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D'Julz on 20 years of Bass Culture

The Parisian veteran reflects on his Bass Culture journey and why Circoloco is one of the best parties on the planet.

Detroit-born techno veteran Derrick May made his Music On debut at Amnesia at the end of July. packed into a fifteen-minute portion of his blistering set sat two records from revered Parisian DJ and producer D'Julz.

May's selection instantly registered with me, as earlier in the season I'd met D'Julz at Passion Café in Marina Ibiza - one of his favourite breakfast spots on the island – with him being over for his first Circoloco date of 2017. Five days later, May would be joining the industrious label chief and club night founder in Paris to bolster the 20th-anniversary celebrations of D'Julz's Rex Club residency, Bass Culture. Anyone who knows D'Julz on either a personal level or as an inquisitive fan, will appreciate that that's a huge career defining moment as May is credited as one of his inspirations.

Bass Culture's two-decade strong progression is a staggering feat and one that would be torn into during our discussion. Before we got reflective on his internationally recognised residency, as someone who's extoled as a legend of Paris' underground - with him having a perpetual presence in his birth city for over twenty years – I was keen to know what it meant to him to be a Parisian.

Parisians have a reputation for not being very nice,” he candidly quipped before light-heartedly adding: “A lot of my foreign friends say ´oh we love Paris so much; too bad it's full of Parisians.' Then they're like, ‘you're not a typical Parisian.' But I feel very much Parisian. I was born in Paris and I love the city. I totally understand why it can be tough, and people can be a bit brutal. It's quite a stressful city, the French can be a bit grumpy and all of that together makes it what it is. After staying for a while, you normally see the good side of it, but the first impression isn't always good.”

Some of the opinions in there echoed what he'd said in the documentary The Underground Sound of Paris. Released by DJ Sounds in August last year, it dug into the French capital's resurging electronic music scene and undoubtedly fulfilled a role in getting clubbing tourists over to Paris. In the documentary, D'Julz – alongside fellow local luminaries Laurent Garnier, DJ Deep and François X – began with offering an insight into their experiences of the early ‘90s rave scene, which is where our discussion quickly turned as this was when he got his start.

Local DJs Laurent Garnier, Jérôme Pacman and Guillaume La Tortue got him hooked on the restless beat, and he began carving his name as a DJ in 1992. “Paris was on the music map later than other European cities,” he recounted. Like with the UK, France's free party scene thrived. “It was very small and underground. It wasn't like the big boom in the UK with the Second Summer Of Love and then suddenly 400 capacity clubs. We never had that scale. It was smaller, but it was intense.”

His attentions would soon be diverted from Paris' rave movement and rooted in a city where the dance club scene was bubbling with creativity – New York. Finishing his studies in communication and advertising, he'd find himself thrust into New York's dynamic nightlife scene as he took on a one-year internship. Fortunate to have landed in '93 – the year before Rudy Giuliani would become mayor and annihilate the city's nightlife – he honed his craft as a DJ with gigs quickly coming his way at N.A.S.A (hailed as the ‘90s version of Studio 54), Tunnel and Limelight, and he gained a greater understanding of the inner workings of a dance floor with visits to iconic haunts like The Sound Factory, Shelter and Save The Robots.

With no green card, once those 12 months were dusted he was back on French soil stimulated and stirred by New York's influence. In the time we're living in now, aspiring DJs know that with three decades of dance music behind us and it continuing to grow as a global phenomenon, it's a career choice that could potentially have your back until retirement. The ‘90s, by comparison, were a different time entirely with DJs having parallel careers, and in the case of D'Julz it was in advertising.

For two years he was grafting for an advertising company as a copywriter during the week and spinning records at the weekend with a monthly residency at Rex Club. “At one point I had to make a choice,” he explained before adding that making DJing his full time gig in 1998 was an easy decision. “I felt like I was missing opportunities in both areas and the advertising world was in crisis. I was seeing a lot of good companies, and they would see my portfolio but couldn't do anything. At the same time, I had gigs that I had to turn down because I was working during the week.”

Added to that decision was his awareness that being a dexterous mixer and having a deft hand as a producer would propel him to the next level. “To start producing I needed spare time during the week, and for the first time I felt the need to produce because I had ideas.”

While some producers in recent years are somewhat pressurised to rapidly bang out top-notch records, D'Julz had the advantage of cultivating his craft at his own pace. “I took my time, it was a slow process. Nothing like now, when you have to be a super good DJ and producer almost overnight. I had 10 years to refine DJing and producing. With the first tracks I'd done, I was working with a friend who was an engineer, so I got to observe how he worked. After five or six years I was doing it alone.”

A third facet of his career that he'd cultivate at his own pace is Bass Culture - the residency he kicked off in 1997 to push against the excess of French touch heard in Parisian clubs. Occupying Rex Club - one of the city's longest-standing haunts for uncompromising house and techno - he was dealt a valuable card.

From day dot, he was given the freedom and trust to push forward the deeper, darker side of dance music. For it to have been progressing for two decades and dominating the underground scene, the relationship works on a two-way stream, especially with the promotional side being the responsibility of the club and the event.

It's always been really organised. I never wanted to be a full-time promoter. It's a completely different job and I'm definitely not made for it; I stress too much. If I'm playing and worried because it's a bit slow, I would think that I'm going to lose money and I'd hate that. What we agreed on from the start, and which could have changed later but decided not to, was that I would be the resident DJ and art director. I could have had a deal that gave me a percentage of the night, which sometimes would have been more interesting for me money wise, but I don't want to stress with that. That's one of the reasons I go there with a very light feeling. It's all about bringing in the people I want there and hoping that it's going to be a good crowd and a busy night.”

