Jérôme Pacman is often overlooked when discussing the history of French electronic music, but keeping a low profile seems to suit him. A pivotal figure in the Parisian scene during the early nineties, he was, and continues to be an extremely well-respected DJ and artist, someone who is lauded and admired by his peers as an architect and pillar of the Gallic house music underground. He recently released a well-received EP on LAATE Records and is as passionate as ever about what he does, so I was very happy when he agreed to answer a few questions for me.
It was a period of evolution made up of fully lived moments. I was involved from the start of the process...I lived in Paris during the mid-nineties and probably saw you play a few times. What was this period like for you?
It was a period of evolution made up of fully lived moments. I was involved from the start of the process. There was a lot of innocence, happiness & vitality. People were full of imagination and fantasy. It was also a period lived by everybody at the same time, because there was no past or history. I started to play in “rave parties” in France, and then I had the opportunity to gradually play in many places in Europe. It developed naturally; I didn’t have a goal except living in the present, which consisted of being at parties as much as possible, listening to music, digging for records and playing at the weekend.
Your DJ name is a throwback to the early eighties. The obvious question is did you get it because you were good at a particular video game?
Actually, it was a friend of mine who named me Pacman. At first, my DJ name was simply Jérôme, but one day, a promoter asked me to find something more original, he asked me that few hours before he had to print the flyer for the party. I had to react quickly, so I thought about the alias that my friend used to describe me. Pacman was a reference to my way of moving when I was dancing to Acid House.
Pacman was a reference to my way of moving when I was dancing to Acid House...You had a very quiet period up until between 2015, when you released on La Vie En Rose and the other on Laate Records. Why did you take a step back from production and how active were you DJing during this time?
I have never been a prolific producer, preferring to take breaks during my release schedule, sometimes for a few years. I have always been a DJ though, and at this time, I felt the sound and music developing in a new way, in a new fashion. There were more and more abstract tracks which were very accessible. It was interesting, so it was a period where I was more in the listening process than in the producing process. I took a step back like you said. I was not satisfied with my tracks in the studio.
it was really important for me to learn a lot about the sound than release records because I had to...So I worked, I started to investigate the textures and the colours in more depth. And little by little, I learned and understood what is meant by acoustic, sound treatment, dynamics, etc.; in other words what you essentially need to pretend to be a sound engineer or sound designer.
At this point, it was really important for me to learn a lot about the sound than release records because I had to.
Before that time, I was mainly interested in digging for records, set building, partying and going out.
Do you remember why you fell in love with electronic music? What first turned you on to house and techno, and what were you listening to before?
I grew up with a passion for music and I felt in love with electronic music when I was a teenager in the eighties, hypnotized by what we called Electro-funk: the productions of Arthur Baker, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, for example. Then a few years later it was the beginning of House music, something I had come across almost by chance during holidays in Ibiza. I quickly made the transition from Zulu Nation to House Nation. It sounded to me like it was a continuation of the message.
There are records which would never have been heard in the correct way, if they hadn’t been selected by the right person...Is DJing an art, and how do you define it?
It’s a matter of judgement, so for me, a DJ become artistic when he creates an environment, a universe by telling a story through the records he plays, he uses, he grabs, in a way. It is often said DJs only play other people’s records, but there are records which would never have been heard in the correct way, if they hadn’t been selected by the right person.
The attraction of playing vinyl-only sets is, once again, enjoying a renaissance. What’s your medium of choice when DJing, and does it really matter?
I prefer to play vinyl because it’s cool. There is not this need to be focused for every two minutes by scrolling words across a screen. With vinyl, just the colour of a label, a particular sleeve, can give the information that you want without needing a mental process. There is also the physical contact. It’s more instinctive, if that makes sense. There is also friendliness and a community around the vinyl market.
Vinyl does not assail the ears. Its sound is well seated and there is a better signal for mixing in my opinion.About the sound, vinyl does not assail the ears. Its sound is well seated and there is a better signal for mixing in my opinion. I play also with USB keys and I manage both formats easily. On some tracks it’s even better in digital, especially those which are more in your face, but after 5 or 6 hours of digital music at a party, I often start to feel sterile and tired. Maybe in a few years it might be different, I don’t know.
Anyway, it’s a well-known debate, I remember when I did my first gig outside of Paris in 1991, and the cab driver was surprised and exclaimed “Oh, vinyl still exists?”
Part of the press release for your “Wisdom’ EP refers to you as”…the most respected French DJ, truly (sic) legend and a model for a whole generation.” What’s your take on these comments?
I think they say that in reference to my seniority, and the fact that I’m always here doing and sharing my thing with passion without taking shortcuts or profits from the situation, or trying to be like someone else. I’m the guy who came from the raves parties and from the after-hours also. At least, it’s my interpretation. These are the kind of words usually attributed to Laurent Garnier, so I’m happy.
I’m always here doing and sharing my thing with passion without taking shortcuts or profits from the situation...Do you have any regrets regarding your career? Is there anything you’d change with hindsight?
Maybe I should have declined some gigs, particularly in Germany, in the 90s. Having played at Mayday, I found myself on large events which were resolutely Techno & Hardcore. I had to constantly adjust myself to the mood of the party. If I was playing something less Techno or slower, I was sure to empty the dance floor or at least promote a static atmosphere. It was not easy at the time.
So, in these kinds of party I was more in representation than in creation, even if sometimes people had their hands in the air. I don’t think it provided anything deep or good for anybody or myself. That was boring and stressful, and I also used to drink too much…
Yes, things are going well in France. The scene is totally involved in all parts...What’s your view on the French scene now? It seems to be going through quite a fertile period? Is it too centralised in Paris?
Yes, things are going well in France. The scene is totally involved in all parts; promoters, artists, public & community. There have always been fertile periods for creative changes as well as quiet moments, but this time I think that we are not only in a stage of life or in a fashion time but really into something cultural with, I hope, a strong foundation.
There are always up and downs that can occur but it looks tough & artistically genuine. Paris is the heart of the process but there are also a lot of artists, promoters & crews who make things happen all over France with integrity and at their own pace.
You used to maintain quite a good website, with charts, mixes and photos. How important is an online presence, and do you have any plans to revive the site?
:-) I had this website put together by friends that I met at the first Parisian parties. They became web masters & web designers, and they are at the head of a good business now. At the time, It seemed pretty obvious to me to be online because when I was younger it was difficult to get information about what was happening in the electronic music scene. It was also an opportunity to share my profile and music with the help of really good designers who knew me as well as I knew them.
It’s important to be present, but permanent auto promotion looks more like the symptom of a problem in my view...Now with Facebook and all the music platforms you can find directly what you want anytime and anywhere, so the website is on stand by for now. Today, I don’t think much of being a constant presence on the internet. It’s important to be present, but permanent auto promotion looks more like the symptom of a problem in my view.
What do you have planned for the future? Will we see any more releases from you in 2016, and what about gigs? Are there any plans to play anywhere this year that you haven’t before?
I don’t have long term projects; what I can say is that I will release more in the future. I like to be in the studio 80% of my time, I feel myself fully in touch with today’s trends. I’m also always surprised by the quality of the messages delivered by some artists. It’s exciting. About my gigs, I would like to go abroad more frequently of course; I don’t really have any preferences, where people would like to enjoy and trip on my music, would be fine.
When you first started out DJing, which five releases/tracks stayed the longest in your sets?
Obviously, it’s not easy to pick only 5, but off the top of my head I would say: