Everybody’s favourite Frenchman steps up to the mark for our next feature mix. His second LP ‘Positive Energy’ recently released on ‘Lutetia Dubz’ is a glowing reflection of the soulful side of dubstep which he has become well known for. After giving it a first listen, it’s clear that Von D is in a happy place. Inspired by his travels around the world, the album is a sonic testimony of a man enjoying life to the fullest, harnessing new experiences and ideas and translating them into majestic pieces of music. It’s a tough act to follow up the first album yet Von D shines through with a superb collection of deep-rooted rhythms soaked in blissful euphoria, just in time for summer. For a man who has been relatively ignored by his own countrymen, ‘Positive Energy’ lands at a time where the underground scene in France, notably Paris and Lyon is picking up and reaching new ears. The turnout to his album launch party drew in over 900 people, a figure which Von D would’ve never expected. But he deserves it. Already at work on his next EP, his drive and work ethic to exceed himself is unquestionable. For this reason, I was committed to include Von D to our exclusive ‘Featuring’ series and show some support of our own. Along with an engaging interview, he’s contributed a colourful mix as a testament to where he stands musically.
TRUSIK: Easy chief, it’s great to finally feature you on here. Comment vas-tu?
VON D: Hi guys, I’m great thanks!
TRUSIK: Before we get into the music, I would like to ask you about your new life in London. You made the move last year, has this pilgrimage brought you closer to your goals now that you’re immersed at the source of the sound? What new inspirations, if any, now influence your work?
VON D: Well, I’ve been in London a lot over the last six years, so I don’t feel like it’s brought anything new to my contacts or my productions. So not really a big change. I’ve always been the ‘Frenchie’ in London since my career picked up. DJ Chefal is a very close friend of mine and I’ve been staying at his place for so many weeks and months, also at good friends like Swindle and Silkie. After living in London for two years, I’m now back in France. As I said before, it’s not really a big change as I’ve always been part of this group of friends from the start.
TRUSIK: It’s been three years since your last album ‘Daydreaming’ – admired for it’s sun soaked rhythms and jazzy arrangements. How would you say you have progressed in your approach to music production since then? How much of this has contributed to the development of your current sound?
VON D: That’s a very big question. Well to me, I still make music the same way I’ve always done since I started in 1996. It’s all about being in the studio and feeling free to write whatever I want. When I think “OK today I should do this or that”, it never happens and the tunes aren’t as good, which is very bad for me. I only make music which gives me goosebumps because I know that, if I’ve got this special feeling, other people will feel it too. To me that’s the key to all the music which comes out of my studio. I really produce a lot of music and have had a lot of releases however, there’s so many tracks that never see the light of day cause I don’t feel there’s anything special about them, so every tune you listen to from my own production is special to me. Then on the production level obviously over the years I’ve got more and more outboard gear, valve Eqs, preamps etc.
I work on my sound everyday even if I’m not in the studio. Everything happens in my mind and I work like that a lot. You would be very surprised to know that I don’t spend much time in the studio and yet still make a lot of tracks. To me, what happens in the studio is just years of mind focusing on music and sound. I’m also surrounded by very good singers and musicians that I record on my tracks, pretty much the same people that I worked with on my first album ‘Daydreaming’, except from a few new singers. But it’s still the same process, all about the love for the music and the good vibes, that’s what I’m all about. Certain producers spend weeks on making the hardest bass synth patch but their tunes are just dry and cold, so yeah that’s a great sounding bass but where’s the vibe? The feeling? For me, it’s all about the feeling and my focus is on that. That doesn’t mean I can’t come with complex synth synthesis sounds, it’s just that my focus and love goes to the feeling first and this is why people love my music, cause in the end, my music talks to everyone and isn’t just a ‘thing of the moment’.
TRUSIK: Your new album ‘Positive Energy’ has been released by Lutetia Dubz, a Paris based label you have worked with before. Why the decision to release under a French label over a UK based label? Would you say it’s something to do with the scene maturing in France over the last few years, especially in Paris and Lyon which have contrasting attitudes to bass music?
VON D: I was approached by a few UK labels to release my second album but they asked me to change this and that and I didn’t feel good about it. The music has to be natural, so if it’s not, I just don’t do it. When I work on an album, it’s an album, so all the tracks work together for a reason. I don’t think “OK I have 14 tracks, lets make an album”. The album is a story and this second album is about positive energy and good feelings. When I got back from my New Zealand/Australia tour, I felt a lot of vibes which I channelled into this album. This album is a reflection of that. So if you ask me to change it, I’ll have a big problem with that because to me, it is how it is for a reason.
The Lutetia Dubz label boss Nibé has been a friend of mine for years and I’ve followed his label since the start. I like how they brand music with the label so to me it was a very natural move to release it on this French label. And as I am French, it was a bit more funny to do it that way, as nobody is a prophet in their own country, I like that idea. I’ve never had many gigs in France and most French people who don’t know me personally, often think that I’m English because of my sound and the bookings I get, but nah… I’m really French. For example, my album is ‘Album of the Month’ in Mixmag, which is one of the biggest electronic music magazines worldwide and not even one French media outlet has written a review on my album so it makes me laugh.
I love my hometown Cergy and have many friends in Paris and Lyon, but I don’t have much business in France, it all happens abroad even though everyone knows me in my own country. I’ve always been an alien in my own country because I’ve never had the need for any French connections and have always been deeply loved by the UK scene, so I just do my own thing I guess and it feels good that way.
