Filed under: Interview
For the wannabe DJ/musician, it’s a daunting world out there: overpriced equipment, incomprehensible software, instruction manuals you could mistake for breeze blocks. Anyone who’s spent the finest years of their life trying to decipher these manuals might learn a thing or two from DJ Gregory, who has single-handedly created some of house music’s coolest, and most brazenly sampled, tunes (Tourment D’amour and Tropical Soundclash spring to mind) on what he freely admits is “a lot of old shit that doesn’t work.” Now that’s art.
Emerging as a force to be reckoned with from the French underground scene, following the likes of DJ Deep and Dimitri from Paris, after hits ‘Tropical Soundclash’ and the maniacally percussive ‘Elle’, and a partnership with friend Bob Sinclar that produced the much acclaimed ‘Africanism’ project, Gregory has been going in one direction: up. And everywhere; his live schedule drags him round the four corners of the globe, he manages the eclectic label ‘Faya Combo’, and he’s just finished a blistering mix for Defected’s ‘In The House’. And he still found time to have a chat with us a couple of days before playing Yellow.
Interview by Matt Cotterill
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : Thanks for your time today, we know you’re really busy!
DJ Gregory : No, not that much! I mean, I’m playing in two days!
HRFQ : What have you heard about Yellow?
Gregory : You know, one of my best friends lives here, his name’s Alex- you’ve heard about him? He has a show on Shibuya FM, and in the early days when he was doing some studying in Paris, we used to have a daily radio show from Monday to Saturday, from 10 to 12 with DJ Deep, the three of us together. So I came here seven years ago, I went to Yellow, and through Alex’s stories about Japan, and because I’ve been to Europe a lot, I always knew that Yellow was an important club in Tokyo.
HRFQ : It’s one of our favourites! Can we talk about the In the House mix? You’ve said that one of the philosophies behind it was to get this kind of musical dissemination.
Gregory : Yes, completely!
HRFQ : Did you bring any other concepts to the project?
Gregory : No, because the first cd’s for, I would say, the closing of the post-Africanism period, you know, that made me a bit popular, so I wanted to give that kind of flavour, which I still give in the DJ set. Less than before now, because there’s some other aspects I want to show, because the music’s evolved and there’s some new flavours that I think are very interesting. And, you know, the second one I wanted to throw a few cuts that I’ve played for a long time or that I like, that I feel could last more than two months- and that’s about it.
HRFQ : You say that the Jamaican and Caribbean sounds are such a big influence. Could you explain to us a little bit about how they manifest in your music; in what ways they influence you?
Gregory : First of all, the music I do is very simple, very raw, quite dirty… sometimes heavy on the low end, and to me, because I’m very fond of dub and reggae, it represents in a certain way the way I’d love to have people dance all the time, which is not the case, because we’re talking about a certain kind of culture, and being based in Paris and playing mainly in European clubs, it’s not like that at all of course, but I like that slow and sweaty motion, you know!
HRFQ : Your tracks, Tropical Soundclash and Damelo; could you talk us a little bit about how you came to write them?
Gregory : It’s very simple, after the Africanism Volume 1, Bob Sinclar wanted to start on Volume 2, of course he asked me to get involved in this as quickly as possible, and I told him, when we do a project with no promotion, no marketing, just throwing down 10-12 inches, and suddenly an album that’s going to sell over 150,000 pieces independently, I was like: “you know what, we should just take a bit of time!” So we take time, and behind my back he released some stuff, this and that, stuff that I wasn’t fond of. So I told him, you know, because you’re so rushed, I’ll give you a track, which I did, you know, Soldiers, it’s the one track I did with Julien which was not as good as the first one we did on Volume 1, but, you know, it reflects also the way we were feeling. When we did Africanism Volume 1, it was right after I spent two years in New York, and I didn’t have any place to work, I found a studio but it took eight months to build it up, so that’s how I felt in Bob’s studio, he was working on the Champs Elysees album, and because I did some programming for him, and on this side I was working on tracks, and that’s how I did Block Party and Tourment D’Amour, and when when he heard that, you know, just with basic materials, just on a PC, and he was like, “Oh, we should release these, I love the way you did it!” Then when I had the studio, I decided to start my own label, and that’s when I met the manager I’m working with. And he was very pushy, like, “You have to do this! That! This!” and I was like [palms raised] “Whoaa!” So I had to rush. But I wanted to have the same kind of flavour with a little twist, so I did Damelo on a B side, which I’m not so fond of- it’s very fast, very… whatever! And Tropical Soundclash I did in two days.
HRFQ : Really?
