Electronic music remains as vibrant as ever, but its initial global success came from a wave of artists in the 90′s, who took dance-floors around the world hostage with a wave of funky, sample-driven music, of which Demon’s “Midnight Funk” was a part. As a fan of the album, and his more recent releases, I reached out to him for an interview about his work.
So where did the name “Demon” come from?
When my first record was released, I didn’t want to take it too seriously. I was looking for a name that would sound universal, but still French-like. Démon was written on the first EP, and I like the reference to the concept of demons, as in “your own demons”, and that’s what it’s all about; putting our demons in music.
Was there any particular reason that you chose to move from hip-hop to house in the 90’s? Why not techno or some other genre?
I started liking house music, especially the French kind, because they where using the same tools for producing as I was, which was sampling. I realized that electronic music could be very organic and warm, and that I had a wrong image of it. The 4/4 kick drum thing was so cool, and could almost replace the rapper/singer on a track. I also found myself partying a lot more with house music. I started discovering more and more artists, as well as Chicago house and Detroit techno, which was the soul of this kind of music and culture at the time.
What was the greatest difference between making beats for rappers, and making your own electronic dance music? Was there a change in the amount of money you made, your music production techniques, the people you hung out with, etc?
The biggest difference was the self-accomplishment in making 100% of your own project. Being responsible for every frequency on a track, and creating your own personal universe. I wasn’t making any money from music, but I started to realize I could be a full-fledged professional artist within electronic music, and could probably make a living from it. It made me experiment in a lot of domains like DJing, producing, and running a label.
“Midnight Funk” remains one of your most popular and acclaimed albums. Do you remember any feedback that you received about it from your fans and fellow artists?
Yes, a very famous French singer called me once to explain me how much he loved listening to it while making love to his boyfriend whilst overlooking Manhattan through their window. Haha, no joke. But yes, seriously, I still receive messages and fan support from people who still listen to it 12 years later. I’m very proud of it.
How did you go about clearing the samples you used on that album? Was it difficult?
Unfortunately, all I can say is that a certain part of my copyrights helps some old funk/soul singers build a new pool for their retirement.
How in the world did that couple kissing video for “You Are My High” come about? Was that something you planned?
It was just an idea, in the most noble sense. I was talking about video clips with my label crew (20000ST). All we wanted at the time was to keep it as pure and as simple as it came to our mind. No editing, no effects. It was just artsy and Andy Warhol-esque. I think that’s why it was so strong, and stood out from the other video clips.
What did you think about Flume’s video for “You & Me” remix being similar to that one? Did anyone from his team reach out to you about it?
They didn’t contact me, but I take it as a tribute because they kept the reference to my clip obvious. In my opinion, it lost the artsy thing I was talking about. They made it into a traditional video. But regardless, Disclosure and Flume are both good artists with good taste.
How did it feel to get nominated for an MTV Music Award in 2001? Did you think you had a chance of winning?
I had no chance at all to win with Daft Punk and Manu Chao in the list. But it was an honor to be in the same category.
Do you still hear your past music being played on radio and in DJ sets?
Yeah.”You Are My High“, very often. My biggest pride is that the sound is still very fat and totally fits with modern EDM bangers in a DJ set!
Looking back, it’s clear that you played a big part in the initial French house movement, but we’ve noticed that a lot of names tend to be forgotten when people speak of the music’s history. People prefer to talk about the likes of Daft Punk and Cassius, whilst other artists like yourself are sometimes not mentioned. Does that bother you?
Not really. I can understand this. I’ve been quite discrete these last few years. French Touch is of course Daft Punk and Cassius, but a lot of names from early French Touch period come to my mind, I:Cube, Trankilou, Motorbass, Kojak, and DJ Gregory, to name a few. People will still listen to them for decades to come, I think. Personally, I’m starting more and more to appreciate listening to my old record collection of what French Touch used to be.
After 2004, your music output seemed to decrease, particularly for your albums. Why did that happen?
I was curious about other stuff like producing more hip hop, movie soundtracks, creating a label, and other projects here and there. I lived my life, I traveled, and took a break. I started working on the new album a long time ago, but I reconsidered half.way through because I thought it wasn’t 100% me. I’m finishing it right now though, and I’m very happy with the direction I’m taking. It’s sounding very personal now, and the fans of “Midnight Funk” will recognize the old me in it.
For someone who’s been so influential and has a lot of fans around the world, you don’t seem to have been very active on building a social media following. Why is that?
Well, as young as I might look, I’m from the older generation. Vinyl, faxes, D.A.T’s, and cabs being paid for by the record label, haha. But times have changed and I have to get used to it now that I’m releasing the album. I quite like it but it’s so time consuming. Fame is not really important to me as a person, but it is for my music. The goal is for it to be listened to. That’s all I want.
