Last June we checked in with globetrotting French house maestro Sébastien Léger while he was in the midst of a global tour celebrating two decades behind the decks. The veteran DJ/producer had just returned from playing his first-ever DJ dates in Mumbai and Delhi, and he gave us an earnest assessment of his debut in India. “It seems that India is not there yet. Far from it,” he told us. “The people who were at my gigs were great crowd though — responsive and overwhelming — but those were not the gigs of my life.”
Since last we spoke Léger has curated 20 Years, a retrospective compilation of his work for his Mistakes Music label. The 20-track release features an array of his productions as well as choice remixes for Ida Engberg and Claude VonStroke.
Over e-mail we asked Léger about 20 Years and what inspires his musical spirit.
“The passion,” he says. “That’s the only reason why I’m still doing this, even if sometimes it’s really hard at many, many points.”
Congratulations on your 20 Years compilation. What prompted you to look back on the past two decades?
Sébastien Léger: Twenty years is a kind of accomplishment! The round number was a perfect excuse to show the world what I have done as a producer during these years and show, maybe, why I’m still around after all that time!
Are you a nostalgic person?
Not really, no. I’m only nostalgic when I listen to my old Michael Jackson LPs, which remind me of good memories when I was a kid, but otherwise, I prefer to look into the future, if I can say so!
The oldest track on the compilation is “Popcorn,” which was released in 2001. Why didn’t you include any of your releases from the ’90s?
It is true that I made couple of EPs way before the “Popcorn” EP. I wanted to include one track taken out of my first album Atomic Pop which was released in 1999, but in the end, I really wanted to include the tracks that meant something really special to me. “Popcorn” is one of those tracks that even after so many years, I can still listen to it and be proud of it and not be bored of it. The really old tunes sounded a bit odd, a bit too old actually. People would have not really understood why I released such average tunes again.
Your remix of Claude VonStroke’s “Deep Throat” is also great — was it difficult to get permission to use it? Were there any tracks or remixes of yours that you couldn’t secure rights to?
As far as I know, none of them were hard to get, but also a lot of them are from my own catalogue anyway.
“I wish that today’s market was more about music and talent than Facebook or social media tricks. The DJ scene has been polluted by all that, resulting in completely corrupt behaviour in order to get money, gigs, attention, etc.”
“Never Ever” featured on the compilation is a lovely unreleased track from 2005. Why is it only now seeing the light of day?
It’s the first track I made in 2005, but the original version used to be very fast and the length of the track was really short. Basically, it was only a demo that I never finished. So I decided to finish it, with a slower BPM, new arrangement, but it still has exactly the same sounds and vibe of the original demo I did back then.
How has your sound evolved during the past 20 years, and how do you look back on your musical evolution?
The only thing in common you can hear with my older and newer tracks is that they are — most of them — all funky. The rest is pure evolution in terms of taste, but also technical things. My music now can be a lot more complex than it used to be in the past. Lots of things have changed such as BPM, new genres, new sounds, new hardware… for the good and for the bad, unfortunately. I started with vinyl [and] now I’m using a USB key. I used to produce on hardware, drum machines and synthesizers, now it’s mostly computer, but I recently bought three analogue synths again and I’m really happy with this. I’ve been through a lot of genres but always kept the groove, funk or soul in my music. I guess I’m obsessed with it.
Is there a particular song of yours in which you feel you really nailed it?
It would be a bit pretentious to say such a thing. Not any of them are perfect, far from it. There is always something I could change. But “Sun” is pretty much my own timeless masterpiece. If I had the original files, I would have re-done the mix down maybe, but I lost them in a computer crash.
Is there a track or remix in your discography that you wish you could re-do?
Pretty much all of them [laughs] but more than re-do, I would prefer to erase some of them forever!
Say you could travel back to 1995 and had the opportunity to give your younger self some personal and professional advice. What would that be?
Get surrounded by better people. Take more time before releasing some music, make sure it’s 100 percent right, so you don’t have regret anything.
The album’s artwork is quite interesting — you appear to be a super hero with a sexy lady in a crowd of not-so-nice people. What’s it about and who did the artwork?
A friend of mine did it back in 2012. He’s specializes in this comic/video games design, which I really like, myself being a real geek! So basically, that pretty girl is supposed to be the music, me the hero trying to protect her from the bad ugly business guys throwing their money around… You get the idea? Of course, this is just a drawing. I’m not pretending to be a superhero who saves the real music from the bad world.
Do you think you’ll embark on another project like this at another milestone in your life, like say 25 or 30 years?
I hope so! I have nothing else planned apart from making and playing music anyway. Wish me luck!
What inspires you to keep going after all these years?
The passion. That’s the only reason why I’m still doing this, even if sometimes it’s really hard at many, many points.
Any final thoughts?
Yeah, I wish that today’s market was more about music and talent than Facebook or social media tricks. The DJ scene has been polluted by all that, resulting in completely corrupt behaviour in order to get money, gigs, attention, etc. You were talking about nostalgia earlier, well, if I could be nostalgic about something, it would be about that era where you could make it just by being good at what you did and not by pretending to.
Sébastien Léger’s 20 Years is out now on Mistakes Music.