Q&A: Guy Gerber On Ibiza, Diddy, And Restoring The Mix CD's Glory
Guy Gerber has the kind of summer job that would make anyone jealous. The Israeli producer and DJ is nearing the end of the season in Ibiza, having spent idyllic days working on music by the ocean and neon nights playing his blend of progressive house and melodic techno for the insatiable tourists that now swarm the island. Earlier this year, Gerber released Fabric 64, his contribution to the famed mix series, with a special twist: the 16-track album contained only brand-new material, flowing in such a way that Gerber prefers to call it a "composition" rather than a mix. Coming off the heels of a breakup, the Fabric composition reeks of romantic malaise but is conspicuously airy and loose (Gerber finalized the first 45 minutes in just three days), shimmering tracks linked together to form an occasionally discordant whole.
Gerber, who heads his own label Supplement Facts, is already an in-demand performer and remixer, but his profile should rise markedly upon the release of his next album: a collaboration with Diddy. The pairing produced what Gerber has described as "experimental pop," but the project has been kept under wraps, spoken about so vaguely for so long that no one is sure whether it'll be a trashy cash-grab by Diddy again courting the dance crowd or some propulsive sex-funk masterpiece. On Friday, Gerber will headline the Verboten yacht party, playing live alongside Lee Curtiss and Guti. While leeching Wi-Fi from outside a restaurant in Ibiza, Gerber spoke with Sound of the City about shifting global audiences for dance music, being influenced by Steve Reich, his reputation as a hard partier, and why he's the Larry David of DJs.
What's the typical day like for a headlining DJ in Ibiza?
It depends. I woke up today and went to the port, which is walking distance from my house, and went to get coffee. I saw my friend Seth Troxler, he came down, we listened to some music, he played some tracks, I gave him some tracks, and then we just started working on a track together. Later we went to the beach with some girls, ate some stuff, met a few people, and now I'm doing an interview, standing near a restaurantI'm not in the restaurant, but I know the password. Maybe we should put their name in the interview as a commercial or something. People are looking at me like a weirdo because I'm just standing, but I'm standing close enough to have a connection from the place...My routine is centered around making music in the end, wherever I am. If I'm not, I'm trying to get inspired by something.
You mentioned before the interview you're the "depressed one" in your group of DJs. What do have to be depressed about when you're playing in Ibiza?
Chemically, I'm always over-thinking things. Not depressed, but I'm the Larry David of the DJs. I'm a little concerned about things. With a sense of humor, but still concerned.
Not having been to Ibiza myself, have you noticed the crowds changing significantly over the years you've been playing?
Changing abruptly. It's a lot of Americans. This week, these particular two weeks, are full of American people that are very, very enthusiastic about the music, but it's still a whole different vibe from what it used to be. Not because of them, but let's say Ibiza used to be mainly about the music. It used to be people would be listening to a "track of the summer," and then the track could maybe change the career of people, because they'd be talking about that particular track. Now it's mainly about the parties and the scenes. "This party was good, this party was too crowded, this party had a lot of girls, this afterparty sucked." But people don't speak so much about the music like they used to.
Do you find it more difficult to play in that environment? Do you think there's less risk-taking because of that?
Before you had to be really good in order to get some reaction. Now, in a way, it's kind of easier, but maybe people are not really focusing on the music. To play, I always try... if I'm dancing, then I'm happy. So of course I'm looking at the people, but I'm trying to make myself move. In Ibiza, it's always different from any other place when you play here, because it is a whole environment and a vibe.
When you go to a club, you have to think about the people's whole night. After that they're going to go to this place or this place, so the music has to fit. It can't be too dark, it can't be... I don't know. It has to fit. I like this challenge, because it's more interesting for me. You can't just play a normal set, it's a different vibe here. I think it's a bit sad the way it is right now for the music. But I love this place, mainly because of the island itself. The island itself is a beautiful place, a spiritual place. It has so many different spots and different vibes. You have the beach, but also the mountains and the forests, and this will never change. I think it's still an amazing atmosphere here.
What were your goals for the Fabric mix in terms of differentiating your contribution from the mixes that have come in the past?
