Agoria: A Soundtrack of Diversity
Agoria aka Sebastien Devaud is a French DJ/Producer who has toured all over the world and teamed up with some of the most illustrious labels and artists on the planet. After leaving his label Infine he went on to produce one of the most widely acclaimed EPs of all time with ‘Scala’ remaining a fixture on Beatport’s Top 100 chart for over a month.
Agoria is a busy man. Last month saw him release two new EPs for German electronic powerhouses Kompakt and Innervisions whilst simultaneously delivering a remix of Damian Lazarus & The Ancient Moons acclaimed track ‘Vermillion’ for UK imprint Crosstown Rebels. Having also founded his own festival in his hometown of Lyon, you’d be forgiven for wondering where on earth he finds the time. Now a firm fixture on the international festival circuit, Nuits Sonores takes place from May 13th to the 17th and sees the likes of Ame, Ben Klock, Butch, Carl Craig, Laurent Garnier, Tale of Us and many many more descend upon Lyon for a weeklong celebration of the best electronic music has to offer.
But wait there’s more… not content with a embarking on one of the most demanding release schedules on the circuit, running an acclaimed festival and touring the globe Agoria is also quite the cinephile and art having produced the soundtrack to the movie Go Fast, delivering an annual performance for the Cannes Film Festival and scoring Phillipe Parreno latest installation at The Park Avenue Armory later this year.
So with a massive year behind him and an even bigger one ahead of him DT caught up with the inimitable Agoria 20 minutes before he went on stage at Verboten in Brooklyn and prior to his gig at Mysteryland USA during Memorial Day Weekend to talk us through the reasoning behind the eclecticism of his back catalogue, meeting his musical heroes and buying “shit records” as a teenager.
You bought your first Techno record in 1989 at the age of 12 which was Inner City’s ‘Big Fun’ which you later went on to remix. How did you learn about the music at such a young age and what made you decide to buy this record?
I didn’t know anything about music at 12, I didn’t know anything. I was a big fan of ‘Good Life’ but I didn’t know Kevin Saunderson, I didn’t know about what was happening in Detroit, I knew nothing. The tune was big in France, I don’t know if this was the case everywhere in the world but it was a major major radio hit. It was on an old radio – commercial radio that I first heard it and I loved this music! I absolutely loved it but my parents didn’t agree were like “that’s not music, we would never buy you this record!”
So with my parents reluctant to buy me my first dance music record I remember asking all the kids in the neighbourhood to buy me it for me. I even went to the local supermarket at the time but of course we couldn’t buy vinyl in supermarkets. So I went to the record store and bought my first one and put a sticker on it.
Then maybe 15 or 20 years after this, I was invited by Kevin himself to Detroit to play Movement. I went with my little vinyl, a 45 and Kevin said “What is that? What’s that cover?” he didn’t actually know this cover – it must of been licensed and licensed and then Kevin said “I’ve never seen that”. We were laughing about the fact that I asked him to sign it – my first record. Then by chance he asked me to remix one the track – it’s just crazy you know. I am a really big fan!
I was like a little kid on the street and he was so nice to me. He showed me Detroit and took me to a baseball game because he was coaching a baseball team and I saw his son playing at that time. It was a great experience. Cool. Despite Detroit being the home of the first record you ever bought your sound appears more akin to that emanating from Chicago house. Talk us through how your style has evolved over the years.
I was 16 or 17 when I started to really listen to electronic music. I think the very first records I bought were really shit, really really bad. It was like trance or hard trance – you know when you’re a kid and you don’t know anything and you go to a record shop and you stand at the counter and they give you the records that nobody wants to buy. You are like the new kid in the house. So the guy at the counter of the record shop sees you arriving and gives you all the bad records. I had been going for like 6 months and buying bad records and then eventually he starts putting a few good records in each pack of records I was listening to. Then I started to listen to good music and the first good ones I bought were from Detroit and Chicago. Axis Records, Plus 8 Records, those kind of records.
The music you play changes a lot over the years – I’m a very eclectic guy so I can do albums with a lot of vocals but also produce work that is very leftfield. Some artists like to go in the studio and do only one style, they go and do the same type of tracks twenty times but I can’t do that.
It’s interesting how some artists strive to be more diverse with their output whilst others try to define their sound. Why do you think some undoubtedly creative artists are so keen to regiment their material?
It’s a question of personality. When I’m in the studio I get bored by doing the same thing every day. I will do 10 loops, step one through ten and after doing step ten, I’m bored. It’s not that I don’t like techno loops because I love to play that, but sitting in the studio for so long makes me feel self-conscious – that I’m not doing exactly what I want. That’s why I like Kevin Saunderson so much. He makes epic tracks. It starts with a loop and then there will be a big break creating an epic tune. I love to do a lot of things. So it’s good for me to work with vocalists and musicians – I learn a lot doing that.
