THE LIFE OF QUENUM

By Bill Rah

Quenum has been behind the decks for 30 years playing the sound he loves, Techno. He has gained the respect of legends such as Derrick May and Robert Hood, played alongside Carl Cox and travelled the world in his storied career. The underrated legend sat down for an exclusive interview with Behind The Decks.

His upcoming EP Valley of True People is out today.

Was your family musical?  

There was always music playing in my house. We had parties every weekend. I spent my childhood in Ivory Coast. You could play music as loud as you wanted. My father put the speakers in the garden, for all the neighbors to hear. If they heard there was a party going on, they would just show up. It was like a contest of who had the most powerful sound system. My father was a huge influence. He listened to Caribbean music, salsa, soul, French and Nigerian music. Every weekend he would take me and my brother and would let us pick two records. My family’s love of music had a huge effect on me. 

 
Tell me about the first time you touched a set of decks? 

In the early 1980s I got together with some of my friends and we formed a breakdancing crew, we ended up being one of the best and performed all over France. One of my mates had two turntables. He showed me the basics and he let me keep them for a few months. I spent hours practicing and mixing. At the time I started realizing that dancing as a career was just too tough. I started going to clubs to watch the DJ’s. It all came together, and I started getting gigs in clubs.  

How long have you been producing and DJ’ing for?  

I started DJing in the 1980s and my career as a producer really took off once I had moved to London, in 1993. I started working in a studio in Brixton, that’s where I met Paulo Nascimento, who would become my partner. We set up Access 58, the band and the label, and established our own music studio in Bethnal Green in 1996. 

Tell me about how you first invested yourself in electronic music 

It all started for me in the early 1990s, when we went from classic clubs that played all kinds of music, to clubs playing only house music. Once I was in London I started working in studios, first for a promoter who had a studio in Brixton. That’s where I met my future partner, Paulo Nascimento. We spent most of our time smoking joints and eating pasta -the promoter was a great cook. Then Paulo and I decided to get serious and have our own studio in Bethnal Green. From that day onwards I never stopped producing music.  

What was it like living in London in the 90s? 

Living in London in the 90s was amazing, especially if you loved music. There was so much going on, parties, record shops, everything. You could go out every night of the week and find a cool party. You could hang out at any party or record shop and meet interesting people, the business was much more low-key, and it was easy to hook up with other DJs, even the big names. I used to spend so much time in record shops, meeting great people, some of who are still close friends today -I also spent a fortune over the years!  

Best set you have ever played? 

This was a long time ago in Zurich, my best friend Goswin had invited me to an underground party. I played 7 hours, it was just perfect, great vibe 

 What was Switzerland like? 

Life in Switzerland is peaceful and quiet, very different to London. I lived and still spend a lot of time in both. There are advantages and disadvantages in each place. My best friend Goswin is in London, but I have more friends in Geneva. The funny thing with Switzerland is that it doesn’t change much, you could leave for 10 years and when you come back everything is still the same. I’m addicted to running, and I have to say it’s great in Switzerland, nature is never far.  

What was the music culture like there? 

Geneva was always interesting, and there are great DJs and music producers there. One of the long-standing supporters of the scene is Dimi3 who runs the club Weetamix. So many great and innovative DJs have played there, so much quality music over the years. There was also a great record label and shop called Mental Groove. Lots of people gravitated around these places and started their careers there, people like Miss Kittin, Cassy, Luciano.  There’s also great DJs in the area like Reas, Dachsund, Ripperton.  

Tell me about your studio in Geneva

My first studio in Geneva was in a squat called Artamis. It was managed by a very cool group of music producers. Then when the city reclaimed that area to build apartments, it re-housed the artists in a beautiful old factory and I’m still there today. It’s called the Kugler art collective. The good thing about Switzerland is that you have this public support, and at the same time great communal feeling among artists.  

What was it like to gain the respect of techno pioneers from Detroit? 

Artists from Detroit have been an enormous influence. I’ve been lucky to meet and play with many of them. In the 90s I organised a party in London with Robert Hood, he played a unique live set at The End, with his wife singing. It was beautiful. I’m quite close to Derrick May, I’ve released tracks on his label and played with him too. He’s great fun to hang out with. Derrick is very open-minded, and we have a great time talking about our families, politics, being black in the US and the rest of the world, my roots in Africa. I hope one day we can visit my father’s country Benin in West Africa together.

How would you describe your upcoming EP? 

I’m very bad at describing my music in words, because the way I express myself is through music, I’m not good with words. I was a crap student! I work according to my emotions, and I don’t know how to explain that. All I know is that I’m super-happy.  This EP, as with all my music, is an expression of my emotions and how I felt when I was creating it, and at the same time I wanted to do something for the dance floor. I’m especially fond of the track Valley of True People, because I put a lot of emotions in the harmonies. 

 
Tell me about the inspiration behind the track Rebellion? 

For me that is the most dancefloor-friendly track in the EP. I wanted to create something that would captivate people’s attention. That’s what I tried to achieve with the loop, that has this vocal from beginning to end, which is a way to put listeners on alert throughout the track. 

 
With the current global BLM movement do you think things can change? 

For many years in France I was the only black child in class. I know this feeling of always having the attention on you, the impression of being constantly judged. From when you are a small child you learn how to deal with this.  I want this weight to be lifted for all people. I try to put out this message through my conversations with all kinds of people, many of whom do not realize how widespread racism is. I’ve never been part of a political group but I admire those who do. I deeply hope that BLM and other groups fighting for human rights will be able to change things. 

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