Interview by Amanda Vandenberg
Picture yourself during springtime in Miami: clad in neon, packed downtown, heartbeat syncing in the humidity, letting the music wash over you. Or maybe you’re 130 miles east of Los Angeles, seeking refuge from the desert dust storms at the far edge of the grounds, tented laser lights cutting clear through the arenaceous air. Maybe you’ve had it happen during a stag weekend in Ibiza, or a girls’ trip to Vegas – the nights that taste like the intoxication of youth and leave you half dead but, somehow, also more alive. Or maybe you’ve stood in Belgium with the masses, watching flags from over 70 different nations wave in thousands of arms silhouetted against a mythologically proportioned stageline at one of the most immersive and internationally attended music events on earth.
No matter what corner of the world you’ve moved your body, brushed up against and befriended strangers, or had your entire outlook of the world shifted in a hazy flash, there’s a chance that part of that experience was a direct influence of David Guetta. There’s been a lot written about the particular magic of festivals, and for many, none of it would have been made corporeal without the emergence of electronic from the underground and up into the more widely accessible realm of popular music – a migration for which Guetta is a metaphorical figurehead. As someone who has consistently been evolving, adapting, and reacting to his environment for over three decades, no one would say that he hasn’t hustled for his success. But what is so magic about this thrilling trajectory is how filled it is with seemingly fated moments.
It started with the way Guetta was signed – after playing his new record for Thomas (Bangalter) of Daft Punk, a call was placed immediately to the president of Virgin in France. The first time he was working on a new album, Kelly Rowland complimented the record he was playing in a club. Upon learning it was his own, she asked to try something out on it, and together they created ‘When Love Takes Over,’ now a major crossover hit. The very same week, Will.i.am requested something produced similar to ‘Love is Gone,’ and ‘I Gotta Feeling’ was born. While performing with Rowland in London, Akon passed Guetta on his way to the stage and requested they work together. That same night, they created ‘Sexy Bitch.’
Nearly a decade later, the predestined falling-into-place of songs is still strongly a theme. After releasing ‘2U’ featuring Justin Bieber last year, Guetta’s newest single ‘Dirty Sexy Money’ gives us another peak into the direction the next album is being taken. Put together with longtime collaborator Afrojack, it was during a writing camp that Charlie XCX came up with the hook, and as Guetta describes it, “It was like a party in the studio. Everyone was dancing, and it was just a great, great time.” When the record was nearing release, Guetta ran into French Montana while performing at a festival, who wanted to set in motion a collaboration. Guetta handed over ‘Dirty Sexy Money’ and offered to let French Montana cut a verse. What he wasn’t expecting was for it to come back not even two days later with the perfect fit.
If we go down the road the foreordained, it could be proposed that music was ready for crossovers like these, and Guetta’s collaborative pairings may have a big something to do with the mainstream success of EDM today. Indeed, even those who wouldn’t directly count themselves as fans of Guetta’s music probably couldn’t say the same about at least one of his dozens of collaborators. And even if you haven’t danced directly for a Guetta megahit, if you’ve ever been to a concert or festival and knew the DJ’s name, that shift is a trend more than partially thanks to him as well. Guetta has worked hard to make sure DJs are counted as artists, and he’s gone from having his booth tucked in a corner, virtually unknown in a Paris nightclub, to having his face on billboards and his name listed as the headliner. Overall, Guetta truly seems to trust in a process, surrendering himself to the way that music can change with the times.
“I avoid repeating myself too much. It keeps it exciting.”
Avoiding repetition is key when you’ve been working this hard, for this long. When asked when his seventh studio via What A Music/ Big Beat/ Atlantic/ Parlophone – will be released, he muses that hopefully it will be before summer – he has to finish it first, hopefully between his new tour and Las Vegas residency at the Wynn. But in the meantime, BASIC sat down to get to know Guetta a little more personally, the man behind the booth that has strung together an entire generation’s formative dance moments.
BASIC: You’ve been in the dance music scene for decades, and you’ve seen it evolve in so many different directions. In what ways do you think your own music has also evolved?
My scene and my music have both evolved, and are reflective of one another. Meaning, I’ve been doing this for many, many years. When I started to play house music, it was at the end of 80s and it was a very underground movement. There was no such thing as famous DJ, really. You may be famous, but out of reputation in your club, in your town, maybe in your country.
Of course, it’s completely different now. I started making songs that were crossing over on the radio. First in Europe with records like ‘Love Don’t Let Me Go,’ which was my first UK #1. Later, I had records crossing over in the US (‘I Got a Feeling’ and ‘Sexy Bitch’). What was once called undergrounded had crossed over and become the new format of pop music. So it’s an evolution of my music, but also the genre in general.
I started with traditional, soulful types of vocals. I wanted to do something different, so I added in electro house beats using urban artists and melodies. That kind of created a style that was new. And then later, I started using indie pop artists (like Sia, who is one of my favorite artists to collaborate with) – and it was a new style, a new wave of music again. Then there was the EDM wave with records like ‘BAD.’ I think it’s a very interesting moment right now – there’s not one thing in dance music that is completely killing it. Really, it’s a moment where people are ready for anything – which is very interesting as an artist, because it gives us the opportunity to experiment. That means it’s possible to win, and it’s possible to lose, but I think all the producers are pushing to find a new sound. It’s stressful, but it’s also giving us freedom.
