Becca Frankland asked Dimitri From Paris whether dance music has become lazy, if the disco trend will burn out and how he sees the future of the genre progressing.
Last updated: 6th Oct 2017. Originally published: 26th Sep 2017
Dimitri From Paris has a deep-rooted association and long-standing love affair with disco. Championing the old but always embracing the new, the self-confessed perfectionist has been experimenting with club music and wowing dancefloors for the best part of 30 years.
Dimitri explored DJing at home, cutting and pasting samples to make his own tapes, before launching his career on French station Radio 7. Then later when working for Europe's largest FM radio network, Radio NRJ, he introduced the first radio show dedicated to house music in France.
His successful radio career led to requests for reworks from a wide range of popular artists, including the likes of Björk, New Order, James Brown and the Brand New Heavies. He also recorded soundtracks for some of the most famous and glamorous fashion houses like Chanel, Yves Saint-Laurent and Jean-Paul Gaultier.
In 1996 Dimitri gained worldwide recognition with the release of his first full album, Sacrebleu, which sold 300,000 copies worldwide, then following it up with successful compilation releases including A Night at the Playboy Mansion, Disco Forever and My Salsoul.
The past ten years or so has seen him delve back into funk and disco, making contemporary edits which have helped establish his name with a modern audience, and have made him a firm favourite with brands and clubs like Glitterbox, XOYO and Liverpool Disco Festival.
Following the recent reissuing of his sought-after Salsoul Mastermix, and ahead of Liverpool Disco Festival 3, we caught up with Dimitri ahead of to talk more about edits, trends and modern disco.
In the Classic Album Sundays discussion supporting the Salsoul Mastermix release, you quoted Mel Cheren saying that "house music is disco on a budget", can you expand on that phrase and why it's still relevant?
Well there's another quote that I really like from Frankie Knuckles - he said that "house music is disco's revenge". I think it was back in 1979, a container of disco albums was blown up in a baseball stadium in Chicago, and they said that disco was dead.
A lot of DJs at the time who loved disco were looking at breathing new life into it with sampling and drum machines, and they started remixing, re-editing and remaking disco with very cheap equipment because they didn't have the means to go into big, expensive studios. They were trying to keep the flame alive, and because of the actual technical limitations, house music sounded kind of raw and minimalistic... that's what made its initial charm.
When Mel Cheren said "house music is disco on a budget", it wasn't something which was actually pejorative, it was something that was making house special. They were just trying to remake disco but with different tools, so whilst the spirit was the same, there was no orchestra or whatever... what was coming out of this drum machine or sampler was house music as we know it today.
In essence, disco is absolutely the mother of house music, that's totally agreed by pretty much everyone in the industry. There wouldn't be house music without disco.
The music that was used as an inspiration for house music, a lot of it was actually on Salsoul. One of the very first house music hits that crossed over to the mainstream was Steve "Silk" Hurley's 'Jack Your Body', which actually borrows the bassline from First Choice's 'Let No Man Put Asunder'. If you hear both records together you can totally recognise it. There are so many more examples like that. A lot of the material on Salsoul has been very influential in house music and its origins.
What you've mentioned about the limitations reminds me of something Simon Dunmore said in an interview with me earlier this year in regards to the whole tech house thing, and how much easier it is to make a record on the computer than it is to get a vocalist into the studio and write a song. Do you think that dance music has become lazy?
Well, I don't know if it's lazy wilfully. It sounds lazy to someone who has been around for much longer, like myself. I'm older than most DJs and producers right now, I've been around for a good 35 years, I've heard different types of music and the easier it is to make it and the more accessible it is, the more people will make it.
If there's no filter and no A&R guy then whatever you come out with you're gonna think it's good enough, and sometimes it is, sometimes it's not. The market is flooded with a lot of mediocre sounding stuff. It's not that difficult to be just above mediocrity, and just because it's a bit better than mediocrity doesn't mean it's good.
I think people need to go back to history and maybe just listen, not necessarily learn to play an instrument, and you might realise that maybe what you're doing is slightly sub-standard and you can up your game a little bit. As everyone is copying the other guy, everything sounds the same now, it's a bit of a shame that people are just staying at their laptops.
