Pioneering techno producer, DJ and worldwide ambassador for electronic music – there are few people who have stayed as relevant and on top of their game in the fickle world of club music as Laurent Garnier. In this Slices feature we look at how the L.B.S. project came to being, discuss Garnier’s love of all kinds of music and how he manages to stay on top of his game after 20 years in the business.
Pioneering techno producer, DJ and worldwide ambassador for electronic music – there are few people who have stayed as relevant and on top of their game in the fickle world of club music as Laurent Garnier. Part of the reason this enigmatic Frenchman has maintained his position at the top of the pile is his willingness to experiment with new ways of remaining musically open minded. Tweaking his show by incorporating machines and musicians he is constantly searching for new ways of presenting music in a club environment. Because of this he is perhaps one of the most respected figures in the worldwide techno community.
In this in-depth interview, which is an extended version of our interview from Slices issue 2-11, we look at how his L.B.S. project came to being, discuss his love of all kinds of music and find out about his desire to branch out from playing in clubs.
You are playing with the other guys tonight so maybe we can start with looking at what the L.B.S. project is about and who is involved?
L.B.S. is the result of having played live with a band for nearly two years. Basically when I released the ‘Kleptomaniac’ album I went back on the road with the boys. I had done a lot of live shows before and we went on the road to promote the album with the band. So I had a saxophone player, a trumpet player, a keyboard player and then Scan X with me on the machines so there were five of us. The music completely changed from the first show. The boys are very into jazz and I was kind of directing. We worked a lot on the tracks and there has been a big evolution within the music with what we were performing. Basically the way I saw the show at the beginning and the way it ended up a year and a half after was completely different.
The problem with a DJ set is you play on a fixed format so you know when a record comes out, that is the way it is. Unless you edit it you just play things in the way they were designed. I would like to be more organic with my DJ sets and I thought that the most organic thing I can do is play live as I thought it would be quite nice to combine the two. Bring only two people to make it easier to set up. No microphone, so there isn’t any feedback. I thought let’s just keep Benjamin on a keyboard and Stéphane on the Maschine and so we stopped with the saxophone player and trumpet player. Just to make it easier. The idea behind L.B.S. is to reinvent the story every night and to perform for the people at a special time. So we always perform tracks in a different way. It is very different than the live show because the live show is usually shorter and the set is prepared and thought about before so you can’t really move things around too much in a live show. With L.B.S. you know let’s do ‘Man with a red Face’ and we never do it in the same place or the same time. And the length of the track and the way we interact with each other is always different every night. I really wanted to bring that to the clubs and make something more freely than what you can do when you play fixed formats.
A lot of DJs and Producers like Carl Craig and Herbert are exploring more musical directions and you also did with your band project -why do you think DJs are doing these more musical things more now?
The band project is not a new thing for me; I have been playing live with a band for 12 years now. I know a lot of people know me more from my DJ sets. I met Philip the sax player 12 years ago and we have toured since then – always with a band. I have two things; I have always done my live show with the musicians. The more musical side has always been in my work, first in my productions, I guess when I started doing tracks like ‘The Man with the red Face’ I was very attracted by jazz and improvisations and stuff like that and this is when I met all these guys. So playing live and making it more musical then what a lot of techno acts are as well, was always something I wanted to go in. It was my thing.
We all need to try new projects and do different things because otherwise if you keep repeating yourself and doing the same thing it is getting boring and I guess this is when you are starting to dig your grave. So for me to be excited I need new projects all the time.
I have been doing this for 20 years. So I guess the key of the fact of me being there for 20 years and still doing it and it looks like I still attract a crowd and they still like what I play I think it is the fact that I always try to give them something new and bring new projects. Music is very important in techno music and unfortunately now we are living in a time where a lot of producers are forgetting this. They forget the basics of what music should be – it should be musical sometimes!
You need the challenge as well?
Of course, I need the challenge! I need to be excited. I think if I would DJ the same way I started 20 years ago I would of disappeared. I am sure. I am someone who needs to be excited, needs new projects to move on. This is why I worked with contemporary choreographers, this is why I worked with the cinema, this is why I did a jazz band, this is why I did a tour with Jeff Mills, and we only played funk and soul and stuff like that. This is why I do a radio show. This is why I am still there because all these things keeps me awake.
Do you see yourself as a teacher or more as an entertainer?