BASIC: You often headline festivals filled with up to hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life. How do you think music brings these people together, or what speaks to its universality?
Emotional music brings people together the most. I grew up in France, and though I couldn’t understand the words, I always listened to American or English music. And even though I couldn’t understand the words, I was touched. I would connect with the music. This shows that it’s about melodies and emotions even more than words. It’s funny, because I started to focus on the words really late in my career. I still have an approach that is different from most American producers. They’re so focused on lyrics, whereas I try not to be solely impressed by them. I try to pretend like I don’t understand the words and be touched by just the melody and the chord progression. It’s because I’m still thinking globally. I want my music to touch everyone, even those that don’t understand English. It’s incredible to see how music is the universal language, and how it can touch people in so many different countries even when they don’t understand the words.
BASIC: You always keep things changing – where do you typically find your inspiration?
My inspiration is a balance between my life as a DJ (when it comes to sounds and the reactions of the people) and just my life – period. It’s really that combination. I was using a phrase in one of my first records – “dancing and crying” – and that is what I’m trying to do: make people dance and have that energy, but at the same time, connect to some deeper emotion.
BASIC: Do you have a favorite festival or performance?
My favorite festivals would have to be Ultra and Tomorrowland. But thinking about this year, one of my favorite shows was…yesterday – New Year’s Eve. I had such an amazing time. We did a warehouse party in New York City. I hadn’t done this in forever, and it felt like I was back in the 90s. It was really unbelievable, because it was so rough. Most of the time, I’m playing concerts and festivals with amazing production, super spectacular shows. Or when I play clubs, like when I play the Wynn in Vegas, or I play Ibiza, all of those are extremely professional, you know? And very digitally perfect. And to get back to that rave life for New Year’s Eve was just so amazing.
BASIC: You’ve traveled the world, you’re laden with accolades. Do you have any remaining items on your bucket list?
If I’m totally honest, if I’m thinking about what I haven’t had in my life, it wouldn’t be these incredible things. What I haven’t had is a normal life. To have more time with my friends with my family…do normal things. Maybe that’s not what you want to hear, but I’ve always been deep into my work, my music, traveling all the time, never having any time for myself. That’s been my life until today. If I’m thinking about things that have been missing in my life and I want in the future, it’s probably not selling more millions of albums or doing a show on the moon. I was reading this letter written by Steve Jobs when he was about to die. He’s realizing that the most important moments of his life were the moments spent Wasn’t enough. Maybe he should have spent more time with loved ones and less time on trying to overachieve. It was interesting, and I was touched by the letter. I think about trying to find more of a balance, to stay excited about what I do, and stay creative – but also have a life.
BASIC: What was the last thing that made you laugh?
I did Christmas with a lot of friends, and one has a kid (4 or 5 years old). When it was time to open the gifts, I was looking at this little boy and he was screaming. He was so happy, it was unbelievable. It made me laugh a lot, and it was so beautiful to see. As a kid, everything new is always so exciting, and it gives you so much happiness. This was the first year that he could understand the concept of Christmas and the gifts and he could actually open the gifts himself. And of course the question is – how can I always stay like this? How can we always be screaming and laughing when we open the gifts of life? This is probably the secret to happiness.
BASIC: You’re surprising philosophical.And quite poignant.
[laughs] Thank you.
BASIC: What would you make sure to save in a fire?
My computer. Because I make music with it. Apart from this, I’m not attached to many things. But I need my computer because it’s a lot of work to set it up.
BASIC: You’re surprising philosophical.And quite poignant.
[laughs] Thank you.
BASIC: What memory do you find yourself revisiting when you’re daydreaming?
To be honest, I tend to daydream more about the future. Sometimes I think of the past, but I’m always more oriented towards dreaming of what I could do. That’s more my way of daydreaming than thinking about moments of my life, or something like this – I am not melancholic. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, it was better then.’ You know, you hear so many people who say it was so much better before. I’m totally not like this! I’m a resident DJ in Ibiza and I’ve been playing Ibiza now for twenty years – and for twenty years at the end of the summer everybody says, [sigh] ‘It was so much better before. I think these are the last years of Ibiza.’ And it’s been TWENTY YEARS. I’ve heard this at the end of every single summer. And every year it’s the destination to party and everyone comes back. So I really don’t get it.
BASIC: Is there anything everyone should try once in their life?
Everyone should try once in their life to be in love. So many people are compromising. We should not compromise. It’s so amazing to be in love.
Photographer Viktorija Pashuta @viktorija_pashuta
Producer Jackson Chong
Stylist David Thomas | At the Wall Group
Grooming Cristina Orlando
Video Andrew Leibman
Photo Assistants Victor Trasvina & Remington Perregaux
Location Mona Liza Studios, NY @monalizastudios
Design Brieona Cornelius @brieonacornelius