World renowned DJ Sebastien Leger is the complete anti-thesis to the dime-a-dozen beats of fellow Frenchman David Guetta. Classically trained from a young age and working in French clubs from his early teens, Leger mines a different sound to his counterparts, meshing the funk sensibilities of Detroit and Chicago’s musical histories with a proudly European edge and a cool determination.
In addition to his knob-twiddling and remixing (including artists such as Justin Timberlake, Kylie Minogue and Armand van Helden), his DJing duties keep him busy, travelling around the world and staying at the forefront of electronic dance music.
So you have been making beautiful music over 20 years! Can you even believe it? What have been some highlights?
Lots of highlights! I’ve been lucky enough to have played the biggest festivals, best clubs, alongside best artists in the genre etc. over the years. One of my favourite experiences has been the Igloofest – it was the first time they completely sold out the 10,000 tickets, and the -20 degrees celsius dancefloor was completely crazy.
As a well-regarded master in the techno world, how would you assess the state of techno?
I guess it’s just a matter of taste, so this is my own opinion. In general, techno is kind of the same over and over right now. It’s just drums and beats with this and that of FX or sound design in the background to cover for very poor musicality or creativity. I miss having soul in it. This is why I prefer and always preferred house over techno.
How would you describe the Sébastien Léger show?
There isn’t much of a Sébastien Léger show. A show for me includes performances, lights and visual etc., like a concert. I’m just a DJ for 20 years playing records for other people. Is this a show? I don’t think so. Is this a performance? Not at all. I’m laughing when I hear those wannabe artists talking about their “show”. We are not even close to this. So the typical Sébastien Léger DJ set (because that’s what it is), is fun but good music. That’s all that matters.
Do you have a guide musical philosophy? What helps you stay so innovative and creative?
I like the idea of reinventing myself as much as I can. Doing the same thing over and over isn’t interesting. Also the fact that being more experienced and getting older helps to move on and develop a more mature sound. I obviously don’t want to make or play the music I used to produce/play when I was 20. As long as my music stays fun, funky, groovy or soulful, I’m happy.
You spoke about Bali being an inspirational influence on your ideas for ‘Temple Of Lions’. Was it your first visit to the island and what about it appealed so aptly to the music maker in you?
I’ve been to Bali many times. I have a very good friend (who is also a very good DJ) living there. It took me a while to like the island I had to go there a few times to completely get the special vibe. It’s sort of mystical, mysterious, and yet exciting. There are tons of temples there and I just like the local architecture of them. One of them had lion statues at the doorstep. I had a fantastic gig the last time I was there, and I could play anything I wanted, people were up for anything. It seems that the crowd was well educated in music, for such a small island!
Reflecting on your two decades of being a DJ/producer. What are some of the things you regret and what are some of the things you found that you learned the most?
There’s some music I’ve released that I wish I could just erase from my discography. But, it’s part of a slow evolution process and taste changes with time. I’m turning 36 next year, and after 20 years of being a DJ, seeing my face getting more tired, white hairs showing up slowly but surely, I guess I’ve learned to accept things the way they are. I’ve learned to be a lot wiser and more relaxed about things that would normally make me upset very quickly.
In your view, how has the art of DJing evolved?
In my career, not too much. I used to play vinyl for 15 years and now I play on CDJs, which is the closest you can get today. I’m not a laptop DJ. I have nothing against it; it’s just really annoying when DJs before or after me connect their cables and shit while I’m focusing on doing something. In general though, the art of DJing is a little bit gone now, crushed by marketing, fake likes, and PR strategies. I’d also say that the art of producing is gone as well, as we all now produce something that has to be obvious, dancefloor-friendly, and with a lot less risk just to manage to get gigs. I’m not the kind of person to be nostalgic, but it was healthier before.
What’s your preferred DJ setup?
Two or three CDJ-2000s—non-Nexus—and a Pioneer DJM-900. The reason I ask for the non-Nexus CDJs is because I prefer the layout on the screen—it shows the order of my music exactly as it shows in my rekordbox, while Nexus CDJs put it all upside down. It takes me ages to find music with them, while it’s instant on a non-Nexus. My flow is constant and nice, which is very important when you have more than 3,000 tracks like I do.
What’s the relationship between DJing and producing? Do you prefer one or the other?
I prefer DJing to producing. The only bad part of DJing is constantly traveling. By travelling, I mean taking lots planes, waiting in hotels, etc.; nothing like “tourist” traveling. I’ve always been a DJ, and I started as a DJ.
How do they give back to each other?
Nowadays you cannot pretend to have a DJ career if you don’t produce your own music, apart from a very few exceptions of established, “older” DJs. It requires a lot more talent to produce than DJ, as 75-percent of the population on earth is a DJ now. A very good DJ might not be a good producer and vice-versa. I have this weird way of working that during my DJ sets I rarely play my own tracks. I feel that the best tracks that work on a dancefloor are, in many ways, the simplest and somehow irrelevant, not timeless. I prefer to produce stuff that can last long into the future without necessarily being playable by DJs like me!
What are your thoughts on genre? You have proven yourself to be adept at practically anything and everything. Is genre something to be considered? Or should the music just move through you in the creative process?
I don’t know about genres? I guess it’s not good to categorize music into genres, but you have to say what is real house and what is not. This is more a problem of education and taste. Like I said earlier, I do not like the techno that is straight and dark, but I do like techno that has soul, melody and grooves. Both are techno. But techno is getting closer and closer to house music now. So is house techno and vice versa? 🙂 As long as you are comfortable with the music you like, that’s what really matters in the end. Not everyone will like my house, even from a house music lover.