Laurent Garnier made serious noise in Detroit last weekend at The Movement Festival. He recently celebrated a career of 30 years and still has a lot in the tank. From "Acid Eiffel" in 1993, to his more recent EPs with Kompakt, his music has kept an authentic feel throughout, helping to elevate him as one of the most legendary DJs ever. We had the pleasure to sit down with him before his set at the Stargate Stage at Movement. Some of his stories will surprise you. Laurent had humble beginnings in New York trying to make a name for himself. During a house music conference, a well-known Detroit DJ told him, "DAMN, I thought you were black!"
If you haven’t read his book “Electrochoc,” grab yourself a copy.
You’re closing the Stargate stage tonight in Detroit. Do you have any special tunes in your DJ bag to close out your set?
You never know what a party is going be like. Even if I would had thought about a record to close the room with, it might not be relevant at all. I know it’s a big size but I don’t know what people are going to be like. I don’t know the crowd; I haven’t played in Detroit for like 9 years. So I haven’t got a clue, I never really prepare my sets before, I don’t believe in that. I think what we have to do is to understand and catch the vibe to build a relationship. If you come with something pre-thought, pre-recorded, pre-fabricated, you’re not going to do something with the people. Unless I get there and see what Modeselektor is going to play before me, I won't know how the crowd is before me. I can prepare 100 records thinking I’m going to do that and I won’t play 1 of them. So I always go with the flow. I might slip a couple of Detroit records in, of course. Because this is what I do everywhere so it’s not going to change much. Maybe I’ll start with a Detroit classic.
30 years of career. What’s your secret for longevity? Some younger Djs haven’t had the same luck (like Avicii)
I’ve kept the passion. It was always about the love for the music and the need to share something that’s kept me alive. It was always the honesty, very straight about the music I like and the music I play. I love sharing music so much. When people see me play, they still see someone aligned with what I play. It keeps me there. Maybe that sparkle is still there, because this is the essence of my job. There are so many good records -- if the music would be boring I would had stopped a long time ago. I still feel very relevant with the music I believe in. I understand the techno & house music that is made now, I think I’m understanding the young crowd because we have the same frame for the music we like.
If something would had come up and wiped out techno & house, perhaps I would had changed jobs, I would had done something else. There is still a very good “bienveillance” (kindness) from the crowd towards me. In this business you can easily become a bit dusty. I always say to the people around me: “the day you feel I’m becoming a bit dusty, something of the past, it will be time for me to stop.” I still want to be very connected to the crowd, it’s the essence of our job. I shouldn’t stop looking forward. I don’t want to be stuck in the past.
New York City or Detroit?
Both. I have to say both and put as well Chicago, don’t forget the UK and don’t forget France. The essence of what we’re doing is a multicultural mix of everybody put together. New York City without disco from New York, afro beats without some English soul would had never been New York. Detroit without Kraftwerk and P Phunk music would have never been Detroit. Chicago without inputs of music coming from everywhere would had never been Chicago. Asking me to choose, my heart would yes go to Detroit because I am more of a techno kid.
Also, I come from soul, I come from disco, I come from black music altogether. I could choose Detroit, maybe because I like melancholic music. The funny thing is where is Detroit techno made today? Funny enough there’s more French producers making Detroit type of techno than the people in Detroit. Now Detroit techno is a label, you still have a lot of people making great music here, now Detroit techno is a brand, it’s not negative. Yes my heart is with Detroit techno but without New York, Detroit techno would have never existed. It has to be both.
How do other DJs react when they find out you actually wrote a book which was translated in 7 languages.
The book got really good reactions. The book got published in 2003. It started in France and quickly got signed in Germany, Japan, Russia, Estonia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Spain, Italy. I tried in the UK but couldn’t get it done there. I got it translated by my wife because she’s a translator and then tried to see if a company would do it. It took 9 years to make it happen in English. We talked to the publishing company and told them it’s been almost 10 years, we would like to add more chapters and do a re-print. They said yes. We did 6 new chapters, talking about the arrival in 2000 of all the big festivals. We interviewed David Guetta, Francois K, we talked about Berlin since the 20’s when they listened to jazz. We re-released the book in 2013. The feedback was amazing. We needed to be very honest, it’s pretty simple to read. People say it’s quite funny and really interesting.
How would an up & coming producer get a chance to be featured on your radio show “It Is What It Is”?
When I get the track if I like it I play it. Very simple. I receive about 100 records a day. I don’t look at the names who’s done what. I really don’t care about this. Some of them go to my own radio PBB, some go to “It Is What It Is,” sometimes it only goes in my inbox. If the music talks to me, I’ll play it. Is not about friends. Is about music. You can’t please everybody with the music you play and it doesn’t matter. Of course it’s nice to please your heroes but if you heroes don’t like it it doesn’t matter. Before I was making music for my heroes, now I don’t, I make music for myself. The most important thing is to be honest with what I’m doing.
In a recent interview you said Nervous boss was more enthusiastic for French perfumes than French music in the 90s. He responded on social media that it didn’t sound like him. Are you sure you recalled correctly?
I read his response on social media and he said he doesn’t remember the story. The response wasn’t nasty.
