Laurent Garnier comes bearing gifts. For over 30 years, he has supplied the electronic music scene with glittering gems; from fleeting moments of transcendence at 4am, to timeless loops of groove etched into wax. His latest offering reveals his long-awaited return to techno production: a three-track EP wrapped in a simple blue and white cover, courtesy of Germany’s Kompakt Records.
Titled ‘Tribute’, the release honors its name in content, each song a personal gesture of gratitude to the people, things and moments that Laurent has loved. Anyone who has seen the French godfather of electronica play to a crowd knows that Laurent loves a lot – and is loved back by the dancefloor in equal measure.
He flickers to life on-screen with a warm, wide smile as he joins DJ Mag for a Skype call from his home studio in the South of France. Laurent’s energy, like his music, is expansive and magnetic; we suggest it might pull us through the laptop screen and deposit us right there alongside him in his hometown. He laughs heartily, holding up a finger in jest: “Ah, no. I am not from here. I am originally from Paris – sorry; no one is perfect!”
No one is perfect, but ‘Tribute’ is as close to a release sans flaws as it gets in dance music. Encompassing a broad range of emotion, from the funky, acid-infused groove of ‘Swinging @ Da Suga!’, to the swirling synths of ‘From The Crypt To The Astrofloor’ and the melancholic beauty of ‘1-4 Doctor C’est Chouette’, the EP is a holy electronic trinity: in it, Laurent introduces listeners to the party creator, the dancefloor spirit and the ghost of the night’s departed.
At the close of his six-hour sunrise set at Time Warp in Germany last month, Laurent cued up ‘From The Crypt To The Astrofloor’. Yet to be released, the crowd had never heard the song. We stood there among them, smiling as a single disco ball twirled in the milky morning light, its mirrored tiles casting bright reflections across a sea of faces tilted up toward the glass ceiling. They loved it.
As if by some stroke of sorcery, the track transported the dancefloor to a new physical space – from the dark caverns of techno to the glittering space of sunrise melody – and brought us weary ravers back to life.
‘Tribute’ is more than the sum of its three mesmerizing tracks; it pays as much homage to electronic music as it does to the people and places for which it is written. Intrigued by who and what inspired him, DJ Mag asks Laurent Garnier to share the stories behind the record…
DJ Mag: You’ve given a lot to people over the decades, in the form of music and experiences. What inspired you to produce an EP as a literal ‘Tribute’?
“There are periods in life when you feel like you want to give something to people because things have happened, and the last year has been a very weird period, personally. I felt like I wanted to give back to some of my friends, without having to explain everything… it was time for me to do that. I felt I had some amazing gigs, so I wanted to do a couple of tracks for the places and people I've been working with. And then the track ‘1-4 Doctor C’est Chouette’ – that one is for a friend of mine who passed away. I needed to do that. I needed to get it out of my system.”
We’re very sorry to hear that you lost a friend.
“I mean, it's not the first person who passed away since I've been making music, but I just felt it was right to do it. It was my way to say goodbye. And because as he was a good friend, I gave him a lot of music when he was very ill – and even though he was not at all in the music business, it was my way to connect with him. I felt it would be a nice way to end the playlist I gave him when he was very ill at the hospital, with this song.”
So, you produced ‘1-4 Doctor C’est Chouette’ for him when he needed it most…
“When he was in the hospital, he couldn't move very much. He was taking a lot of drugs at the end because he was very ill, and he was suffering a lot. I said to him, ‘Listen, I'm going to give you a playlist of tracks to listen to when you're on drugs – a playlist with crazy tracks to listen to when you're completely off your head!’ He is not a person who was into drugs or anything at all, but he had a really good sense of humor and it made him laugh.
"So, I went to see him and gave him an MP3 player that I filled with hundreds of tracks. I don't even think he heard them all before he passed, but I gave him loads of music. And I thought the track I did for him was a nice way to say goodbye.”
It is a truly beautiful, sentimental track. What other songs did you put on the playlist for him?
“I gave him some very fucked up, psychedelic stuff. Weird jazz. Some other weird stuff... You know, sometimes when you listen to music and you think, ‘Oh wow, if I'm tired or if I'm really off somewhere, that would be a nice track to listen to!’ You know what I mean?”
We do. Speaking of which, we love the EP’s super trippy track, ‘From The Crypt To The Astrofloor’…
“This is a trippy track, I must say! I made ‘From The Crypt To The Astrofloor’ for some people in Brittany, France, who organize a festival every summer called Astropolis. They have a label as well, Astropolis Records, on which I find a lot of music I really like. And the guys from Astropolis, they've been fighting very hard for the development of the whole scene in France, for years. They used to throw the Astropolis party at the beginning in a very strange, trippy castle in Brittany. How can I describe the place? It’s a bit like Cinderella's castle… on acid.”
Cinderella’s castle on acid – where do we sign up?!
