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Seb Fontaine interview: Fighting the classics' cause

Jimmy Coultas spoke with legendary former Cream resident Seb Fontaine about why the classics concept in clubland is such a vital component of our scene.

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 20th Jul 2016

Photo: Seb Fontaine Credit: gpball.co.uk

Saturday 17th October 2015 started what would prove to be a long goodbye to one of the most important venues in UK club history. Liverpool's Nation has seen powerhouse raves from the likes of Circus, Bugged Out and Chibuku Shake Shake over the years, but it's as the spiritual home of internationally revered clubbing institution Cream with which it will always be associated.

Over a near ten year run from 1992 to 2002 Cream and Nation defined clubbing every Saturday, continuing that legacy throughout sporadic appearances up until the point it finally closed on Boxing Day last year. That October Saturday was a chance for many of the elite DJs that made that tenure so special to make one final appearance, with Pete Tong, Roger Sanchez and a returning Paul Oakenfold all taking the the stage.

Seb Fontaine tickets.

We were in attendance that night (read our misty eyed review), but it was another of the fabled residents that stole the show; Seb Fontaine. His two hour masterclass through driving progressive house and spine tingling trance was easily the finest set, since going down in folklore amongst everyone who made it to Nation that night or listened afterwards (which you can do below) with a heavy heart and regret.

We spoke with Seb ahead of a return to Cream in Liverpool via their new Cream Classical concept, where he will introduce the event and then DJ alongside a star studded line up at The Garage for the afterparty. Unsurprisingly that fateful evening was high on the agenda... 

Hi Seb. The last time we saw you was from the dancefloor at Cream's now gone Courtyard on Saturday October 17th, it was a bit of a stretch squeezing in there. How emotional was the night for you returning there - had you been in recent years before that? 

I'd been there the year before, but that particular finale was something special. What a night that was! I had people telling me only last weekend in Glasgow how they missed out on getting in the Courtyard, but people in the know knew they had to get in there early and stay there. 

It was the perfect storm, it really was. The thing is about that 17th date, it was more than just a night. Even since then I'm chatting to more clubbers than I've ever spoken to before, it literally awakened a community of people. That Cream reunion page on Facebook is nuts, I'd forgotten about certain records from that time and people were telling me Seb you've got to play this, this was my record, and it helped remind me of the music again. It was just a great thing to be part of, it really was special.

It was weird because there was almost this edgy atmosphere at the beginning, like people didn't really know what to expect.

You're right, at the beginning everyone was so desperate to get in that courtyard there probably was a bit of edginess with people pushing to get in their place. But you can see why, this was the last night that everyone was going to be in that room again - and it had to be perfect. "Where is everyone, where are all my mates?" But once it settled it just went off.

I tried to get the balance between big tunes and tunes that were big for me. There is a difference between those two things, because some of those tunes that really worked and went off for me only did so at Cream, real residency tunes - they didn't work for me or anyone else anywhere else. Like DJ Remy 'Backstabber', that was just a Cream record for me, and to hear people say to me, "When that came on I lost my mind" just adds to the whole magical experience. 

But it's created a massive problem because everyone has that set now! It's had over 50 thousand plays now or something insane across all the formats, people are always asking, "Are you going to play like that now?" But it can't be, it has to be different. It's difficult in some ways because people want that set but they want it differently, it's opened a can of worms. 

One fresh spin though from the events is the Cream Classical concept which you're hosting. How involved with that process have you been?

I've got to be honest it was always just me doing the afterparty, it's K-Klass' thing. They've done an awesome job, I was having a chat with the boys in the week about some stuff that is involved with it and it'll be incredible.

Cream have asked me to introduce the show and start the night off, if I took any more credit than that I'd be kidding myself. But it's nice to be involved in what will be another special night.

Have you seen any of the other classical spin-offs of old club tunes like Pete Tong's Electric Proms or Hacienda Classical?

Yeah I thought the Hacienda Classical concept was brilliant, I loved it. I think a great tune is something that transcends musical genres and it still sounds good, it still sounds emotive however it's played.