A lot of stuff that is very basic and very poor musically is actually a hit, so then people who want to make a hit will just copy that, as a result, nothing really moves. With stuff like tech house, it's very basic, and people who could do more just refrain from doing so because they think it's not going to succeed.
We're in a weird position now, but there are so many different niches and maybe it explains why there's a resurgence with disco, because there really is one now - I've never played as many gigs as I am right now. People like Joey Negro say exactly the same. I don't think the whole scene is going to turn to disco but if more people hear tracks that have musical elements rather than just a beat and a bassline, maybe they'll get accustomed to something slightly richer.
It's a slow process, but yes right now we're hitting the rock bottom of simplicity in dance music. Simplicity can be good, but it can also be poor, so it's a fine line. Only a few very skilled and gifted producers can manage to make simplicity interesting, to make something simple that is very mediocre, that's indeed, very easy. We have a lot of the latter, but I guess slowly we might get some musicality crawling back into dance music, that's what I'm hoping for.
On the flip side, I read an article recently that put across an argument that making disco edits is lazy. As someone who has worked to create them in the past, how would you respond to that? Do you think there’s any truth in it?
I mean, to make an edit you can spend days on it like I do, or you can make it in a couple of hours. But what I would like to say is, making edits is one of the first things I started to do, it was my first interaction with music.
I used to buy 12" singles, and they had the vocal side and then the instrumental version on the other. I only had one turntable, and I wanted to listen to the best part of each in one take, so what I was doing was putting the bits I liked onto a cassette tape and then slicing them together with the pause button to make my own edit.
I didn't even know that's what it was called then. It was a personal thing, only I would listen to it, but gradually as I became a DJ I was making more and more edits to fit records into my sets the way I wanted to. I wasn't going to put them out because it wasn't my song to begin with. Why would I put my own idea of a record out when the artist's own idea is there? When the whole edit thing came about maybe 10 years ago now, and became big, everyone was trying to get their name out with something which didn't belong to them, that's not right.
You can put your name out next to someone's who is more famous than you, and it might come back to bite you. Some of my edits are bootlegs and it's not my decision if they go out. With an edit like 'I Wanna Be Your Lover' which is quite recent, you give it to someone, then they give it to someone else and you end up with 20 DJs playing it. Then people start to ask for it, then someone bootlegs it and puts it out because of the demand.
But Prince never asked me to edit that, I did it for my own use and then a couple of DJ friends asked me for it, and that's how the whole edit thing, from the DJ's side, started to blow up.
Artists who make edits need to know that they don't belong to them, and they need to know what they're doing, plus the people who buy them need to know what they're doing as well. They're buying something which doesn't belong to the guy who edited it, there's probably an original they can look at first. But if there wasn't a market for it, people wouldn't be making it.
I'll normally do one draft and then be like, "Ok I need to get back to it because this doesn't fit". Some edits I've reworked like ten times before I can even think about putting them out. In my case, I just make my edits for myself, I make them with the dancefloor in mind because I want to play them when I DJ.
And the originals weren't always meant for the dancefloor...
Exactly, absolutely, that's the first and foremost motivation to edit something, it's because it doesn't suit my idea of what can work in my sets. I just alter it, sometimes very subtly, sometimes more heavily, depending on what I want to do with it.
It's different than a remix because with that they will come to you and give you the parts which you can't find elsewhere, and approve it before releasing it, That process is really different, no one approves the edits, they just go out and then maybe the artist will be pissed off or the label will be, or they won't know about it. What I mean is, it's totally done without the original artist consent.
I wanted to touch on something you said before about you being busier than ever for gigs. There are more and more disco events cropping up that I've seen, ones with the likes of Nicky Siano, Giorgio Moroder and Jellybean Benitez playing, do you think it runs a risk of becoming saturated if the same classic names start getting booked regularly?
There is obviously a trend with disco, and with every trend there's an end. So yeah, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon now which in a way is great for people like myself who have been into it constantly throughout the last ten or 20 years. For us, it's good because we're getting recognition, and we know what to do with it, because we know what works now and what doesn't work, we know how to fit it in with more modern elements.
Eventually, people will be tired of just seeing the same names put on every other flyer. What I'm hoping is that we're going to put the seed of disco into some people's minds, a lot of people who are young who are going to clubs, and they're going to run with it and make something new and exciting with it.
