Pioneering DJ Laurent Garnier on Documentary About His Life and Evolution of Dance Music (EXCLUSIVE)

Gabin Rivoire’s documentary “Laurent Garnier: Off the Record,” which explores the origins and rise of techno music through the eyes of one of its pioneers, is set to world premiere on May 7 in front of a live audience at the CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen. Anton, which is handling world sales, has released its first official trailer exclusively to Variety. Garnier, one of the world’s leading DJs and a well-respected music producer, talks to Variety from his home in France, which is still in lockdown, preventing him from traveling to the premiere, about how the film evolved, his love of techno, and how the pandemic caused him to stop listening to techno music for the first time in more than 30 years.

Garnier had been approached a few times by people wanting to make a documentary about his life, but wanted to “open the doors and work in trust” with a filmmaker, he says. “Laurent Garnier: Off the Record” is to a certain extent the result of a collaboration between Garnier and Rivoire, initiated by the DJ, although he underscores the point that it is told from the director’s perspective, not his.

The two men got to know each other nine years ago when Rivoire shot a film about YEAH!, a music festival in Southern France that Garnier co-organizes. Rivoire knew very little about techno, Garnier says, but the DJ liked his approach to capturing music on film in “a very detached way,” which Garnier describes as “beautiful poetry.”

“It’s very hard to film passion,” he says. “And when I saw Gabin’s work, I thought he will be able to bring it. Because passion is the one thing that really – since a very young age – has driven me to do what I do. I’m very passionate about music and quite serious about it.”

After a few years of working together, Garnier suggested that they team up together on a documentary project. So, over the next year and a half, Rivoire followed Garnier as he toured the world DJing at gigs.

In 2003, Garnier had published a book “Electrochoc,” “telling the story of house and techno music, linked with my story, but going quite deep into disco [as well as earlier forms of dance music],” Garnier says. A French production company was keen to produce a fiction film based on the book, but after several years of development the project failed to move forward. About three years ago, when the French producer attached to the narrative film passed on the idea of a separate documentary, Garnier took both projects to producer Julien Loeffler at London-based Featuristic Films, who came on board, but with the proviso that the documentary would go first.

Laurent Garnier
Courtesy of Denis Boulze

When Garnier set off on his 2018/2019 world tour, Rivoire traveled with him, taking in performances in front of 15,000 people at Sónar Festival in Barcelona, Bassiani, a mecca for techno in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, and crowded clubs in Tokyo. Rivoire also filmed interviews with other dance music pioneers, such as Carl Cox, Pedro Winter, Seth Troxler, Jeff Mills and Derrick May.

In the film, the tour footage and interviews are interspersed with archival footage that provides a flashback to the late 80s, when the techno scene was emerging in Detroit and England, in clubs like Manchester’s Hacienda, where Garnier started his DJing journey, and then Rex, a club in Paris, where Garnier moved to next. The film also includes the political and judicial response to rave culture, which in some countries was met with police brutality. There was a hostile reception to techno in France, for example, where it was viewed as a “threat,” Garnier says. “We’re not where we are today without a fight.” Finally, the film takes us to 2017, when Garnier celebrated the 30th anniversary of his first appearance as a resident DJ at Rex, and when he received the Legion of Honor medal from French politician Jack Lang. Garnier’s views on the events and the music overlay the archival footage.

Talking about his relationship with Rivoire, Garnier says he’s “extremely happy” with how they worked together, and the documentary that came out of that collaboration. “We really became quite close. We spent like four years on the road together. And then when he started to edit the documentary, he really got me very involved with the process, which I thought was really interesting.

“And I am very happy now with the result, because we have my story, but then within that we have Gabin’s style. We have everything I like about what he does in a longer film than what he ever did for us before. Like every project I do, I get very, very involved with it, because I do things with my heart, and we tried to do good things.”

There were two things he emphasized with Rivoire when the director was writing the script. These were: “We need to feel the passion. We need to understand that it’s all about the community. It’s all about sharing things, because I’m not an artist who works on his own.”

The power of the techno community showed itself after the film’s producers started a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign in France, which delivered a third of the movie’s budget.

The shutdown has been hard for everyone but particularly difficult for Garnier to endure, after 30 years on the road with his music. It has been “extremely destabilizing,” he says. “I was missing very much seeing people, sharing things with people.” But, on the plus side, it has also reinforced his awareness of what his life as a DJ has given him. “This is my fuel. You know, this is what I need. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink very much. But the shot of adrenaline I get and the pleasure I get from sharing music with people is extremely strong,” he says.

“I always said and really thought this – it’s not bullshit – that I was a very lucky guy. Because I’ve lived through an amazing musical revolution. Techno for me was the essence of everything I loved,” he says, citing his boundary crossing love of a swathe of musical genres – including jazz, disco, soul, reggae and New Wave – and techno seemed to embrace all those disparate influences. He also feels lucky that his career has lasted so long, and he can still draw massive crowds to his gigs.

However, given his love of techno, there was one surprising side-effect of the pandemic for the DJ during the first shutdown. “For six months – for the first time in 30 years – I could not listen to techno anymore. Because for me, techno was always the music that was looking at the future. It’s always been a very futuristic music; always looking forward,” he says. “When everything stopped – because we did not have any idea of where all this was going – for the first time in my life, I kind of had a wall in front of me. And techno was not relevant anymore, and I stopped listening to techno.” Instead he’s been listening to a lot of old French songs, funk, soul and a lot of psychedelic. “I actually produced an album with a psychedelic band during the first lockdown,” he says.

Now, with the vaccine rollout and with some people talking to him about dates for gigs in a few months or so, he has returned to techno. “Now that we have a light at the end of the tunnel, I’ve been able to re-embrace techno and re-listen to techno. It’s very strange, but that was like almost a physical thing,” he says.

This experience chimes with his view of the DJing art. “Music has always been a question of what suits the surroundings and the moment and the place. As a DJ, I’ve always said it’s playing the right record at the right time. You can do anything when you are DJing, but not anytime. You have to read the right moment to play anything. You can play records at five in the morning, where if you would have played them three hours before you would have got killed,” he says.

“And this is what’s interesting within DJing – it’s finding the right moment where you can hit people hard and they can go home and remember the night because of the records you played at that time, because it became magical.”

Garnier says that when he starts DJing again, for the first few months, there will be some tracks he won’t play. He compares it to the choice of films he wants to see when the movie theaters reopen in France. “You know what? I’d like to dream a bit. And I’d like to laugh a bit. And I’d like to hope. If they program something really dark… fuck it, I won’t come. Because I don’t need that,” he says. “And I think music-wise, it will be the same. I receive tons of promos and the guys who are making really hard techno, I don’t understand it at the moment, because for me, it so doesn’t fit the period.”

He adds: “So, you know, perhaps my first gigs, I might be influenced by my mood, and how I feel, and I think I’ll be so happy to be able to share music again.”

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