DJ AZF: ‘We have to create new economic models.’
A genuine music icon, AZF has been around for quite some time. She made her debut as a bouncer during lesbian Corps Vs Machine nights at Le Pulp and Chez Moune. She went on to flourish as artistic director of Jeudi Minuit nights at La Java, high priestess of the Qui Embrouille Qui events, resident on Rinse France, and unparalleled DJ…
You´ve been around in the music scene for some time. You started as a bouncer at the Corps Vs Machine nights in Paris. Can you talk about this time? It’s also interesting that you’ve moved more or less from the door to the stage and experienced all aspects of this underground culture. With Berghain, there’s a sort of cult around bouncers as the gatekeepers of some secret society. Who gets in and who’s left out is in the hands of one person.
First of all, because I was hanging out all the time I lived almost only by night, and I came to the club through this, not through the music, but because I was partying all the time and I worked either in the cloakroom/on the door/or at the club bar where I was going out. And we’re talking about a neighbourhood club with a capacity of 300 people. I always liked the night because I felt more free, we needed less to hide our homosexuality, for example. For me, the night was the only time where marginal people were side by side. My ideal democracy: the society I wanted to live in was here and it was beautiful. It was the proletarians who got fucked up at the local bar after their exhausting work, the prostitutes of the neighbourhood, the thugs of the Boulevard Barbès, the bourgeoisie of the Rue de Martyrs, the homos, trans, straight and all the fabulous creatures that live in the night. My philosophy of electronic music, partying and my club culture were all influenced by the Pigalle of that time when I started; it had a very special spirit that you can’t find anywhere else. A libertarian atmosphere that was still in the heart of Paris and not on its periphery.
So, to be honest, I became a club bouncer a little by chance. We were organising queer events, I knew how to defend myself in that neighbourhood, which was still quite hard at the time, so I was offered work on the door. All of this to say that I was not especially nice on the door, but not in the “Berghain way”. We were just trying to deal with the specifics of the neighbourhood and to make sure that the people who passed through the door had the best vibe possible.
You’ve also worked as artistic director of Jeudi Minuit in Paris. Can you talk about your artistic vision and programming as such?
Then I became a music programmer, it was the logical next step for me after being a promoter in a lot of clubs. With our team we tried to do the opposite of everything that was being done at the time and put back in the centre of the scene the small collectives, crews, and artists not seen in the big clubs. To put things in context, at that time the club scene was monopolised by the same people who had several clubs. People with a very particular mentality based on fame, networking and overpricing. The worst was that they didn’t always pay the small artists. They still exist today behind clubs like NF 34 and Wanderlust and still use the same methods. I started in their clubs so I think that their way of acting has shaped my career and my determination to move the stage in the opposite direction to theirs. Hopefully, other big projects like Concrete managed to rebalance the scene. But at that time, when you didn’t meet their criteria and you were´nt big enough you could hardly find medium-sized clubs in which to express yourself. So that´s what we launched on Jeudi Minuit. A weekly evening at La Java in Belleville, with 5 euros entrance where we gave total freedom to artists who did not fit in their boxes. And the Qui Embrouille Qui festival and project in its globality is the culmination of this philosophy.
Can you talk about your taste in music – what you like to listen to at home, what you play in clubs, which producers/labels you have liked recently? Also, in terms of your Rinse France residency as a radio DJ.
Musically, I come from French rap, it’s the music of my adolescence. The electronic music came later, but the common point is that these two kinds of music must express something powerful for me. I find that there is nothing worse than meaningless techno, which is not written, whether it´s in the choice of the title of your tracks, the textures or the choice of synth at a particular moment, it doesn´t matter as long as we find a thought, an intention somewhere. Even if it’s a tool. I must feel something. Then I’m always moving so I don’t like music that lives in the past. For instance, the psychosis of “vinyl only” to have a “quality set” is something that I find terribly archaic, and miles away from the electronic music philosophy that is closely related to technology. I’m always looking for an opening to the future, to the possibility of listening and producing music differently. That’s why I’m always looking for new producers and new labels.
What do you think about the future of the independent techno scene in an increasingly mainstream environment?
I really think that we’re living at an interesting time for the electronic scene. We have to evolve, we have to find new ways to grow and at the same time keep our freedom in this global industry. We have to create new economic models to take the money of this huge industry and give it back to music producers. Now, we are suffering from an old system. For example, a lot of artists who release music on independent music labels are paid in vinyls … Because our model is too old. So you have to release music to find gigs because you don’t earn the benefits of your own music. So I’m trying to find a new model to release the music of artists I like via streaming, and I’m also thinking about other ways.