As the French Ambassador of house music, Dimitri from Paris is everything his nation could be proud of: a DJ, producer, and remixer of the highest standard, and a stylish snake-hipped pin-up with French reserve. In a nutshell, there are two distinct sides to Dimitri: a undeniable dandy and, a devoted dance music fanatic. In February 2005 the French government awarded him the very official rank of Knight of the Arts and Letters. Along with Air and Cassius he was the first artist from the Electronica field to be given such a distinction. Born in Turkey to Greek parents, Dimitri grew up in France where 25 years ago he discovered DJing at home, using whatever he could find to “cut and paste” samples from disco hits heard on the radio, blending them together to make tapes. This early experimentation helped him launch his DJ career, beginning at French station Radio 7, before moving in 1987 to Radio NRJ, Europe’s largest FM network where he hosted a cult show until 1998.
I want to go into your background a little bit, as I find it inspiring to a lot of young DJs. From what I understand, you wanted to be a remixer but figured you had to be a DJ first?
I did want to become a remixer first. As I was buying a lot of records, I thought DJing would be a good means of subsidizing that habit and making others enjoy different sounds. I was disappointed by my first experiences as I was treated as a human jukebox enslaved to the owners’ limited taste in music. This was definitely not a creative route to follow. To get a remix job, I needed to expose the edits I was doing, so I figured radio could help. In the mid 1980s there was a bustling pirate, then private radio scene and I haggled my way in. I eventually got my own mixshow and that got me my first remix gig in 1986. I built up my rep for 12 years over the airwaves. As the perception of the DJ evolved from anonymous club employee to headliner, I got finally booked for my music selection in clubs. I know what it is to be discouraged and right now more than ever, but I’m afraid I have no magical advice. I think it might help to regard music as a side thing until it can eventually take off as a full job – that way it always stays a pleasurable thing. When you start compromising too much in music, it’s very easy to get lost.
You really got your feet in the industry via your show on Radio 7. Could you see yourself having the freedom on radio now to play the records that you want?
I think that would be unthinkable to have freedom in a large media now. My show got cancelled after 12 years because it was the only one not following any generic playlist and that became unbearable to the radio’s decision makers. However there are still countries with strong public radio networks that offer specialised shows in semi-niche genres. Northern Europe is quite good with trying to spread a variety a musical genres, including electronic and dance-related material, as part of their cultural mission. Radio 7 in France was such an outlet, and it was never replaced after it was shut down in the early 1990s. In North America I heard good things on college, community and even satellite radio. If I were to start now, I imagine I would need to use the internet as my main springboard. Problem is it’s oversaturated, and it feels like one needs more “marketing” skills than musical ones to get noticed.
About the “Glitterbox” event, what are your impressions of them? How did your relationship with “Glitterbox” form?
Glitterbox is now only 3 years old with yet an established name. I’m very proud to have been involved in the short list or residents from day one. It is still growing organically with a very strong music ethos that seems to have vanished from most of today’s clubland. Rather than following whatever the last trend is, and relentlessly copying the media charts, Glitterbox focuses on giving people of all walks a good time. It’s based on quality, with a strong music policy, which main point is to send every guest home with a smile.
Have you been working with any fashion houses recently? I know that you have recorded soundtracks to various haute couture campaigns, which have you worked with recently? Regarding your past musical work in fashion, do you have a favorite campaign that you were a part of?
In haven’t done that in 15 years. It was fun working with designer Hedi Slimane when he first started with YSL, and even got me on the catwalk at his first Tokyo show. However, when I saw the video I realized I was definitely more at ease in a DJ booth that on a catwalk, and decided to focus on the former 🙂
After about 30 years as a DJ, how do you keep everything “fresh”? Do you still consider the music to be your primary drive? Or has it turned into something else?
I started DJing because I wanted to share the music I loved. Today more than ever, there are so many things about DJing I can pass on to the people. I am still passionate about music and all the technology around it, wether to produce it, play it, distribute it. So there are always things for me to discover and learn. I’m getting older when people in the audience stay the same younger age. It’s an exciting, everyday challenge to use my experience to bring them something they can enjoy, regardless of any age difference.
Why did you pick the Idjut Boys instead to mix the first CD rather than do it yourself?
BBE preferred the compilation to be also in mixed format. Although I felt legitimate enough to take care of the selection and written content, I thought the mixing duties would be handled better by today’s masters of the genre. I know the Idjuts from a while ago and I was convinced they would add that extra spaced-out crazyness to make my selection flow in a continuous dubbed out mix.
I was reading the liner notes and it’s really almost a book. How important were the people you interviewed there to your own evolution as a producer and DJ?
Well each of the people I have interviewed has at least three of their mixes on the project, they’re all responsible for creating the dance music Dub sound. The interesting thing is they all did it in their own way. As you can read in the interviews, they all had a somewhat different intention. Francois K is the major influence to me. He inspired me to do what I do. His work was extremely technical but at the same time instantly accessible. Once I passed the first excitement of listening to one of his mixes, I could then spend hours trying to understand how he actually did it. He was able to do things that had several levels of “reading” or appreciation and that is what he mostly inspired me to try to achieve.
A lot of the people from that era have passed on. Who would you have liked to just sit down and talk with about music for this project who is no longer with us?
I would have really loved to talk to Walter Gibbons who himself was an influence to Francois K. He was laying down the basics of Dub mixing. I heard some of the songs he mixed in their raw multitrack recording form and it helped me realize even more how his work was groundbreaking 30 years ago.