Teki was first known as one-third of the rap outfit TTC. By the late 2000s, he had several creative outlets. First came Sound Pellegrino, a label specialising in lean, bouncy house and electro. That was followed by Overdrive Infinity, his homage to the playful green-screen streaming platform Just Jam. Through these, he presented new talents like Clara 3000, Piu Piu, Bambounou, AZF and a young Skee Mask. Teki's had a show on Rinse France since it started—in 2014 he even curated the station's holiday programming, pulling close friends into the studio over Christmas to play specials dedicated to baile funk, skweee and Three 6 Mafia.
But Teki's hyperactive creativity is most visible in his style of DJing. Technically, he exudes pomp without devolving into pomposity. One moment he's faux beat-juggling using the slip function (more on that later), the next he's pulling an acapella from the recesses of chart history, slapping it over a beat from the contemporary UK funky / hard drum / gqom axis, and then riding a hi-NRG synth line on top, just for fun. His approach is somewhere between a stuntman and a sentient iPod shuffle.
Teki's latest, and best, guise is that of mixtape master. Some of the tricks in his King Of Blends series look silly on paper—in fact, for purists, it might be best to just hit play and avoid looking at the tracklists altogether. That head-nodding piano riff over the kickin' breakbeat? Sorry, that's actually Axwell. But don't fret, an Arpanet song is right around the corner, and he'll make it feel like it came from the same place. It's fitting that Teki is an avowed fan of the video game Super Mario Odyssey, because he brings its innocence and inner logic to life as a DJ. No matter how isolated two worlds may seem, there is always a hidden warp to be discovered from one to the other.
How would you explain what you do as a DJ?
Taking one track and then taking another track, then bringing them together to create something that didn't exist before. That's what separates DJs from Spotify playlists. It's more limited than composing music from scratch with an instrument, but within its limitations, it's an even more interesting creative endeavor. Finding the little things that transform the tracks, or finding an order and weaving them in a way that creates a heightened experience for people—that's what I strive to do as a DJ, and it's what all DJs should.
You stay pretty "in the box." Do you prefer to work with these deliberate limitations?
Yes, just the Pioneer CDJs and DJM. I don't even like to use the mixer's effects much either. Quite simply, I derive my strength from finding two tracks and making them work together. Even if the timing or the harmony between the two melodies is a little bit off, it's almost a chemical reaction for me when two things superimpose perfectly. That "whoa" feeling gives me goosebumps. That's the feeling I crave.
Do you have a visual association when playing? Is it like a jigsaw, or Tetris blocks slotting together?
Perhaps Lego more than Tetris, because you can do very different things with the same blocks, depending on how you build it. Also cooking, which I know I always bring up at any opportunity [laughs]. I'm not a cook at all, but I get this unmistakable feeling that I'm cooking when I mix. I'm taking raw ingredients and transforming them by assembling them in a certain way, with constant corrections and adjustments to hold the meal together. A bit more spice over here, some more sugar on this side dish; sometimes it's a bit more improvised, other times it's a structured process.
Being welcomed into the ballroom scene as a DJ for House Of Ninja in recent years has completely altered my perception of what's needed to make a dance floor go off. I've learned so much from watching the routines, understanding the relationship between one dancer and another, and their relationship in turn to the DJ and what is coming out of the speaker. You cannot script that kind of energy! You need to be adaptive.
I saw you play in Toulouse and I was surprised that your set was pre-ordered. Only toward the end did you break from the playlist and start quickly scrolling to find Green Velvet's "La La Land." How long do you spend preparing a play-by-play like that? Does it come from apprehension that a crowd won't be amenable to you going all over the place?
It was my third residency date, so I thought I knew well enough the point at which the energy would ebb, but the crowd was still so hyped at 5 AM that I felt that was a good time to introduce Green Velvet, then bring Anastasia Kristensen on for an extra hour's tag-team, and keep them hyped. It's like this fucking Bandersnatch thing. The basic trunk of the story is already in place, but then you can break off and choose your own adventure.
Because I do a lot of routines and need quick access, I keep rekordbox as simple as possible: I have a main playlist, with the core of my set prepared, and then perhaps sub-divisions of that. I do this each and every time I play. There might be a "City Name – Main" and then "– Deep" and "– Hyper." In Toulouse I had just the one, which is why you could see me going off-script.
I noticed you ran a lot of songs from the edge, without hot cues, loops or really any time spent lining them into position. Perhaps there was a quick little check in your headphones to make sure the sound was OK, then the fader was up and you were off to the races.
