Swiss veteran Quenum has just returned with new EP Valley Of True People, out this past 26th June via Damian Lazarus’ Rebellion imprint.
Making music since 1996, Quenum’s back catalogue reads like a who’s who of some of techno’s most lauded labels, including Supernature, Serialism Records and Cadenza, the label he created with fellow Swiss don Luciano.
From 2013 to 2019 he worked with Italian DJ and music producer Cesare v Disorder under the moniker Azimute, touring Asia, Australia and South America. Now Quenum returns to focus on his solo career with a string of releases and collaborative projects set to surface this year. Right before the release of Valley Of True People, Quenum unleashed a pounding new track ‘Fact Action’ as part of a SUM 8 compilation on the Second State label.
This is Quenum’s 24th year of making electronic music, yet our first opportunity to speak to him about his career and life. As it’s often said, it’s better late than never!
Hi mate, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. How have things been in London recently with everything that is going on related to the Coronavirus pandemic?
There were a lot of rules but I didn’t find people always followed them. I went to the park each day to run and often it was packed. Knowing London, it was strange to see the roads empty, the shops empty. Also, I’ve never seen so many people doing exercise, running, cycling. You could see people needed to unwind.
Now I’m back in Switzerland, where I live, and it’s incredible. Life is back to normal, I’ve been clubbing, nobody is wearing a mask, they’re just letting go.
London was also the centre of quite a lot of protests relating to the Black Lives Matter movement, and it seems that finally our industry and the worlds of techno and house are being made to not only confront our roots and pay proper respect to them, but also confront racism and lack of representation in our scene. As a veteran and well-respected member of our industry and community, what has been your experience on this?
My personal experience is that no one in the scene has told me to my face you can’t do this or that because you’re black. Maybe I’ve had rejections that were due to racism, but it’s hard to tell for sure. In any case, there is racism in society, that racism has no barriers. It’s not going to stop at relations with the police, it’s going to infect all areas of society, including the music scene. Who are the people making the big money, who are the big promoters, who is making the decisions?
On the other hand you have successful black artists like Carl Cox or the guys from Detroit. I also want to say I’m not a huge political person. What I try to do is through my personal experience to help people understand, to counter ignorance. But I don’t go much to protests and I’m not in a political group. I try to do the best I can around me, every day.
A lot of white artists have appeared to be lost on what to do, or say, and as always the internet can get combative on subjects such as this one. Do you have any advice for white European artists at times like these?
Well, European doesn’t mean white, I only have one passport which is European and I’m black. Actually my mother’s family has been French for hundreds of years and they are black. Concerning other artists, I believe in free will, people have to decide for themselves. You can’t force people to support a cause, it has to come from the heart. It’s like companies doing BLM PR now, do they really feel something about this or are they just doing it for show?
This is an everyday forever struggle, so are you going to join now because it’s fashionable, or are you doing it for real?
Congratulations on your release on Second State by the way! I read a recent interview of yours where you described how self-isolation has helped you in the studio. What other releases can we expect from you as a result of this?
Thank you! The Second State team are mates going way back and I’m super happy to be on their label. Indeed, the lockdown has been a bit of a hammer, I lost all my gigs, so I thought this was the opportunity to get into production, and I’ve worked really hard so I have a lot of releases in the pipeline.
A few days ago, on the 26th., I released my EP Valley of True People on Rebellion. I’m super proud of the feedback and the massive support from Damian and his team. After that, I’m releasing an EP on AdMaiora Music, with remixes by Cristi Cons and DeWalta. And another EP on Diversions Music.
Just before lockdown, I was lucky to get studio sessions done with two great artists, who also happen to be good mates, Mathew Jonson and Rich NxT. That work will be released later this year.
At the same time, I continue working on other projects, including on a little surprise, my solo album.
You also have a release coming up for Damian Lazarus’ label. Clearly you’re a very eclectic artist and your productions and label output show it. What do you think enables you to be so diverse with your music?
I allow myself the freedom to do what I feel like doing. I don’t follow trends or anybody, I only follow my feelings. As you know I’m old school, I’ve been a DJ since the 1980s and in those days you had to play all kinds of music. If you got into production, your musical range reflected that. You could try different genres, there were less barriers and you were not stuck in a box. It’s like if you ask a cook to make French fries every day. This is my work, so if I’m only allowed to do one type of music that’s not possible. I need to travel, to explore, to discover and work with different sounds, even in the studio to work with different machines. That’s what makes it exciting and not boring. But that’s very personal, maybe not for all producers.
