Today, he has been locked in a seemingly never-ending series of interviews to promote his new album, Tales of a Kleptomaniac. For most, such a hectic schedule would prove frustrating and tiresome, but you get the impression that the French techno heavyweight is relishing the challenge. While never as outspoken as techno contemporaries like Dave Clarke, he's always been fairly thoughtful—and thought-provoking—in interviews.
Certainly, Garnier has little left to prove. Yet for all his achievements, there is a feeling that Garnier is seen in some quarters as something of a "yesterday's man"—one of the few remaining dinosaurs from the age of the "superstar DJ," a man out of pace with the fast-changing world of techno for which he was once Europe's true champion. This is an unfair accusation. While the Parisian may not have the cutting-edge kudos of many of today's youthful techno elite, he is still as committed to the cause as he ever was. Talking to him, it's hard not to be taken aback by the obsessive, almost evangelical relationship he has with music. Many people love music with a passion, but few DJs and producers have the same level of dedication 20 years after they first took to the decks.
Tales of a Kleptomaniac, his new full-length, is arguably his most rounded work to date. Mixing dubstep-influenced hip-hop and politically-aware dance floor jazz workouts with slick techno, raucous drum & bass and dubwise downtempo flavours, it feels like the first Garnier album to truly reflect his oft-discussed myriad influences. It's almost as if he reflected on two decades of dance music—and, in the case of opening track "Freeverse Part 2," the P-Funk and electro he indulged in as a teenager—and made an album. The results are, on the whole, impressive. While it's not the sort of album that will have underground techno nerds salivating into their laptops, it's a strong set of diverse, well-made tracks. And, at this point in Garnier's career, it makes perfect sense. "Perhaps," he muses. "I would certainly hope that the album shows more sides of me as a producer."
Crucially, the album was made far away from Garnier's traditional Parisian base, in his new home deep in the South of France. Using the local musicians who form the backbone of his live band—which, incidentally, is coming to London for the first time in May—and long-time engineer Scan X, he recorded the majority of Kleptomaniac in the ground floor studio of his country home: "I moved from an extremely industrial area, where you have factories and roads and buildings—very urban, very smoky, very tough, very rainy, very grey—to a garden where I can see vineyards, it's sunny a lot and the studio is always open to the outside. It's very different!"
He says all this with the enthusiasm of someone who is enjoying every minute of life. And someone who doesn't bother listening to the accusations that he has somehow abandoned his techno roots: "Do you really need to be in 'techno-land' to make techno?" he asks. "If you live in Detroit I can understand. I know 'urban' has a techno feel, but now techno is 20 years old and it can be lived somewhere else." He laughs, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm not scared of saying that! But this is a much less 'techno' album. It's a much more musical album. It has strong hints of techno, of course, but it's less dark. It's happier and funkier. It's easier I think."
And, in fact, over the last decade of his career, Garnier has taken great pains to avoid being typecast as a techno DJ, let alone a techno producer. His increasingly epic sets—six hours minimum, these days—often take in drum & bass, deep house, tech house and classic jack as much as contemporary techno. Musically, his albums have moved away from the dance floor as he's gotten older, showcasing a love of jazz, experimental electronica and cinematic soundscapes. Yet for all the eclecticism, he's still thought of by many as a purely techno DJ—or at least someone who can be relied upon to produce the goods in a techno club. "I hate that," he asserts.
Laurent Garnier at Rex
I ask what Garnier makes of the current state of the French electronic music scene, something that he has been outspoken about before. When I have previously spoken to him, he has bemoaned the relative lack of a scene in Paris—even in the days when the Rex Club, and his label, F Communications, were putting the city on the techno map. "It is still very small," he sighs. "It makes a lot of noise, but it's not that big at all. It's bigger, but Paris is still a small place. There's one thing that really has changed in the music scene and that's the way we exist. 15 years ago, we fought for our music. We didn't care about having our pictures taken, or being in magazines. Some people did, but it was not the done thing—it was all about being faceless, letting the music do the talking. That was one of the great things about techno music. Now it's all about what I look like, who I am, how I dress, how rock and roll I am and how stupid I can be."
It would be fair to say, then, the Monsieur Garnier is not all that impressed by the antics of Pedro Winter's Ed Banger stable. In fact, he seems positively saddened by it. "Now it's all about marketing and how to exist in the scene, even without making music," he laments. "There have always been tons of French producers, but now you see them more because it's all about the image. You know what? A lot of the new guys now, we wouldn't have signed them to F Communications, because it's not our thing. Musically it doesn't excite us at all. Some of them I like—I'm not saying it's all crap—but a lot of it just doesn't talk to me. I feel a lot of it is marketing more than anything else. This is why I feel dubstep is more exciting, because I feel those guys are making it for the right reasons."