Certain moments call for a progressive and lengthy transition and certain moments call for something a bit more radical; a raw, hip-hop style, switching beats and doing a lot of quick cuts. I often play groupings of four to five similar songs to generate some kind of uniformity and hypnosis. But then maybe I notice the crowd is losing a bit of interest, and the vibe calls for an abrupt change of pace or texture.
Take that night in Toulouse: I could see the kids were really enthusiastic about the melody from that super catchy Ceephax song so I looped it and used it as a raw material to stretch and return to. I also used Joe's "Studio Power On" to jolt the crowd with some weird sawing noises after seven short ones in a row, before venturing out with a new sequence. But if I'd mistimed it, it would have just scattered the mood. When it's an audience that has come out for me, I can afford to be adventurous. When I'm finding my place in a pre-existing party and my aim is to win the place over, I don't mess around that much. I try to respect the flow of the party as much as I can.
You mention a hip-hop style, but you don't appear to use the crossfader, don't double up records, or really dip your toes into much from that world at all.
If you omit six months in high school with one single Technics MK2, miserably trying and failing to scratch the ten records I owned at the time, I've never been a hip-hop DJ. Back in the TTC days, I was one of the three MCs. I only started playing music in clubs when the early Pioneer CDJs had arrived, and this was after becoming friends with Modeselektor, falling in love with International Deejay Gigolo, BPitch Control, Smith N Hack, Dopplereffekt—prolonged exposure to electronic music in general. We were going to electro parties in Paris to see our friends play and were already so over turntablism. It seemed like pure acrobatics, as opposed to DJing to, you know, make a crowd dance.
When did you start using a third CDJ, and what did that enable?
The early days of Sound Pellegrino involved a lot of back-to-back performances with DJ Orgasmic, who was formerly TTC's tour DJ, plus a major influence on my tastes, and taste for mixtape-making. We were like a fucking octopus on the decks, constantly stacking and building things on top of one another; our sets were a never-ending blend-a-thon. That became my signature thing. Then, inspired by Lorenzo Senni's work, when I did the Deconstructed Trance Reconstructed mix I was looking primarily for drumless melodic leads as a third component when two channels were already running: to create match-ups, rather than mash-ups. I might not use three CDJs when playing an Italo disco set, though. There's a separation between music as raw material, and music as a memory trigger. It's not easy to create something completely new with a song that brings a rush of familiarity and nostalgia.
When it comes to music as building blocks, you tend to lean on a certain type of staccato, hard-edged tool. Sometimes that's a full ballroom or Jersey club song, or sometimes it's a simple rolling techno loop. Are you looking for a certain type of sound when picking those out, or does it simply need to be something on the grid that you can springboard off of?
The immediate effectiveness of it is what catches my ear. It has to be minimal and have space, otherwise you can't superimpose it with something that's already busy. Errorsmith's "Stiff Neck" is a perfect example, and I would guess it's my most played-out song ever. It's minimalist but evolves and becomes more intense as it goes on, making it a playful, exciting and transformative tool for builds. Wiley's "Devil" Mixes also are great for this. There are no drums, and the melody switches every eighth bar, creating something that is both consistent and constantly resetting—a canvas that you can apply some progressive things on top of.
What is your take on "deconstruction" as a prevalent trope of club music over the past few years?
It was interesting and necessary to shake things up. And I think that if I put myself in the shoes of someone who was never overly interested in clubs—who perhaps comes from an art, noise or punk background—it may have been an exciting way of messing around with these tropes, by finding extremes, even if they were un-danceable. But I love clubs. I love people coming together to have a good time. I love pure, raw, functional dance music. Functionality doesn't need to come at the price of sacrificing emotion, but there is great poetry within music made purposely for you to dance on it, and not think about it.
When the whole deconstructed club music wave hit it make me think, "Oh no! Not IDM again!" We had to fight intellectualism in dance music back in the early 2000s by finding stuff that was futuristic and weird, but not experimental for the sake of being experimental. It felt like this was happening all over again. I got the impression these producers are challenging themselves to make something sophisticated. I would say to them that it's actually harder and more interesting to simplify your music and make a great dance record that's gonna tear the club up. To me the depth and beauty of dance music is so noble, it's unbeatable.
Futurism, simplicity, weirdness, rigid drum patterns tearing up the club—we could just be talking about "Grindin'" by Clipse. I've heard you play that out on at least two occasions, maybe more. Do you think those qualities are just embedded in your musical DNA by this point?
