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Teki Latex: An embodiment of the unorthodox

Teki Latex chats mental health, equal representation and his roots in hip hop.

24 May 2018 / Interview / written by Angela Weickl

An enigmatic tastemaker, notorious for unashamedly embracing the weird and often cheesy side of music. There is never a dull moment in conversation or curation when Teki Latex is involved.

As a purveyor of the unconventional and the personification of the labels, shows and platforms he represents, we are guaranteed an unforgettable experience at his forthcoming South African events. We chat about mental health, equal representation and his roots in hip hop ahead of his performances this weekend.

Angela Weickl: Growing up in France in the ’80s meant your exposure to popular culture entailed a lot of synth driven, at times cheesy, disco, pop and other mainstream genres. However, your initial foray into the music world was as a rapper. How did you get in hop hop and why did you choose to transition into electronica/dance music?

Teki Latex: I would have to tell the story of my entire life to answer this question! What I loved about hip hop when I found out about it when I was around 12 years old is that it was a style of music that demanded interaction, implication. Like I was under the impression you couldn’t just listen to hip hop, you had to be a part of it, you had to give back to the culture and contribute, via rapping, DJing, dance, graffiti or something. It didn’t feel as passive as other musical genres were, and there was a whole culture that came with it, it was exciting. I really got into it via Yo! MTV Raps and went through several phases and one of them was really nerdy independent underground rap around 1999-2002, and that particular scene crossed over with electronica and IDM a whole lot.

Artists who were signed to Warp like Prefuse73 started collaborating with rappers, and that’s how I got into a bunch of electronic music labels and acts, and then that taste eventually evolved into a taste for dance music as a whole. Although to be honest even when I was a 100% hip hop kid I was exposed to dance music via the omnipresence of Eurodance of course but also Daft Punk and big house hits like Armand Van Helden’s ‘You Don’t Know Me’ or Bucketheads’ ‘These Sounds Fall Into My Mind’ – the samples and overall vibes of those artists where things french hip hop heads would always connect with. And it’s always been a very “French” DJ thing to play both rap and electronic music in the same set.

AW: The two events that are hosting you in South Africa are brands that have built strong and trusted reputations for curating experiences that push the importance of selection and risk taking. Your music taste has often been described as weird and unconventional, what inspired you to fight to stand out from the humdrum complacency that many artists use as a safety net?

TL: You’re always someone else’s weirdo but to be honest it was never a conscious effort on my part, I like what I like. Why am I the weird one for playing Madonna or Cardi B or a couple Armand Van Helden songs or Eurythmics in my sets? These are classics that everyone likes, if anything I should be a wedding DJ. I suppose what people find weird is that I mix these songs with the latest release from Boxed or Local Action, or an old Ramadanman edit, or like an industrial techno track by Scalameriya, or some ballroom beats or Bmore classics. That’s what party DJs from the golden era of the Hollerboard used to do, that’s what I love about DJing, creating surprises and provoking feelings through unexpected blends. It’s just that right now the norm is to play one single style of music in a set so that people know what to expect when they see you play, and that’s not what I want to do. Other  DJs do it quite well but I don’t have the patience to stick to one style of very niche dance music and deliver a set that goes into only one direction. I’m a party DJ, and it surely doesn’t feel weird to me!

I envision my sets like cuisine and there’s a variety of sometimes unexpected ingredients you can use to create an unforgettable meal. Real chefs aren’t afraid to mix meat with fish or sweet with savory in order to push their cuisine to new limits.

AW: You curate various music platforms with your labels Sound Pellegrino and Institubes, covering multiple genres and you also host a weekly DJ TV show called Overdrive. Your appreciation and understanding of music is astounding, but with the barrage of content you consume through these channels, what does an artist need to do in order to get your attention?

TL: Some of these outlets are now terminated or dormant but I still listen to and curate music daily. I usually like charismatic artists who operate at the fringe or in-between genres. But I also like artists who don’t try to be weird for the sake of being weird, or too “musical” for the sake of demonstrating melodic or technical skill. Of course if you’re a musical genius you will have my attention but I’d rather listen to a great, simple, raw, straight to the point club tool than some amateur ambient/hybrid producer who thinks he’s Beethoven when he clearly isn’t. Your music should reflect your personality. I believe that if your personality naturally stands out without feeling forced, and your music stands out (while remaining aware of its own need for functionality in the case of club music), I will eventually come across it.