I never liked going to school so I can’t consider see myself as a teacher. A teacher is someone who is imposing something to you. We are not imposing anything. Maybe a little bit when you play as a DJ in a club. My job as a DJ – the first thing I have to do is to watch the crowd and try to read the crowd. A teacher doesn’t do that a teacher will tell the kids to shut up and he will do his lesson and that is it. He is not going to work with the mood of the kids. My job as a DJ the first thing to do is to look at the crowd and try to read them, understand them and then you go with them. And it is a relationship. So no I can’t see myself as a teacher, no not at all. I’m a DJ, I’m like everybody else I do the same thing as everybody else. Maybe I am getting a bit old now, so I am an older kind of DJ but no I cant consider myself as a teacher. I am just doing my thing.
But by showing the people that there are more shades to dance music than say just techno or house is what I mean by being a teacher.
Of course there is but it should be obvious. It should be obvious that there is more then techno. Luckily there is more then techno because if there wouldn’t be all these other styles of music techno would never be here. What is techno? Techno is twenty styles of music put together. It is a condensation of so many different things. Without funk, without soul, without jazz, without synthetic rock, without all of this we would never have what we call techno. Without hip-hop, techno would never be here. Without electro at the beginning we would never have techno. In Detroit at the beginning, they were jazz guys who were making techno. Mad Mike from Underground Resistance – he was playing for Motown. He was a musician for Motown for god’s sake. Without all this we would never have the actual real world techno, so it is obvious there’s other things.
How do you keep the music exciting for you?
I think we are living in very exciting times music wise – there has never been so much music before. I see it because I receive a lot of music and I have never received as much as I do now. Dubstep is a really funny example because it started being pretty dark and pretty hard. It was very influenced by grime. And reggae of course. But it was more like a grime thing and something quite nasty. And in the last two years dubstep moved more towards techno, more towards musicality. Dubstep is really becoming quite light and quite dreamy and spacey – really musical which is really weird to see as these guys who were quite tough and it became very musical. I think techno is a big thing for them and now a lot dubstep guys are mixing techno beats and stuff like that. It is really interesting. Dubstep is moving on.
I think rock and roll has moved on a lot as well – a lot of people that are making pop and rock are incorporating electronics within their music. Rock has really changed within the last five years; we have seen a lot of hybrid bands, which are making really strange stuff, and it is becoming really exciting and this was not exactly like that before when you were making rock or making techno or making jazz. But then now I feel like everyone is kind of meeting and there are lot of different influences within all styles of different kinds of music. I find the moment really exciting. I mean everything has changed. You don’t sell records anymore and the approach that the kids have with music is very different then the way we were 20 years ago. The way they listen to music, the way they buy music – or not. The way they consume music is completely different and the bands are the same in the way that they make music completely differently as well. I like when things mutate and go to another place or another area and I think we are living in an exciting time. Hard times, but it is quite exciting. I like it.
It sounds like music is really number one for you, but you have a lot of colleagues who also work on the ‘image’ that surrounds you – what do you think about that?
I feel that one of the biggest problems nowadays is the lack of content. There is a lot of really good packaging and unfortunately we are at a time now where packaging sells better then content. Which is completely different to what the idea was behind techno at the beginning. It is kind of weird because 15 years ago, the whole thing with techno was ‘faceless techno’. A lot of guys had a lot of different projects under different names. One guy; ten different projects and all different names. The whole motivation was like “I don’t want people to know it is me. I am not important what is important is my music”. And I guess I am part of this thing. I am part of this world where the music is the main thing for me. And it’s quite true we have been touring a lot with a band and now L.B.S. and we are crossing paths with a lot of guys that care a lot for the packaging; they have great lights and great designs and stuff like that but sometimes the content is a bit poor. And I found that a little bit weird. I mean going live we had to look a little bit at the packaging. So after a year of touring live we decided to have some videos and we built a big screen. A screen that was moving and it looked really good and we toured for six months with that. It cost a lot of money but it looked really good, it was wonderful but it is another hassle. It’s complicated. A lot of the new bands should think of the quality of the music and the content – they should think about that first and once they have that they can start thinking of the surrounding. I know next year we are going to go back to live – proper live. I guess we are going to have some visuals because otherwise we can’t compete. The problem now it is like a big competition if you don’t have a big show, festivals don’t want you. It’s weird. Now festivals book a lot of acts more for the show than for the music. I was saying to you before the way we listen to music and the way we consume music is completely different. But it still doesn’t make me nostalgic because I still have a lot of things to say. I care more about the essence which is the music.