And do you find that the crowds that you're playing to seem younger these days?
To be fair, people who go to clubs are predominantly young. You don't go to a club very often when you're settled with a family, it's not something you'll do every weekend, but what is interesting is how younger people are reacting. From playing a disco record every four records or whatever, now you're able to play 100% disco set and people aren't just waiting for the kick drum, you know?
I'd say over the last two or three years, I've seen that change, and now I think we're reaching the highest peak of the disco thing, and like you mentioned earlier, this trend will deflate and there are too many people using the name disco when it doesn't really have much to do with disco in general. Playing a set of clubby house tracks with a disco flavour, that's not disco, but people will just take the name.
It's my duty and my mission with a few others to actually play the real thing, but yes, the people are young and very appreciative and they've been loving what disco is bringing to the scene. For me, I always did this job to share music I thought was good with other people, so I'm very happy and proud to be able to carry that sound to a generation that might not be so familiar with it. Hopefully when the trend is gone, some of them will remember it and some of the producers will hear it and start digging into how to replicate this sound... thinking "How can I be more musical with what I'm doing?"
I'm in a nice place right now personally because we're starting to peak with disco and I know that things are going to go down, but, hopefully, I'll still be able to play my stuff because I've never really changed my style to suit a trend. I was playing disco before it was this popular, and I will continue to play it after it's this popular too.
One of the most notable UK events to bring old school and new disco names under one roof, and to do it well, is Liverpool Disco Festival which you're playing at next month. You played at the first one last October, how was your experience playing there?
Well the first impression I had was that it was so big! I didn't imagine it could interest that many people because disco is not tech house, it's not UK garage, it's not the flavour of stuff which is played on the radio and it's not the sort of dance music that most people are familiar with. Even though the name is there, you say disco some people think of Saturday Night Fever and Abba maybe - we weren't playing stuff that was radio friendly.
I was really shocked that it was spread out across so many rooms and that people were really enjoying it. I'm looking forward to this year because the people who didn't like it the first time round won't come back, and the people who loved it will bring more people who will like it. I'm expecting it to be even better.
Are there any producers who you think are producing good, modern disco at the moment?
Like Simon mentioned to you, for those sort of tracks you need to go into a super well-equipped studio, you need to have very skilled musicians, one for each instrument. People are used to doing everything themselves on the laptop, so to create a disco record you need at least three or four musicians, not that many people are able to pull that off.
A lot of the new disco stuff is more stuff from the 80s like sample based, drum machine based... like my friend Aeroplane, what he did with 'Love On Hold' I thought was great. He's also a skilled musician, he plays four different instruments, so even though he's in his early thirties he's an experienced producer, so he can do it. I can count him, he does pretty much everything on his own as well. So that's one of the guys I'd say definitely.
Then you obviously have the old schools like Joey Negro, he's been doing it for a while. I've been doing it. Then you have the artists who have the spirit of disco in them... I'm thinking of people like DJ Spen, or Karizma, they come from a gospel way of doing things, they will always work with vocalists and they're good with arranged vocals.
Then again, they're not new producers, so I'm still waiting to be impressed by a new guy or girl on the scene. I mean I'm probably forgetting a few new names right now, but in regards to someone who's young and new, I'm not sure there is many.
Well there's a gap in the market then...
Yeah, I mean we need to be planting the seed. It might take some time from now to see more modern disco records being made but in the 70s, young people were getting together and forming bands, rehearsing in basements and stuff and a lot of records came out of that.
People could get together again instead of playing rock they could play disco, it's the same instruments, it's not the same style but they could come up with a disco group. I'm hoping that more of this can happen and we can move away from doing everything on a computer. I'm counting on England, which has always been at the forefront of all things musical to do that, so hopefully out of this trend there will be a wave of young people actually making disco.
Finally, if you had to pick an edit, not one of your own, what would be your all-time favourite?
Wow, that's a tough one. Well, there's one edit which I play a lot which is by Kon of Chic's 'Everybody Dance'. He beat me to doing it, and I don't need to do one because his is really good. I'm actually happy when I've been meaning to do something and someone else comes along and delivers the goods. I'd probably say that one because I play it pretty much most nights.