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Julien Chaptal

In conversation with Julien Chaptal about “The Way”

It’s something of an unwritten rule in the electronic music field that DJs, live acts and so on aren’t great conversationalists. Julien Chaptal we’re delighted to report is an individual who very much bucks the trend. A native of France, he’s now firmly based in Amsterdam, and he’s someone who still approaches the topic of electronic music with the same sort of wide-eyed enthusiasm you’d expect from a teenager just starting out. That, quite simply, is because making music for Chaptal is very much an obsession that is unlikely to calm down any time soon.

A busy man, Chaptal recently finished his new album, “The Way”, which is coming soon via Carl Cox & Christopher Coe’s Awesome Soundwave, and besides that, recently played alongside both, via his live act, at Amsterdam’s ADE. With so much going on, we dropped in with Julien for an extensive, intriguing talk…

julien chaptal

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We wanted to start by chatting a bit to you about your relationship with Carl Cox and the guys. How is it that you ended up getting your latest album signed to the label?
Christopher [Coe] and I met when he moved to Amsterdam; he was setting up a studio here for ID&T at the time. We quickly became good friends and I also went to help him to work on his album in Sweden a couple of years ago. I actually met Carl briefly in the studio Chris had set up once, during ADE, but that was before the pair teamed up for Awesome Soundwave. The next time I went to meet Carl was at a party where the security was so tight around him I was only allowed to speak to him about the album from behind a barrier!

Soon after they decided to start a label together, Chris contacted me to ask if I would send them some music, as they liked my previous releases and only wanted to bring out music from producers who also perform their music live. Performing live is something I’ve been doing for over 15 years now so it made a lot of sense for me to get involved. I sent them a few live recordings from gigs and a few studio jams with the idea to release an EP with them. They came back to me saying they wanted me to produce an entire album.

Producing a second album had not crossed my mind until that time. On top, I was quite hesitant to release a techno album, to begin with, since the format had somewhat understandably lost a lot of appeal over the past few years. So I only wanted to do it if I felt I could think of a unique concept, to create a context where it would be exciting for me to produce music that has a meaning I can relate to on a deep level. But at the same time, I did want it to contain tracks that DJ’s would like to play and people could dance to.

Keep an eye out for his new album, The Way, dropping late October 2019 via Carl Cox & Christopher Coe’s Awesome Soundwave label.

I’ve heard many albums from techno and house producers who put in a variety of tracks from ambient to pop, and acoustic music to showcase a form of versatility, and sensibility. While some of them are brilliant, few of these manage to touch the listener’s soul in my opinion. I think that’s part of the reason most people are not looking to hear albums from producers who are known to make dancefloor EP’s. As it turns out, “The Way” is largely a dancefloor album, and therefore it is also coming out as a 2 part vinyl.

In terms of where you’re at with your sound at the moment, what does this album represent?
I wanted the album to reflect my journey through rave and club culture since I first discovered it, around 1994 near Paris. The album has been conceived and recorded while being on the way to various places, or performed live on stage, over the course of the past 6 years.

It is somewhat cliche but I am someone who enjoys the process of getting places, often more so than being there. I feel the music on the album represents a part of the journey I’ve made. I didn’t think it would be possible to tell the entire story with a single album. So, I’ve actually written another entire album in the process of making this one, with the more house and deeper side of music I like to produce, so “The Way” is still on its way, in a way.

I wanted the album to reflect my journey through rave and club culture since I first discovered it, around 1994 near Paris.

Of course, looking back was only interesting to me if I could also manage to give a hint of now, and most importantly, the future of where I’d like to steer this musical ship I’m at the helm of.
To be honest, the process has been quite challenging at times. I learned a lot in the process. Those who know me, sometimes call me obsessive when it comes to things I’m passionate about. And that surely has been the case with the production of this last album. I have created such a wide variety of music while making it, that finding coherence in the sound of it all, conveying this idea of travelling through time and space, and making it danceable at the same time. Let’s just say many darlings have been hurt in the process of making this album.

I have created such a wide variety of music while making it, that finding coherence in the sound of it all, conveying this idea of travelling through time and space, and making it danceable at the same time.

Does releasing on a label by Carl come with a sense of pressure? And how does it feel to know he’s a big supporter of yours?
Pressure isn’t a sensation I’ve experienced while making the album. As I said before, I took quite some time making it and the idea of it had been brewing for quite a while before I was approached to release it on Awesome Soundwave. Having said that, I do feel a real sense of excitement at the idea of getting the chance to be part of this adventure. And I feel deeply honoured to be on board Carl’s steamroller.

