Laurent Garnier — DJ, producer, festival promoter, club owner, author — is still perhaps the greatest French export in dance music. He's mixed this month's storming SW4 covermount mix, packed with fresh French artists, ahead of an appearance at the festival. Fired up by his country's dance renaissance, he talks to us about that and loads more...
One of the most famous French purveyors of original techno and electronica, Laurent Garnier is not backwards at coming forwards when it comes to supporting the exciting, fresh, new French talent that’s currently oozing from the scene there. So much so that he’s dedicated his entire mix for this issue’s SW4 covermount CD to upcoming Gallic artists and producers, as well as including a few of the old faves.
“It’s crazy because there’s so much stuff at the moment! I mean it’s never been as active as in the last five or eight years,” he enthuses from his home in the south of France. And when it comes to his own ‘stuff’, it’s a long list of projects that melts the mind. For starters, the 10-year-old book ‘Electrochoc’ that he co-wrote with friend David Brun-Lambert has finally been given a full English translation with a chunky new chapter added and a digital release promised; he’s also appearing in a graphic novel, Reves Syncopes, in character from his radio show It Is What It Is, talking about the history of dance music. Earlier this summer he co-hosted his own alternative festival called Yeah; he wrote the score for a contemporary ballet; toured live with his new group Loud Bass & Samples; and more recently has opened a club with Agoria called Le Sucre. DJ Mag had the pleasure of an audience with him prior to his appearance on Clapham Common for SW4…
Thank you for doing the mix. It’s a wicked selection of tracks...
“Yes, I think it’s a nice selection of tracks and I think it’s open-minded to what’s happening in France at the moment. France is amazing, super exciting.”
Tell us about that…
“Well, I don’t know what happened. All these young kids are coming with all this great music. It’s really weird because my record boxes have never been so full with French stuff, and really exciting stuff, like from Chicago-influenced house stuff to the deeper musical Detroit stuff to the harder, German-style music. It’s all there, it’s all coming, and there’s a lot of quite trippy stuff as well, and I’ve found such versatility with the music. I think it’s also part of the festivals happening in France outside of Paris, that are really becoming important, key events. And I think it’s pushing kids to make music. There’s a very big thing in Lyon, it’s actually because of the people from the festival Nuit Sonores, these guys are really pushing Lyon and all the artists from around there, and there’s so much music coming from around there and up north, near Lille and places like that. I think it’s just the fact that it’s really growing at the moment and even Paris is changing completely, I mean 10 years ago, five years ago I would have said to you Paris nightlife is absolutely dead and shit. And for the last two or three years it’s been booming, so many new clubs and so many new parties, new people which are involved in the nightlife scene, it’s really exciting.”
Tell us about the festival Yeah…
“It’s my festival, my little festival. The idea of the Yeah festival is that it’s more like a pop, rock festival and we do it in the village where I live, which is a very small village in the south of France, at a very beautiful 15th century castle. And that was the start of it all, basically we got the castle for a date for three days in June, so with my friends from here I thought, 'What can we do with this?' So we booked some bands and we called some of our DJ friends, but more into the rock music or funk music. And we put on this event for, first of all, our friends, and just 650 people. It was completely sold out a month-and-a-half before, it was a real success. It was really good fun to do and it was really nice to look after the artists, it was a very family-orientated festival. We’re going to do another one next year, we’ve already booked the castle for next year.”
We listened to your Sonar mix and that’s very different as well, very arty and experimental…
“The idea of the Sonar mix — because I met with the people from Sonar six months ago — they told me about having guests to do Sonar mixes, and I said to them If I do a mix, I need to have an idea behind it. Then it struck me, why did they call the festival Sonar? So I spoke to them and they said the sound of the sonar, the signal and the meaning of the true sonar and I said, OK, I’m going to work on this.
So the idea for the mix was to find music, that every single piece of music has some kind of a sonar sound idea behind it. You as a listener just listen to the tracks and try to find which is the instrument of the sound I thought was a sonar.”
You’ve got a weekly radio show, how long has that been going?
“On that station this is my fourth season and we’ve just signed for the fifth. But before that I had a show on Radio Nova for about 12 years, 15 years, something like that.”
Do you always do it in French?
“I do, unless someone asks me to do it in English. I replaced Gilles Peterson on his Worldwide radio, and I did it in English for him. It was very similar music to what I play on my show It Is What It Is, but because it is played on French radio here — it’s played in France, in Belgium and in the French part of Switzerland — I do it in French. It looks like I’m going to do a lot of North African countries, the French-speaking ones, it could be Tunisia, Morocco and maybe Algeria, we’re talking with these people. We’d really, really love to do it, I would love to have this show in North Africa, that would be so good to do that.”
Could you tell us about the book you’re involved in?
“Electrochoc came out 10 years ago in France. The book did extremely well, we licensed it in Germany, Spain, Russia and another three or four countries and that did quite well. We’ve been working on the movie of the book for the last six or seven years. I was quite upset because the book never came out in English and I know that people in England, America and places where they speak English have said to me that they can’t find it in English. So one day I got pissed off and I paid someone to do the translation in English and I paid for it myself, so that’s done. We wrote a new chapter of 85 pages so we’re releasing the book for its 10th anniversary in France, and at the same time we’re going to release it digitally in England.”
And what about Reves Syncopes?
“It’s a graphic novel. We’re doing this with a Belgium publishing company because the biggest country for graphic novels is Belgium. France is very big as well on graphic novels, we grew up with kids' cartoons and everyone in France has a big collection of graphic novels, we all do. We’re doing this thing with a brilliant artist, a guy from the south of France, he’s absolutely amazing, and this girl that is living in Berlin. Basically they approached me and they said that ‘We want to do a graphic novel on the first 10 or 12 years of the electronic music world, we’d like to feature you’. The whole thing is asking me questions on the radio station, and then, along with my answers, we go into the countries or the places that we’re talking about.”
We hear you’re working on a new album. How’s that coming along?
“I’ve done nothing yet, I’m getting ready now. It’s in my head but it’s not on paper yet. I’m starting to work on it now. Because I have so much work to do, I’m working on the movie for Electrochoc as well.
So I’m always doing two things at the same time, I’m now getting ready to start working on the album, but I have a lot of music I want to put down, because we’ve been touring with the L.B.S show, and we made a lot of tracks which we were playing live so I’d like to record all of them, because I have a lot of new tracks in my computer. I just need to record them properly in the studio. But there’s quite a lot of things that are ready and on the way.”
Last year we had an SW4 CD that was mixed by Dyed Soundorom, and in his interview he cited you as a big influence on him. How does it feel that many DJs and producers look up to you?
“It’s always really nice when someone comes up to you and says ‘I heard you so many years ago, I’ve been following your career, buying your records and you’ve been inspiring me’. I know exactly how it feels, because I have been inspired by so many people as well. Whenever I get music — and I can very well talk about all the music that I’ve put on the covermount CD — all this music is actually exciting me and inspiring me to go back in the studio and make some music. So, it’s nice to know that I can do the same for other people. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that people are thinking about you as one of their inspirations, it’s a very nice feeling.”
Any other projects on the go?
“We are opening a new club in Lyon with the people from Nuit Sonores called Le Sucre, which means The Sugar. That’s going to be a really exciting new club in France. So there is a hell of a lot coming. Basically it’s going to be a club twice a week and we’re going to do concerts twice a week, and then we’re going to rent the place out for private parties. We can do catering and serve food for about 150 people, so we can serve brunch with some animation for kids and stuff like that. We can do exhibitions as well, it’s a very versatile place.”
Laurent Garnier's French Dressing mix is free with the August edition of DJ Mag.