Monday morning might seem like an antisocial time to be preparing a musician for interview, but nobody has told Laurent Garnier that. “It’s not early morning!” he proclaims from his studio. “I’ve been up working for ages!”
Currently his preoccupation is the LBS live tour, short for Live Booth Sessions, but also accepted to mean Laurent & Ben & Stephane, or even Loud Bass & Samples. The acceptable names give an indication of the freedom Garnier is finding through these concerts, where jazz, house and techno frequently come together. “It’s been amazing, really,” he says of the first few shows. “We did six performances in May as a trial, just to see if that was a good idea. Then we had time to think, and started it properly, as we were very excited to carry on. Now we’re doing it again, and have done three gigs, we are finding they get better and better.”
He goes on to describe the set-up. “Basically the live show is a four hour set, and there are two turntables along with the live gear. In a four hour session about 70% of the music will be done live, and 30% will come from records. So roughly two to three hours are a live show, all with experiments, so each track is a live track.”
Flexibility is the key, especially when it comes to the response of the crowd. “Completely,” he says firmly. “If the crowd is happy, we can go on with the same track for 25 minutes. The whole idea is to try ideas, then construct, then change, and then reconstruct. We like to keep experimenting as much as we can. The idea is to bring a new track every month, to try it, work it, experiment. We have started at a point with each of the tracks in the live show, but all the tracks changed drastically as we incorporated a lot of things. That is how the organic live show has become.”
Garnier’s love of improvisation might be expected to stem for his work with Bugge Wesseltoft on tracks such as The Man With The Red Face, but his answer contradicts that. “I think a lot of it comes from DJing. When you play records, you’re writing a different story every night. You can’t get the set ready at home in advance, because a good mix on Friday night might sound shit on Saturday. You have to stand up and look at the crowd, and look at their reaction. I always liked long sets because in that way you need to improvise.”
“When you play records, you’re writing a different story every night” – Laurent Garnier on how his love of improvisation stems from the art of DJing
He hasn’t always found it easy integrating with live musicians such as those he has now. “I’ve been playing live a long time, but when I found space with the band I didn’t have the right language to talk to them. I couldn’t express that well, the need to leave more space in my music. It was a gentle mess really, as nothing was written down.”
Now his role is more that of musical director. “What always excited me was jazz bands, and I loved the idea of one guy conducting everybody. Sometimes there is improvisation time, and it’s a special time, but I always see the conductor look at his band, and as soon as the guy makes a gesture they all get back to the same point. I always felt that was exactly what I wanted to do. Sometimes people love themselves a bit too much in improvisation, but the idea of coming back together was how I wanted to construct my live show.”
The fine tuning of Garnier’s show took a while. “We had great musicians, but maybe I didn’t have the words. When I toured with Bugge I went to see him live about 20 times beforehand, where he was the director, but in my band you can’t have two people conducting. I love him but I felt it was time to give out to the crowd sometimes, and he often felt that wasn’t the time. I was kind of frustrated, and needed to conduct.”
The solution came from Wesseltoft himself. “I met Ben Rippert, and I asked Bugge if we could do a jam. He came up to me afterwards and said ‘you don’t need me any more’, and I knew it wasn’t going to last. Ben helped me to conduct everybody, and I don’t need to turn around, as he can see me. This was when I took Scan-X (Stephane Dri), as he can do half of what I do. I have space to stand up and conduct the musicians in what we do. This was when all of the improvisation came with the band. Stephan and Ben make the live show easier and lighter, as we’ll play records together, and bring the live show to where it is. It’s worked well, because I’m like a pitbull and I don’t let go!”
“Techno was a musical revolution when it started, so it was bound to evolve” – Laurent Garnier on how the form is moving on, with many of its leading acts now employing live instrumentation
Do these developments, along with the likes of Carl Craig playing live these days, mean techno is now more about live instrumentation? “It’s not just techno,” he responds, “it’s technology. Once you’ve been in the game a long time you need to evolve. Techno was a musical revolution when it started anyway, so it was bound to evolve. If it had stayed the same way it would have meant people didn’t understand its roots. I do this for me, though, and not for techno!”
Is the primary objective always to make people dance? “Of course. You have to know where you’re going to. Originally, the live show was built for stage but didn’t work in a club, and there were some rock tracks where we were playing like a band. Now we are packaging the thing more like a DJ set. If people turn their backs they will not be able to say whether we are playing live or to a record. It’s a completely club friendly thing, with non-stop dancing for four hours. I’m kind of transforming the essay, and always trying to move forward”.
Technology has assisted him in this. “Twenty years ago that would have been very difficult with the equipment. Now we can come in an hour before the gig and be ready. Technology is allowing us to make a more creative DJ set. Richie Hawtin is using technology to play more too, and I still find him very relevant after 20 years. If after 20 years I was just playing off wheels of steel I would feel old and sad. With my live show I’ve got where I wanted to go, but I keep asking how can I now move on with my DJ set? I need to give people what they want”.
At all times, it seems, he remains focussed on his audience. “I think we’re going to bring a lot of joy to people. It’s important that people understand what we’re doing. This is why I want to keep it in a club environment. It’s a complex lab of experimentation, with three people trying things, fucking it up sometimes, but trying to work some future”.
The Live Booth Sessions tour comes to London on 3 December, where Laurent Garnier, Ben Rippert and Stephane Dri will play live at Village Underground. Further information on Garnier’s recording and live projects can be found at his MySpace.