Julien Chaptal, a French national, now based in Amsterdam is an artist that oozes passion for his craft and the scene as a whole. He is an artist that has evolved over recent years and his live performances could be described as “pulsating with machine wiring, yet undeniably human. Julien’s new LP, ‘The Way’ is about to drop on Carl Cox and Christopher Coe’s youthful but ever impressive, Awesome Soundwave, and it has built up quite a stir. His latest LP was “conceived after a few too many knobs were turned on his Octatrack, sending Julien tumbling through time and space to capture decades worth of dance floor musical influence before returning home”. If that description does not intrigue your electronic musically wired brain then nothing will. I managed to grab a few moments with Julien to talk about this incredible new LP and his thoughts on the electronic music scene.
When I spoke with Julien he was enjoying a coffee and planning on his daily exercise routine to get the mind and body up and running again… “I’ve slowly been welcoming the computer back in my studio workflow, and this one is a Windows machine. I have to learn a few new things along the way since I’ve only ever used macs before. I’m playing and selecting records as we speak for a gig. I’ve recently decided to bring the turntables from the studio back to the living room, where they can give me and the entire neighbourhood a lot more joy than in the studio”.
“In Amsterdam we live so close to each other, it’s a bit like in ‘Rear Window’ from Hitchcock, we share visuals, smells and sounds”.
Probably something my neighbours can relate to as well but that is a conversation for another time… Julien and I got on to the subject of how he first got into electronic music and how he first began working on music production… “As a kid, I used to play records on my dad’s turntable at family events, and a cousin of mine who was a DJ let me hear some of the house records he was playing in the clubs. Around the same time, FG radio station started to broadcast exclusively techno, hardcore, and house music through the night so I was glued to the radio for years before I would be allowed in clubs”. Julien continued… “A friend of mine was asked to volunteer behind the bar at a fundraising rave for the homeless near Paris, and she sneaked me in, that was in 1993. I was 14, and instantly hooked to the feeling of that music, being played at such loud volumes, it all seemed to resonate at the same frequency as my body, and so I felt that need to explore further”.
“It was only after several years of going to illegal raves around Paris that I was finally old enough to get into clubs and around that time I moved to the US. Friends of mine there organized the most amazing parties, everyone dressed up and put on makeup on before going out, you know, like some families do to go to church on Sunday, with a serious kind of dedication as well, but slightly more outrageous”. Julien went on to talk about his upbringing and how music impacted him… “I had been raised by nuns in a catholic school in France but by that time I felt like I found a new religion, so as soon as I got back I picked up a pair of SL1200’s, a mixer, and most importantly, an MPC to create beats. Most people seem to get into making music years after DJing, or nowadays, to get their DJ career on the road, but to me, the priority was to learn how to make music, and to perform it live. That intrigued me a lot. DJing came naturally too because I was obsessed with the music and was collecting records anyways so I played at home for friends, and sometimes I was invited to play at parties too. But I had to figure out how to make music, and I didn’t have anyone around me to show me the ropes so it was a pretty slow process. I learned to play the keys for several years as a kid but I wasn’t very good and that didn’t really help me in getting where I wanted. Of course, that was before the time where you could find tutorials on internet so I did my best to understand what I read in books and manuals but it felt like I was an archaeologist trying to decipher hieroglyph for years. Till 2003 to be exact. That’s when I released music for the first time”.
With releases across labels including Saved, Supplement Facts, Toolroom, Defected, and now Awesome Soundwave it is quite hard to put a label on Julien’s sound. I asked him how he would describe his sound, and also asked him how he thought his sound had evolved over the years… “I’m happy that you would say that. I did get a breakthrough with the music I released and performed, and started touring extensively, around 2007/2008. I felt blessed at the time to get recognition and enjoyed every bit of it”.
“I realised quickly that promoters, and I’m guessing listeners too, were feeling the need to put me in a musical box, it felt like I was expected to reproduce what I had done before, endlessly, in order for anyone to feel comfortable enough to fit me in their box of expectations.”
