David Guetta is pretty much the model of success when it comes to electronic music infiltrating the pop world. Last year’s double-disc set Nothing But the Beat featured Guetta producing tracks with Nicki Minaj, Usher, Snoop Dogg, Taio Cruz, Akon, and will.i.am, and those tunes cut huge swathes through both the radio and club worlds, arguably making the Parisian house-head the world’s premier producer and DJ. So how does he keep grounded amidst it all? By starting a back-to-basics dance-tracks-only label called Jack Back (which now counts Nicky Romero, Daddy’s Groove, and Spencer & Hill among its growing roster).
We recently chatted with Guetta to get the lowdown on his Ibiza summer season, what’s in store for the new label, and why old-school house isn’t really that old.
How was the Ibiza summer for you, and how do you keep from burning out while you’re there?
[Laughs] It was really extraordinary, but actually, I live there during the summer, so it’s like my home. What happens is, when people go there for the first time, they go for one week and go out everyday non-stop because there’s always a party going on. I can’t do this anymore. I did it the first year, but I just live a normal life there now.
So what are the more relaxing things you do to retreat from the party life there?
Well, Formentera is very beautiful.
I’ve heard you say that Jack Back has no intention of selling records or making money, and I guess I want to know firstly, are you serious?
Of course! I don’t do this for the money. I have no commercial ambition with it. I do this for the love. Yes, I want DJs to buy the tracks on Beatport and play them out, but Jack Back is not about making radio hits. Because I play a lot of those beats that I produce or co-produce with friends or hear something that I really love and want to be able to put out. That’s what it’s about—sharing this music with other people, and also being able to show a different side of me. I’m also happy to be able to push people like Nicky Romero or Daddy’s Groove. This new record [“1234” by Spencer & Hill] is huge when I play it—it’s one of the biggest records that I’ve been playing this year. And it’s from Spencer & Hill, the guys that are making some of the best synthesizers and sound banks in the world—Vengeance Sound. It’s exciting.
How did you find Spencer & Hill?
I think they found me. They just sent me their record and I really, really loved it. The reaction was so insane, so I decided to release it on Beatport.
Are you afraid that anyone will confuse it with Laidback Luke’s “1234“?
The thing is, this track is called “Uno Dos Tres Cuatro.”
I guess that’s a fair enough distinction. It seems pretty clear that starting Jack Back is a return to your DJ roots, and I wonder, what other kinds of small projects are you planning with this—I’m not gonna call it a new direction exactly, but what is the next plan?
Well, it’s not a new direction because a lot of people, when they hear me play, they’re surprised. I’ve always played a combination of electronic beats and my big records. And even my big records I play in a way that’s not like what you hear on the radio—it’s different. So it’s a way to show maybe something they didn’t know about me. And my album Nothing But the Beat was a double album—one was all electronic, and one was only songs. I’ve always had two sides, and to be honest, I don’t even believe there’s two sides, because for me, there’s only two types of music: good music and bad music. I don’t really make a difference between the emotion that I can have when I make a song or when I make a club beat.
So in terms of Jack Back, are there other small projects on the horizon?
Yes, actually, I’m going to be in the studio with Nicky Romero for four days, so I’m sure a lot is going to come out of that.
With wanting to keep a foot in the DJ world, but having such huge success in the pop world, too, do you ever feel like you struggle with that?
Well, I don’t feel like I’m struggling. My DJ shows are some of the biggest of any DJ in the world—I wouldn’t call this a struggle.
No, I mean more in relation to the old-school guys—amongst other DJs do you ever feel like you get any pressure to push back from the pop world, and sort of remain more in the DJ world?
I don’t see any opposition between the pop world and the DJ world, and not only that—it’s probably the opposite. Every DJ, including old-school DJs, as you call them—people that created house music—a lot of them come to see me and thank me for opening the doors, and I think that is making life easier for all the DJs, including underground DJs, so I never really felt that kind of reaction. When I feel something like that, it’s never from professional DJs; it’s from kids that are not actually from the scene, who are just starting to buy records.
With your involvement in French house over the years, and how it remains a big influence on the music you make now, I wonder, do you have any interest in, say, assembling a compilation of the classic tracks to further introduce the sound to new ears?
To be honest, I’ve always looked toward the future. So for me to put together a compilation of old French house, it would be almost crazy because it’s not even old [laughs]. I was a DJ before house music existed. I was playing funk, new wave, reggae—there was no such thing as house music. So if I was gonna do a compilation one day, it would maybe be of stuff from that moment—when I was playing soul, etc. For me, it’s more exciting to release records from Nicky Romero than stuff that’s been released already.
You played Electric Zoo recently in New York and I was wondering, how you do feel the vibe differs from big festivals in the US these days to the ones in Europe?
Things are changing a lot in the US. You know, a lot of the festivals, they feel a little bit like old UK raves, which is kind of fun—people dressing up and using DayGlo and stuff. And the really banging sound, you know—the harder stuff. But it’s fun to me; it’s not a problem at all. I’m just saying it’s a little bit like what we had in the ’90s. It’s changing right now, but in America, when you do something, you do it big. So it takes you a while to get there and embrace the culture, but when you do, you do it big, big, big. It’s wonderful. But it’s funny—that music was born in the US, and I can remember playing the first house music records in ’88. I started one of the first house music parties in Paris, actually in France, and I would play all these records coming from the US, and some coming from England, but house music and techno was American music. It stayed really, really underground in the US, and then it evolved into something more mainstream in Europe. And now it’s coming together and it’s incredible.