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DJ Deep interview: Deeply Devoted

Marko Kutlesa spoke to the DJ in his Paris studio ahead of a Nightvision show at Liquid Rooms on Saturday 10th December.

Henry Lewis

Last updated: 8th Dec 2016

DJ Deep, born Cyril Etienne des Rosaies, has been a mainstay in the club scene of his home city, Paris, for over 20 years. He got his break through friend and mentor Laurent Garnier, who invited him to play at several clubs in the city and he established himself via a longstanding relationship with Rex Club and his radio show ‘A Deep Groove’ on then pirate station Radio FG, and later Radio Nova

Initially he became known as a champion of a US house sound, in particular the music of New York, a sound reflected in his Respect Is Burning parties, his much loved compilation albums Respect Is Burning and the City To City series on BBE. It was also echoed in his collaborative, early 2000s studio efforts on Chillifunk and Distance, undertaken alongside friends like Jovonn and Franck Roger.

But at gigs, where he was able to play longer, he soon earned a reputation for being able to move seamlessly between house music and the harder, more energetic sounds of techno.

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Taking time off from studio work, in 2004 he set up the classic reissue label House Music Records and a label concentrating more on new productions called Deeply Rooted House. Both were very well respected, the former short-lived, but the latter remains an ongoing concern and released some of the earliest efforts by the likes of Franck Roger and Manoo as well as multiple releases by Kerri Chandler

In recent years Deeply Rooted House has received particular attention for releases more in the techno vein from the likes of Francois X, Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann. DJ Deep had also moved into a more techno direction with his studio work when he re-emerged as a producer in 2014 alongside studio partner Roman Poncet. Together they formed the Adventice project, which released several EPs on Tresor and more recently they formed a more abstract electronica duo titled Sergie Rezza.

Ahead of supporting Robert Hood for Nightvision on Saturday 10th December, We caught up with DJ Deep in his studio, which is situated next to his house in the 8th arrondissement, near central Paris. When not record shopping or travelling internationally to gigs, this is where you'll usually find him, so he was in a relaxed mood to be questioned on his career to date.

Your productions in the early 2000s were generally collaborations, then you seemed to take a long break from production. Was that purely because you were devoting your time to Deeply Rooted House and to Djing?

I started my label in 2003 because I was a bit frustrated with not being able to produce to the level I wanted. I was not as gifted, as talented, as I would have liked. I was always unhappy with my stuff. I'd realised I had all those talented friends around me and it would be more creative to work with them. 

I would go to friends studios and tell them “oh, your track is really nice, but my feeling is that it would be interesting if you were to go this route.” Sometimes it worked.

I had the distance of not being in competition with friends, just loving the music and respecting them and knowing how hard it is sometimes to be facing a computer screen and not being able to go any further. Sometimes it's helpful to have a friend around to give an opinion, an idea and I loved doing that. I was lucky enough to be able to speak to several friends like that, about their music, in a very positive way. So, for about ten years, yes, I stopped trying to make music. 

Do you regret taking such a long break from making music?

No, because it was a really exciting moment, running a label. I had a chance to release one of the first Franck Roger tracks, some of the first Manoo records and Kerri Chandler's music.

At the time I felt techno was becoming inspiring again. When I felt a fresh air coming from the likes of Ben Klock and Marcel Dettman, I was lucky enough to be able to ask Ben to remix Kerri, which was a bit of a dream come true because I was able to link the dots of the soundscape of music that was in my head. No, I'm really happy I had the chance to run the label and try and experiment that way.

On your radio show, your Respect Is Burning and your City To City compilations you earned a reputation for being a champion of the underground New York and New Jersey house sound. If we can resist the temptation to identify Kerri Chandler's incredibly current popularity, do you think New York music of the house music era gets less attention and respect from younger generations than the music from Chicago and Detroit?

