FOTO: Kai Jünemann
»DAVID GUETTA is the first European who has turned the American music industry inside out and has taught the thugs and bitches in the black R&B and hip hop clubs how to rave« – so they like to say. But despite topping the charts in ten different countries at the same time and collaborating with people like Timbaland, Kelis and Snoop Dogg, the Frenchman does not claim to be a revolutionary. Born in Paris in 1967, David Guetta has based his DJ and production career on influences like the sound of Giorgio Moroder and Daft Punk and on early Chicago house records. While interviewing him for Spex’ Vorspiel series Guetta seems a bit astounded at first that we really want to talk about music with him – apparently in his recent years as a global celebrity he has mostly been questioned about things likes his favourite dish.
Farley Jackmaster Funk feat. Darryl Pandy Love Can't Turn Around
(from the compilation The House Sound of Chicago, London Records – 1986)
Wow, Farley Jackmaster Funk! That was the first time ever I heard a house record. I was still a teenager but already considered myself a DJ – at the time I played mostly 80s funk. But then came house and it totally changed my life! I used to listen to this kind of music on the pirate radio. The only stations which played this kind of music in France were illegal – which of course attracted me even more. All teenagers love forbidden things, right?
Oh my God, you guys know SOS Band? I love their sound! I guess it’s safe to say that house was built on the groove of funk, but in a more linear way. House evolved from records that were being played in the late 70s in the Warehouse in Chicago, long before Farley Jackmaster Funk arrived. The DJs at the Warehouse played b-sides of funk and disco songs and they produced their own edits. This is my culture! I even recall a style of music named latin hip hop, produced by The Latin Rascals. They were making the craziest edits!
But The Latin Rascals were based in New York, not in Chicago, right?
This is crazy – you even know The Latin Rascals? Nobody remembers them! This was the time when I started experimenting with tapes and making my own edits. Today it takes only five minutes to do them, but at the time I had to work on them for five days! You had to cut the tapes with razorblades and then glue them back together. But there is one thing that was even more important for the house music revolution – and this was the advent of the first affordable samplers. They enabled the black kids in America who were not professional musicians to make their own sounds, without money.
Or at least with little money.
Of course. Everything was about economizing back then. Trax Records in Chicago for example – a legendary label notorious for its lousy pressings. In order to save money Trax Records pressed their records on used vinyl. They really took old records and pressed their releases on them. Sometimes when you played one of their records you even saw the old label sticking out from under the label which they had put on top of it.
So at that time you already felt a kind of musical sense of mission?
Definitely! When I was 14 I started organizing these small parties for my schoolmates. I invited them all in the basement of my parents’ house and put drinks on the table. It’s funny I already charged admission. I had expenses after all – cola and orange juice!
Grace Jones La vie en rose
(from the album Portfolio, Island Records – 1977)
This is the song Grace Jones performed the night Le Palace opened in Paris in 1978. In 1994 you took over this legendary nightclub for two years.
When Le Palace opened I was of course too young to get in there, but I heard so many stories about this club – about the fashion designers coming and going, all the stars hanging out there, Grace Jones and Jean-Paul Goude of course, the great art director who got famous for his campaigns for Chanel and Citroën and who at the time was at the peak of his career. Crazy times! And apparently there were lots of drugs involved… Later when I was old enough I started to play house music at Le Palace, and after that I also became their art director. Then in 1994 I approached a boy who had always caught my eye in the club – he came to every party and had a unique style. I told him: »Look, I’m taking over Le Palace and I will play the big floor. But in the smaller room I want to do something more experimental. Let’s call this floor Hype. Would you be interested in directing this part of the club?« And this boy was Pedro Winter…
… who was to become the manager of Daft Punk and today runs Ed Banger Records.
Exactly. Together we ran Hype and booked the most exciting new kids from Paris. Dimitri from Paris, DJ Gregory, Daft Punk, all these acts – sometimes they all played in one night, in front of only 200 people! I guess you could say that Hype was the place where Pedro really learnt how to start a hype! (laughs)
David Guetta The Alphabeat
(from the album Nothing But the Beat, CD 2: Electronic Album, Virgin / EMI – 2011)
This track from your new album sounds a lot like Daft Punk.
