There are DJs, and then there are DJ’s DJ’s. Julien Veniel, artist name D’Julz, is undoubtedly one of the latter – a true craftsman behind the decks whose true strongest skill is his ability to go beyond mere genres and trends, deciding instead to actively shape the ever-changing soundscape of electronic music through his own productions, DJ performances and parties. Through a career spanning two and half decades, D’Julz has practically done it all. He began spinning in Paris, often playing his home city’s much-talked about early 90’s raves and legendary clubs, all before moving to New–York in 1993 to further hone his skills and cement his reputation as a true taste-maker in his field. The rest, as they say, is history.
How do you pronounce your name? Everybody seems to disagree.
[laughs] Originally it is ‘Djulz’ [like ‘Jules’ for us English folk] like you would pronounce it without an apostrophe, and in France they still pronounce my name this way. But since everybody around the world calls me ‘D’Julz’, I don’t bother to correct them in the non-French speaking countries! [laughs]
Since you first started your career in 1992, you have seen many DJs, genres, parties and promoters come and go, but you are still at the forefront of electronic music. Which period of your career was for you the most exciting?
Well, it is hard to pick only one year. First of all, 1992 was a very exciting year simply because it was the start of everything for me. It was the first time I played for an audience and it was the peak of the rave scene in Paris. Things happened really quickly that year and all of a sudden I went from playing in my bedroom to 2000 people capacity venues. 1993 was also very important for me, because I moved to New York for a year. I finished my studies in France and I had the possibility to do a one-year internship in New York – I was looking to keep playing in the rave scene there. I was really lucky actually, I didn’t know anybody there, but after two weeks I gave a tape to the right person in a record shop and I was booked immediately. I was also going to visit the clubs, which at that time were the best in the world (such as Sound Factory). This was very important for my own musical development. It opened me up to a totally different new perspective on things, especially clubbing. I saw how important the sound system was, how you could play 12 hours, and how you could mix very different styles. I had arrived from a scene where DJs played for one and a half hours max at a rave. So, living in New York for a year was a mind opening experience. But 1998 was actually the most important date for me, because I quit my daytime job to focus on my music. That year I had the time to really get to know how to produce. Before I was working during the day and DJing in the weekend, so I did not have much time to produce anything. After this I could finally release some productions, and it gave me the opportunity to get more gigs. An incredibly important year.\
Considering you weren’t interested in becoming a DJ in the first place it’s interesting you stuck with it for such a long time. What made it interesting for you in the beginning?
It’s hard to say. I started to go out when I was 17, 18. It was the exact time, when techno and house started in France. So when I came into the club for the first time, I heard a kind of music I had basically never heard before. So it was a culture shock. Most of the night, I was spending time on the dancefloor, dancing. But quickly, I started to get very interested in what the DJ was doing. So I would be studying and watching him, spending more time in or in front of the booth, trying to understand what he was doing. I quickly started to buy my first 12inches of house and techno. And after buying a few, it was like: Ah, I want to listen to them, but it makes sense for me to mix them (laughs). For some reason, just listening to them and collecting them was not enough. Really, really quickly after buying my first 12inch of techno, I had to buy a second turntable. Some people stick to collecting this music, but I liked the playfulness of trying to put two tracks together, so that’s what I was doing for fun, as a hobby, in my bedroom. But at the same time, the rave scene blew up and I was hanging with some DJs, who listened to my tapes and said: Why don’t you play with us, why don’t you come and play at this party? So I didn’t have the time to decide: Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? All of a sudden, I ended up doing it in front of people. But I’m I’m talking 1992 and at the same time, I was finishing my studies and I started to work in advertising. So it took me another six years before I decided that this was going to be my life, this was going to be my full time job. It took me a long time, because I was playing every weekend, but I was also playing during the week, and I was missing out on some of the opportunities to play abroad, because I couldn’t travel too far. And I was also beginning to feel I wanted to produce. So I had to make choice in 1998. And I decided to go full time in the music. Since then, there’s no coming back, I’m really glad I made that choice. But it was a very slow process, because at that time, being a DJ wasn’t a career. It was guys in clubs …and I didn’t think I had it. But it just grew on me over the years and it became my passion and my passion became my work. And I must have been doing something right, because I got opportunities to play, so … I took my chances.