The French touch sound from the late 90’s and early 2000’s lost some of it’s fame as the 2000’s went on, and other genres like trance and Swedish house rose to popularity instead. With Daft Punk having released their album, a lot of people predicted that it would make a comeback, but it hasn’t really happened. Do you think it ever will?
Well, things happen in a cyclical fashion. Sometimes I speak with 19 years old guys who come to my gigs, who where 8 when they saw “You Are My High” on TV or started listening to Daft Punk’s “Discovery“. I think they will express this in their music like we expressed the influence of the 70′s and 80′s in ours.
Popular dance music has gone from funky and clubby, to loud and sometimes simplistic. “Festival music” seems to have become the hottest form of electronic music now. Is that good or bad, you think?
I don’t know. I was hoping this could lead people to more “artistic” electronic music. But maybe it’s like asking to the people who drink whiskey with coca to appreciate a good 18 year-old Irish whiskey, haha. Only a few of them would change their habit for it. But regardless, any good music can crossover, and French Touch is generally good at that.
Out of all your remixes, perhaps the most famous is of Daft Punk’s “Face To Face“. How did you end up getting the opportunity to remix their music?
Well they just asked me for a remix. I remember they weren’t really into the first version I sent them, so I did this one very spontaneously, in one night. I think it had success in the US clubs.
Speaking of Daft Punk, what did you think about their new album? Any chance we’ll be seeing a Demon remix again?
Honestly I didn’t feel really moved by the album in a cultural way, but did I feet moved by their approach; their studio adventure. By the fact that they had to re-learn everything about making tracks with all those old tools. They took risks and didn’t choose the easy way of repeating themselves.
As far as your recent work is concerned, you remixed Toxic Avenger and These New Puritans not too long ago. How did those jobs come to you?
I know Toxic and we did a collaboration. He also remixed “Luanda City Beats” on my EP. The remix for These New Puritans is actually a tribute bootleg. I love this band a lot, and their original track. I just put it in my sampler and started tweaking it. I just wanted a version of that beautiful melody that I could play in my DJ sets.
Tell us about this new EP that you’re working on? What’s it called, and how will it sound, compared to your previous material?
It’s called “City“. Describing it won’t be easy, because I have no distance from the record, but I would say it’s free from boundaries and calculation. Well, both tracks are some kind of trippy, electro-house music. But it’s not what it’s about. I did the main track “Luanda City Beats“, when I was in Angola. It was purely inspired from the capital city of Luanda. I felt something strong about this place that I wanted to transcribe into music. It’s very urbanized, very dusty, electric, and very energizing. The musical scene there is very strong with their groovy and aggressive Kuduro sound. I also did collaborations with Kuduro artists there, and played in some very cool clubs and in a festival in the desert. Amazing experiences.
Let’s talk a bit about your music making. What was your music production process like before 2000, and how did it change as the 21st century progressed? Did you have to abandon old recording practices, and adopt new ones?
Yes, I changed my whole setup. On my first records, I was only using sampling as an instrument. I was sequencing everything on an Atari computer. Now I use everything; every source of sound. I don’t really care about any particular synths, plug-ins, samples or guitars. Today you can do everything with computers and plug-ins, but the main concern is how to not sound like a computer; how to stay away from this sound uniformisation, and have a real, solid, warm, sound.
It’s not that I had to abandon old practices, but I wanted to evolve as a home studio nerd, which we all are. I think the best result come from the richness and the diversity of the sources of your sounds. The oldest analog gear is cool but cliché, the latest software synthesizer is cliché too. But if you mix both it becomes a new texture. For this EP for example, some synths are real analog ones and some are from the computer,
What does your current studio setup look like, in terms of hardware and software?
I work on a few pieces of software like Pro Tools and Maschine. I have some analog and digital synths, and for mixing I use analog gear like a summing mixer and very good converters. That’s it. Just trying to keep the quality of the original sounds with good gear and not to much treatment inside the box. I’m not really a gear fetishist. I’m just looking at the result.
We’ve heard that you used to read things like Keyboard magazine in your early career. What were some of the other sources of learning for you, when you first started making music?
I didn’t know anyone who was producing music at all. I just wanted to make this kind of music, and I remember I read an interview where rappers were talking about sampling. I looked for the cheapest sampler on the market, and I started with a sampling application on Atari called Replay 16.
Apart from your upcoming EP, do you have any other projects that you’re working on? A tour? Any remixes?
My main project is the new album I’m finishing these days and touring with a live set. I still continue to do DJ gigs and remixes. My upcoming projects are a remix of the next Tagteam Terror’s single on Moobootique Records, and a collaboration with my graphic artist, H5 (who did Logorama) for their next exhibitions. I’ll keep you posted.