- Tue, 2009-08-11 16:47
Laurent Garnier is widely recognised as one of the best DJs in the world. Having made his debut at Manchester's Hacienda in 1987, he has gone on to play a huge role in the growth and development of electronic music worldwide. Over the last 20 years he has played across all major clubs and festivals, an achievement which comes as no suprise to followers who named him the 'Flying DJ' early on in his career.
His love and passion for music, coupled with his mastery of the decks ensure him a loyal following wherever he goes. Notorious for requesting sets at least six hours long, he takes the crowd on a journey, effortlessly blending techno, house, drum & bass, breaks, hip hop, reggae, jazz, rock, punk and more. Held in the highest esteem by the godfathers of Detroit techno, Laurent created his own record label, F Communications in 1994. He has gone on to produce a list of impressive albums, write a book, form a live band, work with contemporary dance choreographers and continue to produce his own music.
I Like Music caught up with Laurent Garnier to chat, first and foremost, about his music. An insightful conversation followed where we discovered why he does not enjoy playing short sets, his opinion on 'the duty of the DJ', how he can tell if he has the audience in the palm of his hand and exactly why he likes music.
"I Like Music because… first of all, music is my life. There’s no way I can think of my life without music. It brings people together. It has no religion. Religion has been killing a lot of people for thousands of years. Music is about expressing yourself and making your neighbour understand you and therefore understand the world a little bit better. For me music is one of the keys of life, of sharing and of being together.” Laurent Garnier
ILM: You’ve achieved a great many things through your music. Which of those are the most important to you?
Laurent: There are not many things I’ve done that I regret. Everything from an album that was not well received, to a gig that did not go down how I wanted, has been important to me. I needed to experience the mistakes. Without the history of everything that I’ve done I would not be where I am now. Every step and each level has been important.
ILM: How has your process of making music changed and developed over the years?
Laurent: It has completely changed. Take my first album Shot In The Dark and my most recent, Tales of a Kleptomaniac…Before Shot In The Dark I had made a number of other singles with some other guys. After a while, I started to get criticisms. You know. “Garnier, he’s always making sure he is making music with good people. So it’s not really his music.” Shot In The Dark was a complete reaction to that. I locked myself in my little bedroom and I did it all myself. It was a reaction. I was on my own, not knowing where the hell I was going and learning the machines for the first time.
Tales of a Kleptomaniac is the result of being on stage with a lot of different musicians, and having finally, two or three years ago, managed to find the right band for me. It’s taken me nearly ten years to get that together. So all of that has added to and changed the process. The way I’m working now is completely different to the way I was working when I started out.
ILM: Would you say your reasons for making music have changed?
Laurent: 15 years ago I was creating for a purpose. I was making music that I wanted to be played in a club to people who would dance until four o clock in the morning. I’ve completely emptied myself out from that. Now I just make music for me. I make music I feel good with. I free myself from thinking that it should be dancefloor or sound like a Detroit track, or sound like it’s coming out of Chicago. If it’s cinematic, if it’s sad, if it’s blues, if it’s rock, if it sounds African, it doesn’t matter. It’s a different way of working.
ILM: The internet’s involvement within the music industry has developed greatly since you started your career, how has that affected your work?
Laurent: Because of the internet I can work with people I’ve never met, which I suppose is sad in a way, but the internet opened me up to this. It made it happen, it made it easy and it made it possible. The reggae track on the album, Food For Thought, was done with a Jamaican singer called Winston Mc Anoff. At the time that I was making the track, he was in Jamaica. I only saw him once playing live, everything was done through his manager who is a huge reggae fan. They run a Reggae label in Paris and I’ve been following their music for a long time.
ILM: Do you think that removes some of music’s passion and spirit?
Laurent: For the kids, who can click five times on a keyboard and have everything they want, yes, I think it does. When I was a kid I was truly passionate about music. Going to buy records took up at least four or five hours of my time. Because I lived far away from Paris it was an hour and a half journey to the record shop. I was young and the guys there were much older, I was scared going to this shop when I was 14! The records were very expensive too, so you could only buy one. Buying an album was like buying the grail! On the way back home, for an hour and a half I would just read the sleeve and take it all in. You were holding a piece of history, it was an important thing. If you wanted to be different, you had to search. You had to buy the right magazines, go to the right places and know more than everybody else. Information was hard to get. Now there is so much everywhere and it makes people a bit lazy.
ILM: A lot of artists find it hard not to analyse music when they listen to it. How do you listen to music?
Laurent: I never ask myself those questions. When I hear something, if it really touches me, it’s that simple. It touches me. For me, music is a visceral thing. It talks to you, or it doesn’t. It touches you, or it doesn’t. It grabs you, or it doesn’t. It’s as simple as this.
ILM: Has anything grabbed your attention recently?
Laurent: The album of Anthony Joseph! This is a guy I’m dreaming to work with! I know one day we will! Even though I had heard the album he made before, which was released in Holland, the most recent one blew me away completely. Also, Patrick Watson. His album is absolutely stunning! I got the same electric shock listening to this as when I listen to Radiohead! I played the album when I had some friends over, and after 20 minutes everyone sort of stopped, looked at each other and said “What are we listening to?” We stopped talking and just listened to the album.
Also, I went to see Jimi Tenor a few weeks ago and he absolutely blew me away live. We were playing a festival and he was playing on the stage where the catering was. I’d heard his music before, I’d always liked it, but I can’t say I was a big fan. I just liked it. I thought it was good, so I went to check it out. I got there at the start and I did not move for an hour and a half! My mouth was open, I was just thinking “Oh my fucking God!” That was a big thing for me.
