At the end of the 80s while the word ‘techno’ was just making its way across the Atlantic, a movement called rave parties emerged in the countryside, the industrial wastelands and the abandoned hangars of the UK. Sign of a dilapidated youth with dilated pupils, splashing frenetically in the mud, for some an appeal for peace, love and tolerance for others. The craze for this music exploded and new sounds spread across Europe like the holy word. Amidst the major players in the techno adventure, a youngster from the Parisian suburbs named Laurent Garnier begins an unprecedented career. In his vibrant twenties, he was far from imagining that he was going to write a part of history of music, unaware that this was only the beginnings of an undying passion for making people dance. 25 years later it’s at the Yeah Festival that we had the immense pleasure of sharing a moment with him, discussing the history of Techno. It was in the magnificent Lourmarin Castle that Laurent spoke to us about an exciting and decisive time for the culture of our generation and the ones to come.
J / Jumping back in time around the 80s. Could you talk to us about your debuts ?
L / I started at l’Hacienda, before it exploded. Then in the 1984 I moved to London for two years and moved to Manchester in 1986. I gave them a mixtape and they offered me to have a go. It was the very beginnings of Acid House, back then it was just House. Acid House came couple of months later with the TB303 and DJ Pierre. We were really focused on Chicago’s sound and at that time there were a lot of black people that would come dance with us. At the beginning of 1988, the first vinyl from Detroit arrived here and it was Juan Atkins the first to call it Techno music. They did a quick compilation featuring Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson. That’s where people grabbed the word Techno from.
The first raves came in summer 1988, barely 1 year after I started playing at L’Hacienda. Then I went back to Manchester where I played at 2 raves. One was called Joy and the second one I don’t remember... something like “The Dream”. Then I had to go back to France that same year, as I had to do my military service, which I really enjoyed. When I came out a year later I thought I missed on quite a bit of the evolution but I finally caught up although my friends had the chance to live that whole year of the beginnings of techno, so I missed the first year.
Lets get it straight. When ecstasy arrived all the hooligans started loving each other. They went from one day to another from fighting to cuddling, Police didn’t really understand how during the derby Manchester United vs City there wasn’t a single fight and all the hooligans were all friendly to each other. It was really the arrival of ecstasy that blew this culture and all the white kids from the suburbs would come to Hacienda, this was when Acid House kicked in. We moved from a culture of dance to a completely popular culture with no rules where people shout like mental. This happened over three four months. That’s when we had our first few raves. In Manchester clubs would close down around 2am and when you’ve drank a lot and taken few pills you want to dance all night so people started organising their own parties... First in apartments and then things got bigger and bigger. Same thing started happening in London people would meet up there was absolutely no organisation of whatsoever, or any sort of security. Everybody knew each other, djs would play 4 disks each so you hear every different type of music there. Gunchester arrived more or less when I came back, I realised that things changed a lot. We would have 4000 to 5000 people and a lot of people dealing in the club so there was a lot of money around specially that entry was 7 – 8 pounds and DJs would take £3 pounds of each entry. As there wasn’t all the club culture that we have today the guys that organised those nights quickly realised that it was a very profitable business. And in Manchester you have quite a well-organised gangs too who would rob you and they knew who the djs were so it got pretty dangerous. Until the gangs started controlling the security of Hacienda.
J / Your first visit to Detroit seems to have impacted you .
L / So Detroit is very particular. It’s a strange place where 90% of the population in the city centre are Afro-Americans and the particular characteristic is that the ghetto of the city is in the city-centre, its not like in France where the ghetto is outside the city. So I got to this completely bankrupt city where people just survive. When you meet this people and you talk to them, they don’t really understand what you would be talking about because they live in a completely different world. You can talk to them about racism as it exists in France but it’s nothing compared to what they live day-to-day. During my stay in Detroit I jumped in a car with Mad Mike and he told me to jump on the back, white people isn’t classy around here. I jumped on the back and try to hide as much as possible. We crossed 8 Mile Road and Mad Mike told me, you will see, we would get pulled over in 10 minutes. Indeed, we got pulled over and police told us, don’t forget to drive back home tonight... It’s the real ghetto here. When you go there you idealise that you are dinning with all the guys from the Techno scene, its great, no one knows them and no body cares.