While we are on the mention of studio and music production, would you be so kind to share with us a pic of your studio and walk us through some of your favourite pieces of gear or preferred software?
What I use the most: Korg Electribe ESX-1, the Moog Slim Phatty, Midas Venice F16 mixer, Doepfer R2M Ribbon controller.
I have other gear, but that’s what I use the most. To be honest I prefer to have less machines. The more machines I have the more time I waste, and the less time I have to develop my ideas.
Do you have any production rituals that enable you to be more productive in the studio?
A clean studio! My studio in Geneva is in a building occupied by artists, it’s a collective called Kugler. It was given to us by the city, and there’s one floor for musicians. I’m known around there as Mr Clean. I’m probably the only one to have a vacuum cleaner, so people often come to borrow it. It’s a super cool place, with fantastic artists. My two neighbours are Dachshund and Franz from the Young Gods, one of the best music groups to have come out of Switzerland. On top of it, Franz is just such a humble, open-minded and kind guy.
Also, I have a solid routine, I run every day and that keeps me calm and in a good mood. Already when I’m out running I’m thinking of what I’m going to do in the studio.
Can you tell us about some up-and-coming artists whose music is catching your ear this year?
I’m fascinated by my friend Christophe Calpini, who is not up-and-coming, he’s a confirmed artist. I think of him a bit like an extra-terrestrial, he’s so humble and so talented. I’m listening over and over to his latest album, especially this track, The Wrong Enemy, feat. Lyn-m.
In terms of up-and-coming artists I’m going to do a bit of product placement and give a big-up to the musical talents in my family, my son Zac who has put out his first hip-hop album with his mate as Kamau and the Wolf. Also, my nephew Ryan, who is a hip-hop producer in France and did this wonderful track, Gisele for French rapper Luidji.
London is a big city with a massive electronic music scene. What is your favorite venue or party?
It’s hard to say what is my favorite venue or party, it changes so much and there’s always new stuff. I really like the Fuse parties with Rich NxT and Enzo. The great thing with London is that it has so much to offer, in all musical genres. One of my best memories ever is being at Marcus Miller’s concert at the Barbican.
Culturally, London is unique.
I saw you’re into running! What’s the longest you’ve run?
Yeah, I’m addicted to running! Probably the longest I’ve done is three hours, but that was a while ago. I don’t measure my time or my distance anymore, I have no idea. I run because it’s the foundation of my physical and mental well-being. I run as much as I need to, usually around an hour and a half.
Do you find it mentally therapeutic as well as physically?
Oh yes, probably even more. You know we all face stresses, from the COVID crisis, from work, from family stuff. So to be calmer mentally helps you to confront difficulties and allows you to sort them out, instead of feeling overwhelmed. That’s how I feel about it.
Do you have any preferred areas to run in?
I try to run in parks, so when I’m in London the closest is Clapham Common. I travel frequently to Brasil and when I’m there I love running in Ibirapuera Park. My all-time favourite is Central Park in New York, but I’m not there very often.
In Geneva it’s very easy because nature is never too far from town. I have a choice between running next to a river in the woods, or by the lake, and both are just a few minutes away. Very convenient.
Do you practice any other sports?
Not really, I do a lot of stretching and a few yoga moves before going to run, basically, it’s preparation for running.
Are you a fan of any sport teams?
I’ve always loved basketball, I played in high school, probably the only thing I liked about school. More than teams I’m a fan of personalities, and the big one for me was Michael Jordan. Otherwise, I’m not a big team person and I don’t follow football.
What’s your favorite meal?
Wow, that’s the hardest question you’ve asked me. I love all food, I’m a glutton. Actually that’s another reason why I run. I love discovering new cuisines, from all countries, it’s one of the best things about traveling. I have a weakness for cassava, in all its forms, fried, boiled, grated. I also like salt fish, which goes well with cassava.
I’m not a big protein eater and I don’t really like meat, especially not big slabs of steak. With salt fish the cool thing is you can just add a little bit to a salad or a plate of cassava, and you have a meal.
My mother was from the French Caribbean and my father from West Africa, so I grew up with a big variety of foods. We love cooking and eating in my family, my sister is a chef and we had a restaurant together in Paris for a few years.
In France we have a saying, “dans le cochon tout est bon” which means there’s nothing bad about pig, so every now and then I have to have a sausage.
Thank you so much for the chat!