I first saw Carl perform at Dance Valley in 1998. That day was one of these life-defining moment for me, of which I like to think he had something to do with. At the time, I had just bought turntables and machines to make music with the year before and was just beginning to sink my teeth in the music world. So in a way, it feels like it’s gone full circle. There’s a certain feeling of achievement to getting recognition from a man whose infectious DJing style influenced me more than he probably knows.

The album is called “The Way”. Is there a meaning behind this? Do you generally attach much meaning to the titles of your tracks or how do you decide on this?
I attach meaning to everything I produce, and that includes track titles, yes. I’m sure some of them aren’t obvious to most people, and many of the names of pieces I’ve released previously might sound light heated (some are). But they do carry an idea or intention. Sometimes the meaning is too intimate to share and so I’d rather let people decide for themselves if they care to. I can’t say I haven’t been guilty of producing music lightly in the past. I’ve released quite some music over the years and some of it I am less proud of. But I attach a lot of importance to all of it, now more so than ever.

The titles on the album are for the most part derived from the idea behind a particular piece. “Fantasy”, for instance, is a track I’ve made while fantasizing about space travel. You can watch the video clip I’ve made of it on youtube, I think it should give you an idea of the images I had I my head while writing it. Some of the titles on the album are the name of the places I was in when I produced the music or places which inspired the music. “Prefauco” is a village in the mountains in France, “Pikin Slee”, a village in the Suriname jungle. I’ve also named one after my sailing ship, the “AmaZone”.



Can you tell us a bit about the album process? Ie. where it was recorded, the vibe you were going for etc? And why was now the right time for you to release another album?
I recorded most of the album live, that is, on stage, on the road, or the sea, using various bits of equipment along the way. That was for me the most obvious way to evoke the sense of movement and the evolution of the sound I’ve created through the past years.

I can recall amongst others, recording some of the music for the album on a hillside in Mauritius, in club Paradigm in Groningen, at Loveland festival, parts of tracks while crossing the Atlantic on a sailboat (it was too turbulent to actually sit down and write an entire piece of music in one go), in various places of the Suriname jungle, French mountains, and so on.

Most of it was compiled and edited in my studio in Amsterdam. Some tracks had been mixed on the fly, roughly. So all I could do was cut and paste the bits I liked. Other pieces I did mix with multi-tracks. But generally speaking, most of the music on the album was recorded in one take. For the later stages of the album, I’ve put together a little band of electronic machines in a wooden box which I’ve carried with me everywhere along with a pair of small speakers and headphones. That’s the setup I still partly use when performing live now, it does evolve all the time though, some of the band members get kicked out and are replaced all the time.

I’ve focused my attention away from the computer from the year 2012 and produced “The Way” with hardware machines only, as I was feeling like I was getting dragged deep into the screen and lost focus of what I wanted to do in the first place too often.

Since I’ve finished the album, I’ve welcomed the computer back into my little band of misfits and it’s actually quite wonderful to rediscover it. The many possibilities I have when using it to steer some of the machines. Although I much enjoy interacting with physical instruments I’d rather refrain from the hardware versus software argument just as much as the vinyl versus digital argument. I personally do not believe that the medium is the message and that whatever works. I recently saw how Steve Lacey made a series of wonderful recordings using a phone to record his voice, instruments and sequenced the drums parts. There is real beauty to this approach.

Did it take you a while to find your feet in Amsterdam? How integral was the local music scene to helping you find your way there?
I arrived in Amsterdam just before New Year of 2000. Before that, I had taken an MPC and turntables overseas to Montreal but couldn’t make ends meet with gigs and my then Dutch girlfriend wanted to touch base so Amsterdam was the next stop. I didn’t plan to stay longer than say a year or two but I got hooked to the scene, and the city. I started to work as an assistant to a sound engineer for a Dutch music TV show and we recorded Tom Jones one day in the Melkweg, and the guys there asked me if I felt like working there too. I ended up learning the ropes of live engineering there and I’m still doing shows in the venue every once in a while. It’s just so inspiring to work with musicians who do very different music to what I produce.

Besides the job, I was collecting vinyl from Rush Hour and Outland records and played small bars almost every night of the week for 6-7 hours a night for 70 Guilders. Around that time I met most of the guys and colleagues who later became some of my closest friends and with whom I have formed bands such as Le Clic, with which I started touring live across the Netherlands from 2002, then Amsterdam 661, and MFD, and the whole Remote Area, Intacto and 100% Pure crew. We’ve formed a little family, of which I still feel close to most.

Around 2007 I started co-organising the Welcome To The Future parties with my friend Gert Van Veen in Club 11 and the Studio 80, which became my living room for many years after. After that time I was performing a lot abroad and lost a little touch with the Amsterdam scene, but that came back around 2012 when I started the MFD label with David Labeij. We’ve performed live across Europe and the Netherlands again together. Amsterdam is like a big village so most of us in the music scene know each other and are relatively close. My studio is in the basement of the Volkshotel where a lot of inspiring buddies reside too: San Proper, Lauhaus, Boris Werner, Detroit Swindle, Tom Trago, Darling, Tracey, Talisman, etc….

