Erase yourself, that’s the trick. Pull a mask over your personality before you step into the spotlight. It doesn’t have to be realistic, or even serious. So long as that mask is big enough or interesting enough, it can be sufficient to hang a career on. It’s a theatrical technique that’s served many musicians well over the years – see your Eminems, your Marilyn Mansons and your Gorillaz – but one that’s been largely absent among the house DJ and producer set.
Until Christophe Le Friant, that is, whose DJ alter-ego, Bob Sinclar, stands out from the crowd. After dallying with the nickname ‘Chris The French Kiss’, Le Friant took inspiration from the French spy spoof Le Magnifique and its spy character Bob St Clair, and fashioned a new persona. Thus Bob Sinclar, bon vivant, superstar DJ and international spy (though one a little more Maxwell Smart than James Bond) was born.
Le Friant may have given up his earlier practice of performing interviews ‘in character’ as Bob, but the division remains. ‘Bob Sinclar is a superstar DJ addicted to fast cars, girls and the French Riviera,’ he explains, ‘and Chris is a kid playing around, enjoying his life looking for the perfect beat.’ Le Friant uses the term ‘kid’ euphemistically – he turned 41 this year – but it aptly describes the childlike enthusiasm he has for his work. ‘I have 20,000 records from all kinds of genres in my studio, and my job is a constant search for new sounds and beats. Once I find them, I then have to transform and update them into something strong and fresh for the dancefloor. I make a demo and then bring in all my musicians and singers to share good times and emotions, to find the song’s “vibe”.’
The ‘vibe’ crops up a lot in Le Friant’s language, seemingly representing the indefinable something that makes a record stand out. That’s exactly what happened with his 2005 single ‘Love Generation’, which proved a massive crossover hit the world over, reaching number one in numerous countries, including Australia and Germany, and clocking in at number two on the Europe-wide chart.
He hasn’t quite been able to match that success since then, though a series of European top-10 singles shows he’s still channelling his vibe. ‘The key to success is to stay open-minded,’ he says, a statement that makes sense given that Le Friant’s entire career has been one of musical metamorphosis.
His interest was first sparked by classic disco – the likes of Kool & The Gang, Barry White and Earth, Wind And Fire – before gravitating towards hip hop. He found himself fascinated by the way DJs and producers would rework existing tracks to make something new. Those early experiments gave way to acid jazz, trip hop and other genres, before he drifted into house. ‘House was never my destination,’ he shrugs, ‘I just evolved that way as my tracks became faster. It was just about making dance tunes for the DJs and the crowd. I always think about the dancefloor.’
He tells us this was definitely the case with ‘Love Generation’. Its guitars-and-whistling hook, and light bassline and drums didn’t instantly mark it out as a club classic. ‘Some of my friends were saying, “How can people dance to this kind of music? There is no energy,”’ Le Friant reveals. ‘And I said, “Yes there is – the energy of happiness.”’
That ‘energy of happiness’ was aided by the song’s joyous vocals, provided by Gary Pine, Bob Marley’s replacement in The Wailers. But its success was marred for Le Friant by what he sees as musical plagiarism. ‘The style I created with that was really strong and really innovative, but a lot of producers copied it. Though,’ he concedes, ‘a lot of them do it well.’ He has other concerns with the global dance scene. ‘There are a lot of very talented new producers, especially from Germany, Holland and Sweden, but there’s also a lot of garbage. The market is big now and lot of untalented guys have realised that they can make money off the backs of the others even if they’re just doing bulls***. This always happens when an underground movement becomes commercial.
‘I also regret,’ Le Friant continues, warming to his theme, ‘that some producers I love from the US and UK are drying up now and prefer to do bookings rather than spend time in the studio. But I don’t blame them, because our music is being downloaded for free more and more, and all the money is now in live performances.’
Le Friant’s fans will be happy to hear that this sad state of affairs isn’t stopping him from working on more tracks, and that he is currently trying to create ‘something as fresh’ as ‘Love Generation’.
Whether that’s possible remains to be seen, but what can’t be disputed is the DJ’s continued urge to explore new ground. Alongside his success in mainstream house music, Le Friant has released hip hop (as The Mighty Bop) and African-influenced house (as part of his Africanism project). But he will, he says, remain in Bob Sinclar’s shoes for a little while longer. ‘This name opens up a lot of doors for me now. I am not going to give that up – it’s just the beginning for me.’ And for Bob too, we presume.
Bob Sinclar plays The World Trade Centre on July 31.