The (other) man with the red face
We couldn't let Laurent Garnier go without asking him about the "other" version of "The Man With The Red Face," famously released by Mark Knight last year. Surprisingly, he actually rather likes it. "You know what, I didn't think it was that bad at all," he says. "I thought it was more commercial, and it made it more commercial for sure—it was massive! I was scared it was so big! The funny thing is, I'd never heard of Mark Knight before. I was in Berlin and a friend sent me an e-mail saying that someone had done a cover and sent me a link of Mark Knight playing it in Miami. The place was going crazy, and I thought 'wow'. I don't know why, but on the same day I got an email from Mark Knight asking me if I could listen to the track. I did, and listened to it quickly, and thought it's a bit commercial but it's OK. Then I played it in Berlin and the whole place went nuts! What I liked about it was that he replayed everything. He was very honest in a way. It inspired me to make the new single."
Garnier's love of dubstep can be heard on a number of tracks on Kleptomaniac—most notably in the space amongst the beats and rumbling, speaker-busting basslines. He obviously has spent a lot of time devouring the latest and greatest dubstep and dub techno releases. "Since the beginning of dubstep I have been interested, when I first heard the early stuff on Tempa. I thought 'this is different.' I really felt that something fresh was happening." And dubstep's endearing DIY ethos is something that appeals to Garnier's deep sense of dance music history. He tells us that he gets the same excitement hearing fresh dubstep productions as he did when he first heard Detroit techno and early Chicago house: "It's made with such cheap equipment that you feel the need to make something creative coming through. It's the same as what house music was about—a 303, a 909, bang: 1000 copies of a record. They did thousands of releases like that. That's what I liked about it. I felt it was very raw, very exciting. This is what kudoro is about, and Baile funk, and sometimes what dubstep is about. Just simplicity and efficiency."
Garnier is happy to admit that he's in a privileged position when it comes to music, with a reduced gig schedule allowing him the time to indulge in finding and listening to brand new music. He explains that he gets sent some 1000-plus tracks a week, and that he no longer has to spend countless hours in record stores desperately trying to "find that holy grail." To many DJs, listening to this number of tracks a week would grind them down, but the former F Comm chief seems to relish the task. It's a perk of the job for such a high profile DJ, and DJing is still, he claims, his raison d'être.
"I still have the same passion as ever," he gushes. "I'm sorry, but I love it. It's my life. It's something I've always wanted since I was a kid. I gain so much joy from it it's unbelievable. It's usually hard to get me off the decks. A lot of people don't like playing after me because they know that it's hard to try and get me off!"
Despite his demands, Garnier's stock is still incredibly high in DJing terms. While he no longer tops polls of the world's favourite DJs, he's able to pick and choose where he plays, keeping his commitments down to two "quality" weekends a month. For those of us in the UK who rarely get the opportunity to see him, it's easy to assume that he's just not gigging. In fact, he's just choosy about where and when he plays. "I still have 90 per cent good gigs and I want to keep it that way," he says. "I'd rather do less, and therefore be around less, and still wake up in the morning and go 'yes, I'm going to a gig!' I still do it with love, and completely passionately, and I want to keep it that way. I'd rather concentrate on these things and do it right, and not burn my wings. This is what happens to so many DJs. They do too much—they just gain money and at one point they just fall and disappear. Since 2002, look at how many hundreds of DJs have completely disappeared—gone—who were massive. I'm still here. At one point it will become a problem, but at the moment it's still very, very exciting."
There's that word—exciting—again. There seems a lot, right now, that is exciting Laurent Garnier. He can sometimes appear moody and difficult, arrogant even, but this rarely comes through in interviews. All you get is someone who would talk to you for hours about records he likes and great clubs he's visited, should you have the time. His latest project is, surprisingly, a movie: a film adaptation of his Electrochoc book. Originally published in French in 2003, the book was part autobiography, part travelogue and part dance music history. It's hard to imagine how such a deeply personal work would work as a film, but Garnier is convinced it has legs.
"We're making a fiction," he explains. "It's inspired by the beginning of the story in the book, but the actual story and characters will be fictional. It's just gonna be a movie. It's going to be in French and English, based in Paris, Manchester and Detroit. It's about a young guy who's going to become a DJ, but it's not about DJing but the love of music and the relationship you can have when you're madly in love with music. I want people to understand that, and how that passion for music can lead to some strong decisions in life. It's not jokes, with some people taking drugs, it's really not about that."
It would have to be a movie about a boy who is "madly in love with music," wouldn't it? For Laurent Garnier, there is simply no other way. Music is life—it's as simple as that. "I don't think I could do anything else," he says, getting up to leave. "Sure, I could get a job and work in a restaurant, but it wouldn't give me a hard on I'm afraid."