First, I was very influenced by the series. It was kind of like my education in electronic music. In the beginning one of the first things I would listen to were the Fabric mixes. Recently they've had great mixes, but because there are so many compilations and podcastspeople just do podcasts todaythe mix CD kind of lost its glory. For me, my first goal regarding Fabric was I wanted to do something people would talk about. Maybe they would say it's not so right for Fabric, maybe it's good, maybe it's bad, but to evoke a dialogue. I think I achieved that. Another thing I wanted to achieve was I wanted to tell a particular story. Always when I make music, I'm trying to... to share my feelings, but not to tell exactly what I'm feeling. Usually when you do a track, it's a particular moment of what you felt in that moment, and it could be a day, anytime. It officially starts somewhere, but it can end after a month, the moment you were trying to show. Because this mix was a long track that had been made in a month and a half, you can really go into my soul, and you can really feel with me how I was in that particular month. Musically, I really feel that if you listen to it it can let you in on some certain feelings I've been going through. I think I succeeded in that
It sounded to me like it was much more melancholy and insular than your other work, that it seemed much more geared towards someone listening on headphones than a dancer in a crowded club. Have you played any of these Fabric tracks out and seen their effect on crowds?
It's funny, because usually when I finish stuff I don't play them anymore. One or two tracks came from my live set, but it is much more melancholic, for sure, than a Fabric CD. But that's another thing that was important to me. Fabric always has a certain feeling, but I thought, "Why can't it be like that, why can't it be more melancholic?" I mean, you listen to this in the afternoon, not necessarily before you go out. It was made for people to listen at home, but still, it has a beat. But I made it more as a composition rather than mix. For me it was something like Steve Reich would put together, more like a composition.
Do you think the recording process ended up limiting you? For example, if you wanted to change one thing in track eight, but that would necessitate altering all of five, six, and seven in order to lead up to that point?
Of course. Basically, the way I was doing it, I had a limited time frame. I came up with the idea in November but I could start working on it only at the beginning of February. First, I didn't know exactly what the vibe was. At the beginning I thought it would be based on my live set, but my live set, the music, I didn't feel it. So I said I would just create everything from the beginning. Usually to do something like this, recording starts and the first track gives you an idea of the direction of all the rest. But I didn't feel the first one, and then I did a few more, and I thought I should just start to create a few directions and just see which one I liked. After a while I started to have far too much, eighty or ninety tracks. I had an hour for each track, and I'm not organized so there were so many different things in it. It was a disaster. Because I had so many parts in one file, I decided to separate them into three or four twenty minute sections because I couldn't do everything on one file, because it became almost impossible to understand what was going on. I had a sketch in my mind of what I wanted to say, and at which minute it should be like this, and at what minute it should be like that. After about a month, I finished all the music but now I had to connect it together. I was figuring out how to tell the story. I did it, sent it to them, and then I started traveling. When I heard it outside of the studio, I didn't like it at all. It was not good. But at least then I got an extension for the deadline. I got one more week. I knew when I went back exactly what the problems were. Before I was just creating without knowing exactly how it was going to sound. When I came back, I just knew what needed to be done, and in three days I did the first 45 minutes. I was not searching anymore. Before I was searching, and now I was just doing it, and the fun part was connecting the stuff. I remembered the keys, but I didn't know how it was going to sound all linked together. Luckily, I think it sounds cool. That's the way I was doing it.
I heard you moved back to Berlin recently. Is that right?
I wanted to move back to Berlin, but to be honest, I really like L.A., and the States in general. Just before leaving, I was packing in my studio, because I was creating everything in my studio in the basement for the project, and had fallen in love with the work environment. Literally the last day as I was packing, I said that I wanted to stay in L.A and focus on my artist album. I kept the place and in November I'm coming back, and I'm going to bring some singers and friends and start working on my artist album, which is going to be more song-based. So I'm not really in Berlin. My house is in L.A. and I'm traveling Europe, but most of the time I'm in Ibiza this summer.
Is that artist album going to come out on Supplement Facts?
