Hot in Press / March 2016 | D’Julz talks 20 years in the Parisian underground with

March 31, 2016


Interview: D’Julz talks 20 years in the Parisian underground


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In the second great era of the superstar DJ, it’s hard to imagine a time when careers weren’t mapped out from day one, painstakingly planned from bedroom to festival stage with just a little luck in between. But when Julien Veniel first started visiting Parisian raves in the early ‘90s, he never imagined he’d one day look back on a 20-plus year career that spawned one of dance music’s longest running club nights, a record label, a stunning back catalogue, and a DJ career that’s taken the Frenchman around the world and back again countless times.“I didn’t plan to be a DJ,” Julien tells me from his Paris home on a cold, grey afternoon. Better known as D’Julz, the Bass Culture founder got his start during the rave boom happening in Paris in the early ‘90s. And while he loved the music, he says it wasn’t until a few years later when he finally gave DJing a chance, and even then it was just a hobby.

“I didn’t plan to really make it my life. But the demand became bigger because there were big parties every weekend. And my DJ friends, who I was hanging out with, carrying their records, asked me, ‘Hey, why don’t you play with us?’”

Those friends just so happened to be some of Paris’ biggest early dance music influencers, including Jérôme Pacman and the now retired Guillaume La Tortue, who Venial says was “as big as Laurent Garnier” at the time. La Tortue liked what he heard, and after just a year of playing alongside the two, Julian had a mix compilation to his name, a rarity in 1993. “So things were booming,” he says. But despite his apparent success, when an internship opportunity came along giving the young DJ a chance to spend a year in New York City, he knew he had to jump at it.

A young Laurent Garnier

“It was amazing,” he says. “I was already DJing, and of course knew about the New York scene and the New York clubs, which I think were, at the time, the best in the world.”

It was the beginning of the rave scene in New York, and Julien was right in the thick of it. “Two weeks after I arrived, I had this opportunity to play the N.A.S.A raves, which were the very first raves in New York,” he says. His experience and reputation as a European DJ served him well during his time there. With regular gigs at the city’s biggest events, he continued to hone his skills as a rave DJ, all the while discovering an entirely new side to the craft with regular visits to clubs like The Sound Factory, Shelter, Tunnel, and Save the Robots—“all those legendary clubs,” he says.

“I learned something very different. I learned what a club DJ should be, how to play 12 hours, how to play two hours of one style and two hours of another style, work with the sound system…. So it was like going to DJ university.”

Returning to Paris, Julien saw that the rave scene was now dying, a victim of harsh crackdowns by lawmakers and police. But the crackdowns only forced dance music into legal spaces—clubs like Le Boy, The Palace, and Rex—giving him the perfect place to experiment with the deeper and more vocal sounds he’d learned so much about in New York. “It was just perfect timing,” he says. “I came back with that New York label when New York was the hottest shit around.”His growing confidence and enthusiasm for a wide range of musical genres meant his style had morphed into a melting pot of sounds, with tracks from Underground Resistance and Strictly Rhythm, and styles like UK breakbeats, Dutch house and Chicago dance mania all showing up in a given night. “I guess I found my sound mixing all those things.”

Rex Club, Paris

Even with all the momentum New York gave him, Julien had yet to commit himself full time to music. He’d wrapped up his communication degree, landing a steady and comfortable copywriting job that he enjoyed. He was still able to DJ on the weekends, and had a monthly residency at Rex through former rave promoter, Lunacy. So for a little while at least, both worlds offered him the professional and personal satisfaction he needed. And besides, “the DJ thing was not as professional and as glamorous as it is now,” he remembers.

But soon he felt like he was starting to stagnate in both fields, and something had to give. With bookings piling up inside and outside of France, Julien knew that devoting time to production during the week was the only way to take his music career to the next step. “But that was in ’98, so that was basically six years after I started DJing.”

It was around the same time that Paris was in the grips of French touch. Daft Punk were superstars, and almost every major label was dumping money into creating their own ready-made versions of the duo, resulting in a wave of cheesy, low quality filter disco that drowned everything else out. And much like the EDM explosion in America today, the immense rise in popularity of a narrow band of music brought thousands of new fans into the dance music fold, many of whom thought house music stopped and started with French touch.

“There was a lot of music history missing,” Julien remembers. “People thought that house was only disco loops. The new generation didn’t know that there were things before French touch, that there were interesting things before Daft Punk. So I started doing my own revival of that, finding new things that were closer to those roots I was missing.” That revival, combined with Julien’s melting pot approach, were the fundamentals to his monthly club night at Rex, and the blueprint for what would follow.

The French Touch

As filter disco’s popularity reached its apex, many of the old promoters left Rex behind, giving Julien the chance to put his own stamp on the night. Bass Culture was born, and he began booking acts with a sound a he felt was missing from the Parisian club scene, creating the Bass Culture musical identity in the process.

“There were a lot of guys from the UK scene—from London—like Terry Francis and Eddie Richards. Also the West Coast guys like Doc Martin, guys like Josh Wink, as well as guys from Holland and Belgium, because they were mixing it up a lot more than the French DJs.”

As much as the night was a reaction to French touch, Bass Culture’s sound evolved in response to the genre extremes that Julien saw throughout the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Techno was harder and faster than ever, while deep house slowed down to a crawl. Very few acts were straddling the middle ground, which is exactly where Julien saw himself and his night. And while he says it wasn’t necessarily an instant hit, people kept coming back, and in just a few years, everyone else finally caught on. Now it’s almost 20 years later, and D’Julz is credited with bringing acts like Raresh, Loco Dice, Luciano and Cassy to Paris before they became stars.

“It’s a very personal way to program the night. I bring people that I want to hear,” he says. In large part, it’s this personal investment that’s kept the night going for so long. If he didn’t love it, he’d simply quit. And through a combination of looking ahead to what’s new while remembering the musical identity of the night he created, he’s been able to maintain a regular booking policy that’s carried him for nearly two decades. “I’m still very excited when I bring someone I discovered recently. The scene is very exciting at the moment.”

D’Julz at Weather Festival 2015

Truly, it seems like a new golden age for dance music in Paris right now—Julien thinks it’s better than ever. Each week sees quality acts like Moodymann, Ben Klock, and Nina Kravizplaying to packed clubs, something Julien says he’s very proud of. Though he hesitates to take any credit when asked.

“All the DJs, promoters and clubs that have been here since the beginning have played a role in it.”

He also credits new promoters like Concrete, as well as clubs like Badaboum, the Weather Festival, and the wave of smaller parties that captured the energy and spirit of the next generation of clubbers, who he thinks deserve most of the praise.

“Thanks to the internet, they know everything. But at the same time they still have the enthusiasm of beginners. It’s the combination of knowledge and energy, which makes it really special. But that, I think, is worldwide.”

Soon, he thinks there will be another “French touch” explosion, as the next wave of producers rises up. And unlike the last Parisian dance music revolution, Julien believes this time the authorities will work alongside the industry to encourage nightlife tourism and growth, because now they understand its importance. Something that became glaringly true in the aftermath of last year’s Paris terrorist attacks.

“People need that,” Julien says about going out. “Especially in those times where we’re on the threat and feeling like this could happen again—and will probably happen again—people need to escape. I thought it would take a month or two to get the people back in clubs and get a good vibe again. It took two weeks. People needed it.”

Writer: Chandler Shortlidge


Listen to the new D’Julz edit of 90s Chicago house classic ‘Don’t Let Love Pass You By’ by Master C&J feat. Liz Torres and buy the track here. Watch D’Julz’ full Vagabundos set at Space Ibiza last summer below.