Interview: Laurent Garnier

“I need to have a relationship with the crowd I’m playing to, otherwise there’s no point”
Laurent Garnier
By Graham Turner |
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Hong Kong’s version of Sónar – which returns to Science Park next month – is very much in the spirit of the festival as when it debuted in Barcelona in 1994, showcasing the pioneers rather than the celebrities of the EDM scene.

There are few people that represent the roots of the event better than legendary French spinner Laurent Garner. The 52-year-old played the at the first festival 24 years ago and will surely be top of most people’s must-see acts for this year’s Sónar. We chat with the great man as he prepares to make his way to the SAR.

What’s your take on Sónar and where it fits within the current global festival scene?
It’s great that Sónar has taken so many risks with its programming over the years – it’s always been very daring. I’ve been following the festival for nearly 25 years and they’re always proposing very alternative, forward-thinking acts and presentations. It’s managed to keep itself somewhat underground in how it’s curated. There’s other festivals in Europe that don’t necessarily focus on the mainstream but I think Sónar offers a truly 360-degree view of EDM.

You’re often described as ‘the DJs’ DJ’, which we’ve always found strange as it seems you’ve always been more interested in showing people a good time than playing up to any kind of elitist DJ sensibilities…
My proritiy has always been playing music and making people dance. As a DJ, my job is to try to read the crowd, understand the crowd, have a relationship with the crowd and try to make them have the best time they can. I’m not here as a teacher or to look down at people from a high point of view and think: “I’m going to teach you.” I have never been like that. For me, DJing is all about sharing and trying to understand the crowd and trying to play the right track at the right time. That’s my task. I’ve always been in to music more than anything else, so it’s always come first. I need to have a relationship with the crowd I’m playing to, otherwise there’s no point.

It seems now, what with the proliferation and easy sharing of electronic music, people are turning more and more to the legends of the genre. People such as yourself, as people who were there before everyone with a laptop got in on the act. What’s your take on that and do you think it’s difficult for new DJs and producers to make their mark with such genre saturation?
It’s different. In a way, yes, it’s easier because we have more machines that can help produce melodies and grooves etc. But still, at the end of the day, I think after an artist has made maybe 10 tracks or done maybe 10 different live sets, the crowd is not stupid. To stick around for a long time you really need to have something. You can’t fool people for long. So yes, it’s easier to make and release music now but people will always be able to suss out whether you’re good or not very quickly. Also before, you could make a name for yourself just by DJing and being in that scene but now, 20 years later, you need to make music. And it has to be consistently good.

You’ve spent almost 30 years in the game and there’s still genuine excitement in your body language during every set you do. How do you avoid burn out?
[Laughs] I don’t know! For me, it’s all about honesty when I DJ. I absolutely love DJing and connecting with the crowd. I’m very careful with the music I play. I spend hours and hours listening to music, searching for music. Usually when I play something, I’ve listened to it a good 20 times before it ends up in my record box. I always try to not repeat myself when I DJ, I think that’s the best way to challenge yourself and stop any kind of complacency or boredom from setting in. I’ve also made an active effort to try and slow down in the last 10 years so I can keep on liking what I’m doing and still be excited about going places to play – I’d rather do less and do it better. I’m really lucky, I just absolutely love what I do [laughs].

You get sent a lot of demos, tracks and mixes. If someone from Hong Kong was to do that, what would you be looking out for when trying to identify something special?
I try to listen to nearly everything I get and I spend about six to eight hours a day listening to new music and there’s a lot of really good music out there. As I was saying earlier, when I’m playing a record in a set, it’s because I’ve listened to it many times and it’s really struck me. So I think there’s no set recipe – either it’s got the groove and it pleases someone or it doesn’t.

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