ILM: What’s your earliest musical memory?
Laurent: I have always been pulled into all sorts of musical directions. Disco was a big revolution to my child world. The beats, the kick drum in front of everything. It was quite raw, it was funky, but it was different to funk. Disco came when I was ten or eleven and it was a really different way of putting funk music together. When I heard one of the first disco tracks, I felt the same as when I heard one of the first house tracks. It was like someone was thumping me in the face! I was hearing something fresh. Punk was a big thing too. Of course rock n roll was there. But punk was an extremist reaction to the music at the time. I loved the extreme-ness and the rawness to it.
ILM: Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
Laurent: An artist I have been following all my life is David Bowie. I discovered Bowie when I was 13 or 14. It was as much to do with what Bowie represented as well as his music. I loved his music! I discovered him when I was thirteen years old and I was starting to smoke spliffs and stuff like that. It was part of a dream world. I wanted to rebel and get out of my house and I just thought he was the coolest! What he represented really inspired and excited me a lot as a kid. I’ve followed him all the way through his career. Over the years you really find out that the man is a true genius.
ILM: In a nutshell, what do you dislike about playing short sets?
Laurent: If you’re asking for one artist to come from far and play, you just can’t get a good picture of him in an hour.
ILM: Do you plan your sets to suit a certain type of audience, depending on where you travel?
Laurent: You can’t plan your sets for the simple reason that every single night the soundsystem is different, the structure of the whole thing is different. A record that might sound good in a room, might not sound good the day after. We’ve all experienced that. Especially when we’re playin vinyl. The mix that is going to send people to heaven one night, might completely kill the crowd the next night. Believe me, I’ve made a hundred times this experience! It is because it is not the same moment. The hardest thing for me as a DJ is to find a moment. You always search for the moment where a crowd has clicked. It’s easy to have the crowd with their hands in the air, you just play obvious records and then you get them. But that is not the point of our job.
ILM: What is the point of your job?
Laurent: I always compare the club and the DJ to a train. You always search for the moment where you have the driver clicked with the rest of the train. Once you have them, you can start the engine and you can start travelling. You need to make them trust you. Once they trust you, then you can take them really far. You can shake them all about too, if you’ve got them. That is the hard thing to do for me. I always search for getting them.
ILM: How can you tell when you’ve found that ‘moment’?
Laurent: At one point you can feel it. You can deeply feel it. Once you have them, you take them away. There’s a lot of places that you go, where you can’t feel them. It works, they dance, it’s ok, but you still know you don’t have everybody. That’s the hardest thing to do. Not to only catch the first ten people in the room, usually they’re the fans! It’s like having a spoon on a plate and wanting to scoop all around...you know?
ILM: You’ve mentioned that you love playing in Japan. What is it about the crowds over there that makes it so enjoyable?
Laurent: The crowd is always ready for a trip. They come to the club with an open mind, thinking “We’re ready! We’re ready!” They will not be shocked. They will not whistle at you or spit at you if you play a hiphop track or a salsa track in the middle of a techno set. The whole idea about a crowd like that is to take them as far as you can. Once you’ve scooped the cake and you’ve got it, you need to make it crumble and see how far you can take it. That’s the game you know? To try and play the weirdest records or the least obvious ones to see if they are ready to follow you. It’s kind of a domination game. Will they follow me all that way? Are we going to do it together?
ILM: And that’s why you need more than just a couple of hours?
Laurent: Exactly. If you play an hour you will never be able to express yourself. You will never be able to be yourself. If you only have an hour to make them dance, you’re going to do the obvious things. You’re going to play either the hardest records in your box because it’s a room where they really want to go for it or a bunch of obvious crowd pleasers. This is why I don’t like DJ-ing in festivals because I cannot be myself. I can play a slice of who I am. If I have two or three hours then maybe I can slide in a couple of dubstep tracks or a couple of drum n bass tracks, if it is a techno set, you can be a bit cheeky. But you can’t go as far as you want.
ILM: What are your feelings toward DJs who do play obvious, crowd pleasing sets?
Laurent: You always have to have a couple of obvious tracks in your box. Our job is to please the crowd. People pay to go and hear someone who will play records, but at the end of the day, a lot of those people aren’t music people. They just want to have good fun on the weekend. You need to respect them and make them dance. There’s nothing wrong with a good hit! But I think our duty is to show them a bit more and to tell them a bit more. That’s why you need time. You need an hour just to feel the crowd. To really start understanding how things are going to go. The first hour is searching. In the first hour I search. I go up, I go down. I try a little of this and that. And even though it stays together music wise, I try things out.
ILM: What are your future plans?
Laurent: I’ve got a big plan with a French contemporary dance choreographer for a show in Russia at the Bolshoi Theatre. Maybe the biggest venue in the world! I’ll be making the music for that. We’ve been talking about it for a year. The show will be in September 2010. I’m also translating the book Electroshock into English with my wife. So that will be available in English, hopefully at the start of 2010. Then the film, which we might shoot in 2010. That will take another year to be released. So I have things planned at least until 2011! I have a lot of plans!
ILM: Will you find some time to get back behind the decks?
Laurent: I’ll be playing live until around March or April 2010. I should think I’ll carry on DJing! It’s starting to tickle my feet! I’ve stopped DJing completely, seeing as we’re playing live. The idea hadn’t come into my head for a while. A lot of people have been saying “Aren’t you missing it?” and I’m like “Nope!” But over the last two weeks, the idea of playing records jumped in my head again! So by March next year I’ll be dying to play records. I’ll be very happy to DJ again!