Martin Solveig: places to party around the world
His work as a DJ has taken Martin Solveig to some of the the world's greatest cities. But he believes the real way to experience a destination is to meet the locals
Sunday 31 December 2006
As an international DJ my work takes me all over the world. For the past four or five years I've played at least 100 gigs each year and the majority have been outside France where I live. For me, one of the biggest kicks about travelling is working with people from different countries and I thrive on the cultural exchange that offers.
Touring can be frustrating. When I play a city I tend to go in and out quite quickly. I usually arrive the day before the gig to meet the promoters, play the next, and head straight off after that. So there's really no time for sightseeing or getting to know a city or place in any great detail.
It helps, though, that I'm a people person. I love meeting new people and hearing their different points of view. So when I'm on a trip that takes in places as diverse as Amsterdam, Cape Town and Shanghai, my way of getting a grip on a place is through meeting and trying to understand the people who live and work there.
I got my biggest culture shock in Asia - particularly China, Malaysia and Indonesia. I had a very odd experience in Shanghai recently when I was travelling in a taxi. The driver didn't speak any English and I was trying to giving him directions in sign language. But some of the signs I was making were obviously very rude to a Chinese person and the driver became really angry. I still feel very embarrassed about that.
In Europe it's obviously much simpler to communicate, but even here I detect subtle differences. I can tell the difference between the Italians, the French and the Germans who come to my gigs. The way people react to my music varies from country to country - even region to region. And their musical sensibility frequently often reveals where they are from.
I play in Italy several times a month. The northern Italians are into the latest style of electronic music while in the south the crowds tend to like sounds from the past. And that goes beyond music because northern Italy tends to be more industrial, hi-tech and forward thinking, while in the south the way of life is much more traditional and rural.
My first travels were school trips to Britain to learn English. We stayed in London, Manchester - and Barnsley. I found the English quite standoffish and reserved; English people take longer to warm up than the French. Then there was the shock of the weather. While the weather in Paris is not that great either, most French people spend some time each year on the Riviera where it is warmer, so our view of our weather is coloured by that.
Most people assume that travelling would have a major influence on my musical style, but that is not the case. I became familiar with world music while growing up in Paris, where there is a huge African community. And today, I'm heavily involved in the Africanism project, which is a collection of DJs who fuse a mix of international African-inspired rhythms, world drum patterns and contemporary electro beats.
The music scene in Paris has always been influenced by the African community - it is part of our spirit. You find it in pop, rock and club music, because there are so many African musicians and singers living in the city. I grew up listening to artists including Fela Kuti, the Nigerian singer who was big in the 1970s and 1980s. I would hear artists such as Salif Keita on the radio and I'd go to hear them in concert at venues such as the Elysée Montmartre. But I also grew up listening to R&B and soul and loved the music of Prince and Stevie Wonder. Before I started to go to clubs at 16 or 17 I'd listen to them on the radio or exchange records.
I started DJing professionally when I was 18. I've always loved traditional music sounds like percussion and piano. I still find it fascinating that a simple percussion note is universal and can make everyone dance without all the synthesizers, vocals and complicated arrangements that you hear in contemporary dance music. It's a roots thing. And the roots of dance music are African.
Latin sounds have also influenced my style, yet I've been to South America only once and that was only for two days to play a gig in Saõ Paulo. You often find the music of traditional communities not necessarily in their own countries but in major cities like New York where there are large immigrant populations. In New York there is a large Puerto Rican community where the Latin music scene is buzzing. I used to hang out in clubs such as the Sound Factory Bar to hear artists such as Little Louie Vega play. Sound Factory Bar is now closed but you still get some great Latin artists playing at a club called Cielo and people come from all over the world to check out these sorts of artists. New York is a real melting pot of musical styles - probably more so than any other world city.
In Miami, you get a big mix of Latin and American culture. I love playing at the Miami Music Conference, which is the annual trade dance music event where all the major world DJs come to share their music and to find out what's new in terms of production techniques.
