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David Guetta talks vinyl vs. digital, '90s Ibiza and booking Daft Punk's first island gig

For the last two decades, DJ, producer and showman David Guetta has been one of the biggest names in dance music. Whether you’re an EDM devotee or an underground raver there’s little doubt you have heard of the ubiquitous Frenchman, who’s been holding his Ushuaia residency for the last six years on the island. DJ Mag Ibiza meets him poolside at Pacha’s five-star Destino Resort on a sunny Thursday evening, to pull back the curtain on one of the world’s most successful superstar DJs…

“Ham, Iberico ham. I can’t get enough of it and I could eat it forever, it’s my favourite food,” David Guetta announces before flashing a cheeky grin. DJ Mag Ibiza is casually chatting with the ultra-famous French DJ, as we lounge atop a rocky cliff face in Destino Resort’s most expensive suite. 

As one of the world’s highest earning acts, you might expect Guetta to be quaffing champagne and caviar rather than chowing down on a giant plate of cured meat, but the superstar selector is far more down to earth than his status might suggest. First coming to Ibiza from Paris in the mid-’90s, his eyes light up when we ask him to recall some of his fondest early memories from the island. “I used to hand out flyers for a lot of parties myself… because I was broke,” he explains, matter-of-factly. 

Before long, Guetta’s Pacha-based party F*CK ME I’M FAMOUS would grow to become one of the island’s most glamorous and iconic — despite moving from a weekly rave-up to sporadic pop-up in the last few years — with Guetta now focusing his attention on his Ushuaia residency, BIG. It’s an apt name for a party that seeks to combine high-spec, big budget production with Ushuaia’s EDM-leaning clientele, with Guetta describing BIG as more of a “David Guetta concert than an actual club-night”. 

When DJ Mag Ibiza meets him he’s gearing up to headline the main stage at Belgian mega-fest Tomorrowland, though he seems completely unphased at the prospect of playing in front of 25,000 screaming ravers. With this in mind, DJ Mag Ibiza sits down with David Guetta to talk the rise of the underground, the EDM phenomenon and Daft Punk’s first ever gig in Ibiza...

Tell us one of your earliest memories of Ibiza…
“I remember being on the Terrace at Space Ibiza and David Morales was playing. I remember he was playing ‘Space Cowboy’ by Jamiroquai at the time (laughs). This is probably one of the first times — maybe not the first exactly. I just thought Ibiza was completely crazy, of course. I was from Paris and the best thing I knew from summertime was Saint-Tropez. It was always very bourgeois in Saint-Tropez and Ibiza was nothing like that at all. I think I was really surprised about how international it was on the island as well. 

“In 1996, so a very long time ago, the owner of Space Ibiza, Pepe, came to one of my shows in Paris and he really loved it, so he invited me to do a set on the island. I was already coming to the island at that time and I knew the guys at Pacha. So I said to Pacha that I was playing Space and, of course, they booked me straight away (laughs). I think I did Amnesia that round as well — all three, the superclubs. I wasn’t that big then and I remember I was so upset because when I played Space it was really empty. There was a really cool crowd there actually — because I knew so many people from going out, I was a real clubber back then — so everyone was really cool, and super-beautiful, and super-edgy and just super, super, super! But there wasn’t a lot of them and it was raining that day — I’ll never forget it. And Pepe was just so nice to me, he said: ‘David, don’t worry, the party is amazing, don’t worry, just dance with us! Please come back next year again’. And I did. It was strange because at the time it was also shameful to be a French DJ…”

Why the stigma against French DJs?
“Because everyone was either German or British. If you were German then you were into trance, and of course if you’d come from America then you were into house. Myself being into house and also being French — it somehow didn’t really make sense, at the time. So in 1996 I played for Manumission because their theme was they’d cover a different country of the world every week and I did the French night. Then in 1997, I was booking Daft Punk back at my club in Paris…”

Daft Punk before they wore the masks, right?
“(Laughs) yes, before the masks! And shortly after they made that record called ‘Around The World’, which was their first really big, more commercial hit. So I said, ‘I want to do this French party but I want to bring these guys called Daft Punk with me — I swear this is a revolution!’ and the people from Privilege were like ‘Yeah, okay?’ After they agreed I also told them I need the full club to be ready, because obviously you can make Privilege smaller or bigger, and no one believed me! 

“When I got to the island I created a few promotional teams, because people didn’t know the name Daft Punk but they knew ‘Around The World’. I gave the teams a ghetto-blaster each — I was also giving out flyers myself at the time — and we went to the beach, and the port, and the town and played ‘Around The World’. The party was a massive success but the problem was Privilege didn’t believe me so there was only two cashiers, one half of the club was open and 10,000 people turned up (laughs). So everyone was calling their friends, family, relatives to come and work at the club, plus we had to open the whole club and run the night with the set from Manumission. And after that night, no one joked about French DJs anymore!”