AW: In terms of performances, do you prefer intimate spaces like clubs where you are on the same level and locked into a tangible symbiotic energy with your audience or do you enjoy large festival stage experiences? Perhaps they both hold their own significance, if so why?

TL: I love intimate clubs for all the reasons you mentioned. I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery surrounding clubs and the sense that “anything can happen” there and that people are free to be themselves or pretend to be someone else in the club. I like the direct exchange with the audience but I also like the comfort and mystical aura of a DJ booth. I’m definitely more attached to club culture than festival culture.

That being said, there is something amazing about playing the right festival crowd and the comfort that goes with it and the feeling to control huge crowds with your selection and your mixing. Especially when you’re playing the closing set of a festival where people came from different parts of the world just to experience something together which englobes music and sleeping in a tent and living experiences with friends during several days. To accompany people through the conclusion of such an experience and watch them let it all out for one last time before the festival is over is a truly fantastic thing. Definitely something I’d like to do more often.

AW: The mental health narrative is at the forefront of discussions in the world of entertainment and particularly dance music at the moment, after the unfortunate passing of Avicii. Is this a subject you have confronted in the expanse of your career and in your experience has it been a taboo topic of conversation? 

TL: People definitely need to speak more openly about these issues especially in relation to drug and alcohol abuse. I’ve seen friends of mine cancel shows and sometimes entire tours at the last minute because their anxiety had literally paralysed them and they couldn’t get on the train or plane or whatever. I’ve seen drug abuse and lack of sleep affect DJs’ mental health and their relationships with people. There’s a sort of folklore surrounding it, it’s a lifestyle that glorifies substance abuse without thinking of the repercussions such abuse can have. It’s gonna take a while to change that whole mindset in dance music.

People often refuse to accept the fact I have never done any drugs and that I’ve quit drinking, they simply think I’m lying, because that’s not what a DJ is supposed to do. But the truth is I couldn’t tour and I couldn’t do my job properly and enjoy life as much as I want if I was consuming those things each and every time I play. Maybe some people can handle it, I know I can’t.

So I’m trying to stay safe mentally and I’ll tell you one perverse effect of that: Obviously it’s not the case all the time but I  sometimes feel that I’m less likely to be booked at certain clubs or festivals, or less likely to receive endorsements and co-opts from certain DJs or promoters because I’m not “the party guy” who will get drunk with promoters and snort coke in the backstage. In order to be successful as a DJ there’s a whole game of networking and sympathising you have to play and in some circles  that usually comes hand in hand with drinking and partying for several days and taking drugs. If you’re a young party promoter and you have to choose between two equally good DJs, you might choose the one you can go to countless after hours with and consume all kinds of substances with, over the one who’s just gonna go sleep in his hotel room. It’s a very real thing no one ever talks about.

AW: Gender and race representation are often seen as gimmicks or novelties to placate critics when events are under scrutiny, but if the selection pool of artists was widened to include everyone on merit then normalizing more balanced line up representation would happen sooner. What are your feelings on intersectional representation on event line ups?

TL: Representation is essential in every cultural medium and that includes dance music. Dance music and club culture were 100% born from black and latino LGBT spaces, and it’s sad that the current visible “credible” DJ landscape doesn’t quite reflect that in 2018, when you look at music publications or festival line-ups etc.

I’m no specialist but It seems to me that if we make sure clubs evolve into safer more inclusive places it’ll result in more women and POC and LGBTQ people being interested in being a part of that culture. There will be more diverse DJs to choose from for promoters and healthier competition between them (even though one could argue that there are already many talented yet overlooked female/POC/LGBTQ DJs for promoters to choose from). Also maybe there needs to be more female and/or colored and/or LGBTQ promoters to start with! The more diversity we will have in club crowds but also behind the booth and behind the scenes, the more people will understand that representation is not a gimmick because it directly results in better music being made and played, better, more diverse experiences on the dance floor, and better clubbing generally speaking.

Follow Angela on Twitter.

Check out Teki Latex’s tour details.