Julien continued… “That box always made me feel pretty claustrophobic so I had to come up with a way to kick the walls in a manner that the people listening to my music, and promoters alike, could accept from me. I can’t say it’s been easy, and to be honest, this is something I still struggle with to this day, managing expectations is a constant challenge. I see musical output as a whole like a larger scale extension of what I consider to be the essential elements of a great musical piece. The elements of repetition, and expectation drag you in and set the tone as a listener, but the unexpected is what really triggers your attention, and hopefully your emotions, on a deeper level. Since I started making music I’ve always mostly oscillated between making house and techno for the most part but I’ve also made disco, downtempo, and more recently I’ve produced a new wave/punk album for a French duo so I never really wanted to be affiliated with a single sound or genre either. I was of course very happy to be part of the first wave of minimal/groove/funk/House producers in Amsterdam, from around 2003, i felt that we were pioneering a unique and fresh sound that stemmed from influences of the German minimal sound and, for my part, the disco-tinged music I grew up in Paris. Soon enough we got recognition for it and several producers started emulating the sound and it slowly evolved to be the formulaic tech-house that we know today. I have respect for the people who find enjoyment in that evolution of the sound and there’s a lot to stay for sticking to your guns, I would possibly play more, and for larger crowds if I had continued in one direction, but that’s not how I like to value personal success and satisfaction so I just go with my own flow. I feel blessed that I’ve managed to release the music I want to release and still get the chance to have a life that revolves around making, playing, and the past years also teaching music to others.
“The making of ‘The Way’, was done over the course of the past 6 years. The process began after the passing of my father, which triggered a phase of deep changes in my personal and professional life. I made so much music since then, that it is sometimes difficult to wrap my head around what defines my sound today. Recording and compiling this album has been cathartic on several levels, and I’ve actually realised recently that there is an entire other album of very different material which I’d like to get out there in the future, containing all the deep and housey tunes I’ve created since then.”
Julien’s LP ‘The Way’ is due to land on Awesome Soundwave very soon. It is clearly a very emotional album based on what Julien has just spoken about. I asked Julien to talk about the LP and give our readers a little information about what they can expect in terms of sound… “I really wanted this LP to contain mostly tracks that would work well on a dance floor, and as I just told you, I was going through a period of reflection while making it, and I wanted it to be a nod to the various places and times I’ve explored through my journey in the dance music world. I’m hoping that those who listen to it will feel that, but having said that, it’s not a nostalgia album, and I’m hoping people will find it deeply rooted in the now, and looking at the future too. When I managed to speak with Carl Cox about the album last year (he’s such a busy man!), he told me I had “carte blanche” for the music and that he was happy for me to present anything I wanted on the album, being disco, punk of funk if I so pleased. Which I thought was pretty awesome of him to say. My friend Christopher [Coe] who he runs the label with, had heard me play live and I had sent him some of the techno tracks I performed during sets in clubs and festivals and apparently it made both their faces grin and heads bounce up and down in the studio when they heard the music, so I decided that would be the musical direction I would take for the album”.
I went on to ask Julien how the album was constructed… Was it all done in the studio? “The final phase of the album was done in the studio, where I mostly equalised and edited the tracks in the computer, then recorded the music on to a Studer tape machine before sending it to the mastering engineer. The conception was mostly done while traveling, hence the title of the album. Most of the tracks were recorded live in one take in stereo, and then some of them edited later in the studio. Several were recorded in venues during live shows, one of them is a totally improvised jam which I did during Loveland festival, so I’d say most, if not all, are a little rough around the edges. I didn’t want the album to sound and feel too polished, and so when Carl and Chris told me they only planned to release LP’s from live performing artists, It made a lot of sense for me to record the tracks that way. Most tracks also include sounds I found and recorded along the way through my travels, you can hear field recordings throughout. For instance, I crossed the Atlantic on a sailboat while I was working on the album, so you’ll hear a lot of water flowing and dropping in and out of the recordings.
“I made a couple of tracks at a friend’s place on a hillside in Mauritius on a Void sound system blasting through the wild, which was pretty surreal.”