No, not really, to be honest with you. I had my first radio show when I was really young, I was maybe 19 and I was on radio FG. It was a house and techno show, one of my first guests was Armando from Chicago. The Respect Is Burning parties were a moment in Paris just before the kind of specialised Daft Punk movement arrived.

At the time, my feeling was that the exciting sound was coming from New York. As a music lover I have to trust my guts and my ears so, if at one moment I'm inspired by the Detroit techno sound, I'm going to play that. If I feel that's getting a little stale, just going round in circles and I feel that Masters At Work or Jovonn are doing something very fresh, then I'll be playing more of that.

With Respect Is Burning I was focusing on this moment, where I felt it was the best sound. That's the reason why, in my career, I'm going from one sound to another. I'm trying to follow what I find in the record stores. 

I understand. But my question wasn't exactly about those compilations or parties. In a lot of European clubs I hear a lot of music that seems to be of Chicago and Detroit inspiration, for instance people are remaking acid records, sometimes using exactly the same, primitive equipment. Detroit and Chicago music seems, to me, to get more respect from younger generations than the New York sound. 

I'm sorry but I disagree. When I see people like Motor City Drum Ensemble or Jeremy Underground play I get the feeling I'm hearing one of my radio shows from the Respect Is Burning days. I think there is a big revival of this sound, Masters At Work, Kerri, Jovonn. On my travels I still hear influences of all those cities in productions and in DJ sets.

What I particularly like about that era is that, although you would hear some incredibly deep, dubby house music on the dancefloor, you could also hear some very bold vocal anthems that were contemporary at the time. Who makes contemporary vocal anthems today?

I'm blown away by the last Louie Vega song with 3 Winans Brothers and Karen Clark 'I Choose You'. I play it in my house like 20 times a day. Osunlade just sent me an album from his Yoruba label which is absolutely incredible. Josh Milan makes good songs. So I do hear good songs today. Maybe not as many as in the late 90s, but I do still hear some.

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Your last release on your reissue label House Music Records was in 2006. Did you to some extent lose the urge to re-release old music in favour of concentrating on new music?

Yeah, a bit. And I got tired of the business. It's a bit of a headache to license old music. You can find yourself in the middle of situations and conflicts you didn't expect, and you just stepped in with good faith, hoping to reissue one of your hero's music.

You realise a lot of bad business went on back then and I hated that. I hated getting involved in that. I love music and I'm not really a business man. The business side is something I don't really like much.

When you first started out you earned a reputation for being able to very competently move from house to techno and back again. To what extent do you think either the dynamics of contemporary productions or the demands of audiences make that more difficult nowadays?

I'm going to sound a bit negative here and I'm sorry for that, because I don't like to be. I think it's a cultural problem. It's a problem of culture, of learning, of knowing your craft. There is no excuse in 2017 for not knowing the basics of house and techno. It's not a question of money, it's not a question of anything.

You want to know about this music? It's all there. If you want to be passionate about it, check it out. I sometimes feel that the problem today is that some kids are into it for the wrong reasons, they just want to do drugs and house and techno is just the soundtrack to their drug experiments. That's a little bit annoying and sometimes that's the reason why it might be a bit harder for DJs to experiment and to go from one direction to the other. 

Having said that, I meet, on a daily basis, kids who are really knowledgeable about the music, really passionate. I'm amazed. Some kids will talk to you about Mike Dunn's 1987 productions or something and they will know the titles and all the different versions.

So there are both. Sometimes the crowd don't know so much about the music, sometimes they can be really knowledgeable. When they don't know too much it's not easy to make bridges from one style to the other. Sometimes they only want to hear what they think is techno and sometimes what they think is techno has nothing to do with what I think is techno. 

When I first started listening to techno music it was really outsider music, it wasn't for everyone. I feel now that techno has become more accessible than house music, as it is a percussive and aggressive sound that most young people can nowadays easily understand in a dance music context.

