A titan of a scene that has brought EDM from the fringes into the mainstream over the past decade, the superstar French DJ talks to The Cultured Traveller about his life and career, collaborating with Sia and his favourite places in Paris
When did young David first fall under the spell of dance music?
I discovered dance, actually house music to be more specific, during my time working at a nightclub. Right away I was intrigued by how it made me feel and the effect it had on the crowd. When I started to delve in, I fell in love.
Which artist has had the most influence on you musically?
It’s hard to pick just one. I grew at a time of incredible artists who changed the music industry forever: Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie and Marvin Gaye, to name but a few, all really knew how to translate a story into a track. And Stevie Wonder’s still going strong! These are just some of the musicians who inspired me to do what I do today. Many people also influenced my dance music, of course.
What was the first club you ever played at?
I was seventeen when I started DJing and my very first experience behind the decks was at the Broad Club in Paris, which is still going today.
You were very involved in the Paris nightclub scene at the start of your career?
Paris is where it all started for me – I played at many clubs in the French capital. I also owned Le Palace club for a while and organised parties there, which is where my passion for music really developed.
What is your favourite Parisian nightclub today?
Les Bains-Douches, which was the most famous nightclub in Paris in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I played there a long time ago and saw everybody from David Bowie to The Rolling Stones party there. The city shut it down in 2011 but it re-opened as a cool hotel with a club in the basement. Playing there today brings back many good memories. (lesbains-paris.com)
What defining moment of your career propelled you to worldwide fame?
For sure my collaboration with the Black Eyed Peas on I Gotta Feeling. That track was such a huge success, that it enabled me to crossover to the States as well as reach many other audiences globally.
I Gotta Feeling essentially kick-started the EDM revolution a decade ago. Were you ready for what followed?
All I wanted to do was to share my music with the world and truly live my dream. Doing what I’m most passionate about for a living was absolutely what I was ready for. Of course, it was crazy and overwhelming when it happened. But I loved and still love every second of it. I have the best job in the world.
You like to make huge songs with big hooks that people love to sing along to. What’s your favourite to date?
I’ve made so many tracks with so many amazing artists that it’s really difficult to pick just one. But if I had to choose one, Titanium would be in my top. When Sia and I made Titanium, she was working as a songwriter and I was working as a producer. We were supposed to make the record for another artist. When we finished the record, we were listening to it and I said, “There is no way I’m giving this away, this is going to be on my album and I don’t wanna give it to anyone else”. I already knew that no one could have sung it the way she did, so I asked her to stay on the record. But she said that she didn’t want to be an artist anymore, she just wanted to be a songwriter. So I promised her that I wouldn’t ask her to do any promo for the track or tour with me. I just wanted her voice! She eventually agreed, saying that it would be her last record. Then, right after Titanium was released, Sia became one of the world’s biggest artists. It’s a pretty crazy story but all true!
How does it feel to have a track as successful as Grammy award-winning When Love Takes Over?
I’m still very grateful and it meant a lot me. Receiving awards such as these puts a crown on top of your hard work.
What prompted you to put out your track The Death of EDM and how do you feel about EDM today?
When I made that record four years ago, I was effectively predicting what actually happened. There was a moment when every record seemed to be 120bpm, in F minor and all EDM was sounding exactly the same. EDM became more formulaic than pop and people got tired of it. The Death of EDM was about the need for a new sound. People will always want to dance, so we need to make music in different ways, at different tempos and using different sounds to move music forwards.
As a pioneering dance music DJ and producer, do you feel that you have a responsibility to move music forwards?
Music and the way we can produce changes all the time and I think that it’s important for artists to keep up with what’s happening around us. So, yes, I think our role as DJs and producers is to make music go forward, and to think forward. I started to make dance music because it was a type of music where there would be more freedom than within the pop structures commonly heard on the radio. Today, there is so much happening on the ground in progressive house and in tech house. The past few years especially have been very interesting musically, especially with the explosion of so many different subgenres. I love working with artists from other genres and also learning from young and new artists. They can have a fresh look on things which can inspire me.
You have collaborated with numerous artists. Is there anyone you would still like to work with?
There are many artists I admire and would love to make music with. But Adele is really high on my wish list. It would be amazing to make a track with Adele.
Who is Jack Back?
My alias! I’m Jack Back. It represents a different side of me, where I can express my more underground side and share the type of music where I came from. It’s all about the love for music, with no commercial aspect to it.
Tell us about your double album ‘7’, released towards the end of last year, which features everyone from pop stars Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj to DJs Steve Aoki and Martin Garrix.
The first disc is completely pop, with all the big hits and big names. The second disc is all about my alias Jack Back and is completely underground. Instead of trying to do a little bit of everything on the same record, I decided to make two to show the different sides to my music and also represent my musical journey. Releasing ‘7’ was very much a full circle moment for me.
What was it like to collaborate again with Nicki Minaj and Sia?
Nicki Minaj and Sia are like old-time partners and I really appreciate that they are so loyal to me. We made records together that were really life-changing. They became such huge stars, so I really appreciate that they’re always here from me.
Definitely. The energy on the isle is so radiant. My first set on Ibiza was obviously very special, but it’s still magical to play on the island today. For sure. Especially having my own residencies, that keep evolving. I don’t think I will ever leave Ibiza.
Where is your favourite venue to perform in the world?
This is a difficult question because so many venues have impressed me so much. But Ushuaïa and Hï on Ibiza are definitely two of my favourites. I always have so much fun when I play there during the summer. My residencies BIG and F*** Me I’m Famous take place in these magical clubs.
You routinely criss-cross the world’s skies, playing on multiple continents. What do you miss most when you’re away from Paris?
Time with my friends and family mostly, of course. When I am feeling naughty there is nothing better than French pastries and there is nothing naughtier than pastries from Paris. The best probably come from Odette in the Latin Quarter (odette-paris.com). I love having brunch at Les Bains. And strolling around the Latin Quarter which retains so much authenticity and history and is brimming with independent cafés and shops – it’s a wonderful place.
What advice would you give to budding DJs and up-and-coming producers?
Keep going! Work on your own sound and try to figure out how to stand out from the crowd. Only those that never give up and carry-on working ever make it.
I think it’s difficult to really put a finger on it. Because I love making music and it really is my passion has a lot to do with it. My passion for music makes it possible for me to work ten times harder than others. And I like to think that I share my passion with other people.
What’s next for David Guetta?
I don’t have huge ambitions because I don’t need to make more money, I have enough. I just want to make more of the music I love and share it with the world.