaar, before releasing their own proto-Cassius work as La Funk Mob in the mid-1990s. Zdar also released one album as Motorbass, a duo with Etienne de Crecy, in 1996, and Pansoul is now viewed as a cult classic of French Touch.

In Paris to perform with Cassius in celebration of their new record, Zdar died when he accidentally fell from an apartment balcony. He is survived by a teenage daughter from his relationship with actor Aure Atika, and a son and daughter with the designer Dyane de Serigny