Travelling as much as I do I find the security that has been put in place since 9/11 really hard to deal with, especially because I sometimes take up to three flights in one day. To help relax I usually listen to music on my iPod - my playlists are a mix of classical, R&B, soul, new soul and rock. The only thing I don't listen to on my iPod is dance music because that for me means work. I also read a lot; I love the work of authors such as Henry Miller, Céline and Alexandre Dumas.
The most spectacular party I have ever played was the Cirque du Soleil party two years ago in Montreal, where the company is based. Guy Laliberté, the owner of the circus, organised a huge party for his company and friends each
year. It's more like a show because all the performers are such extroverts and they bring a lot more to the dance floor than regular clubbers.
I'm playing at Field Days in Sydney this New Year and I just can't wait. Field Days takes place on New Year's Day in the open air to a massive crowd mostly wearing just swimming costumes because the weather is so hot. There is something amazing about playing in the open air in that kind of weather and the Australian crowd really knows its music. The response is fierce.
When you are working with a crowd of up to 30,000 people the energy they create is awesome. As you build up the music it's a bit like being the pilot of a plane and revving up the engines. When you lift the sound to its peak, the response from the crowd feels like a jumbo jet taking off - it is just the most incredible and special feeling to have that control and power over what you are creating. I adapt and play different versions and variations of my music depending on where I'm playing and I usually get a feel for what the audience wants quite quickly. What I play also depends on the size and mood of the crowd. It's not the same playing to 300 people as 30,000.
Cavo Paradiso on the Greek island of Mykonos is another of my favourites. The open-air club is above Super Paradise beach and like most of the nightlife in the Mediterranean it starts super-late. It doesn't get going till about 3am and continues until sunrise. It's such a huge contrast to be dancing in a club and then fall out on to the beach. People stay awake on the beach until 4pm and then just sleep for a couple of hours.
I also get a buzz out of playing the superclubs like Pacha in Ibiza and Mansion in Miami. Pacha has a capacity of about 3,500 and a magic all of its own. It attracts such a diverse crowd from young wide-eyed clubbers to the sixtysomething rich jet-setters who come off their yachts in the neighbouring marina. Mansion holds around 4,000 people yet is designed as if it were a small, exclusive place for VIPs. The decor changes regularly; this year it was very baroque with huge crystal chandeliers.
After I've been on tour I rest for a while at home in Paris. I usually spend my days going to galleries and museums and in the evenings I love going to the opera or taking in a concert. Home for me is the 17th arrondissement, which has become very popular with the media set. It has a neighbourhood feel: I love all the small traditional boutiques and food stores.
If I need to get away from it all I head to Bordeaux and stay at Les Sources de Caudalie, which is a small hotel in the middle of the wine region. It is surrounded by vineyards and is perfect walking country. The food and wine there are second to none and I love spending a couple of days walking or hibernating with a good book and going to bed early. It's the complete opposite of my work life - then I'm usually up all night.
Martin Solveig's 'Something Better' single and his 'In the House' mix compilation are available now from defected.com
My coolest hotel
The W Hotel (whotels. com) in Montreal. It's a design hotel, which I'm not necessarily into, but this one is really impressive and stands out from the rest. The design is one of the most chic I've seen - all sleek lines, bold colours and very minimalist. It also doesn't have the snobbish clientele and staff that you get in some hotels.
My favourite nightclub
Le Baron at 6 Avenue Marceau (00 33 1 47 20 04 01), in the eighth arrondissement in Paris. It has been the hippest place in town for the past two years. It holds only about 200 people and the crowd is a mix of celebrities, artists and media people. Entrance is free but there is a very strict door policy. It is quite élitist, I guess. You'll see people like Sofia Coppola and Björk there. Musically, it's always a surprise and there are usually four or five DJs playing. My favourite plays 1960s rhythm and blues.
My top chill-out
Skiing is my top holiday pastime. I just adore the French resort of Val d'Isère (valdisere.com). I'm quite traditional for a DJ and I like the fact that the resort is a typical Alpine village with wooden chalets surrounded by pine forests. The slopes are superb for both skiing and snowboarding. I usually go a couple of times each winter with friends. I'm much better at snowboarding, so I spend most of my time on that.And there's excellent après-ski.
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