Hart Festival interview: Francois X on techno, a very special Sandwell District gig and playing at afterparties

‘Sometimes the club is the only place I want to be’

Paris is what we talk about when we talk about Francois X. The French DJ and producer has been around in the City of Light long enough to go clubbing during the peak of the house era and to witness the rise and fall of acts like Justice and Sebastian. Hell, by being one of the first organisers of techno parties over there, you could consider X to be a key player when it comes to techno in France. And he surely will get lots of attention at Hart festival in Ghent, too.

‘It is difficult to name a specific artist which triggered my interest in house and techno’(, Francois X tells us). ‘But when I was sixteen I started going out in Paris and I immediately fell in love with the club. I was amazed by the loudness of volume, the blinding lights and the crowds. That atmosphere really bewitched me, I wanted to be part of that community. So I found myself listening to house and techno more and more, and that’s why I’m talking to you today.’ (laughs)

What did a Francois X set sound like in the beginning?

‘Well, it depends. In the nineties, when I started visiting record shops, I bought a lot of American electronic dance music. I liked Jeff Mills, Mr Fingers, and others. Every trip to the record store was a trip to good music. Nowadays the music is more segmented. Back then, techno, house and disco records were all thrown together in one record crate. In my salad days as a DJ, you could hear this hodgepodge, too. Whether it was house, disco or techno, I just played everything I could buy.’

At Hart, you will be playing at the techno stage. How did you get there?

‘The music in Paris between 2000 and 2006 was, roughly speaking, quite housey. By 2006 I found myself blending techno and house more often, and in 2008 techno took over my playlists. It all coincided with the new techno era, obviously. And playing more and more techno dragged me more and more into the techno scene. But it’s all about feeling for me. It really is. Techno seems nice at the moment, but maybe this is going to change one day. The funny thing is, recently house has become a more important factor in my sets. It’s a back and forth thing, actually.’

Francois X - Picture by Fabien Dumas

How is the contemporary techno different from the techno you discovered in 2006?

‘In 2006, the techno I was listening to was very… American. But as we all know, Berlin and the Berghain are waving the flags now, and I liked that sound for being a synthesis of house and techno. The techno we play today is slower than the techno back in the nineties. And for me it just feels good, I’m drawn to that vibe. Nowadays we play 128 or 130 beats per minute, back then the techno was driven by 140 beats per minute. But you should know that, you’re from Belgium!’

The techno scene in Paris seems to have exploded. Because of the Berlin influence?

‘In the nineties, Paris was all into house. But at a sudden moment, French Touch 2.0 took over. All the French ravers and promoters were into Justice, Sebastian and acts like that. If you wanted to go to a house or techno party, you had to go deep, real deep. There weren’t so many interesting events at that time.’ 
‘But then people like DJ Deep started to organise techno parties. He invited Klock and Dettmann to Paris for the first time. DJ Heartbeat and me started our record label Dement3d and we threw parties, too. They took place in Social Club. Previously it was famous for programming a lot of stuff from the Ed Banger label, but it changed quickly.’

Was there a specific tipping point?

‘Maybe that was the Sandwell District gig we did. The night when Sandwell District played, we had the feeling that Paris was on the verge of living again. By the way, at that time a lot of people from Paris were making the trip to Berlin to explore the local techno scene. We all wanted a piece of that new cake. After that, Concrete started throwing parties, which was the start of a new clubbing scene in Paris.’

It’s astonishing it all happened so fast.

‘Yes and no. Paris might not be that famous for its clubbing scene, but there are ten million people living here. And that’s why you will always find the core of something new here. You don’t really have to build your scene slowly and get people into a new sound. There is always a spark somewhere. The people were waiting for something new, and all you do is connect the dots. Like Concrete did. We woke up a sleeping army of techno lovers.’

What’s important for you when you go clubbing?

‘A good sound system, obviously. I’m not that fond of the Function One sound system actually. I prefer a more oldschool system, a very round sound, not too loud, like the one they did in back in the days Gary Stewart or Richard Long and warm lights. The interior and architecture don’t have to be fancy. I prefer warm, cosy and intimate settings. Don’t get me wrong, I like playing in giant places, but if the setting is more intimate, you can build up a more intimate relationship with clubbers. I loved playing at Vlammenwerper in Ghent last year, for example. The palm trees were cosy.’ (laughs)

I remember you playing a dense and intense set at Vlammenwerper. For a moment, I thought you were in a kind of trance there.

‘Yeah. Sometimes, I can almost literally feel the music I’m playing. When that is happening, my inspiration reaches its maximum level. The club is the only place I want to be at these moments, and I want everybody to unite and feel like one. I can’t exactly order this state of being, though, it’s an instinctive thing. Almost like voodoo. Like I said, it’s all about feeling for me. You can exploit your feeling for sure, but you can’t control it.’

At Hart you share the techno stage with, among others, Exium, Reeko, Regis, Developer and Ben Sims. Are you looking forward playing with these guys?

‘Absolutely. I like all of them. That is why Hart really has to happen. Regis is loved by everybody for the stuff he did with Surgeon as British Murder Boys or with his label Downwards. And that was definitely a landmark in the techno scene, but I’m also a fan of his other projects and other collaborations, like his Blackest Ever Black output. It’s a bit more freaky, more laidback even. Oh, and I am fond of the Spanish guys as well, Reeko and Exium and their stuff on Pole Group. I collaborated with them for a track. And Developer’s label Modularz is a big inspiration too.’

HART - lineup

After Hart, the party continues in two venues. What is your view on afterparties?

‘It depends on my mood. Of course it is fantastic when the afterparty takes place on a beach, and you can see the sun rise.’

That might be difficult in Ghent I’m afraid.

(laughs) ‘Oh but that’s ok. I actually like playing at five o’clock in the afternoon. In the Concrete All Day Long parties in Paris, I always ask to be put in the afternoon slot. In the morning people are more rushed and some are taking a lot of things to stay in a state of euphoria. When you have fresh people coming to the club, everybody’s more laidback.’

Hart could be the first crowdfunded electronic music festival, what’s your view on that?

‘It’s cool. And interesting as well. People can become actors instead of spectators, they are more involved so I think they will be happy to come. It’s nice to be connected to other people, to be part of a community and feel useful. If people feel useful, they feel attached as well. So it’s a good move, I like it!’

Great, thank you for the interview.

‘No problem, thanks to everyone who’s helping to make this one happen. See you all in Ghent!’

Francois X is playing at Hart Festival on the sixth of May. Support us via Kickstarter and become a founding father at kck.st/1QFvBRl