So from there, how did you end up at Pacha with your F*CK ME I’M FAMOUS night?
“I think I settled on Pacha because it was a little more glamorous, it always had more of a sexy vibe. At the time when we started, I was still only playing house music and there was no better fit for that sound than Pacha. I loved it there…” 

Many people probably don’t realise you started out strictly on vinyl playing house records — what’s your thoughts on vinyl purists?
“It’s funny because I feel like some members of the DJ community are always saying, ‘Oh vinyl, it was so much better, the old days blah blah’. Oh my God, I hated it! I’m so relieved I don’t have to carry those records around anymore! Why would you regret having to give that up? I can’t even really understand the concept of people still doing vinyl. Firstly, I had the worst back pain when I was young because I didn’t have money for a cab and I used to have to carry this huge bag on the subway in Paris — it was horrible. Secondly, when we used to do edits we’d have to do them on special vinyl called acetates — which was extremely expensive — and worst of all, you could only play the track about 30 times. These days I don’t play any straight-up tracks, everything is a remix or a re-edit or something I’ve made special for myself and my sets. I could never do that stuff if I was playing vinyl.”

Is it essential for a DJ to make their own edits?
“What makes DJing interesting today is the accessibility. By that I mean that when I started it was so hard to get certain vinyl, you had to be part of a certain circle, or have certain friends. Only the best DJs could get their hands on the best vinyl, and yes, that meant each DJ had a very exclusive type of sound, and this is what would make you famous. Today the only way to create an exclusive experience for the crowd, to create something different and special, to be able to stand out is to create your own edits. You cannot do this if you’re playing vinyl, so I have absolutely no regrets about switching to digital!”

How has Ibiza changed in the last two decades?
“Wow, it’s been a huge change. What’s funny is that every year I come to the island, everyone says ‘Oh it’s the last year, Ibiza over!’ — literally every year. The only thing I see is that there’s just more and more people coming year on year. For example, I used to start Ushuaia in mid-July and now I’m starting June, and June looks like August! The only thing that concerns me slightly is that every style of music is still represented on the island — this is the magic of Ibiza. 

“In fact, I think there’s probably more underground parties now than there was ever before. Way more parties than with DJs like me, who are way more crossover. And because of that it probably makes those underground parties more commercial — not because of the music they’re playing — but because of its popularity. To me, that kind of thing has never been a problem, I think if you’re passionate about music, you should want to share it with as many people as possible. I feel like it’s a very natural process. But maybe some people would go to a very underground party now in Ibiza and now there’s people spending money in the VIP and they think that sucks — they think the party isn’t real anymore.”

 

Do you think Ibiza has become too VIP-focused?
“Ibiza has definitely become a little more high-end in recent years and I think that comes with some great aspects. For example, the services are way better because there’s more hotels, the infrastructure is so much better — but the prices are scary. I’ve seen the same thing in Saint-Tropez, and remember that was one of the first places they started really playing house music because of this amazing, famous gay-friendly club. 

“They started playing house in like 1988 and there was a very strong gay scene there with a lot young cool people coming there to party — alongside the billionaires, of course. At some point the prices got so high that the young people couldn’t afford to go anymore, so what you’re left with is just a bunch of rich people showing off. Then it becomes not very cool anymore. You don’t have to be on the best table in the Pacha VIP to still have an amazing time. 

“I don’t want to play for just people in the VIP — the young people on the dancefloor are the energy of the club, otherwise it would just be incredibly boring. I don’t want that to happen here — it would be terrible if the prices were so high that normal people could no longer afford to come. This is the only worry I have about Ibiza.”

How does your show BIG differ from F*CK ME I’M FAMOUS?
“Oh, it’s a completely different experience. Pacha to me is a real old school club, I couldn’t play the type of music I play at Pacha at Ushuaia, or anywhere else for that matter, because I’m only ever doing a huge show. Pacha is smaller, more intimate, it’s more sexy, and I can play deeper and darker — that’s really fun for me because I don’t get to do that very often anymore. I have people with me in the booth, I can really see the people on the dancefloor, it’s a real club. 

“Ushuaia, on the other hand, represents what modern DJ performance is — there’s a massive stage, crazy production, it’s absolutely huge in every way. Don’t get me wrong, I love that too, but it’s much more like a David Guetta concert or a festival stage than a club set — that’s why it’s called BIG. It’s 10,000 people going crazy and it’s a unique experience. Well, I love that it’s so early (laughs). I mean, not everyone wants to go to a club and wait until 4am for the main DJ to come on. Even better, I get to see all my friends after the show and we eat together — it’s a family vibe.” 

Let’s talk about music-making — do you get a special type of creative energy from Ibiza?
“Yes, absolutely! I have a studio home and this is all I do all day. I came in the winter and it’s so amazing creatively. I do a writing camp on the island every year and everyone meets here. I get a chef and we all gather in my house — when I say we, I mean songwriters coming from all over the place, America, Europe — and we just create songs every day. There’s no escape (laughs)! Plus my internet at home is very bad, so there’s no distraction. 

“Every year we just sit and write songs from morning until it’s time to go to bed. We all eat together and it’s a real community vibe. In the summer between Monday and Thursday I don’t tour, and usually I do an early festival show on a Sunday, so I can come home and sleep in my own bed on Sunday night. Then I have the first part of the week to work on music — that’s my routine and I feel like I have a life now (laughs).”

*Charlotte Lucy Cijffers is DJ Mag's Ibiza and digital editor. She spends most of her time listening to sassy '70s disco and avoiding after-parties on the island. Read her features with Tini, DJ Sneak and Nicole Moudaber and follow her on Twitter here.