It's really odd but I don't know if you know Paul Anka? He's a singer a little bit like Frank Sinatra. He's done a cover of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' from Nirvana, and it just sounds amazing sung in a kind of Vegas show style. It just proves what a great record can sound like when you completely take it out of its skin and strip it down and do it again in another way.

On a similar tip I'm not sure if you've noticed but there's been a slight resurgence in a few of the older trance tunes from the late nineties era recently. Eats Everything and Maceo Plex made edits of Da Hool's 'Meet Her At The Love Parade' and 'Hale Bopp' by Der Dritte Draum respectively, whilst at Timewarp recently Nina Kraviz blew the room off with an old Yves Deruyter track.

Why do you think it's become sort of fashionable again in a way? Because as you'll know trance was a bit of a dirty word for a period of time...

I heard someone play Quench 'Dreams' recently which is an awesome tune, and I think it's great. For me those records which are getting dug up again seem to be more of a techno-y trance direction, not the fluffier side of the genre, so that's probably why they work now.

I've got to be honest, I never thought I'd play trance again. I was never the biggest trance DJ, it was never that sound from beginning to an end - I was more about the Lustrals and the Killahertz type records, alongside some bigger records at certain points. I never thought I'd be playing it again and actually, wow, it put such a smile on my face that night playing those records once more and seeing those hands in the air and the grins.

One of those records is of course Atlantis 'Fiji'... 

[Chuckles] The funny thing about 'Fiji' is it doesn't matter where I am in the world, some scouser will come up to me and go, "Seb lad, what time you playing 'Fiji'?". I could be playing in Dubai, or the most random gig in the world like a Formula One show and it follows me there, everywhere I go! That has never left me.

When I joined as a resident everyone was saying you've got to have an end record, Oakey had 'Bullet in the Gun', you need your own signature tune. There was a lot of pressure for me to find that one end of night defining anthem. When I played 'Fiji' to the boys Jim and James they were like, "Nah, not getting it." I insisted on it, trust me this is the one we've been looking for. And it just grew and grew. 

It definitely did. Moving onto modern tunes and the current scene, how do you find the music and the clubs?

One thing I'll say is I hate the whole genre categorisation. Essentially I play good house music across the board rather than a single genre, I always have, but I really like some of the good tech house stuff that's coming out now. Sometimes though I do feel that when you're in a club it's really good, the music is great, but I do wish someone would play a tune which really takes the roof off.

I think the current trend is to be very cool, and very underground, and I do miss the smiling faces dancing on the podiums and the whole people swinging form the rafters vibe. But there's a lot of good music at the moment, and it's actually probably better now than it's been for years.

We've also noticed you're back again at Creamfields this year in the Cream Classics tent. What other gigs have you got coming up alongside that? 

It's been a while, eight or nine years since I played the festival. I played recently in Birmingham with Danny Rampling and Tall Paul for Cream Classics, and I really enjoyed it. As far as other gigs go, I'm doing loads of festivals, We Are FSTVL for Clockwork Orange is another standout.

You know this year has been nuts, I'm off to Milan after the Cream Classics show and I was trying to rein in my travelling but this year seems to be getting me back out on the road again. I think the UK has got some great gigs at the minute, and you're seeing a few older faces back on the dancefloors again - a vibe that's coming from new music which incorporates a lot of the sound of the older stuff and it's seems to have brought a good crowd out again.

There are people that hadn't been out for a while and now they're going out again. It's not that they came out just for the final nights of Cream last year and that was that, it's given these people a whole new thirst for clubbing again.

So these reunion nights have empowered people to reclaim that aspect of their lives again?

That's exactly it. You know, I had someone from a magazine recently, I won't say who, kind of being a bit snooty saying, "What do you think about all these classics gigs? I'm really against them and I don't think they do the scene any favours." I got a bit annoyed.

I was like, "Are you telling me that these people who stood in muddy fields twenty odd years ago, who helped build the scene, are irrelevant and they should just shift away and move off?" I said, "You're insane; I'm not even answering that."

It was such a sneaky crappy little question to try and make out that these people don't deserve to still have this music. It really shocked me, because these are the people that paved the way with the M25 raves and everything else. Why shouldn't they be celebrating that music all over again?

See all upcoming Seb Fontaine shows.

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