It needs a little whit kid from Paris to make them sit around the same table and talk to each other. You get to know the culture of this music made by people that suffer a lot. In the beginnings of Detroit, you can feel that there is something very emotional about its music. Derrick May told me the first day “You don’t make a record for fun” Your son will inherit from your music and if you’ve been a slob at your twenties your son will inherit that too. Always think about that... music is an inheritance. There is a moment when music becomes an object so you need to realise what you are doing and “don’t do it for fun”. These words just got stuck in my head since. In Detroit when a girl grabs the mic is to be able to pay her dose of crack. It’s incredible and at the same time you just realise how hard this life is.
J / What is your vision in relation to the Black Power as we can see notably with Mad Mike and UR ?
L / I can understand it. The first time I went to Radio Nova one guy from the Wu tang was there and the first thing he said was “Fuck White Kids”... When you hear that you just think that he doesn’t realise that white kids are the ones that buy his album in France, thanks to them you just bought your new pair of sneakers. I was pretty offended by that. But then, when you go out there you realise the life they live. Mike told me his grand parents were slaves and the reason people would make kids is to get the old ones to pick the fruits, the small ones pick the cotton...
They were treated like dogs and they got mingle together by force and that was white people jobs. “We are show Niggas” that’s what Mike said when they asked him to put a shinny white suit and he told them to go fuck themselves. “I’m a musician, you don’t get it. So now we need to put some masks because its our music that we need to put upfront”. It’s really understandable what they do. Mike is among the few that has never compromised himself. He is the only one that hasn’t gone around signing records here and there to buy fancy cars. Whereas many others thought “We will take all these white kids money and we will go back home to our family, not our community”. Some of them really take the piss. We had so much respect for them in relation to their music but they are just there to take the money and leave. And this attitude is because of their history, of the way they’ve been treated. It’s not the same in France. You can’t blame them for that though. Also they’ve never wanted to abandon Detroit. “We try Hard” some of them say.
J / In 1998 you won the Music Awards and you gave hope that Techno will be better looked at.
L / There was a difficult period for techno in Europe. In the UK there was a law prohibiting a gathering of over 10 people around repetitive music... In their books we were just a bunch of crazy drugged up people, not musicians but the scum of the scum. The day I managed to make it to the Olympia I played in the wobbly weird category. The French minister of Culture was there and as she came through the room during the repetition she said, “What are they doing here with their shit music”. When I won the awards I said to her “I hope this victory will start evolving things”. As soon as you get in some sort of institution, there was always a fight. It’s always been this way. It was very complicated. It has nothing to do with nowadays. Now this culture has its roots and a lot to back up with, but holly shit times were hard back then.
I also said to the minister “We would like to be perceived differently, be able to do what we like to do because we are not all dumb drugged up junkies. It’s not you hey, but we hear that a lot around here and it would be great to see things change a little”. Then the Techno parade and the Technopoles have changed a lot of things politically speaking. A lot of people gathered together and we battled, as in France there is a big culture of unions in general. Today in festivals we can hear a wide spectrum of interesting genres of music, even on Tv things have changed, we can start making a choice. 15 years ago during the “Nuits Sonores” you couldn’t do anything. If you played some tunes the police would come and control us all, they would come to the backstage and would ask us to empty our pockets. They would have the flyers in their hands and would go one by one “Scan X... where is he ? Sit down, empty your pocket. Where is Garnier ? Slap !” One of them was named Four IQ so the police officer said - “Where is Four I Q? So this stands for Intellectual quotient?”. I take it with a pinch of salt but back then it was tough times.
This award was important. Not for me but for us, I always had something for the community and sharing. That’s what we are doing at “Yeah”, I like to work with people, I always thought that union makes the strength.
J / On what project are you currently working ?
I’m finishing my project “Garnier”. I just recently finished my 5th EP and we are currently going through the mastering process. Also at the end of the year I’m publishing the 6th EP with original tracks and remixes all in vinyl so it will be sick. And after that... I’m making a movie. I already made all the music for a rapper, I can’t talk about it but he is well known in France. It’s going to surprise people a lot. The album is awesome. He is very brave, he is not known for doing anything electronic. You are the first guys to whom I’m telling this to but I really can’t say anything else than this. It’s a beautiful project.
J / Your best party of the year ?
L / The “Rex” has been quite moving. Just like the first time I went there. I loved the “Concrete” which was super emotional. I was there with the people that reinvented the nightlife in Paris, it used to be so boring 3 or 4 years ago. I’m the grandpa but that was what they were looking for. It was awesome, they were as happy as I was. I also played at a Club called Rote Zone in Munich. There is a label called Disco B and they really love music so I played a 6-7 hour set 3 weeks ago and it was incredible. There were so many good things.