D'Julz possesses a prowess for recognising talent and understanding that their sound is one that would be received well by Bass Culture's audience. Within the first decade, you had Josh Wink, Terry Francis and Doc Martin among the first international guests. In the years that followed, he'd be credited for being one of the earliest promoters to bring Luciano, Mathew Jonson, Cassy, Raresh and Loco Dice to France before they became big names in the industry. “I'm very picky with my guests, especially when I invite someone who's not already known. I'd either have seen them play or played with them, and if I really loved it or was blown away, my thinking is that they'll blow everyone away in Rex. The guys that I booked brought something fresh, and it was great to see how quickly they became huge."

Those aforementioned were headhunted by D'Julz at a time when the internet's grip hadn't tightened to the extent at which we can have discographies and live sets at our fingertips in seconds. “It's so easy to hear about new guys without even having to physically go to see them. Before then, I was already travelling around the world and that's how I'd meet DJs because I'd share the decks with them. You had to meet these guys in person, and now all you have to do is listen to the buzz or check out some podcasts.”

Admitting that it's now harder to bring something fresh because he's competing with everybody, the last example he could give of hunting a DJ was six years ago with Romanian DJ Praslea. “I played with him at FUSE in London. He blew me away. I was impressed by his style so I invited him to play with Bass Culture two months later and it was his first time playing in France. That's how I like to do it – organically.”

Referring back to the DJ Sounds documentary - which had D'Julz mentioning the lull in Paris' underground scene a decade ago - I'd wondered whether Rex Club had been impacted. “The club's been through so many phases, but it's been steady and everything changed around it. It's one of those rare clubs that remain the same, like Sub Club in Glasgow. There was a point when techno and all the big clubs closed down, and Rex Club with a few others were the only ones playing this music. It wasn't trendy, but it was all about the music, and five years ago all of a sudden techno and house boomed again and it was bigger than it's ever been before.”

For D'Julz, crowds in Paris are some of the best in the world right now, which makes it a particularly assuring time to be throwing down 20 years of Bass Culture parties. As it's the longest standing residency in the club's history, he's going all in. At the end of July, he did an all night long special set - one which he hadn't done for some time - and guests have included Dyed Soundorom, Seth Troxler in a special back to back and as already mentioned, Derrick May. He's giving us six parties in total, with Lil Louis – another of his reputable inspirations – billed for the filth session on Saturday 9 September, and the sixth still to be announced.

The original idea with this anniversary was to bring in people who'd never been before or hadn't been for a while. Seth had played last year and so we decided to do it differently with the back to back – his idea because he wanted to come back. With Derrick May and Lil Louis, these guys are some of my heroes. It's also about what I've done in the past 20 years, and inviting some of the few guys who have a role in my DJ history. Lil Louis and Derrick May have played at Rex Club but never for Bass Culture, so I have the dream line-up from when I started to now, and I can start fresh next year.”

From one seminal residency to the next, he's been a part of Circoloco's raucous rampage for the last six years and for him, it's all about the Terrace. “When I discovered Circoloco this was the only room. It has a special energy. I love playing in the Main Room too because I can play darker stuff in there, and the Garden feels like a festival stage. But if you ask me where I prefer to play, it's on the Terrace.”

Circoloco at DC10 is also globally renowned, with a captivating party spirit that's long been fuelled simply by the need to come together and share a deep love for music. Run by Italian promoters Andrea and Antonio since 1999, in leading the madness they pride themselves on it operating very much like a family – a point that D'Julz agrees with. “It's very special which is why this place is unique. Now it's a big brand, but you forget about this. DC10 is very different from other big clubs where you feel like you're a little dot in their strategy. It's rare to find clubs that are on that scale but still manage to keep this genuine feeling that they had at the start. You have to look more maybe to find it, but you still feel it.”

Every single week the line-ups are not only superb but eclectic. “There's a different style for everybody,” he enthused before weighing in on the challenges found with being on the bill with such a high pedigree of guests and residents. “Sometimes I play after a techno artist or someone playing more trance, and you only have an hour and a half to do your thing, but this makes you grow as a DJ. Maybe not everyone is going to get it, but I know there are people who follow me and wait for me because my style is what they want to hear.”

Eager clubbers in pursuit of the Parisian's sound will find exactly that with his recently released compilation, The Sound Of Bass Culture. Released on his imprint, which rolls under the same name as his Rex Club residency, listeners are launched into a recorded mix of the label's back catalogue with some of its biggest releases and classic reissues. “It's very much focussed on that timeless aspect, so there are tracks originally from 1997 or 2003, so it's really about pushing this feeling of longevity, regardless of trends.”

Starting off deep with tracks from himself, Cassy, Mark Ambrose and Chris Simmonds, it moves into techier realms to give you an ample feel for what he stands for musically. “It's a good introduction to people that don't know the label or the night. If people want to know the genre, this is the sound of Bass Culture; this is the score that would go with the night.”

You can catch D'Julz playing at Circoloco on Monday 21 August and Monday 2 October, with a date at Guy Gerber's RUMORS residency squeezed in between on Sunday 3 September.

Buy your copy of The Sound Of Bass Culture here.

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