Laurent Garnier has been making the planet dance for 30 years. And, for all this time, his huge energy has seen him grooving behind record decks, bouncing up and down behind studio equipment and leaping around radio studios. He is a multi-faceted artist whose impact on the music scene is far-reaching. But above all, he is a DJ, a true DJ: transformed by music, passionate about the crowd. Bodies move in a trance on the dance floor, minds elsewhere.
Laurent spends most of his spare time sifting through old vinyl in record shops, following the most obscure leads on the Internet and listening to every single piece of music he is sent. Music, the pulse of our planet, is his Holy Grail. Ahead of his headline performance at this year’s Social Festival, UK Editor sat down with Laurent to talk about his thoughts on the public perception of Techno, being a festival promoter, and his plans for the future.
Hi Laurent, thanks for finding the time to chat with us at Decoded Magazine. If you don’t mind, we’ll jump right in. How do feel about how this new increase in access to making electronic music and how it has affected the public perception of electronic music. Has Acid House’s dream become its nightmare?
Hi, Simon good to meet you. When anything evolves and starts to touch the mainstream there’s always in any styles of music the good side and bad side. I think Rock n Roll I think has lived it’s nightmare time, Hip-hop has lived it’s nightmare time, Disco as well. I think there’s good and bad in Techno but you still have a massive percentage of people who are honest in what they do, I think it’s up to people to ignore the bad side. There are so many good things that you can ignore the bad side.
We love the story of your first exposure to House music as a clubber in Manchester. You have a bit of a reputation for listening to promos and we are continually impressed by the amount of work and dedication you put into preparing for your gigs. Do you still have the same level of excitement and enthusiasm when you find one of those gems?
Music is something that really excites me and the first thing I want to do is to play it out. Either in a club, or on my radio show or to my friend’s or the person who is next to me. Yes, I still find the same excitement because there are still a lot of exciting records, but I find there are no records I get now where I feel that I want to play it all night long, you know, on and on and on, because I think we’ve had this music for 30 years and it’s quite difficult for producers to find new surprises. I guess we are less surprised by the music, but there are still tons of records I get excited about. I think we are very lucky because it’s still very healthy, the scenes very healthy and there’s lots of music.
We are really excited you’re headlining The Social Festival in September. After all these years of DJing, do you have a magic formula for the perfect festival set?
No. No no no, there’s no formula in our job! Our job is about looking and creating in the moment wherever we are, because wherever we go the sound is important, the time is important, the sound system, the lights, the mood. Our job is to try to understand all this and try to create something from this and the crowd is different and every night is different.
Even if you’re going to the same club 5 nights in a row, the night will be different and one mix that will work one night will not work the night after, so our job is to look at the crowd every time we play something and try and build something and tell a story, so for me, there is absolutely no formula because when I think I’ve handled something well, like a mix and I really like it, if I re-do it again it fails, so no, there’s no formula. Especially for festivals.
We hear Nic Fanciulli has mentioned that booking you was one of the biggest achievements of his career. If you were the promoter of a festival, who would you book as headliners?
I am actually. I run a festival every year called Yeah! Well, my festival is a bit different because I organise a pop-up festival so my answer might sound a bit strange!! When you do a festival I think you have to know where you’re doing the thing – the environment – so I can’t tell you who I’d book if I’d organise a festival because I wouldn’t know where it would be.
I think the environment is extremely important and this is why I do a pop-up festival because the place where I do it is a beautiful 15th Century castle overlooking a lovely village in the South of France and we have to close at 1’o’clock in the morning and I didn’t think the place was appropriate to do a proper Techno party.
When you’re a promoter there are two ways of promoting parties. One way is you want to make a fuck of a lot of money, so you book whoever’s cool and you try to make money or, the other side is you do it because you want to share something that’s important to you, and then you try to respect the people who come to your festival and that’s what we try to do with the festival we are organising.
No doubt travelling around the world so much, it’s hard to keep up with how your fellow artists are doing. Who’s been catching your eye recently?
Lately, I haven’t heard anyone super new. I played with a lot of people of course, but a lot of people I knew. I would say a few of the young guys from the new generation from France which are into underground House and underground Techno like Jeremy Underground and people like that which I think are very exciting music wise the way they play and the way they fight for their music. There’s a whole new generation in France which is inspiring for me.
It seems Techno has had something of a renaissance over the last few years, and it’s popularity has never been so widespread. A lot of older techno would be considered timeless, even by the production standards of today. Do you think techno of the last few years will be looked at with the same love?
