Interview by Charlie Moffett on 4/6/12
"I always thought I was there to play music and dazzle people with sounds, not to be a slightly updated version of a cabaret performer." These are the words of Francois Kevorkian, alias Francois K, a legend in his own right but furthermore a consistently relevant musician possessing impressive wherewithal. Considered by many as one of the forefathers of house music, Francois began his career as a DJ at the famed Paradise Garage and Studio 54 venues. A one time Body and Soul resident with Danny Krivit and Joe Claussell, he now runs the Deep Space NYC parties at Cielo and his own Wave Music label.
The French-born DJ/producer was recently so kind as to answer a wide range of questions for Pulse, including topics like disco edits, festivals, Grand Theft Auto 4, fist pumping, and an added dash of advice for the next generation of music purveyors.
Pulse: You moved from your birthplace of France to the United States in 1975 as a young drummer. What is everything/anything that you expected it to be? Francois K: I never expected to be a DJ, I really had in mind to be a drummer. Still and however unexpectedly …. it seems to have worked out as I managed to stay involved with music. Looking back, it's obvious that I just went into it head-first and without any real plans, except that I tenaciously kept at it until it worked. The sort of thing you can only do when you don't have the responsibilities of supporting a family and so on.
Disco edits seem to be on the rebound in a big way lately. Having worked with tape remixing and the such since the late 1970s, why do you think there’s been a surge in popularity for disco edits in recent times? The recent spate of powerful software programs such as Ableton Live has made it very easy for anyone to try and put something together. One thing, few people seem to have any quality control when it comes to this, so the marketplace is flooded with mediocre-sounding pieces that drown out the few good ones. Just because the software is good doesn't mean that the user has better ideas.
What timeless elements make for a good edit? for a good remix? Have a melody, a hook and some exciting bits that the listener will immediately remember. Make it memorable, however that's done is irrelevant. Keep it simple and focused.
You’re now a regular on the festival scene, from Serbia’s Exit Festival to Ireland’s Electric Pickle and Barcelona’s Sonar Festival. Do you have a particular favorite? Or least favorite? It's often very difficult to gauge with events on that scale, where you're playing for five or ten thousand people. Most times the stage is very far from the audience, and that connection is sort of lost, so I am not sure that I can always judge. Sonar was quite good because the area where they put me was very close to the crowds, but this was on a smaller scale. Regardless, most of the ones I've played have luckily always seemed very nice, including the times there was pouring rain. Somehow the spirit of people who attended actually seemed to lift it up more in those instances where conditions were difficult. Recently the Electric Elephant in Croatia was truly beautiful at sunset in Petrcane. Also they arranged it so that there was no sound leakage between the different areas, which sometimes can truly be annoying if you choose to play songs with dynamics and quiet parts. I feel that as a consequence this seems to make DJs choose to play songs that are always full-on with perhaps less dramatic effect, compared to when the quiet parts can be heard rather than drowned out by the tent next to yours.
Are you a fan of the festival format vs regular club nights, and what impact do you think this new trend has on the music industry as a whole? It has to be organized and curated right. There is a tendency for a lot of people to go for the cheap thrills and theatricals, which is great as it seems as if it's really what's needed by today's audience who treat DJs like entertainers rather than selectors of songs. But sadly the 'Jesus Pose™' or 'fist pumping' moments have never been my talent, I always thought I was there to play music and dazzle people with sounds, not to be a slightly updated version of a cabaret performer. There is no doubt in my mind that I tend to prefer the smaller events, because it is easier for me to make a direct connection with the audience, rather than look at them from 50 feet away. That being said, if the crowd is really having a blast it can feel magical, as it did the last time I played in Sydney for several thousand at the Space Festival on New Year's Day.
Few may know this but you were the mind behind dance radio station ‘Electro-Choc’ in the Grand Theft Auto 4 video game. What was that experience like, working with Rockstar Games, and do you ever play GT4 & hear your selections? Are you a gamer (of any sort)? They really specified a lot of what ended up being selected, and as with anything to do with these sorts of big projects, it's all done by a team of people and extensively play-tested, so there were a lot of little changes we had to keep doing, but the result was something that we all knew was going to be really dynamite. I have not played GTA4 recently, my favorite games at the moment are "Minecraft", "Deus Ex: Human Revolution", "Portal 2" and "Mass Effect 3" as well as some older titles I keep coming back to, such as the Half-Life II series.
With an accomplished music career that spans decades, what keeps you afloat? Has your connection with your art changed over the years? I think that I was blessed with a curious, inquisitive mind so I keep learning more about so many different performers, styles and songs. So I really haven't had time to ever get bored as there is always so much more tantalizing stuff to discover. The key might be to keep it fresh, and not delve on the same thing for too long. Not sure that the connection with art itself has changed, but the audiences don't quite feel as innocent as they used to be, on one hand much more knowledgeable and sophisticated. But on the other, a whole segment of them also appears very easily distracted by gadgets, so to them music may merely be an accessory rather than the main dish it used to be to a previous generation?
What advice would you give artists in their ‘prime’ about longevity and staying relevant? Love what you do and make that what you share. Audiences are not dumb. They can definitely feel the difference between a contrived, prefabricated marketing exercise and anyone playing with real passion.
With all of your years of experience and taste-honing, which young players have you taken a liking to? Who should we look out for that we may be sleeping on? At this moment there are a lot of young dubstep producers/DJs who are absolutely outstanding, people such as David Kennedy (Pearson Sound), Joy Orbison and such. I think that they are the future wave of great talent, and the best way to measure this is how upset certain people are with what they play. The more irritated those who complain about it get, the more I really think that they're actually onto something.
What’s in store for the future with Francois K? As of this moment – and besides the usual endless worldwide touring - I seem to be getting more calls to appear at conferences and have speaking engagements. I've also decided to start working on an autobiography, still a couple of years away. There is no question that it feels as if there is a demand for my impressions on how things have changed, and my perspective on all of it. Quite gratifying actually. 2011 saw the start of my playing some surround sound gigs, which had little to do with the usual electronic beats, much more to do with 'real music' mixed in very exotic multi-channel formats. This has been very successful as most people have never been exposed to surround in a proper listening environment where this music really becomes three-dimensional. (it has to be music that was remixed in that format, this cannot be done with mere 'normal' stereo recordings) Also I'm currently in the process of finishing up an album with Detroit legend Juan Atkins, as well as some other ongoing personal projects.
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