Festival Focus

Down the Rabbit Hole: Agar Agar

Interview by Zofia Ciechowska
Photos by Studio Racket in Paris, France

Meet Agar Agar, the experimental synth pop duo from Paris named after a tasteless, odorless plant-based gelatin alternative that pools at the bottom of petri dishes, or turns vegan pudding extra thick and luscious. Clara Cappagli and Armand Bultheel crossed paths in the expansive studios of art school, where their musical sensibilities fused into Agar Agar’s shape-shifting electronic sound, ranging from witty futuristic beats to swelling melodramatic disco. 

At their core is a childlike delight in the absurd, the surreal and the unknown – pulsating through their improvised lyrics, grinning dogs and cracked eggs painted on their album art. After the rapt reception of their debut album, The Dog and the Future, Agar Agar are up for another round of touring before entering their next phase of music-writing. We sat down with Clara to learn what brings the duo together, how to sing to dogs, and the story of her grandfather’s harmonica.

How have you changed since your art school days, and what remains the same? 

The biggest change is that our music turned into a job, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. It became our lives. We’re not students anymore. We enjoy it just as much as back then; that hasn’t changed. It’s really just about having fun with music.

Your individual musical backgrounds differ, you come from a DIY punk background, and Armand has been in electronic music. Tell me more about what unites you as Agar Agar.

I don’t know if I can put it into words. Armand and I went to the musical conservatory when we were kids. When you leave such a traditional, strict institution, you just want to break all the rules that you’ve been taught!

“…if my future dog is not a music lover, then I don’t think things will work out between us.”

I come from a punk background. I was trying to scream a lot, invent different personalities and narratives with my voice, and play guitar. When we began playing together, it was Armand’s first experience of working with a singer. For him, it was crazy having a vocals on his instrumentals. When we improvised and felt the energy, we kept going. I would have never made that kind of music if I hadn’t met Armand. I didn’t know anything about synthesizers either. Armand spent hours teaching me everything. What unites us is that we learn new things from each other, that’s why it works. 

What makes you laugh? 

We are like little silly doggies! We’re both very childish inside!

Speaking of dogs, if you could say one sentence to a dog and know they would understand, what would you say?

I wouldn’t say one sentence! I’d sing some very long, repetitive yogi mantras to my dog, all day long! I used to have a dog when I was little and I would sing everything to him all the time. Nowadays, I don’t have a dog, but if my future dog is not a music lover, then I don’t think things will work out between us.

You went away to a remote place to paint and make your last album. Where are you going next? What do you look for in a place that you want to create in?

“Armand is really into looking for empty warehouses…When he finds one, he enters and locks himself inside and waits for the cops to show up.”

We felt like we needed to be in a place that neither of us knew. We chose to rent a house deep in the forest, not far from my parents’ home in Biarritz. We were in a place that felt very remote and unknown to us both. It it was the first time we composed music together in an environment like that. It really made us get to know each other better, and compose better music. For the next album, we are planning on going somewhere again, we don’t know where yet.

I hear you get into rabbit holes, like playing The Sims a lot when you were making your last record. What’s your new obsession?

Armand is really into looking for empty warehouses in Paris right now. When he finds one, he enters and locks himself inside and waits for the cops to show up. He’s found two so far. I’m obsessed with books. Reading long, bulky books feels very extravagant when touring when you’re traveling light. When I returned to Paris, I said to myself –- dude, you need to read a book that’s going to take at least two weeks to create more stories in your head! So I picked up El Salvaje by the Mexican writer, Gabriel Arriaga.

What instruments are entering your repertoire more? While we’re talking instruments, can you tell me the story of your grandfather’s harmonica?

We’ve talked about adding some more ambient chords, maybe adding to our synth set up, but it’s still going to sound like the Agar Agar you know. We like the way we sound.

The story of my grandfather’s harmonica is really sad. Seven years ago, I was waiting at a bus station in Bordeaux round midnight. I was kinda drunk. Three completely average girls came up and talked to me for what felt like a long time, they were friendly. Suddenly, they took my bag and ran off. Inside was my grandfather’s harmonica. I never got it back. It was my only one, and I was still learning how to play at the time. I’ve made peace with its loss now.

 Who inspires you? Describe the things and people you try to surround yourselves with.

Our entire tour team is the greatest I’ve ever experienced. Our music label, Cracki Records and booking agency, Pedro Booking are from the same friend group. We feel like a big family. The history of our band is not just about Armand and I, it’s also about them. I feel very blessed to have been part of so many bands thanks to this community. I feel deeply connected to them. It’s nice to do what I love with the people who I love and respect.


Agar Agar performed at Down the Rabbit Hole Festival 2019. Subbacultcha has proudly produced this years Down the Rabbit Hole festival guide for the fifth time, available here.