I don’t know because I feel like a lot of stuff, a lot of music which could have been done 10 or 15 years ago. It’s not a bad thing but production wise I think there’s a whole new generation that missed the first wave of techno and the history of techno and are looking at that as an example and a lot of these people are digging out old machines and old records and making their new records sound like they were made 15/20 years in Chicago or Detroit so I think because there’s a lot of music made today you might think is made years ago it wouldn’t shock anybody.
I think some will stand the time for sure. I’m sure. Yeah, there’s some timeless records made in the last 10 years for sure, for sure. For me yes, I can see that, because these records I get to keep them in my record box and it’s quite a lot of stuff over the last 5 years I can’t delete, you know. I keep them in my box and I still play them once in a while and for me, they’re becoming classics. New classics. I think for the last 30 years there’s been kind of classics coming out but again, as I said before, because there’s been so much production that it’s harder now to surprise people and that’s why there are so many more classics from the early 90s than from 2010.
Having lived in the UK during the formative years of rave, how do you find the scene in England compares to that of France.
I think France at the moment is amazing, truly, truly amazing. I used to come to London a lot because I used to had a residency at The End and then I had other places I loved going and I played a lot there. You still have a lot of great clubs but I wouldn’t say the UK is the mecca for Techno at the moment, but for the last 5 years, France has been doing amazingly well.
Germany as well has been super strong clubbing wise and music wise for the last 10/15 years. Japan was amazing, but to be honest, I’ve never found France as exciting as now. There is so much everywhere and so many people producing, so many people organising parties so much stuff, it’s vibrant. Absolutely vibrant. It’s amazing and of course, we are talking about the underground scene, not the mainstream.
In Paris, you have about 20 clubs playing techno and there are parties all the time and their filling between 2 and 10 thousand people every weekend, it’s crazy, it’s absolutely mad! And it’s all due to the people from Concrete which was, and still is a party they do on a Sunday and these guys now have started to organise huge festivals and they’ve kind of relaunched techno music in France and the whole new generation thought “well if they can do it and pack it in every Sunday why can’t we?”
And this is why a lot of new clubs sprung out and you know became super popular and now we have a club called ‘Le Sucre’ which is really good, and in Marseille, you have a club called ‘Le Rooftop‘ which holds about 4000 people outside overlooking the sea and there’s so much everywhere. It’s cool.
What I usually say to these guys is don’t take advantage of it, just enjoy it. Enjoy it while it last because it can’t last forever. So Berlin has its great golden age and its still quite strong but things are moving on to different places and maybe in two years time it will be in a different country. I think London had its big golden age and I think at the moment maybe something else will come out again. But it’s funny because less of us are coming to play in London at the moment, and there is still very cool underground parties but it’s not the same as 15 years ago…
Laurent, I wish we had more time to chat, it’s been an absolute revelation. As a DJ of 30 years now, have you thought about a time when you’ll hang up the headphones for good?
The fact that I do less and less gigs is partly because I’m getting older in the business. I always take gigs because I want to play there and I want to have fun. For me, I’m very lucky because I’m in a situation where there’s much more demand than I can give. I still want to have great fun when I DJ and I don’t want to treat it as a ‘proper job’ where you sometimes wake up in the morning thinking “Uggh, I just want to stay in bed.” I want to fully enjoy what I’m doing so it’s my choice to do less gigs, much less.
So now I do one big weekend every 3 weeks and that works perfectly for me. Of course in the long run, because I’m 50, in the next 5 years or 6 years I dunno I’ll see… because when you look at Francois K, he must be about 62 or 63 and he’s still good. I don’t have the intention of going to that age but at the moment I still feel coherent, I still feel good, I still enjoy it like hell I’m still having a mad time so I don’t find myself being out of the game, so that’s why I carry on, but this is why I’m doing less.
Knowing that I’m working on very different types of projects – I have big projects next year and the year after which are besides my DJ stuff – I think slowly I will slip into something different. But within Music. I will stay within music somehow. Will I work for cinema, finding music for films? Will I make music for films? Will I start to work with a band, you know, doing a new live show and touring again?
Will I concentration on production? Will I concentrate on producing other people? Will I maybe open a restaurant where the music is going to be very very important as well as the food? Or carry with my festival, just growing up with the festival. I don’t know, but I think this is where my future is. Having said that, I still enjoy DJing so much that I don’t have the feeling to stop it, but that’s why I’m doing it less because I still want it to be a source of joy. …and it is, believe me! I absolutely love what I do, it’s where my heart is!
Catch Laurent Garnier headlining with Dubfire, Carl Cox and an exclusive B2B set from Sasha and John Digweed. The Social Festival returns on Friday 9th & Saturday 10th September 2016 to its new home, The Kent County Showground. Tickets are available here.
Photo Credits: Arthur Garnier and Richard Bellia
Interview co-authored by Dave Barrett and Simon Huxtable