Tell us more about your link up with Phil Weeks?
We have been friends for many years. We have a mutual respect for each other’s work although we have a slightly different style. He is and always has been 100% Chicago house. I like to mix up genres a bit more but I’ve always played his music. However, it is very recently that we started to collaborate. First I did a remix for him two years ago, then I released an EP on his label Robsoul last year and we just made together an EP together for the Rex Club’s new label. We are both very happy with the result and the way it happened in the studio, so I’m sure we will work together again one day.
You have a background in communication. I was wondering whether that’s what made DJing an obvious choice, in a way – that it’s also about communication?
Yes! There are definitely similarities. To that parallel even further … When I was working in communication, I was a copywriter. And I really see the parallel between playing with words to find a good slogan and to create a nice text and playing with records. In the end, I am not a writer, but a copywriter. And I’m not really a musician, I am a DJ. So you have this aspect of being creative, but another purpose. My purpose is to make people dance, and in advertising, the purpose is also to sell a product. It’s not like pure art, which has no meaning and no purpose, it’s just “art”. So in that sense, I’m more a creative than an artist. Are all DJs artists? Some definitely are, but it’s not for me to say if I am or not. But there is this creativity part, where you use art and you play with art and you transmit something, you communicate something, you share something.
So the turntables are your typewriter, the records your words and then you string them together into a story?
Yeah, yeah, totally. And also, there are a lot of DJs and producers, who come from being a graphic artist or art director. Also in advertising or just … I think you use the same part of your brain, basically. As in how to play with pictures, how to play with letters and when you’re producing. It all has a similar energy, I think.
Is one part of what makes this activity so enjoyable that you can play the same record on different nights and the effect will be totally different?
Totally, That’s the joy of it. It’s for me the most exciting aspect of being a DJ. Every night is different. Sometimes, you’re tempted … You know that last night, this record went really well. So you’re tempted to do the same mix. But just the fact that you’re now doing the same mix out of context is not going to work. The only purpose of this job is to really communicate and to have this link. In order to do that, you have to jump completely into the pool. Entirely. And go instinctively to the next track. And stop thinking: Oh, I like this mix I did yesterday. Because when you do, you switch from your left side of your brain to your right side of the brain. And that’s something else. You cut that magic link between yourself and the people. I noticed that so many times. And that’s why I’m saying you can’t lie. A DJ who plays the same set over and over, who’s prepared something that is maybe perfect at home … especially at festivals, they’re going to play the same set all the time. Same order, same tracks … I can understand that, when you’re playing at a big festival for one hour, one hour and a half, you have to prepare a bit more and know where you’re going. But I’m saying you can have the same tracks, but you’ll feel something different. Maybe my approach is more risky, but at the end of the day, it’s so much more enjoyable when it works!
What is your proudest moment in your career as an electronic music artist?
Well, I hope there will be a lot more coming to make me proud! I am not one who is easily satisfied. Playing in those clubs I just named makes me proud… and having my music played by DJs that I have a deep respect for, is always something that makes me happy too.
You’re well known for your ties to Rex Club. Do you think you’ve learned more about DJing from staying in one place or by venturing out to other places?
Both really. I believe it’s important to experience it all in order to become an accomplished DJ. As a resident you learn to do warm-ups, which is an extremely important task for any DJ to learn. You also learn to play longer sets and you can experiment more because you are in a familiar environment. On the other hand, you can sometimes become spoilt and too comfortable, that’s why playing often in different clubs or situations teaches you to adapt and to find different ways to deliver your music as best as you can, no matter what the circumstances.
What’s next on the horizon for you and Bass Culture?
Bass Culture Records is 10 this year, so I’m preparing some special Various Artist EPs, which will land after the summer. I also just finished the second release from my other label, JV Recordings, that will be coming out in a couple of months. Over the summer I have some big dates that I’m excited about… on 16th August we’ll host a Bass Culture takeover room at Vagabundos at Amnesia in Ibiza. That same month I’m off to Asia on tour and in September I have a weekend of gigs across the Atlantic in the USA, which I’m really looking forward to.