Laurent Garnier on Frankie Knuckles and the "vulgar pop" of modern EDM
Laurent Garnier has been producing music longer than most of the electronic music fans have been alive. Growing up in the European scene, Garnier has proven that staying true to yourself as a musician is still one way to ensure career longevity.
In advance of his appearances at Beta next week between stops at Coachella and New York's Output, we spoke with the legend while he was at his studio working on two forthcoming EPs, a music festival, and various projects. He had plenty of perspective to offer on the rise of techno in both the underground and the mainstream as well as the recent passing of Frankie Knuckles.
"Things won't be the same without Frankie Knuckles. When someone like that disappears it's like losing one of the biggest roots of the tree," Garnier says. His relationship with Knuckles dates back to the early days, and Garnier recalls the influence he had on dance music. "I read about it, and I am very upset about it. Frankie was the roots. Before house music came to Europe -- before anything really -- what he did in Chicago in those warehouses will last forever," he says, pausing between thoughts as if collecting himself.
Still, he doesn't believe the world of electronic music's best years are behind it.
"Things are happening! It's not dead! It's the same with Daft Punk. Fifteen years ago, France wasn't producing much stuff. Daft Punk came along and toured these small clubs and producing this new music, and then people started following them. Then, they inspired a lot of people. You have this at every scale of the steps. Now, it's happening again."
Although Garnier lives in France, his ear for music extends into many genres. Currently, he's curating and booking a rock festival he throws in his village, while also working on some albums that are set for release in the summer of 2014. His studio is located in the south of France in a small village roughly one hour from the trade port of Marseille. With a history of moving around Europe, Garnier has developed quite the ear for recognizing what he refers to as good music, and being able to separate it from the mainstream sounds that he chooses not to associate himself with.
"The fact that more and more - it's not just the young artists, it's a trend - a lot of people at the moment are marketing themselves more than concentrating on the music," says Garnier.
"For me, it's the most horrible pop side of -- vulgar is a good word -- it's the vulgar pop side of our world. House music, or techno, is about a story, spending time together, and having a relationship," he says. Known for playing sets that can go as long as six hours, or even more, Garnier doesn't want to be a part of something that focuses strongly on short, basic intervals in sound.
Garnier recalls his early years, playing in venues that had a capacity of only two hundred people. It's in clubs like these, as rare as they are these days, that the DJ's job was to get people on the dance floor and keep them there.
"Us [producers] from the old school started in these very small places. We didn't start out as superstars," he remembers on his early producing music and playing in those small clubs. "We weren't making hits. We all used to play five or six hours in empty clubs, in these small places, and just trying to keep people on the dance floor." He was just there to play good music.Laurent Garnier Boiler Room DJ Set at Dekmantel Festival
These days, DJs and promoters share a responsibility in bringing people to shows. With promoters heckling artists to promote themselves via social networks, or handing out fliers for the show, it often falls on the artist when the night does not do well.
As Garnier sees it, the DJ's job is to take the listeners on a journey, something that is hard to do in a one hour, or one and one half hour set. "I would not be able to find out about the crowd. You can't learn about a crowd in an hour and a half. The shorter your sets are, the more effective you are trying to be in your sets. In that, I am losing my identity. I don't have the time to take people on a journey," he says.
The journey is something that is lost in the marathon of mini-shows that occur at major events, and even at clubs around the country attempting to capitalize on the craze of EDM. DJs nowadays are only getting one- and two-hour time slots, which is barely enough to even connect with a crowd, much less saunter through a catalog of music. However, most of the new artists don't have a catalog of music and are forced to play their hits starting at track one, sprinkling in some other festival bangers, and then closing with whatever number two hit was just released on Beatport.
"You start somewhere and you go to a completely different mood, and then take them back," he says, excitedly. "And then sometimes you surprise them, and then sometimes you do something they would never expect you to. My job is to try to take them on a journey and have fun together. It's no point if I do the same thing as everyone else. If everyone did the same thing, it would be boring.
"I like going as deep as I do high. It's like dinner. You don't eat chicken every day because that would be boring. In my life I don't want comedy every day, because that's boring. If I would go to the cinema, I would need some different things."
Now, Garnier is doing exactly what he loves to do. With the recent release AF 4302 on the famed 50 Weapons label based out of France, Garnier continues his relationship with the label as he moves forward on a project with Bambounou, a minimal producer based out of France. Other than that, he has just finished tracking a hip-hop record for Abd Al Malik, a French rapper whose flow is reminiscent of the smooth styles of someone like Sage Francis.
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