Occupation: DJ, Producer, Label Founder at Bass Culture
Website: If you enjoyed this interview with D'Julz, visit his Facebook profile for his current touring schedule and updates on fresh releases.
This interview is part of new series of in person conversations based more loosely on the 15 Questions concept, allowing for more personal and open questions.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? I believe you spoke about New York being your 'university'.
[laughs] There was one club, which was like church on Sunday morning or going to school … It was called Sound Factory. At that time, Sound Factory basically started where Paradise Garage stopped. Everything, from the sound system to the room, where the DJ was located, to the crowd, it was very much a follow-up to Paradise Garage. You would see a very mixed crowd. It was very gay, a lot of old Garageheads, but also a new generation of clubbers. And you had the Vogueing thing starting there. That's where Madonna would go to to find her dancers! Sound Factory is considered by many as one of the best clubs ever. It's definitely the best sound system I ever heard in my life! It became Twilo a few years later, but at that time, it was Sound Factory.
Were the resident DJs a particular inspiration?
There was only one guy playing there, which was totally the old school New York approach. One DJ playing for ten to twelve hours. There was no room for other DJs! Of course, there was also Sound Factory bar, which was a smaller version. You had Frankie Knuckles playing there on Saturday, Lil' Louie Vega on Wednesday. And in the Sound Factory, which was only open Saturday night, it was Junior Vasquez playing from Midnight to Mid-day. But it was a place you would want to go for the after hour, after five o clock in the morning. So I would play somewhere else, then go there and stay until maybe ten in the morning. And this is where I learned a lot of things, because I learned about the old school approach to DJing that comes from disco, that comes from Larry Levan. All those DJs – Junior Vasquez, Danny Tenaglia, David Morales, Francois K, they all came from that disco era. But they took that style of DJing and used it with new music. Because the music Junior was playing at Sound Factory was New York house - but he was the only one who would also play harder stuff. He would play Plastikman or Dave Clarke, everything pitched down. For me, coming from New York, it was great. I loved New York house, but sometimes, I felt there were too many vocals and when it was too soulful, it was missing something, you know? And what I liked about Sound Factory is that you would hear a lot of different styles of music. The stuff that I was playing myself, but also Wildpitch, a lot of DJ Pierre stuff, a lot of tribal stuff, and also some vocals: Masters at Work … It was more open minded than a lot of DJs in New York back then.
What was it about Junior Vasquez that made him so interesting for you?
The way he was playing was completely different than the way I knew from the DJs in Europe. He could play one record for twenty minutes. Or if he liked a track, he would play it three times in a row. His mixing was not amazing, he would not blend the records for two minutes, it would be really short. So, at first, when I got there, I was like: This guy doesn't mix! I was really into long mixes, riding two records together for a few minutes, the idea of making a third track with two tracks … For me, that was the idea of what was fun about DJing. So it took me a while to get that aspect of DJing. So here it was less technical and more about the programming of the night. More about the long run. It's not about mixing two records together, it's more about how to get from one style to another style in four hours and how to build up a vibe, play with the sound system, create some drama … It took me a while to get used to this, but it was very, very interesting. It was a club residency DJ approach, as opposed to a festival or a rave approach to DJing. It was all new for me. And it totally opened my mind towards a lot of different things.
What kind of things?
The importance of how to build a set, to work with the crowd, how to use such a huge sound system and to play with the sound system, sometimes putting the volume a little bit down and then up again, playing with effects, because he was using some delay with tapes, looping things – which is crazy, because we're talking about 93 and he was already doing what people do now with CD-Js or with Traktor. But he was doing it with a tape machine. Editing a track, remixing a track live, extending some parts, which, again, was very different from my idea of DJing. All this I learned going there almost every Sunday morning for a year. The other important thing was how to 'break' – that's the American expression – a track, how to make a track a hit. Which, at the time, Junior did with so many classics, which we know now, but he would sometimes play them six months or a year, before they actually came out. He was playing acetates or even playing the track directly from the DAT. So you would hear a classic, like Full Effect's „This is House Music“, or Underground Sound of Lisbon: „So Get Up“, or even older stuff, a lot of DJ Pierre, or Masters at Work. You would hear those tracks a year before they came out. And you would go there waiting to hear the track. Afterwards, you would go to a record store, asking: What is this track that Junior played? And you would have to wait six months to a year to actually get it (laughs). At the time it came out, it was already a hit! He had people coming from London, the Junior Boy's Own crew, who would go there on the weekend to get inspired. This happened with so many producers. You had all the journalists going there. If you wanted to know what would be the next big track of the year, you would have to go there to listen to it. Today, you could maybe think of someone like Ben Klock at Panorama Bar or Berghain or Ricardo playing a residency at Cocoon, or Sven Väth. Guys where you ask yourself, what is he going to play? They're going to make the big track of the Summer … So it was a little bit of this approach, but on another level. So when I came back from New York, my view of DJ culture expanded completely. I came back with a totally new experience, which still serves me today.
If I understood correctly, the Paris scene had changed completely by then, however.
