During a jaw-dropping 30 plus years behind the decks and in the studio, Funk D’Void’s musical career has taken him all over the world. His tracks, like the infamous and much loved techno stomper Diabla, and remixes for New Order, Underworld or Laurent Garnier’s Man with the Red Face among many, many others, have gained him both respect and notoriety in the music industry.
He has had his fair share of everything a DJ career in the limelight entails, including the highs and the lows, such as the shenanigans a few years ago surrounding his T-shirt company in the USA, which saw the dance music veteran test his character and fan base. Now Funk D’Void, known to most in the industry as Lars (Lars Sandberg), sets the record straight on that string of absurd events and chats to Decoded Magazine’s Mark J about how it has helped him adapt to and deal with modern challenges faced by musicians in the public eye in an era of always on, instantly communicated false news and distorted narratives.
Lars doesn’t dwell on it though. He also discusses his new studio set-up, future projects and the initiatives he supports, especially his community work here in Barcelona through the city’s chapter of the Guardian Angels campaigning against street crime and for more community outreach. But before that, a little background is required, and whilst Lars has resided in Barcelona for nearly half of his life, the journey began back in his native Scotland.
In the 80s, Glasgow’s Indie-Pop music pioneers were absolutely bursting out of the city’s vibrant scene and quickly became stars. In fact, it is well documented that London-based A&Rs crossed the border quite regularly and signed anyone they could. Bands such as Hue & Cry, Simple Minds and The Jesus & Mary Chain among countless others made it big on the national and international scene during this period. Glasgow was quite the centre of the music world at this time. Then came the 90s and the dance music underground. Stories of Glasgow’s night manoeuvres throughout the 90s were peppered throughout popular culture magazines like DJ Mag or Mixmag and the city was banging well before London started to bounce to the beat. Lars started DJ-ing when he was 15 in Glasgow’s clubs, cutting his teeth on the alternative music, laying down the very best in early Chicago House and Techno with other alternative and new wave sounds.
Music was always in the home. His mother was a well-loved pianist and clearly some of that talent rubbed off on the teen. But it wasn’t all about the DJ-ing. There was other work to be done to help him earn his keep.
“I used to deliver frozen chicken to Chinese restaurants and sell advertising space over the phone,” Lars recollects. “My real name was too weird to close deals with clients so I had to change my name to Simon Walsh. I was so shit at it though! I remember actually pitching to a company boss with the same name and even then I couldn’t convince him to buy.”
“My big break at 16 years old was getting a gig and the chance to play in a nightclub with Keith from Desert Storm (Keith Robinson, dec 2016). His way of lifting people up stays with me to this day,” he added.
Inspired through that, some classical music nurturing and applying his talents to the newer and emerging sounds in his early sets, Lars soon began to craft some fine sounding house and techno fire of his own. Ever since then, he has spun at the world’s hottest clubs and events, clocking up a highly impressive number of DJ sets and live gigs under his Funk D’Void moniker or as Francois Dubois (yep that was him too!) Today though, it appears Lars is at a mental and cultural crossroads about the electronic scene, and for good reasons too.
“I’ve no idea about the scene right now as I’m a bit of a hermit nowadays and don’t pay attention to it,” he confirmed.
Maybe most readers remember Funk D’Void’s Balance Series Mix Session, sealing him a place at the top table of DJ-dom. For others though, he will surely be remembered from Glasgow’s nightlife circuit. Back then, his music was eagerly signed by the city’s now legendary Soma Quality Music label – a pioneering label family that included founders Slam, Silcone Soul, H-Foundation and Daft Punk.
So, after numerous successful releases and remixes, along with notching up tonnes of worldwide gigs, why on earth would he want to leave all of that and move to somewhere like Barcelona?
“I fell in love with the city when my feet hit the tarmac,” Lars recalled. “I’ve spent nearly half of my life here and haven’t regretted a minute of it. I loved Glasgow during my childhood and the hedonistic 90s but the move in ‘98 just felt like a natural progression of where I needed to be. There have been lots of ups and downs, but it has been the most enjoyable backdrop to my adult life.”
“For most of the 2000s, I was a resident DJ at Razzmatazz Barcelona. Then at Moog for the last part of the decade… and now I’m in the best spot in town – La Macarena. The management there are like family to me now and have shown me so much support over the years,” he added.
Citizens on Patrol
Being a long term Barcelona resident, Lars is constantly moved by both positive and negative changes to his city. So much in fact, that Lars, for a number of years, has been campaigning against the rise of street violence against residents and tourists here. Now, he and fellow campaigners from Barcelona’s recently formed chapter of the Guardian Angels (originally formed in New York during the 80s), have all stepped up to actively patrol problem areas in neighbourhoods and on the city’s metro system, where pick-pocketing and petty violence is rife. In fact, I often see him when I’m nipping about the city on business.
“We walk around town helping people out. Tourists, the homeless, the elderly… anyone who needs a hand. I feel more like a giant Boy Scout at times, but it’s a natural fit for me. I’ve always admired the Guardian Angels my whole life but I never thought I’d end up as one in Barcelona, and it got me in shape too. If anyone in Barcelona feels like helping out as an angel too, drop us a line!” he said.
For anyone who knows about this organisation, it’s more than simply patrolling hotspots. The Guardian Angels are also very well know for their community outreach and events to support those affected individuals and the organisation’s aims.