I was always a huge fan of Daft Punk, but for a long time I was hesitant to produce tracks in their sound because… well, tout le monde has copied Daft Punk. But then when I was working on my new album I had the idea to produce not only a pop CD, but also a second CD, an electronic album without raps and without singers – and that’s when I thought: This album will be listened to by a lot of people who know me only since my collaboration with the Black Eyed Peas and who have no clue about house and techno – why shouldn’t I offer these people a chance to discover the sound of Daft Punk? So I produced The Aphabeat. And you know what? Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk even is the man who I owe my record contract to!
Yes! When I produced my first album Just a Little More Love in 2001 Thomas was the first person I played it to. He came to my studio and when he heard my tracks within seconds he took out his mobile phone and called the people at Virgin: »Hey, I’m here with David Guetta, he’s playing me his new record. It’s crazy! You should sign him!« Since then I’m a Virgin artist.
You started your career as a producer after the infamous radio quota was established in France in 1994. Has the fact that 40 percent of the music being played on French radio must be of French origin advanced your career?
You would think so, but in France people don’t consider my music French. Either the tracks are instrumental or the vocals are sung in English – this silly radio quota only applies to the French language. So this law has promoted French hip hop a lot, but the club scene in France has not profited from this at all. Anyway, the kids who want to listen to underground dance music today, they don’t turn on the radio, they go online. Radio stations play even more mainstream music today than they used to when I was young. These days all you hear on the radio is, well – David Guetta! (laughs)
Giorgio Moroder The Chase
(from the album Midnight Express – Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Casablanca Records – 1978)
Giorgio Moroder! I’m his biggest fan. Recently I did a photoshoot with David LaChapelle and the make-up artist said to me: »I’m close friends with Giorgio. Do you know that he loves your music? Would you mind giving him a call?« All I could say was: »What???« She had absolutely no clue what Moroder means to me and to the whole dance community. I guess Moroder himself is not aware of his status.
Did you meet him?
No, we only spoke on the phone. I hope one day I will get a chance to meet him in person. But I have collaborated with Evan Bogart, the American songwriter whose father Neil was the founder of Casablanca Records – he’s the one who discovered Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer. I guess you know the story of their hit Love to Love You Baby?
You mean this private party that Neil Bogart held where the song turned out to be such a banger that Bogart decided to release it in the US?
This so-called private party was in fact a huge orgy on a castle that Neil had organized. He was a total disco freak. His son told me this story. At this party everybody ended up having sex, taking cocaine and so on. Bogart played Love to Love You Baby and everybody loved it. Every time the song reached its end people would groan: »Play it again! Play it again!« So Bogart called Moroder and said: »The record is very sexy, but it’s too short. People don’t get a chance to have an orgasm. We need a version that’s at least 30 minutes long.« That’s how the long version came about…
Which at least turned out to be 16 minutes long…
But this is not the whole story! Then they sent the record to radio stations all over the country, but nobody would play it. So Neil Bogart and his brother took a plane to Los Angeles and brought the record to the most important radio DJ. All this guy said was: »Are you nuts? Even if I wanted to play the record – it’s too long, it leaves me no time for commercial breaks.« And do you know what they did? This is really true. They punched him in the face and locked him in the loo. Then they glued the record on the turntable and stuck it on repeat. From 10 in the evening till 6 in the morning – when the next team arrived – there was nothing but Love to Love You Baby on the radio. It was obvious they would get sued. But during the night thousands of people called and demanded to know what this record was. When it was finally released, it instantly became a No. 1.
Aaliyah Try Again
(from the original soundtrack Romeo Must Die, Blackground Entertainment / Virgin – 2000)
Once when I was in Los Angeles I worked in a big studio and tried my hands on creating my own interpretation of hip hop beats. I started a song with a friend of mine, his name is Jacob. He was rapping, which sounded great, but then I said: »This is so Timbaland. I hope it doesn’t feel like I’m copying him.« And Jacob said: »You know what? Timbaland is my friend, I’ll call him and maybe he wants to do it.« When Timbaland came to the studio he was kind of moody and a bit grumpy. But when I started to play my music he became the coolest guy ever. Wow, I’ll never forget this night! I was playing him my craziest beats and Timbaland said: »Okay, I’m gonna make you a little gift now. Turn on the mic!« Then he created a whole song just with his voice. He started like a human beatbox, spitting out the bassline, the guitar, the chorus and then the melody – all with his mouth. Pro Tools come to life!
