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INTERVIEW: David Guetta’s house music journey

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You’ve heard of him, your friends and colleagues have heard of him… your grandmother probably catches herself whistling the melody of “Titanium” as she waters her carnations. David Guetta has managed such an efficacious crossover from the house music niche into mainstream pop that if you have stepped outside your front door in the last ten years you will, like it or not, you’ve heard at least one of his songs.

Given the global reach of Guetta’s fame, you’d think he’d be jaded by the unremitting interviews, but when he answers my call from his London hotel room, his initial conversation centres on just how crisp the connection is. “You sound like you’re just so close to me, it’s perfect…!” The rumours about his infallible optimism appear to be well-founded.

Some things have to annoy him, I ask. Like fans singing to him in the street, or wannabes accosting him with USB sticks packed full of semi-awful mashups. That must happen a lot, right? “All. The. Time,” he says, pausing for effect. But when pressed about whether this irritates him, Guetta is almost taken aback at the implication. “Noooooo! Of course I love it,” he beams with that signature dose of enthusiasm.

“I remember giving my test pressings and vinyls to big DJs hoping that they would listen to them… and I remember the first time I met Pete Tong! It was in Miami during the annual music conference and I was shaking, you know? Just the fact that he shook my hand was a huge deal. I didn’t forget all of this.”

Before selling nine million albums and 30 million singles worldwide, a young David Guetta played in Paris’s smaller clubs. But this was in the mid-80s, and management didn’t want him to play this new sound from the US called “house” music, so he started to put on his own parties. It wasn’t until his 2009 album One Love that he managed to get radio play on a significant scale.

That long slog is something that keeps him grounded. “I used to play six nights a week in clubs and play seven to eight hours a day,” he says. “When I started, I just wanted to be a DJ in a cool club. I have a huge respect for resident DJs who are not necessarily producers but who are doing a great job. Those DJs… no one speaks about them but that’s where I come from. It wasn’t about money or fame or any of those things. Being able to play the music that I love and being paid enough to live out of it – that’s already a miracle. So of course to get it to the point that it is now is beyond any of my dreams.”

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He says he often pinches himself when he thinks of the monumental rise to fame that coincided with house music’s chart infiltration. He’s swapped the dancefloor for stadiums and mashups for his own number one hits. The 48-year-old is set to bounce Dubai’s Media City Amphitheatre into 2016, which will be an extra special gig for him being as he now calls Dubai home.

“I am a local! I just travel but yes I am a local! I’m a Dubai resident actually,” he laughs, noticeably delighted by the suggestion that he has put his roots down here. “I’m looking forward to it because I’ve seen the craziest videos. I’ve never been in Dubai for New Year’s Eve so I’m very excited to see this.”

New beginnings

David Guetta perhaps has good reason to celebrate the arrival of a new year. Despite his chipper persona, the passing of 2015 isn’t something he is likely to mourn. His latest album, Listen, is almost the soundtrack to a tumultuous period in his life, having recently divorced from wife and business partner Cathy Lobé. The pair built brand Guetta together, and became the White Isle’s most famous power couple (seriously, an area of Ibiza Airport is called “**** Me I’m Famous Lounge Club by Cathy & David Guetta”). The separation involves more than heartache, it’s the splitting of a business empire – one estimated to be worth around $30 million. “When I make an album it’s… It depends where I’m at myself,” he says, considering his words carefully. “I’m in a very happy place now but I had a difficult moment in my life, so I think some of the songs were a little more emotional on the album.”

He doesn’t seem afraid to admit that some of these tracks are quite personal, relating to a miserable situation. But, ever the optimist, he points out that he’s still the same Guetta that people know and love. “There are also tracks like ‘Hey Mama’ which are more typical David Guetta party records, you know? But yes there was a few emotional songs on this album and now my new single ‘Bang My Head’ with Fetty Wap is in the middle, which is where I stand.

“It has a bit of edginess and a bit of darkness to it, but at the same time has something happy and a celebration vibe, too, so this new single is really who I am, I’m very happy with it.”

As we chat about the new single, it seems to dawn on him that the next month is going to be huge, and the conversation slows as he pours over his schedule. “I haven’t really tested [‘Bang My Head’] properly yet, so the month of December for me is going to be very exciting,” he says. “That’s the biggest buzz I can get as a DJ! When I start to play a new song that I made, and I see the reaction growing. Because of course when I play ‘Titanium’, I already know what’s going to happen. It’s still fantastic and it makes me very happy, but it’s less of a tension.”

Big is beautiful

Guetta’s skill for writing mega-anthems can’t be denied. But it would be a cop out to talk music with him without addressing the critics. Despite being successful, humble and media savvy, his particular brand of fame has come with lashings of negativity both inside and outside the DJ community. So let’s take a minute to be blunt. Is it as easy as getting on stage and pressing play? After a long pause he responds, “If it was that easy, I guess there would be many, many of me.”

The seriousness of his delivery makes me wonder if I’ve overstepped the mark, but revealing his friendly and approachable nature, Guetta breaks the silence with an earnest laugh. “You know like 75 percent of the kids that are between 12 and 25… that’s what they want to do. And you see that there’s a few ones coming through from time to time, but not so many. And that’s because it looks easy but it’s not that easy!”

It’s a fair comment. We’ve often noticed that those keen to publically knock Guetta are so-called “underground” DJs who see themselves as too cool to ever want to embrace popularity. There’s no doubt that he puts serious work into his sets, and has proven himself as a producer worthy of recognition, but surely after 30 years in the industry he knows the formula for an ear worm.

“I don’t… I wish I had it I promise,” he replies. “I still work in a very experimental way. But I know two producers that do this like mathematics. They do this almost with a formula. I don’t know how to do that because I learned how to make music later. I started as a DJ and then I became a producer, so it’s more by instinct. It’s my formula not to have a formula.”

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This approach has worked extremely well for him, so it comes as little surprise that he’s pleased with where he’s reached in life. “I think I’ve done pretty good,” he says with conviction, telling us that there’s nothing that he would go back and change. Well, maybe one thing. “I always have this regret that I never worked with Michael Jackson. That would be my biggest dream, I guess.”

That aside, 2016 will be a year when some of his dreams do come true. When the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve, it will signify the end of a difficult time and the beginning of one of the most electrifying years in his career to date. He’s written the official song for UEFA Euro 2016, and he dials up the excitement as he tells us about it, almost having to hold himself back so that he doesn’t blurt out something that he shouldn’t.

“I have made a very big record for that… There’s big, big things coming and that one is really crazy.” Perhaps the craziest of all will be when he returns home to Paris, the same city that was unsure of his music at first, to play a gig that proves he has truly made it. “I’m going to do a concert on the Eiffel Tower!” he delights. “You know you were speaking of me pinching myself? Yeah, it’s really like that!”

David Guetta New Year’s Eve

Where: Dubai Media City Ampitheatre, Dubai Media City

When: Dec 31 – Jan 1
Start: 20:00

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