It will probably be licensed with Supplement Facts, but I'm looking to do something that's a little bit more indie. I think it will be on Supplement Facts, but maybe I'll release it through an indie.
Do you still enjoy going clubbing in L.A? Or is it harder to impress you now?
No, I think going out in L.A. sucks. I don't like the nightlife at all. There is a cool, amazing rooftop party that Droog are doing on the Standard rooftop, but the nightlife and bars in general are not my thing in L.A. For me, having a good time is not going out. Most of the time in L.A. I try to stay home during the week, and sometimes I'll go to a bar or something like that. New York nightlife is cool, but in L.A. it's not my thing.
I'm surprised to hear you say, at least in L.A., that you don't like going out so much. When I spoke to Guti in March a surprisingly large amount of interview time was dedicated to the partying you two have done together all over the world. Have you figured out your limits or is it just not worth going out in certain places?
First, it depends on who I'm seeing. If it's with DJs, I can party. I'm known for doing some extended weekends. But if it's up to me I prefer to take it easy. Of course, if a party is a beautiful environment, the girls are very pretty, and the music is great, then I can do it. But I think today, unless it's amazing I prefer to take it easy. In the past I think there were more moments when after-parties were amazing, so yes, I was there. But at the moment they need to be great to get me over there.
The big money-maker for electronic music in the States are the huge festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival or Electric Zoo and others like that. Do you think those are parties that are a good introduction to electronic music to those who attend, or would you say those are parties you would avoid as a partygoer yourself?
It's not a bad introduction. The music is not that good, but for people that don't know anything I'd say it's a rather good introduction. I was at Electric Daisy. There was a lot of cheesy and sometimes horrible music, but at the same time I saw so many people having fun, hands in the air... it's very well-organized, and commercial, of course, but I was there and it is what it is. It's not introducing somebody to the most cutting-edge things, things that are really weird and nuanced that only appeal to people who really know what techno means. The music was not very good. But I saw a lot of people dancing, and it was a real rave. People together, enjoying themselves. The music could be better, but Electric Daisy is a rave, people are raving. It's a good introduction. In America when you introduce people to something, most of them are only listening to commercial music. And in that sense it's a very good introduction.
You're the head of a thriving label, you're an in-demand DJ, you've collaborated with people like Diddy. Do you not think you're a commercial artist?
I wish I was a commercial artist, a little more commercial. For me, the term commercial can mean commercial success or commercial music. In terms of music, I think I have an underground ethic that I stayed true to, especially when working with Puff. But if you ask me, without talking too much about myself, so many artists are making shitty music that are still underground. There's a lot of underground artists who aren't making commercial music, but underground music that appeals to a lot of people, still repeating themselves and following a formula. I always try to challenge myself and my listeners and my fans, if I have any fans. I try to do different stuff than what I was doing before, always trying to keep the balance between something that's appealing to people but still a little bit weird. There is always an artistic theme behind it. I don't know if it's good or not, but it's in my brain and my heart and I try to keep that thought.
Did you ever worry that the project with Diddy was a way for him to exploit and gain entrance to an underground scene you had a reputation in already?
First I was worried, but I saw it as a challenge. Like, I play with a computer, and the whole scene is people with vinyl and headphones and CDJs. I know its cooler than playing with a computer. So you have to play really fucking good, you have to play even better, you have to be great. When news got out about Puff people might have been saying "That's going to sound horrible." Good is still not enough, because people will still think it's horrible. So I tried to make it, "Wow, it sounds great." I knew how bad it could be, so I hope I managed.
When is that album actually going to be released?
The million-dollar question. We'll probably release it under a different name. But he's here in Ibiza, we've been celebrating, and it's happening.
There's a picture of you on Facebook holding a Gerber survival kit. If you sold a merch item that was a Guy Gerber survival kit for a nightclubbing, what would it include?
A smoke bomb, in order to disappear. My friends say I'm the master of disappearance. I know when people are watching me. A very tiny smoke bomb.
Guy Gerber spins at Verboten Yacht Club: Supplement Facts with Lee Curtiss, Guti, and Deniz Kurtel on Friday.
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