As poet William Butler Yeats once mused, ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’. Well, in the case of Quentin Dupieux, aka Mr. Oizo, the question is rather, how can we tell the furry yellow glove puppet from the recording artist?
Twenty years ago today, on 22 March 1999, Dupieux released Flat Beat, a track described as a “stupid loop” by its creator, but one that saw chart success around the world, thanks to its association with an infamous Levi’s commercial.
In truth, the character, known as Flat Eric, and Dupieux had history; the producer had picked up a cheap yellow glove puppet at a fair, which became the ‘star’ of one of his early videos for F Communications, M Seq, the video for which can be found here.
Dupieux’s work caught the attention of advertising giant BBH, and following some slight adjustments – additional fur, and a slightly altered nose – Eric became the star of the Levi’s ad, for the clothing firm’s Sta-Prest range.
“It was supposed to be 20 seconds for the commercial,” he explained. “So I just did what I was doing back in the day: this rough house music thing. I did a draft in two hours the day before I went to LA to shoot the commercial.”
Dupieux also retained a cut of the merchandising rights for Eric, which proved rewarding – as the paper reported, it gave him ‘the sort of financial independence he had never dreamed of’ – and while he has gone on to develop a sizeable bank of material in the decades since (largely on Ed Banger Records), part of him is always drawn back to his period soundtracking one of the 90s’ most iconic commercials.
“When I do DJ gigs there’s always at least five people who bring the Flat Eric puppet,” he told The Guardian. “It’s so cute and funny; I created a character that will live forever.”
Or, to paraphrase WB Yeats, a ‘terrible beauty was born’…