You wrote a book ‘Elektroshock’ some years ago and I heard you are planning a movie as well. What is happening with that?
The movie is going on. The book came out in 2003 in France. We have signed with a production company to do the movie. We have been working for the last four years on the scenario. I think we need a time before we can move on with this movie situation. At the beginning with David, the guy I wrote the book with, I think we needed time to digest the book to be able to start writing a story for the cinema. So when we were contacted at first we had not yet digested it. So we said we don’t want to do the book. We don’t want to repeat what we said already so lets just do a completely different story. So we started writing something and went on and on. We wrote about 10 different scripts, and that took about two years. And after two years we came up with something which was quite big and when we read the story again and then we shared it with a couple of close friends, they all said “but where is the ‘Elektroshock’ in there?” And it is true. We went “where the fuck is the ‘Elektroshock’ in this project of a movie?” So we threw everything away.
I think we needed this time to digest the book. And now we are working with two new people and we are writing a new story and are nearly at the end of it now. So we are really happy with what we have written. The actual story of the book has a much bigger space into the movie. It is not going to be the film of the book but we are going to make a movie that will talk a lot of history of techno and Detroit and all of this but it will link into fiction as well so it will be half documentary and half fiction. We are very involved with this at the moment and we have the director to shoot the movie. Cinema takes a long time so I think it looks like we might film next year for a release end of next year or maybe in 2013 or something like that. It’s coming slowly. Cinema is too slow for me. Everybody says it’s usually seven years to release a proper movie. We have been on it for about four years so I guess in three years it will be there.
Are there any plans for another like ‘Elektroshock’ – people seem to love books about dance music history and culture?
Well I think it would be quite nice. David is a really busy guy doing his own things, but we would love to sit down for six months and write another 50 pages of the last seven years because it has been very interesting. The funny thing with the book it was a real therapy for me because when we did the book David interviewed me for two years solid, every single week, one day a week. He was coming and interviewing me for four or five hours and once you pass the normal questions after the first two or thee months you just carry on and dig deeper and deeper. It was like a really strong therapy and he got a lot of things of out of me that we didn’t put in the book. I think now we are on the level together where we can go back and work [together] and do another chapter and do something really interesting. Since the book came out a lot of things came out as well within my work. Things I wanted to do, I don’t know, my way of playing, a lot of things changed after the book for me. So I think it will be really interesting to now talk about what has happened since the book.
Do you have any visions or plans for the future?
There is one thing I would absolutely love to do and I am going to start working towards this now; I would like to do some consulting for the cinema. Helping them find music or make a little bit of music but more consulting. Finding the right music for the scenes, being like a musical director. I love music so much and I have so much music at home from everywhere; all different kinds of music. I could be ready for almost anything cinema-wise – from a comedy to something really dark. I have a radio station on the Internet where I just use my record collection to provide music and play for people. I would like to dig deeper into my record collection and bring this s to the cinema because I think there is a lot of work to be done there. There are a couple of people that do it very well. Of course Tarantino is a wonderful guy. You remember his films and then you always remember the music in his films. He is very talented. This is one thing I would definitely like to do in the next two or thee years and do it very seriously.
Besides that the plan is that we tour with L.B.S. for another good year. The idea with L.B.S. is that it is like a lab. We go and we try new tracks, play them live and if it works we might record them. Yesterday on the way to Time Warp in Mannheim I was making a track and it was the first time we did this. I was just trying to find a bass for a track and I said to the boys “I’ve got a track I did in the bus today, lets play it.” And L.B.S. is about this. We just rehearse two minutes in the afternoon. We started yesterday with that track and we blew the roof with it. So we thought great this is what we like to. Now we are going to play it again tonight and see how it works and see what is missing and the guys will interfere with the track and of course we might record it later. This is why I want to do it for another year because I feel we have a lot of things to say with L.B.S. and then next year the idea would be to record something, release maybe an album and then go with a live show with L.B.S. And in also three years time I think there will be the film and so I am going to be very involved in that. There is quite a lot to come.
You can order your copy of Slices Issue 2-11 here.