Man, I've played that Clipse instrumental so many times. I got into hip-hop around 1991, but my interest waned around 2007. The electronic phase of Teki has run without interruption from 2002-ish until the present day, and thus it has overtaken the hip-hop Teki. I went through eras. From '98 to '03 I was jamming Company Flow, Rawkus Records, Antipop Consortium, all the backpack stuff. Then Missy Elliott, Dipset, Hot Boys, D4L, Cash Money, snap, crunk—you name it. That was my shit. For me, that's the real golden era. I used to view Mobb Deep as something I needed to push back on: "Every fucking DJ in the whole wide world plays 'Shook Ones Part II' at every hip-hop party that exists, and I'm so tired of this song. Why do we idolise these guys so much? They're so conventional. They're like the Tories of hip-hop!" I was trying to get away from it as much as I could in my early rap years, and only just very recently am I admitting, "You know what? 'Shook Ones' is a good song."
So you're not likely to drop "Ante Up" in every set.
God no [laughs]. Granted, hip-hop is in my DNA, but not sonically as much as conceptually. When the Napster era took hold, we were listening to Warp and The Neptunes in tandem. Tell me: what is [Matmos side project] The Soft Pink Truth? Is it booty house? Is it broken bleep music? Now what's the difference between that and "Light Your Ass on Fire" by Busta Rhymes? It's all part of the same panorama.
I remember you making a similar connection between Squarepusher and "Toxic" by Britney Spears.
Even more so on Andre 3000 and Gwen Stefani's "We've Got a Long Way to Go," which is full of trademark Squarepusher bass slaps. You can find them all over The Love Below as well. OutKast were a big influence for me already, but when I found out that Andre 3000 was as obsessed with Squarepusher as my friends were, we were like, "OK wow, this guy fucking gets it." Just like how Peder Mannerfelt was in the studio watching the beat for "Toxic" come together. Or how Kid606 made Missy Elliott bootlegs. It's all contemporary, exciting music. Why would you wish to separate these things when you could be appreciating them simultaneously?
There are many examples I could list from your mixtapes over the years where you have rearranged the entire purpose and perception of the original. Do you play around to unlock those chalk-and-cheese combinations, or can you intuitively listen to a song and think of a companion?
That happens a lot, where the basic notion of Song X makes me think of Song Y, regardless of tempo or genre they start out at. This is a good 50 percent of it or more. When it comes to the actual spark of connecting them, the soundcheck or opening moments of an evening is useful. There's no crowd or sometimes just the beginnings of people filtering into a room, so no pressure. I'm going inside my USB and finding old tracks that I'd forgotten about, arranging the CDJ screen to sort by BPM, so I spot the unlikely neighbours in my collection. The final percentage comes through back-to-backs. Since September of 2018 I changed my Rinse France show to be only unprepared back-to-backs on air, as a challenge.
Presumably you need the right friends who complement that side of you.
Yes, and you can only prepare them to an extent. For example, when I went back-to-back with Finn, I stole a blend from him that he improvised. His ear is incredible! I played the James Holden remix of "The Sky Was Pink," which maybe he had heard once or twice before, but it was not really on his radar, and he was certainly not anticipating me to pull the song out. Still, he superimposed an R&B track by the No Limit artist Mercedes that is in exactly the same key, and rode perfectly on top. I'm standing there wondering, "How the fuck…"
His world is not melodic progressive epics.
Not at all. But this blend was insane, and I told him on the spot I intended to steal it [laughs]. A lot of ideas happen like that, or by manually playing around with rekordbox on my computer, going through song after song to find that perfect synergy.
I don't think I'll ever be able to hear the breakdown to Alice Deejay again without waiting for Skepta to show up. But those songs are at least in the same universe, more or less. In the case of putting something from the Super Mario Odyssey soundtrack over Ploy, you're pushing into pretty outlandish territory.
I knew I had to use Ploy. I've learned from Diplo, Jubilee, Martelo, all these guys: if you're a party DJ, you have to play the hot song. It's a noble pursuit. Last year's hot song was "Ramos." But because everyone was playing it, I knew I had to find a crazy blend to make it my own. I was scrolling through rekordbox and noticed the "Fossil Falls" theme close enough to club tempos, and without drums. So I put it with 2018's ultimate drum track, and voila.
"Ramos" feels like "Claptrap" by Joe, another constant in UK clubs for years. It just didn't expire as fast as other hits of that era.
It reinvents itself all the time. It hasn't aged because you can recontextualize it.
You've said before that the French electro house boom in the late 2000s turned the clock back on this kind of cross-pollination—that French DJs were afraid to be adventurous, or simply dropped their priorities and rode the lucrative wave. Did it feel restrictive to you at the time, or was it only once that wave had crested that you reasserted what you wanted to represent as a DJ?