“Yes, like a creepy Cinderella castle on complete acid! I’ve been to that place a lot of times with many of my friends, played a lot there. Eventually, Astropolis moved the party because the space was too small. But this year, we went back to the castle for the filming of a documentary about a French DJ called Manu Le Malin. Manu asked me if I could come there to this Cinderella castle and do a special party with him. It was Lenny Dee, Manu, all the hardcore techno guys…”
We’re assuming no one turned into a pumpkin at midnight.
“[Laughs] I hope not! Anyway, in the castle there are a lot of different rooms. The darkest room is called the Crypt. The Crypt is a room where you can only fit like 150 to 200 people, and every time they have the hardest, darkest DJ playing there. And then you have another room, sort of outdoors but still inside the walls of the castle, and that room is called the Astrofloor. So, when I went back last year to play with Manu and Lenny Dee and all my friends, everybody from the Astropolis party came because it was a one-off back to the castle.
"And the vibe on that night was absolutely mad, completely crazy. Manu was playing downstairs in the Crypt, I was playing upstairs on the Astrofloor. And basically, the idea of this track is like you’re going from the deep dark Crypt, with a really nasty bass, to the Astrofloor outside, which is a bit more luminous. The way the track builds up, it’s like you are rising up from the dark cave…”
It breaks wide open halfway through, from sub-heavy darkness to sparkling light, in a very immersive way. Like a birth – or death.
“Yes, exactly. So this is the idea behind this track, as well as giving a tribute to my friends from Astropolis, Manu Le Malin, who is a good friend of mine, and that party and everything they did for the scene over the years. I think they deserve to have a track for that.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you made this funky, acid jam called ‘Swingin @ Da Suga!’, which sounds exactly like its title.
“This track [only on the digital release] is for a club I run with my friends from Nuits Sonores – which is another big festival in France. About two years ago we opened this space called Le Sucre [The Sugar] in Lyon. I wanted to do something along the lines of DJ Pierre. Something with a clubby build up, a little bit disco. I mean, my own version of weird disco – but really something DJ Pierre style, with stabs and fat bass. It's actually the first track I did for this EP.”
What about the club inspired this kind of sound?
“Well, it's a very special place for me because I opened it with close friends. We try not to play just techno in that club. We do African nights, and we do some really cool gay nights… I actually started out DJing in the gay scene 30 years ago and then I kind of moved away from it because I felt it became a bit too political and it was not as fun as it used to be. But now, there are these new people having these crazy parties there, and they invited me to come down and DJ for the gay night. So, I did.
"And I ended up with lipstick on, dressed up with a wig, DJing – like the old days! It was just fun. It was completely mad, but felt really normal and simple. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is so refreshing!’ Because there were a lot of the techno kids there too, and everybody got along very well. When I came back home I knew I had to do a track for this night because as a DJ, every year you have a handful of parties that stick out from all the others. That was one of them, definitely.”
That’s a great story. They all are, for each track…
“It's just very simple. I mean, I don't know how it is for other people, but I know for me, I need to starve myself from music in order to want to make music. I don't make too much music, and I do that on purpose because I think if I make too much, I will repeat myself. And I hate repeating myself. There might be some sounds that sound very ‘Garnier’ in my productions. But I like being different, and this is why the three tracks on the EP are quite different.
"Still, they all suit my DJ sets very well; I can definitely play the three of them without forcing myself at a different period during the night. But I never know – I never, ever know where I want to go. Never. I'm not this kind of musician who says, ‘Alright, this is the frame; I'm keeping that frame; I want to do this or I want to do that, and then I'm staying that way.’ I can't do that. It doesn't work with me. It never will.”
It’s refreshing to hear an EP that contains something different for each part of the night.
“Well, that's who I am when I'm DJing. I go from deep house to thumping techno, and that's for me what music is all about. We can't stay stuck to one thing – how boring would that be?!”
Your style has inspired a lot of people over the years. When we interviewed Adam Beyer for last year’s cover story, he recalled a night 25 years ago when you came to play in Sweden. That was his first rave, and it left a big impression on him.
“Oh wow, I remember that party very well!”
“Yes, it was the night of my birthday. The party ended up being in some sort of school gymnasium, packed with about 200 people. It was a crazy, amazing night and I remember it really well… one guy actually got on the mic and began speaking in Swedish. I couldn't understand a word he was saying but then the whole room began singing, ‘Happy Birthday.’ It was very moving, very moving.”
Well, it apparently moved Adam also – enough to make a career out of it.
“Cool. That makes my day. Saying that some guy as big as Adam Beyer, that I inspired them at the beginning – what can I say? It's wonderful. It's brilliant. I did my job well on that night which is good, which is what you should do; which is what you should try to do all the time. So it's great. And luckily, there are a lot of people who still inspire me all the time.”
Enough to make tributes for…
Words: ERIN SHARONI Pics: RICHARD BELLIA, RUBEN SCHMITZ