TRUSIK: Perhaps a clichéd album title but why ‘Positive Energy’? With no intention on building a second album at first, was it more a result of a spontaneous evolving project?
VON D: As you said, I had no plans on making it before I went on tour in New Zealand and Australia. I had an amazing life experience in NZ, something I can’t even describe with words. When I was on the flight back from Australia to London I just had this idea of making a second album, it was just very obvious to me and as I do everything in a very natural way, that was it! I was very jet lagged when I came back to Croydon and was waking up at 5am, vibing in the studio and then sleeping at like 1am and then waking up the next morning at 5am again. I had this for maybe three weeks in a row and that was the foundations of the album. Then I came back to France to record all my jazz musician friends and the album was done. Regarding the title, I thought many times to myself “Jérôme this positive energy title is too cliché”… so I tried to change it a few times but at the end I was always coming back to it, because it was the feeling I felt, the energy that made me do it. So yeah, it’s cliché but very true to how I feel about it, so there you go, it had to be named ‘Positive Energy’.
TRUSIK: The album features some collaborations with Silkie, Mizz Beats and Aeolho. Is this an area of production you enjoy doing? Do you feel that it aids your own development as a musician as you share and discover new ideas with other producers?
VON D: It’s always a pleasure to do collabs from time to time as it gives you a lot of inspiration, whether it’s producers, singers or musicians I love it. I’m friends with these people before music, so first of all it’s a deeper connection than just “OK lets do a track because it’s good to do one”. I’m really good friends with all the people I work with and I love their music as well so it’s great to be able to collab and make great tunes together! And again I’m sorry but (laughs) it’s all about the Positive Energy when making music with them. I make music with my gut and soul, nothing else. It’s this power that drives everything I do in life.
TRUSIK: Half the album also features vocals from Riya, Phephe, Asher Dust and Javier Starks on the Hip-Hop driven title track. Would you say vocals capture and/or enhance the Von D aesthetic? Do you normally build tracks around a vocal or vice versa?
VON D: I usually work on a draft version first and then send it to the vocalist, then if the vocalist likes it, we record the vocals and I finish the track. Again all the singers I work with are real friends and I know them on a personal level and love their music, so we can’t go wrong. For me, it’s the foundation of my music, all about the vibe, if the vibe is right, then nothing can go wrong so you can feel it in the music. I love songs so it’s great to be able to make songs with all these talented singers… I really am grateful for that.
TRUSIK: The LP features the highly in demand ‘Show Me’ VIP, which was first heard around 2010. Was this an important track to put on the album seeing as (in our opinion) it’s one of your best? What are your general thoughts on VIPs being released today given their prolificacy?
VON D: ‘Show Me’ is still a mystery (even to me) and I’ve always been surprised by the vibe that comes out of this tune. You can’t imagine how many people have spoken to me about this track, it’s just mind blowing. I made the VIP years ago (probably around 2010) with a friend of mine as a joke actually. My Friend SOAP (Son of a Pitch) and I were hanging in a studio in Paris. He is a very good pianist and we were just having fun and talking shit in the studio… it was super late and then he started playing the piano and singing a funny French cover version of Show Me… he’s such a joker. As he was playing he came up with this amazing melody and as soon as he played this I was so amazed by the vibe that I told him “Bruv we gotta record that shit!” and he said, “No we can’t record that, come on, it’s a joke Jérôme” and I said to him, “Yes yes we’re gonna record that NOW!!!” So I took a U87 I believe, put it in the piano without taking much care cause I was so excited by the melody that I forgot everything around me and then pressed record and told him “Play that again!”. The next day I came back to my place in Cergy and finished the VIP version within a few hours. I then played it for years all around the world and as I was making my second album I was thinking… I really need to release that tune because everyone wants it. So I called my friends, Julien Mercier – a trumpet player and Hamza Touré – a saxophone player and recorded over some dubs for the VIP version and that’s the one you can hear on the album.
TRUSIK: You’ve been touring the world time and time again. Which memorable places have you played at recently, and likewise, which gigs and festivals have you got coming up over the summer? Finally, the DJ lifestyle has its moments, can you share with the readers your favourite anecdote?
VON D: Well I’ve toured the world and I’m very glad about that. China was a very special place but one crazy anecdote of mine was in North America. I’ve toured North America four times so I have a lot of crazy stories. So, once I left my bag in a taxi which I wasn’t meant to take so I was running after the taxi when the driver took off. The driver could see me running but he still left cause he wasn’t meant to take me on a course from a terminal to another terminal. After my unsuccessful pursuit, I found a police officer and explained to him my story and the police officer said “OK, here’s my number, I will find your bag so take your flight now to New York”. The next day my bag was waiting for me in New York which was unreal to me – especially because that would never happen in France (laughs). But the best time I’ve ever had while touring was in New Zealand as I said before.
TRUSIK: What else can we expect from Von D in 2014, is there any other forthcoming material, or interesting projects you can inform the readers on?
VON D: Well this year will certainly see the birth of my alias. I’ve been working on a lot of other music styles so I feel like it’s the time to start an alias and surprise people. It will still be my sound as I stay true to myself but expect different tempos and collabs.
TRUSIK: Take us through the mix you put together for us.
VON D: It’s the latest mix I’ve recorded. It’s full of tracks of my own productions as well as dubplates and rare tracks from fellow friends and producers. I never plan a mix, I just go with the flow. I love to play stuff, which pretty much I am the only one to play because it makes it special. They are really good tracks that aren’t meant to be released even though I wish they were available for everyone.