Try Again from Aaliyah was probably the first Timbaland production which used a kind of acid bassline. At the time everybody was shocked, because in hip hop and R&B nothing sounded similar, techno and house references were not popular back then. Did you talk to Timbaland about his musical influences?
A bit, but we didn’t get into it that much. I was telling him how music from the US had always influenced me the most. And he said: »That’s the way I did it, too. I went to Europe and I brought this sound to the US.«
But the roots of acid house are not exclusively European.
Yes, I know.
In the trailer of your documentary film Nothing But the Beat Usher says: »David Guetta stands on the shoulders of many giants that came before him«. Is he referring to producers from Chicago and Detroit like Marshall Jefferson or Derrick May?
I’m not sure what Usher meant at all! (laughs)
In the trailer the relation between European dance music with its four-to-the-floor beat and the American urban dance scene is addressed. Why has techno and house been ignored by the American urban and mainstream market for such a long time – although this music was actually invented in the US?
I believe that for a long time people in the US saw the whole rave culture as something nasty, not respectable. So techno and house never made it to the radio stations, the radio DJs were not trusting this music. Some of my biggest records, like Love Is Gone for example, were being played in every club in America and everybody loved the music, but still it wouldn’t get played on the radio because it had »that kind of beat«, you know, the straight bassdrum. Even now, when I do interviews in the US people say to me: »You brought us this sound from Europe.« And I say: »No, what I do may be a little different, more crossover. But you had this music all the time. You just didn’t know about it!«
Elvis Presley Hound Dog
(RCA Victor – 1956)
Elvis probably was the first performer who could put whole stadiums in ecstasy. How do you as a DJ get people to throw their panties on stage, how do you make them scream?
This is crazy. Maybe you don’t know about this, but I named my son Elvis…
You’re a fan of Elvis?
My wife is a huge fan. I really like his music and the name. But I cannot accept that you compare me to such a huge showman, such a giant! I’m no magician like Elvis. I’m only a DJ who loves to share his music with people. I come to have a party, not to perform or put on a big show.
But when you jump up and down behind your DJ’s altar and throw your hands in the air, isn’t that somehow the equivalent of Elvis’ hip shaking?
Maybe. But singers and bands practice their moves, they study choreographies and all that, whereas I’m more free. Everything comes natural when I’m doing a show, I don’t use special moves or anything. When I have a good time I just throw my hands in the air – that’s all.
Bachir Attar Mixed Cultures*
(from the album The Next Dream, CMP-Records – 1982)
*Mixed Cultures is the 2nd song in the linked player.
Not at all. My father is really not a music person.
How did your parents react when you started buying records and turntables at the age of 14?
My parents were very political, left-wing intellectuals with a strong interest in all things artistic. But they didn’t like clubs at all and they also didn’t like the fact that I wanted to become a DJ. Most parents are happy when their kids start their own business and strive for commercial success. But when I started working as a club promoter my mother was angry with me. That was evil capitalism! Only when I started to produce my own records, creating my own music, that’s when she said: »Okay, now that you’re an artist I can be proud of you.« I guess my education was not really normal, a bit reversed.
Two years before you were born Ben Barka was murdered, the famous left-wing moroccan politician. Did your father move to France for political reasons?
Yes, I still remember my parents talking about this when I was little. They felt totally connected with the opposition movement in Morocco, my father also organized fundraisers for the resistance in Vietnam and things like that. My parents were total revolutionaries! My brother Bernard Guetta, who’s 17 years older than me, played a big part in the 1968 student uprising in Paris. He’s a journalist today and a specialist when it comes to geopolitics. People always ask how it’s possible we’re brothers. He’s the serious one and I’m the party guy. But hey, what are we talking about here anyway…!?
David Guetta Nothing But the Beat was released by Virgin / EMI in Germany. The original German version of this interview can be found in Spex issue #335.