After years putting out high quality EPs on many top labels, but most often on his own self titled imprint, Djebali now steps up with a fantastic long player, ‘5’.
The album covers a whole range of deep house styles that are variously warm and cuddly, stripped back and absorbing or jazzed up and colourful. At the same time, he continues to lay down dj sets which are dynamic and well informed.
Here we speak to him about all of this and more in a revealing interview with one of today’s foremost house artists.
Ibiza Voice: How was Xmas and New Year for you? Did you get what you wanted?
Hi! Xmas was a little bit hard to be honest because I was far away from my family and also had a little family problem that forced me to shoot back to France from Australia (where I played for SASH) in a hurry. Fortunately, the gigs were amazing! And New Years Day I played for Fuse at Village Underground in London, with Enzo Siragusa and Maayan Nidam so no need to explain how great it was. A wonderful way to start 2017.
IV: Tell us about your debut album - did you enjoy writing it? How do you feel about it now you look back?
I really loved writing it. On top of that, the room I use for the studio was completely empty before I started the album - so I started the whole process by building up the entire studio and rewiring everything from scratch. It took me literally a whole month.
But all that groundwork got me excited to start working on the album – it was like preparing a nursery for your newborn baby! To be honest, it was also stressful though, and all the way through the five months I gave myself to work on it, I was sure I wouldn’t get it done in time. This was due to the way I worked on every track in unison (to keep a common vibe and to be in total control of my story). The thing is, I didn’t really know how ready all the tracks were until I exported everything to listen it in one go… at the end of the day though, everything was cool!
I don’t really look back at it now - it’s in the hands of the listeners and the dancers now. I am proud to have done my first album and I am now looking forward to other projects.
IV: How different is writing a 12” vs an LP? Are they comparable or not?
When I did EPs, I was just joining a few tracks I did together – grouping them up. It’s definitely different, I mean it can be a different process if you make it that way, like I did. I mean, you can bunch up a load of tracks together for an LP as well if you want, but I didn’t want a bunch of tracks without a story or common theme. That’s why, as I said, I worked on all the tracks together, to keep them moving in the same direction, even if the tracks are all different.
It was important to me to have a sense of evolution on the album, and a consistent sound as well. I wanted my album listened to straight, on a long ride or at home and not just random tracks in the club. I guess when an album project comes to you, you want to go much deeper into the finer points of the music – this definitely happened with me.
IV: What is your studio work process like - where do you start on a track, how do you write music?
It depends to be honest. Most of the time, I start with a simple rhythm: kick/clap/ and bass but I can sometimes start with a sample I really like and build everything around that. As I built up my own studio from zero, I did everything to be able to work quickly and easily.
All my machines - drum machines, MPC, TR909, SH101, Moog Voyager - are plugged directly into my Amek mixer, and from there, every treatment (reverb, FX, dynamics) are accessible for each sound, through a Bantam Patchbay. It allows me to start music as soon as I get into the studio, my workflow is simple, just grooving and having some fun, searching for sounds on my synths. At one point, a little voice tells me, “That’s the one!” and I build everything around that. I am pretty slow with making tracks, I need to listen to the loop I make for hours to be sure it’s the one and every element means something to the loop.
Then comes the less exciting part - the edit! And I have to admit; it takes a long long time for me to build up a coherent edit.
IV: What else do you listen to away from house music – does it inform the house you make?
Everything I listen to gives me creativity - from every style. I used to listen to a French station called Radio Nova, which plays all different types of music, but with that common thing: the soul! I listen to a lot of old school French hip-hop and I am also a big fan of funk. One of my brother’s used to travel to Japan a lot and he brought back some rare vinyl with extended versions of funk songs that were only released there - we were recording those edits on to audio tape all the time.
IV: You use lots of hardware - can you talk us through some of the key bits you use in the studio and why you love them?
My MPC3K is my main thing in the studio! I love it, you truly can do everything with it - there are not a lot of parameters but it forces you to focus on the basics, the attack/decay release of the sound, a powerful filter and the pitch. On top, I control all my synths with my MPC - my SH101, my SH09, the Juno60. I love messing around and finding melodies with the MPC pads.
I also use the TR909 synchronised with my MPC, to add a clap, hi hat or snare. You can’t go wrong with this. A highlight of my studio is also my Lexicon PCM60 - it gives this beautiful reverb I am always searching for on my drums. Not too much but huge! You can have a quick look at my studio in the interview I did for Attack Magazine where I talk about some of my lovely machines.
IV: Why did you decide to set up your own label? What are the pros and cons?
At the beginning, it was more of a personal project than a label – I just wanted to release my own music via a series of tracks. Back to 2010, I sent some tracks to labels I loved, sometimes run by friends of mine. I remember one label telling me to not send to other labels because they wanted the track.
After two months, they finally changed their mind and I wondered if I should waste my time again sending the track to other labels and waiting for a slot to release (on vinyl this could have been at least eight months). So in 2011 I decided to release my music on my own platform, and be in total control of the release dates: freshly made, freshly served!
The goal wasn’t to add another label to the landscape - I was surrounded by good friends who had (and still have) really good labels. I just wanted a platform to release my stuff, that’s why it was called (djebali). I expanded it naturally to a series of remixes followed by (djebali) ‘present’ to release newcomers and connect the new artists with one another, and with the scene. The advantage is that you control everything: release date, artwork. You are your own “boss”, your own artistic director. Like this, you can release something that is totally yours and showcase your own vision of music. The disadvantage is that you’re all alone. You don’t have any crew, nor is it a platform that’s already known. You’re all by yourself, but you get there in the end.
IV: Do you have any goals, targets, and new resolutions for 2017?
I am gigging quite a lot with the ‘5’ album tour, I’ve been on the road since October, so I don’t have a lot of time at the moment but I definitely want to lock myself up in the studio again real soon as I love it. For the moment, I am focusing on DJ work and digging for new and old music, the fixation! And everything inspires me a lot and brings me new ideas. I have so much still to say with my music.
IV: What have you learnt in your career since you first broke through - what lessons have been important?
What I have learned is to trust yourself - a lot of people will give you their opinion about your music and that’s really interesting but you have to think that if it feels right for you, then it’s the way you have to do it.
About productions, if I have to give some advice, it’s to release the stuff you do. A lot of talented producers don’t release their stuff because they think they’re not ready or they can do better.
Listen, you always can do better and a track is never finished unless you decide it. Releasing music gives you the ability to critique your stuff and, in my opinion, helps you to mature your production skills. You may look back and hate it, but it marks a precise point in time. I think it’s really important.
IV: What is the Paris scene like right now? What is French house do you think? Does it have its own flavour?
French house doesn’t really exist anymore I think. Everybody, in France or wherever, can do what they want music-wise and I don’t think there is a special type of sound, for example, in Paris. A lot of DJs and crews rep different things and that’s why it’s really interesting, sharing a point of view but having a different perspective. Different music for an eclectic public.
’5’ is available to purchase now
Buy digital here: http://snip.ftpromo.net/djebali5itunes
Buy vinyl here : http://www.decks.de/t/djebali-5/c8d-zc