Yes, when I came back, the rave scene in Paris was dead, because the government had decided to shut down all the parties. And the promoters, especially those that were more into house and the groovier side of the sound, moved to the clubs. And when I arrived back from New York, all of a sudden, the club scene in Paris became something else and the New York sound was very big at that time. So I came with a huge advantage, because I had all these records, I had this New York experience because I had been going to the best clubs in the world, and I arrived in Paris when there was a transition from the rave scene to the club scene. So it was perfect timing for me.
Considering you weren't interested in becoming a DJ in the first place it's interesting you stuck with it for such a long time. What made it interesting for you in the beginning?
It's hard to say. I started to go out when I was 17, 18. It was the exact time, when techno and house started in France. So when I came into the club for the first time, I heard a kind of music I had basically never heard before. So it was a culture shock. Most of the night, I was spending time on the dancefloor, dancing. But quickly, I started to get very interested in what the DJ was doing. So I would be studying and watching him, spending more time in or in front of the booth, trying to understand what he was doing. I quickly started to buy my first 12inches of house and techno. And after buying a few, it was like: Ah, I want to listen to them, but it makes sense for me to mix them (laughs). For some reason, just listening to them and collecting them was not enough. Really, really quickly after buying my first 12inch of techno, I had to buy a second turntable. Some people stick to collecting this music, but I liked the playfulness of trying to put two tracks together, so that's what I was doing for fun, as a hobby, in my bedroom. But at the same time, the rave scene blew up and I was hanging with some DJs, who listened to my tapes and said: Why don't you play with us, why don't you come and play at this party? So I didn't have the time to decide: Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? All of a sudden, I ended up doing it in front of people. But I'm I'm talking 1992 and at the same time, I was finishing my studies and I started to work in advertising. So it took me another six years before I decided that this was going to be my life, this was going to be my full time job. It took me a long time, because I was playing every weekend, but I was also playing during the week, and I was missing out on some of the opportunities to play abroad, because I couldn't travel too far. And I was also beginning to feel I wanted to produce. So I had to make choice in 1998. And I decided to go full time in the music. Since then, there's no coming back, I'm really glad I made that choice. But it was a very slow process, because at that time, being a DJ wasn't a career. It was guys in clubs ...and I didn't think I had it. But it just grew on me over the years and it became my passion and my passion became my work. And I must have been doing something right, because I got opportunities to play, so … I took my chances.
And what's the enjoyment after all these years?
Exactly the same. It sounds like a really cliched kind of answer, but I don't think I would be able to do it or do it right, if I was not still as excited about it as ever. I think you can't lie, you know. If you're not having fun and you fake it, people can tell. I mean, I can tell when a DJ is doing it for the wrong reasons or when he's tired or when he's in a bad place. We all have moments when we're tired or have something else on our mind and it's easy to see that and see when someone is not at his best and not 100% into what he does. Luckily, those times never happened – or at least not to the degree that I thought I'm not into the entire thing anymore. It was always only a very short phase, maybe because I was not so inspired by the music coming out at some point or maybe because I had other problems at a certain point in my life. But it never went to the point where I had to reconsider my career and my job completely. I really, really love what I'm doing.
You have a background in communication. I was wondering whether that's what made DJing an obvious choice, in a way – that it's also about communication?
Yes! There are definitely similarities. To that parallel even further … When I was working in communication, I was a copywriter. And I really see the parallel between playing with words to find a good slogan and to create a nice text and playing with records. In the end, I am not a writer, but a copywriter. And I'm not really a musician, I am a DJ. So you have this aspect of being creative, but another purpose. My purpose is to make people dance, and in advertising, the purpose is also to sell a product. It's not like pure art, which has no meaning and no purpose, it's just "art". So in that sense, I'm more a creative than an artist. Are all DJs artists? Some definitely are, but it's not for me to say if I am or not. But there is this creativity part, where you use art and you play with art and you transmit something, you communicate something, you share something.
So the turntables are your typewriter, the records your words and then you string them together into a story?
Yeah, yeah, totally. And also, there are a lot of DJs and producers, who come from being a graphic artist or art director. Also in advertising or just … I think you use the same part of your brain, basically. As in how to play with pictures, how to play with letters and when you're producing. It all has a similar energy, I think.
Is one part of what makes this activity so enjoyable that you can play the same record on different nights and the effect will be totally different?
Totally, That's the joy of it. It's for me the most exciting aspect of being a DJ. Every night is different. Sometimes, you're tempted … You know that last night, this record went really well. So you're tempted to do the same mix. But just the fact that you're now doing the same mix out of context is not going to work. The only purpose of this job is to really communicate and to have this link. In order to do that, you have to jump completely into the pool. Entirely. And go instinctively to the next track. And stop thinking: Oh, I like this mix I did yesterday. Because when you do, you switch from your left side of your brain to your right side of the brain. And that's something else. You cut that magic link between yourself and the people. I noticed that so many times. And that's why I'm saying you can't lie. A DJ who plays the same set over and over, who's prepared something that is maybe perfect at home … especially at festivals, they're going to play the same set all the time. Same order, same tracks … I can understand that, when you're playing at a big festival for one hour, one hour and a half, you have to prepare a bit more and know where you're going. But I'm saying you can have the same tracks, but you'll feel something different. Maybe my approach is more risky, but at the end of the day, it's so much more enjoyable when it works!