Cool. You recently decided to part ways with your own label. Were you not worried having releasing on another imprint might overly influence or stifle what you were trying to create? Or was the pressure off when working on Scala for Innervisons?
No not at all. I could have done it actually even with my own label. I was the boss of my label so it was fine for me. It is just very tough to do everything. Some artists are very good at having their own label but they are usually not spending that much time producing music. For me the most important thing is making my music. Having the label, touring, writing soundtracks, working with artists and everything was just too much. I love creating my own music and if I had some ghostwriters or I had people around work for me maybe I could have done it but I love and want to do it by myself. That’s my thing.
For sure. Now your latest release on Innervisions is called ‘Alluvion’ which google assures us means “the action of the sea on river and forming land by disposition.” Describe this track in your own words.
You’ve already described it!
Well Google has… Your other release this month, Bapteme for Kompakt translates as “baptism” in English. Does the track mark somewhat of a rebirth life for you musically? How long was this release in the making and what makes this track so special?
That’s a good question! You never know, sometimes with a track it’s something that’s really touching for you. I love the amount of change my life has undergone over the last 3 years. I moved to Paris, I was in Milano, I was married and divorced. I think this track is a bit like a step between my two lives. Tale of Us wanted to release it on Life and Death in a year or so and then they were so busy touring it became really complicated to set it up. Then I sent it to Michael (Mayer) and Michael said “Let’s do it!” I love to work with Michael, he’s a truly amazing artist.
We’re going to play together this summer in Space Ibiza. He’s a little bit older than me but we grew up together in a way – he remixed one of my first singles,’Spinach Girl,’ so I was really happy to release on Kompakt. It’s a brilliant label but it’s very difficult to make music that is still relevant after being around for 20 years. Not many labels can manage to be relevant and attract artists. I really respect what he did with Kompakt as after 7 or 8 years with InFiné, I couldn’t do it anymore. Cool. You’re also coming out with a massive remix of Damian Lazarus and Ancient Moons’s Vermillion which came out the end April. Have you been roadtesting the remix in your recent sets? How much of a factor is a crowd reaction to the creative process?
I played it a lot in Miami. I think I played it everywhere. I loved the original from Damian Lazarus, so when he sent it to me and he said “Please, please do it do it!” – it was Christmas had come early! We departed for New Year and he told me he’ll send me the track in the next two or three days. I love the vocals so it was an easy track for me to work on – some are tough but this one was really inspiring to make. You listen to something and then you aspire to reshape it in a whole other way. I love to make music fast – if it’s not made quickly then most of the time the music isn’t good.
Well if you overanalyse it…
Exactly! If you start to overanalyse and you start to re-do many things then you should just shut up and take two days off before going back in to the studio. Of course it takes time to make it sound good and arrange it properly but for the main ideas – for me in my way of working – if I do it quickly then it’ll sounds best.
You’re creating a sound installation for Phillipe Pareno at The Park Avenue Armory, curating Nuits Sonores and prepping your album for release this this summer. How on earth do you find the time?
I don’t know! I’m not sure if the album is going to be released by the summer but it’s done. I need to find the right label for it but I’m thinking it will now see release around December. But as I said this is why I stopped doing Infine – I love to do too many thing. I’m working with the guy who wrote the soundtrack for movie Gravity, and Nicholas and I have done lots of music together recently. For all these collaborations you need to own it and spend lots of time on them. These are very good projects and I love to working with cinema.
The overlap between music and other artistic mediums is fascinating. It’s great to see ‘underground’ electronic artists getting involved in these projects in the same way we’ve seen other genres of music do for generations.
It’s also a generational thing. Many of the directors – young directors and young producers – have now been making or listening electronic music for years. I think we need to work with directors, work with cinema, and work with artists more. Nicolas Jaar is a good example. Some artists don’t want to expand their horizons because they want to keep doing the club thing and they want to continue pushing that one sound. It’s just about how open minded you are but I think everyone seems happy to do collaborate. Before being a DJ I was thinking I wanted to work in cinema, so that’s maybe why I’m willing to do these things. I love to write, I love writing stories and little news pieces.
Cool. How goes the preparations for Nuits Sonores?
We started 4 years ago and we did 10,000 people in 5 days and last year we did 100,000. I can’t say now, because I’m not involved anymore. I build things and do things and when they’re existing and when they are live, I am fine. I did my job and I can go somewhere else and the projects are growing and people are still living in the project. I like to say they are not really owning the thing, I love to own and to do my music and to live it.
Joel Mull was telling me that he doesn’t like the term DJ, he likes to call it a sound architect. Do you think the term disc jockey has become outdated?
There are a lot of connections between architecture and music and writing. The way we build a track, the way we build a set, the way you live your life. It’s an architecture of life of course. I am really happy that this festival worked because before in my own town of Lyon there was nothing going on – no clubs, no parties. We had to fight to make this festival happen.