Sébastien Léger is a French producer & DJ who has been active since the late 1990s, having released music on such labels as Lost Miracle Recordings (which Léger founded), Mistakes Music, Subtronik, Blackjack, and many more over his almost two-decade long career. Recently, Léger was the centerpiece of international jetsetting party series Cercle’s historic 2020 show at The Great Pyramids of Giza, where he debuted a new modular-based live-set. Ahead of the Cercle performance, we sat down with Léger, and went into detail about the upcoming set, his new modular setup, and future touring plans amidst the covid-19 pandemic.
So this isn’t your first time performing in Egypt, correct?
I was here last year, maybe twice, for a show on a rooftop. Cairo [has been] great [to me].
What sort of gear did you bring with you for this performance?
I brought with me a modular synthesizer [rig], a laptop, a homemade MIDI controller, and a sound card, but thats [about] it.
What was it like shipping the modular system to Egypt? I’m sure customs had not seen anything of that kind of size before.
My Manager (Donal) and I had to travel with it on the seat next to us in the plane, because they wouldn't [put it in cargo]. We couldn't freight it over because it was gonna take too long… So we flew with it on the seat, which was fine. It was more expensive, but at least the synthesizer was there next to me
Regarding this new track ‘Giza’ that you're going to be premiering tomorrow, is there anything you can tell us about it?
I actually made it a long time ago. I know it sounds like it’s for the Cercle set, but because we were aware of the show for a while I had already made the track about a year or so ago. There is a Middle East vibe in there for sure…. but it's a house track [laughs]…
What do you think about the the musical it's coming out of the middle east these days
From the Middle East? I don't think I actually know. I do. Actually. I do know there's actually a guy from Cairo called Fulltone. I love Fulltone, they’re a great artist. I didn't know Fullton was from Egypt before I recently heard that he was.
Got any other other stops on the tour after this?
We’re going to tour hopefully in 2021. We are just waiting for this [pandemic] to stop. We had like 40 shows lined up for this summer , but all of them are postponed. Probably next year we'll do Europe first and we'll see how that goes… maybe do South America and North America, then Asia and Australia at the same time.
The live set that I'm going to tomorrow is going to evolve with time, you know, it's not going to be a static playlist… it’s going to change as I'm performing it, making it better or changing tracks. What you see tomorrow is not going to be exactly what you're going to hear next year, it's just the start of it.
Since it’s modular you can just constantly switch out modules depending on what you need or how you're feeling.
You know, man, that's exactly what happened. I started [working on the modular system] a year ago, and at the beginning I wanted to only use the modular, with no computer involved. I was [switching] modules in and out, the more I did that it ended up getting too complicated.
Trying to replicate the tracks that I made in the studio on a modular was just not possible. So I decided I’m going to use a computer to do tasks that can only be done by a computer. And in a modular world, I want to do stuff that I can’t replicate, you know, with VST plugins or whatever. So this live set is kind of a ‘hybrid — I don't like [the term] hybrid — but yeah, but there's stuff delegated to the computer that I don't want to deal with live, because it's not fun mixing levels [when you’re performing]. I like to have everything nicely prepared, you know, so I can focus on the fun part instead of thinking “oh, the kick is not loud enough” or “the EQ of that song should have more bass” that would be a disaster that takes you [out of the performance]
Is there a process for taking the tracks that you've already made and translate them into the modular?
There's a full process, yeah. For some of the tracks I had to change the keys, to match with the tracks before and after it so it's [all] in key, which is something that I usually do as a DJ. Some of the tracks I chose to play are totally off key, so I had to change the keys. And of course the track that people know will be slightly new. I changed the melody and changed the synths, so the songs are different from the original. So it's like a mash up of my own tracks, but live.
I assume there's also an element of improvisation involved when you're doing it live?
Yeah, I can layer drums whenever I want to. I can play a lead if I want to. I can take elements from the tracks out… I can get rid of all the beats and leave just the synths if I want to. I have this flexibility as well, so it's not boring.
Can you tell me about this homemade MIDI controller you mentioned?
I made it with a friend about eight or ten years ago. I needed a controller with a lot of knobs for my studio.
I’ve actually never used it before, and [when preparing for this show” I was [looking to buy a controller with a lot of knobs], but then I realized I actually have a controller that nobody has right there in my studio.
I wasn't even sure it would work, the technology inside is like eight years old, and we didn't know if it would even work with Mac OS Catalina.showing, but then I just plugged it in and it worked. So I just like, okay, it's gonna and then I change the knob color.
I have like a color code [for each knob], I know which color controls reverb or delay or stuff like that. I don’t know why most controllers are an eight by eight matrix of black knobs, so I changed colors, made some bigger or smaller. So it’s like a mixer actually, I know exactly which knob controls which parameter.
Is there anything people should expect or not expect from your set tomorrow?
They should expect that there will be tracks that they actually know, but also there [are] a few tracks that they've never heard before. It’s a mixture of older stuff… heat that I did in the past.I [like to] play my own music, and people want to hear stuff that they know, but I want to surprise them as well. So it's a mixture of old and new.
It’s nice bringing in an element of history to it, digging things up from the archives.
Yeah, that's exactly it. Some tracks are 12 years old… some are like, months old… That's what people can expect.
So is it back to the studio after this?
I am back home for three days I think. Yeah. For the dogs. Although I think they may be going to Istanbul next week… Switzerland… Tulum in January… Paris and Brazil [later].
It sounds like a lot but it's actually not.
Yeah, that sounds like a really light tour for you.
Yeah, it's only my next three months or so.
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