Interview: DJ Hell, a talk with an electronic music encyclopedia
– You know Techno since its very beginning. At this time, parties were forbidden and it was a very subversive music style. Do you still feel this excitement today?
Yes, if there was no excitement I would not do it, I would look for something else, maybe work in a kindergarten with kids, because that’s exciting everyday.
– Is it the same excitement?
It’s different but there was a misunderstanding at the beginning and it was exciting because it was something never heard before. It really sounded like the future because it was music made out of machines. We had Kraftwerk before and it sounded futuristic but then the Techno world in late 80’s early 90’s was like a revolution. And it wasn’t a musical direction, it was very revolutionary. To me, it kept its power and I’m still a so-called techno artist but with Zukunftsmusik I’ll try to find new formulas and go in other directions or touch something I never touched before. And I don’t want to be misunderstood like 30 years ago, you know, I don’t want to go too far that people don’t understand anymore what I try to say. I want the people to enjoy my music and think it’s something special.
– It was also a very political music style at the time you started. Do you still feel techno or electronic music in general has a political role to play?
No, because people are afraid of saying what they think, or what they really believe in. There’s another radical side of people but it’s not into music, specially not in Techno. But when techno was produced for the first time it was very political and there were messages in the tracks. There were songs or albums titles that were really saying straight the message or the political direction. It kind of lost it but now, in this difficult time, it’s important that artists like me are saying something. I learnt how to write lyrics and now I put lot of messages in my songs and it is of course very political as well. I was always interested in politics, and these days it’s so out of control, and you get so used to crazy things that happen every day because it’s happening every day, especially here in Paris with all those attacks. You can go to your Ibiza holidays and ignore everything. But I think it’s more important to reflect what’s going on, saying out loud what you think. As an artist, you must do it. If you are not following that impulse or that inner world, you just have nothing to say. You need to say something. James Brown did it, David Bowie did it, all these great artists always spoke loud.
– Is it what you did or try to do in this new album? Is there a political message?
There are different messages there, but it’s not like “I have a message now and everybody has to listen”. I have love songs on it but it’s not totally clear. You think it’s a love song, but at the end it’s just like love between men. It’s a reference to a so-called hanky code where you put hankies in your jeans, left or right side, depending if you’re active or passive. It was very popular in the 70’s and 80’s in the gay culture. They are different colours of hankies that you put in your jeans, and you know if the guy is active or passive, you don’t have to speak it out because you know out of this colour. There’s a code, red, orange, green and you have to learn about the code. It sounds like a love song but it’s the orange colour from the code, and it means on the active side “anything, anytime, anywhere, I don’t care”. And on the passive side it says “I’m just cruising, nothing now”. I was really fascinated about that code, and about that formula. So I wrote a song about it. If you don’t know about the code and the formula, you think it’s a love song.
– The album sounds very different from what you did in the past. What did you change in the way you made it or in the way you thought about it?
It’s a natural process because everybody’s changing, and since my last album, 7 years later, I’m changed, I’ve seen more things, and I see things differently. But when I do music I don’t want to fulfil the expectation. I want to do something that totally interests me, that I never touched before. I don’t want to do the same things and repeat a formula that it was already successful. I want to see the whole picture of me and the musical history and push it as much as possible. And I didn’t realize that there was a lot of stuff on the album without beats, I didn’t plan it. I always did music for the next near future, I never did something that will feet now, that’s reflecting what’s happening now. My all career was interested in seeing what’s coming out, not only with Zukunftsmusik. I already did it with the last 4 albums as well. I was thinking what’s the next step of this, and the next step of my life, the next step of club music. There’s no club for that music now, but that’s the future, so maybe it will go more in that direction. Or you don’t have to do like 3 different floors for all kinds of music, you mix them in one floor. This is where I come from as a DJ, in the late 70’s there was one floor and you played all kinds of music and there was a bunch of people dancing to Ska music, then there was the punk people coming dancing to punk music, then I played some rap and the punk people left, because then there were the hip-hop guys coming, and there were groups of people. And at the end, the most important thing was I found some music where everybody was dancing together. That was not easy, that was a high definition of Djing and it did not always work, because the groups had nothing to say to each other. Because they believe in their own things and only that.
– I find interesting the fact that you announced the album with ‘I want you’ which is a pure techno club track paying tribute to the gay culture, whereas your album is a more intellectual work. Can we say that “I want you” is looking at the past and your album looking to the future?
If you want haha! “I want you” is bringing you on the wrong road because it will not continue like that. And I think a lot of people were happy because it was a big club tune in your face, and a lot of them played it. It was something nobody thought I could do anymore and I think I proved that I still can do that. I call it “proto techno”, it was inspired by the first techno track made ever by a group called ‘numbers of names’ from Detroit, and the song is called Sharivari. And I was like let’s go back to the first moment ever, 1984, and think about it from the future. I think it sounded modern but at the same time it sounded analog, kind of early, pre-proto techno. All the other songs are totally different and I had different concept for every song. I even sampled the Dalaï Lama. I don’t know what’s happening because … it can be dangerous, because there’s a lot of Buddhist people who maybe will not like that.
– Yes, we saw a similar case with Dax J recently
Yes, but that was silly. Why would you do that in a country like that. It’s a provocation. He was lucky to get out without any damage. I don’t want to provoke, I was just thinking I want this mantra feeling, put this kind of magic.
– I think this album is very representative of what you are, we clearly see the different styles you have been going through
Yes, but I don’t want to show different styles or anything. That’s a big mistake that lot of techno DJs or producers do, they do some techno tracks but then they say ‘oh I can do something else as well, I’m not just a techno DJ, I can do some experimental stuff, then I can do some hip-hop stuff. I’m far away of that concept. I really dislike it when DJs do that
– Ok, but I still feel that this album is a kind of an electronic music encyclopaedia, in a good way. Do you think you have reached a certain maturity? Is this album an accomplishment, regarding your whole career?
It’s the best thing I could do. I feel like “that’s it”. But I felt the same with my latest album. I remember I said in an interview, “I can’t do better”. And 7 years later, I found out it’s possible, I can go on the next level. I never thought I would go in that direction 5 years ago. I have very great reactions from people like Derrick May, who was one of the 1st inventor of Techno music. He said he was really inspired, he really loved it. It brought him in a situation where he was motivated to do music again after 25 years. And that’s something I really like to hear, I know why I’m doing it. That’s the highest critics I can get, that he’s inspired by me. I’m very pleased about that.
– You talked about it before but it’s very clear that you are not a regular electronic music artist. It seems natural for you to produce all kind of different tracks. Is it a personal posture or do you think electronic music has to go in this direction?
It’s just my examples, it’s my way of explaining or going further. I don’t want to be a teacher or anything, it’s just my world. If other people follow, if some other techno producers or artists are inspired by what I’m doing, I will be happy. I would like to hear Derrick May’s new album inspired by my album, with Afro American rhythm and futuristic vocoder voices. I would love to hear it, his touch, that’s my touch. It would be nice if there is more electronic avant-garde understandable quality music out these days. I’m looking for that. It would be amazing if I can put the starting point on that, if there’s something happening out of this moment with the album, that would be amazing. If I listen to something and I think it’s so far from my ideas and concept and that they pushed it even further, I would really love to hear it.
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