But I think it got that way by losing a lot of its soul. You can go to a techno night now and come away not having heard any strong melodies or anything musical at all, it's just rhythm, sound effects. Would you agree that both techno DJs and techno producers are taking an easy, perhaps even cowardly path by not making or playing music with bold melodies, the sort that Carl Craig, Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson used to make and which originally defined this genre?

Well, it's a tough question, to tell you the truth. The guys you mention were, in my opinion, doing amazing music, but that was a few years ago, as you know. The problem is that techno production today can sometimes lack imagination or soul. Techno today can miss a lot of techno [laughs]. It happens. I know it as well as you, I guess. That's why I think it's my duty, as a music lover, to try and present what I think this music can be.

My highlight right now is to play the remix I did with Roman Poncet of 'St Germain' because it has elements in it that I rarely hear in today's techno. I'm not saying that our record is an example of how I would like techno to sound today, all I'm saying is that it contains elements that are missing in techno today. It has percussion, a swing, extreme repetition, something that I hope is a little uncompromising. 

Of course I agree with you. A lot of today's techno is incredibly boring. Let's be completely honest here. But, on the other hand, I've never bought as many records as I'm buying today. There is a rebirth of creation and productions which is really inspiring. I find a lot of interesting records that are not easy to play.

It takes a lot of work to make a connection with the audience so hopefully you can play some of them, but it's exciting. I'm excited that I find so much good music that I want to share. It can be difficult sometimes, but it has always been difficult for me. I was always against the common current. When it was Belgian, hard, ravey techno, I was into Derrick and Carl, when it was the cheesy Daft Punk sound, I was into Masters At Work. I've always been fighting for something that was different from what the bigger audience was into, so it's not unknown territory for me. Sorry for my messy answer, I hope that makes sense.

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Yeah it does. As someone who really loves music, music itself is enough to liberate you and make you lose your inhibitions on the dancefloor. But to other people that's not enough. Is there anything wrong with people taking assistance to lose such inhibitions?

[Laughs] Man, I wish my English was good enough to use those terms. I wish I could put things that way. 

I don't do drugs. I've never been interested in drugs. I've never tried them in my life. But I respect people's choice to do them. People do whatever they need to. Music takes me to places where I don't need drugs, I'm not interested because my mind is already going really far away with the music. I wouldn't like to ruin that with anything that was a parasite to that experience. 

I'm not judging anyone. I'm not a priest. My concern, as I was trying to say before, is that I don't want house and techno to just be a tool for kids to take their weekend drugs. That I would really hate. I think music is powerful enough to make you travel in a way that is a million times stronger than drugs. That's just my opinion. I could be wrong, but that's my opinion after 25 years of discussing this with friends who do drugs; music is more powerful than drugs.

With your Sergie Rezza project you have a more abstract sound than we're perhaps used to hearing from you. I read that in this particular partnership you often contribute to the collaboration by bringing in records as inspiration. What kinds of artists and music inspire that particular project?

A lot of Cabaret Voltaire. They actually let us sample one of their tracks. A lot of Brian Eno, Jon Hassell, Harold Budd, some Fela Kuti. A lot of techno, some house, dub reggae. It's really a mix of things I love. I was doing the podcasts called Deep Library where I was trying to present some of the influences I have and that was a bit of the vibe.

The project came along when I was working with Roman and he found this feature in Abelton Live that could stretch music to an extreme, in a rhythmic way and we never tried that before. We never heard anyone do it in this way, so we tried to do more and I was bringing in all these records to sample. We were experimenting and it was really good fun. We're working on a new album right now. 

What else have you got on the immediate horizon?

I have a release on Fred P's label called 'Boards' that should be out sometime around January. We completed a remix for Ilario Alicante, the St Germain remix came out and there's the Sergio Rezza album which we hope will come out in the first part of 2017. 

DJ Deep comes to Edinburgh's Liquid Rooms on Saturday 10th December, grab your tickets from the box below.

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