Can you talk us through a typical day for you a bit? Do you structure your days around the studio or how does it work for you?
I spend most of my time in the studio, making music, of course. As I turned 40 last year, I decided it was time for me to take the studio setup to new heights and design a perfect room for me, with what I consider to be the most perfect gear to do what I want inside of it. This place is now a reality. So after having the studio in my attic for many years, I am gone back underground and became a studio rat once again.

Like most musicians, I’m a bit of a chameleon and so I have many activities to spice up the week. There are no typical days, perhaps more typical weeks.

This year, I’ve recorded and produced an album for a french new wave/punk duo, Nina Et Les Fils De. An awesome project of which several singles are seeing the light of day around the same time that “The Way” is going to be released.

Besides that, I’m involved with redesigning the acoustics, the sound, and the new artistic direction of Club Doka in Amsterdam. This is an incredibly exciting project I’ve been busy with the past year. We’ve travelled to several places to listen to and source the perfect sound system for the place, as well as designed the lushest DJ booth you have ever set your eyes, ears, and hands-on. Almost everything in the club is custom made, from the speakers to the rotary mixer made by Alpha Recording systems in Japan. The entire place is designed to be an extension of the studios we have in the basement so we’ve also put ATC studio monitors as DJ booth monitors. The booth goes up and down to let us have sitting sessions as well. It’s filled with awesome studio gear like a Roland tape echo on the DJ mixer send and an Avalon 747 EQ/compressor on the master bus. All the peeps I’ve mentioned above from the basement studios are also involved so we’re joining forces to invade the space and create magic.

Furthermore, I teach several classes on dance music production at Conservatorium Haarlem and The School Of House in Amsterdam, so on these days, I’ll usually prepare my lessons beforehand and then do that. And then as I mentioned earlier, I still mix live bands when I get the time, it’s so good for the soul!

And can you chat us through your live show? Is this something you’ve been working on for a while? And what motivated the switch?
I’ve been working on my live show for a while indeed, since 2001! The switch, I’m assuming you mean from DJ’ing to performing live. Well, that came quite naturally to me. I was going out to raves and clubs for many years before it actually dawned on me one day, in 1997, in a remote desert place in Texas where friends of mine where organising a rave party, the people behind the tables who I thought were producing all the magic sounds I was hearing and feeling pulsating through my body, were actually emanating from plastic records, and not created it live in front of us!

Although it was somewhat of a disappointment, I was mesmerised by the way the blends made it feel like a continuous adventure through the night, like a fulfilling page-turner every evening. So I bought turntables and started playing records too, but vowed to find out how to make the music and perform it in front of people myself as soon as I could. I tried to get a hold of an MPC2000XL and a Roland MC-505 a few months later from a Parisian music store salesman who told me I should first go and buy books to understand what the machines do and how they work before he would consider selling them to me. So I went to the next shop and started to get my hands and ears dirty, but as I didn’t know anyone doing it at the time who could show me the ropes did end up reading the damn books, after all, to wrap my head around it all.

It took a long time before I felt I could let others hear the music I was making. And it wasn’t until I teamed up with my friend Noah Pepper to form the band Le Clic, that I mustered the courage to go on stage and perform live for the first time. That was in club Paradiso, Amsterdam, in 2002. We had both installed illegal copies of Ableton live version 1 on our laptops for this, and they crashed just before the show so we ended up buying legal versions in the dressing room 30 minutes before we had to get on stage. That was quite nerve-racking. We didn’t know how to sync up the machines, so we did that all by ear and hands. It went very well after all. I was absolutely hooked on performing live. I’ve done it ever since.

Personally and musically, what’s next for you that you’re really excited about?
Like I said to you earlier, I made another full album’s worth of house music while making this one, and so I’d really like to look into finishing it. It’s a very different side of me, and I feel I need to get it out in the world as well. Besides that, I’m busy making music with my friend Lauhaus with whom I share the studio. We have many tracks that are already out there and being played and so it’s also perhaps time to get them released, and who knows, maybe a new live formation?

This week, I’m busy preparing a live show for the release of my album on Awesome Soundwave at Awakenings on ADE, and another gig with my buddies from Fantastic Friends Records next week, on which I’m also releasing a track for real soon. I’m busy with developing new concepts for the club Doka, of which you will probably hear about in the near future. That’s all pretty exciting to me right now!

Thank you.

Keep an eye out for his new album, The Way, dropping late October 2019 via Carl Cox & Christopher Coe’s Awesome Soundwave label.

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