By the mid 2000s we were starting to have our own thing in Paris that brought together rap and electro, taking cues from Prefuse 73, DJ /rupture, the Hollertronix online forum, that sort of style. Then all of a sudden the French electro house sound became prominent and everyone in the scene started doing "turbines"—our word for big ol' distorted electro house bangers—and started dismissing "electro rap" as if it was something cheap and corny. Inevitably some of it was, but I think French producers dismissed it too quickly, instead of pushing it into something more accomplished. Instead, Glasgow and Montreal walked through that open door, explored and refined the sound, and made it their trademark.
Meanwhile in Paris the omnipresent sound did feel restrictive as hell. A handful of us felt we had to maintain the non-turbine side by playing Bmore, baile funk and ghettotech at parties, but this was not a full-blown resistance. By the time I started to really consider myself a DJ, that reliance on turbine bangers was dying down, Sound Pellegrino was just being born, and my angle was more about returning to fun, stripped-back house music. The mixing-everything phase was yet to come.
During a Parisian residency last year, your curation felt like a deliberate attempt to restore that heritage. You had acts like Madam X, Manara, Spooky Bizzle—the kind who seem as if they are pulling blends out the sky. Are you surrounding yourself with DJs like this to keep yourself sharp?
Sure, I want to be mentioned in the same sentence as these guys, but there is a human aspect. In Manara's case we've known each other forever, we're part of the same musical family and I love hanging out with her. I value her taste, her worldview and her skills. She put DJing to the side for a while, then returned and now everyone knows what she is about.
Yeah, she crashed back with double force and dumbfounded everyone.
That is so beautiful to see. I wanted to show that to French audiences, and I wanted to associate myself with that kind of high-level DJing. When Spooky came, it was an education for me as much as the crowd. We went back-to-back and I learnt so much. When I see someone like Spyro or Spooky who's so good at mixing grime and has so many dubs, I recognize that I'm never going to be that DJ who is...
...elite within one specific class?
Right. I can DJ grime classics, but the level of knowledge and exclusives you need to be on their level is not comparable. Also, the dimension of just me being a French kid and not living in the centre of it means that geographically I can never be that guy.
That being said, you did something last year that is uncommon for DJs to do. You willingly went out of your way to categorise a scene, to create a geographical anchor for the music you were receiving but didn't have a name or home for. Berité is your direct brainchild.
In that case, it made sense. The whole idea had been in my head for a long time, even back to the early Sound Pellegrino days. I just didn't have the right people ready to play along, or maybe the producers surrounding me were already established and it made less sense to have them reinvent themselves that late in their career. Whereas with the school of Bérite, these guys were still early in their career and happy to catch people's attention. It came out of discussions with DJs in the UK, who would wonder who the fuck these crazy French kids were, trying to make grime: "You have Thomas Bangalter! Be proud of what you have. We had jungle and spun it into garage, grime, dubstep; the whole continuum. Why don't you kickstart your own transformation?" And you know, it was true.
Reconstructing that family tree of original French music, and contemporary African music that became part of the French panorama of music over time, was very important to me. We created something new by taking elements from Afro trap, French rap, plus the melodic parts of French filter house and bringing it together in an ordered manner. I don't want French musicians who are solely influenced by UK music or Jersey club. That kills creativity. Because then what are we? Just an alien version of something that already exists and doesn't need us. If you want to feel loved and appreciated for what you do, if you want to have bookings outside of France, if you want to leave a mark outside of your tiny little town and the five people who love grime in France, then you need to create something that's your own. And this is why I thought Bérite as a movement was needed. Then people came for me: "This is not how scenes are made. This is not organic at all. A scene isn't born on the internet." These are all valid critiques. I just wish we had a fucking place where we could let the scene evolve organically.
There's no one place that will incubate this?
The ideal of club culture—where small basement bars have just as much to offer as big venues—is not just the same in France. Logistics are a fucking pain in the ass. Soundsystems have brutal limitations. I played Keep Hush in London last year, it was in a little off-radar spot with booming sound and a natural vibe. I was in love. But I spoke to our friend Ahad (AKA Ahadadream) after he played Keep Hush the next month, and he said that there were other spots in the local area, like Rye Wax, that would be capable back-ups for this kind of event—perhaps even better. Multiple options in just one postcode! Come on. Londoners and Berliners simply do not realise how lucky they are with all this.
Do you consider yourself an audiophile? Your levels are often blasted into the red, and you often lean on sometimes gritty source material that then gets degraded and stretched even further. You seem the archetype of an MP3 DJ.
As much as I'm not a technician in that strict sense of the term, it doesn't take a fucking sound engineer to figure out that a club with a nice sub is better than a club with no sub. The same song played on a better soundsystem will transform the mystery of the party. I know, I know, "Thank you Captain Obvious!" But that very first layer of understanding escapes many people involved within the catastrophic state of French clubs.