We had to bring this up. He’s a fan of yours…
He wasn’t back then. He didn’t know who I was, I promise you. I wasn’t on my own during the meeting. When I read his response I thought maybe I completely fantasized it and told this story…so I ran to my partner who I used to work with and I said “Eric please, remind me one thing, who did we see in New York? Who said in France you can make good perfumes and good cheese but for music you’re not that good?" And he said it’s “blablabla.” It was such a long time ago and it really doesn’t matter. You know back then, in New York we didn’t know anybody, we didn’t have the equipment, the knowledge. We were dreaming about American house music, the beginning of techno music. I remember very well the record we played and yes the record wasn’t very good. He was right, he was absolutely right. Nervous was a huge label, these labels were amazing, Strictly Rhythm, Nu groove. But sometimes if you were not from over there, from New York, they could look at you and say “hey guys, try again!”
I remember the first time I released "Acid Eiffel" on Fnac and after that Derrick May picked it up for Fragile. I went again to this New York thing. The guy was one of my heroes. I said: “Hi my name is Laurent, perhaps you know one of my records, "Acid Eiffel.” He responds “DAMN! I thought you were black!” Now I can understand that comment. We don’t have the same history in France, you know with black, white, you know what happened here. I understood that comment much longer after. It’s good. It’s a good story because it gave me more hunger to move forward and to do it. It’s true our music wasn’t very strong, it’s very true and it didn’t have the quality to be represented by a label like Nervous back then. It gave us more strength to fight and get a production tighten up, I think it’s a funny story. It’s funny you bring it back, let’s not make a whole thing about that.
Any gig coming up for the summer that you are most excited about?
I’ve been choosing my gigs for years. I don’t do gigs for money. I only do what I want to do. I call my agent say I want to go to this country. Usually I call him in January and tell him January I want to do these and February those and fill them up, but not too much. I say we have to go to to London, Brussels, Paris etc. I’m very lucky because I’m looking forward to 95% of my gigs. I’m playing in really nice places, meeting with a lot of people I know. Yes I have a lot of gigs I am very excited about, mainly all my gigs I’m very excited about, including tonight, I was very excited to go to Output yesterday, because I love that place. In two weeks I’m going to be playing at Sónar, that’s going be quite amazing. It’s the 25 anniversary and I’m playing two different sets.
I go to play these gigs but not because I have to, I do it for my own pleasure. I’ve nearly done that all my life. I’ve never been greedy about money. been excited about money. When I see the tragedy with Avicii and the way his agent seemed to work. It’s scary that Avicii accepted, but he was very young and it’s even worse. When you see how the manager was behaving, he was a complete asshole. A greedy money motherfucker. I don’t work with people like that. I’ve always stayed that way.
I know Japan is one of your favorite destinations these days. Which artists should we be looking for right now?
Ask Derrick May, he’s releasing Japanese stuff. The new Transmat records is a Japanese guy. In Japan there’s so many great guys, Hiroshi Watanabe for example. Japanese clubs are amazing. The crowd in Japan is amazing. Japan is very special. We all know that. Ask any DJ from here and they will tell you, Japan beats anywhere else. I play Gono and Ken Ishi.
When is your movie coming out?
I almost made the movie last year. The distributor got busted so we lost the main actor. He’s a rapper, he had to go back on tour. We were so near and the whole castle fell down. I took a break from that because I have been working for nearly 10 years on the film. Now we are talking to a new company, which seems to be interested. I’m starting to spend more time with them. It looks like it might happen sometimes. If it doesn’t by Easter I’m stopping. It’s not a film about the story of techno, or about me. It’s a fiction.
“No. I don’t think so. We’ve done two already. We did one and one extra. I need new challenges. After the movie, maybe I will need to go back on the road doing live shows with musicians again. No, a book, I don’t think so. We did a comic book in France with D’Argot, very beautiful drawings. Maybe we’ll do a nice coffee table book with all the flyers. I kept all the flyers since the beginning. I have them all. We’re doing a documentary with Gabin as well, so that’s something else. I’m interested into doing music for movies. I’m not going DJ for the next 10 years. I would look stupid if I’m too old behind the decks. I’ll have to stop one day and do something else. It’s healthy to stop at some point. I need to stay fresh with the music and be aware. I don’t want to play on cruises in front of 70 year olds.
That’s not gonna happen!
It happens to a lot of people! (laughs) and I don’t want to go into that direction.
Is there something you want to add for your fans in the U.S. the Detroit hardcore fans?
I love them so much! Keep making music, we need it. We need good music, keep Detroit alive. The problem is sometimes Detroit has spent a lot of time outside of Detroit rather than in Detroit. It’s why I have a lot of respect for Mike, he’s trying to hold it all together. Concentrating, putting everybody together. He knows the core. If the core stays strong, it will shine everywhere, but if everybody explodes everywhere, Detroit will disappear, Detroit techno will disappear, it will become history. It shouldn’t be history, it should be present. Techno is about now and tomorrow, not yesterday. Really, the guys from here, keep Detroit strong. Look after your city. Carry on making music. That’s why Paris is so strong and Berlin. Berlin worked really well with their community first and then shined outside after. You know the grass isn’t always greener outside. It’s very important to stay with your roots and keep the roots stronger.