Gregory : Yea, because the idea was already there. So I get everything finished and… Lucky me! [laughter] I’ve always been very lucky!
HRFQ : The tracks that you’ve made also have this raw sound to them. Could you talk about your studio setup; what equipment do you use to get that sound?
Gregory : Oh yes! I do exactly the opposite of what everybody’s doing! [laughter] So I work a lot on an analog basis, which means that I have tons of old synthesizers- a lot of old shit that doesn’t work! [laughter] That doesn’t tune…
HRFQ : Stuff that you have to wind up?
Gregory : Yea, completely, that are dirty, I have a bunch like that! And, rhythmically speaking, I’m PC based, and, the main idea is to put as much music as possible into the computer through samples or synthesizers, musicians; and at the end, tying to bring the story together without any luxury effects. And that’s the main thing. Tropical Soundclash was very simple, Block Party; all of that stuff was very simple, a few elements. But then when I had the opportunity to have a recording room; of course you have the possibility to expand what you do, so it means that you’re gonna spend more time. At the end the most important thing is what you listen to, and the emotion it brings- for example with a track like Elle, I worked a very long time to make it as simple as possible.
HRFQ : There are so many versions of that track.
Gregory : Yea, there’s many and many that I never released. But the main ones are simple. Elle, I worked for three years on it, I started when I did Africanism!
HRFQ : Any current projects?
Gregory : Yes, I’m working on the Faya Combo compilation for next September and I hope to bring as many new tracks as possible. Especially now I’m working a lot, because the music’s changed so much I want to bring certain flavours, but not doing, like, a “rock” track, but still… trying to find a path. Which I’m finding!
HRFQ : You’re a pioneer of the French house scene…
Gregory : A pioneer, no, but I’m from the second wave. The first wave is Laurent Garnier, Ludovic Navarre from St. Germain, and DJ Deep of course, a lot of techno guys you might not know, so I just arrived on the second basis with Alex and a bunch of other guys. Then you have the third one, which is Bob Sinclar and Dimitri.
HRFQ : What’s your take on the current French house scene?
Gregory : You know, for me, I’m a bit of an outsider. What I think is very funny is that it’s been 10 years since I’ve been doing this, and I see in a French specialized magazine that I’m still a newcomer. Which I think is very cool! I’m not talking about the DJing but the music; when I did the first production… in ’97 I was a newcomer, right after I did some more stuff, I was a newcomer, I do Africanism, I was a newcomer, I do Faya Combo, I’m a newcomer! [laughter] But, you know why, it’s because I never did a major deal like most of my friends, I never took this path. So in a certain way I’m quite underground- more popular outside France; of course there’s a lot of people who know me in France, I had the radio show for ten years, but I’m not as famous as Bob Sinclar, who goes on TV and stuff- that’s not my case. But I’ve always been very passionate, maybe sometimes too much involved in the music and never getting into this ‘hit’ process.
HRFQ : Faya Combo- the concept behind that- you’ve got the idea of the Jamaican ‘fire’, and with the ‘combo’ idea; is it about a kind of cultural mosaic of influences?
Gregory : Yes, exactly, that’s it. And also… maybe I haven’t said this, but I wouldn’t be what I am without my small circle of friends, who are to me as important as I can be to them.
HRFQ : Can you give us any hint of what to expect from your show?
Gregory : Actually, I was talking about this earlier; and I wondered what people might expect. Are they expecting a kind of Africanism? Because I’m quite related to Kenny Dope and that kind of scene, are they gonna be ready to see and hear that I’m not American. Americans like what I’m doing because I’m not American. It came to work for me the day I understood I have to do my thing, not trying to copy somebody else’s thing just because I was impressed, you know. But I have a wide range of music, and I hope they’ll take this wide range that goes from maybe a cheesy track to something very underground… maybe reggae or classic disco, but maybe not from the classics they are used to hearing over and over by all the American DJs, for example. But I’m pretty sure there’s gonna be a lot of people who are gonna be very happy, and I’m pretty sure also some are gonna be quite disappointed! Because, sometimes in your mind you want to see someone in a certain image that maybe they’re not. But the message is that- it’s gonna be the first time I’m gonna be playing; maybe I’m gonna play very well, maybe I’m gonna play like shit, in the end, this is a party with a few records. I hope also people aren’t gonna think they’ll be on a kind of “cosmic journey” that’s gonna take them and maybe they’ll take two years to recover! I’m just gonna throw up a few records!
HRFQ : Gregory, thanks very much, and we wish you all the best!
Gregory : Thanks! Me too!
End of the interview
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