Ripping the T-shirt off his back
As some of you maybe aware, Lars had an online T-shirt store based in the USA… in fact one of his best sellers was a shirt bearing the words ‘Fuck Berlin, Barcelona has a beach! It looks like the city got some kind of revenge in the end though. To put the record straight, Lars didn’t say anything offensive or support anything like what has been claimed in certain dance music media and their related social networks at the time. The T-shirt company (now rebranded “Punk The Void”) also produced and sold merchandise for other organizations and artists – like Amazon does.
Unfortunately, some items from the online product range – a mug and t-shirt – drew attention due to featuring logos belonging to Scottish Canadian conservative (and founder of VICE) Gavin McInnes and his online show. Then one thing led to another before Lars could explain himself (he wasn’t hiding either) or take the offending items offline. It was all over for him in social-media sphere, starting with a gig cancellation in Berlin, and snowballed from there.
“I genuinely thought he was a comedian, not the Alt-Right maniac the media was portraying him as…but I cut ties and distanced myself when his organisation started going to political rallies – not cool”
Is he a bit guilty of not realizing how such a connection might look to his fans? Possibly. Was he openly promoting unsavoury ideals himself? Nope. Not at all. Yet, are our own ethics, totally pure and unblemished that they, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves the same question? The age of consumerism says maybe not actually, judging by all the shit we have accumulated over the years, most of it produced for pennies per piece in far away territories. Reading this article on an iPhone counts. What about Amazon and its practices? Does it stop us from using their devices or services?
“In hindsight, I realised it was silly to get involved with them. I made a misjudgment with that T-shirt episode, but it was a way more divisive time back then, what with that big election result, and being apolitical, I was hung out to dry and sentenced to death by Internet Outrage Cannons,” he stated.
Ricky Gervais delivered the kind of message that Lars truly believes in at his performance as an announcer at the Golden Globes Awards.
“I loved what Gervais said at that awards ceremony and it was delivered compassionately. The mainstream media backlash against his words is actually an excellent gauge of how wrong much of their narratives really are. Combined with social media, they seem to be trying to push peoples’ sensitivity levels to new highs, or better, new depths of despair” he said.
“I mean everyone has banter and gets along in football right? I have mates who are Rangers fans, and we take the piss out of each other, so why not with politics or anything else? Maybe it’s just a Scottish thing. Anyway now I shy away from any such conversations because I’m sick of everyone being outraged and losing it over the latest click bait news headline only to forget about it later.” Lars added.
“But what can I do? I’m just treading water and quite fearful of posting anything funny or quirky, anything that is considered too controversial because you know that there will be an imminent backlash of pent-up arrogance, usually because regular social media consumers take in too much targeted trash online.”
“Social Media is a mess and people need to get a grip and open up to different methods of communicating and stop with the stereotyping or getting their info from click bait. Twitter is a vile fucking cesspit of intolerance and shaming and believe me I’m very careful every time I use it now,” he added.
The wrong meme could have your head on a spike at the city gates. The Peace, Love, Unity and Respect crews from back in the day are a far cry from the toxic tribalism we sometimes see in the scene these days. It’s a wee bit of “Old Man Yells at Cloud” but you know what I mean,” he said.
Fixed by Funk, a personal touch for up n’ coming producers
Lars’ new business venture is a far more low-key, no pun intended, but extremely potent for producers looking to sign their first offerings. You can present your new project and get some pure one-to-one counsel with one of the music industry’s production titans.
“Have you noticed the feedback you get now on promos and new music reviews?” asked Lars. It’s quite meaningless… will try, downloaded by whoever, etc! It’s all feedback for the marketing game and I have a few years’ experience with the system. Sometimes though, talented new producers need solid feedback in terms of their production methods because they don’t get that today as label management expertise is pretty much non-existent,” Lars iterated.
“I’m there to tell you where I think you’re going wrong in your approach to your productions, and how to better it. It’s an intricate process when I break down the idea presented and help the artist find their next steps to bettering their sound. I tell you the truth, which seems to be a valuable currency in this world right now,” he added.
“We need some new heroes, maybe this state of emergency over the Covid-19 virus outbreak will help us find one,” Lars declared.
“I recently upgraded my studio worktools and have fallen in love with making music again (hence me writing new tracks right now). I have lots to learn as I have had to catch up from 2006 – when I last bought a studio computer – so it’s little wonder all my productions up until now have sounded retro! I saw recently Behringer is about to release a free DAW complete with plugins so that will be interesting to see how that develops,” said Lars.
The music is the next phase in his journey and fans will be happy to hear that he has produced some new material under his old Francois Dubois alias, firstly with a forthcoming remix for Tony Lionni. He happily reports that new work has been completed, already snapped up, signed and ready to go soon.
On the radar
“Diary-wise though, with the Covid-19 virus currently gripping the world, all gigs are on a hiatus – which I’m fully supporting,” he commented. “We have to take every precautionary measure to slow down the infection rate to give the health services time to prepare for sick patients and virus labs around the world come up a vaccine.”
“Be prepared though – this is the biggest global event of lifetime. We’re all in for some tough times ahead. I’m asthmatic so I realise what may lie ahead if I contract it. Fingers crossed myself or any of you lot doesn’t. I really mean that. It’s a killer!”
There it is. So when you are at home under self- or enforced isolation, think of him, because while Lars will always be a music guy in the studio, he is also the guy patrolling Barcelona’s streets and metro system (maybe not right now though due to Barcelona’s lockdown) looking to help the vulnerable and the needy. Or anyone really.