Julien continued… “Then I went back to Amsterdam and built a case to fit some of the instruments I wanted to use to create the remaining tracks and went driving through France and pulled out a generator and Small speakers to continue the recordings and shaking up the wildlife with synthetic sounds in the process. I went to several places in the mountains and also met up with friends, I was like a troubadour, drive-In live show”. Whilst on the album chat and production topic I asked Julien what some of his favourite studio gear is… “I went through a “not OK computer” period since 2012 and mostly used it to multi-track the recordings I was making of the synths and drum machines in the studio. Like many producers, I had sold most of the machines I had collected around 2005 or so because the computer was the way forward, but I started really missing the physical interaction with machines when creating music so I started getting some back in the studio around 2010. I feel I get the best out of the studio when I can create an environment where I feel like a child in a playground, building castles out of sand and bits of whatever’s around. I consider the studio to be a place where I can create a new environment every day, I like to patch machines in new ways when I can, then surrender to the magic they create and try to capture the good moments. Having said that, I’m also telling the students at Conservatorium that they should build templates to speed up their workflow, so I guess I’m full of contradictions when it comes to this. I think what works best for me to jazz things up is to never cling to one way of making music for too long, otherwise, it becomes the same, and boring.”
“For this album (‘The Way’), the main band members were the Octatrack, as the brain of operations, the DX200, which I can’t live without, a 303, a Tetr4, a Moog Minotaur, a machinedrum, Jomox and mfb drum machines, and a collection of effect pedals amongst others. Oh yeah, and a field recorder.”
Changing topic slightly I went on to chat about social media. It has become an integral part of our lives, especially for artists. I asked Julien how he uses the various platforms, and how he balances them with his busy schedule… “I don’t. I’m sure I would have a much more successful career and be busy making Jesus moves on the stages of the world if I did, but I’ve never managed to get into this. I hear I’m going to have to get busy with this now to promote this album, I think I might need to look for little helpers to do it”. Something I am sure Decoded Magazine can help with!!! Julien went on to add… “I really miss some of the magic of whatever image of god-like figures I used to think of artists back in the days when most of their brain farts were at least somewhat curated by the press. I hate to find out that some of the idols I had are just normal people after all. I know it, deeply, but I don’t want to be confronted with it all the time, and certainly, don’t feel like boring people with visual stories of the food I just ate or the aeroplane I just got on to. Yes, I’ve done it as well, but I already told you, I’m full of contradictions”. Very honest from Julien, and we are all guilty of at various times. After all, social media is basically just a bragging platform!
Moving back to music and the label Awesome Soundwave, I believe Julien is set to play at their ADE party. I asked Julien if he had anything planned for the gig? “Like I just told you I just recently welcomed the computer back into my life, and in the live setup as well, so it will be there driving the machines, and I’ll be conducting it. The idea, for now, is, of course, to present some of the material from the album since it will also be a release party, but not only. I’ve been hit by a pretty nasty lung infection the past months and spend a lot of time making music while lying down in my boat. Some of it I’m very excited to play out there next week. Awakenings is awesome, and playing together with everyone from the label is something I’ve been looking forward to for a while”. Whilst on the gig chat I asked Julien what else he has planned on the horizon… “Gigs in Berlin, Lausanne, and also in the renewed club Doka in Amsterdam, for which I have worked on remodelling the acoustics, sound system and booth the past year. It’s an amazing journey, I’m making with a bunch of other inspiring and talented people. Do check out the opening party on ADE Sunday”. One to check out if you are at ADE!
Finally, to end with I thought I might get a little political, especially as Julien is a man who likes to talk. There is rightfully much talk at present about climate change and the impact we are having on our planet. I asked Julien his thoughts on this, and how he might impact on change… “Well, yes. Like many people, I’ve been feeling pretty powerless towards the issue and did way too little for far too long about it. And to be honest, I’m still guilty of driving motorised vehicles around and flying more than I should. I did mention before though, that I crossed the Atlantic on a sailboat, as Greta did, so that’s got to count for something! I didn’t do it to make a point mind you, it was about the adventure, and I did fly back from the other side. I hear that planting trees might be the way forward? I really am not informed enough about it to make any strong statement about the issue. I read in the paper this week that the cruise ships in Europe pollute as much as all of the cars we drive combined. I’m not sure if that’s true, but in any case, I do think that the real meaningful changes we need to make should come from our governments. I’m a firm believer in democracies, and that we, a species can make a difference when we work together, but I also believe we have let capitalism run so wild that until corporate interests stop being the priority, we as individuals, can do too little to make a real change”.
I would like to thank Julien Chaptal for his time and this superb interview. I hope he has a superb ADE, and the new LP goes down a storm (I am pretty sure it will).
Julien Chaptal’s LP, ‘The Way’ will be dropping in late October 2019 via Carl Cox and Christopher Coe’s Awesome Soundwave label.