Rising star DJ/producer of 2021: “My friend MORTEN and Joel Corry.”
“I’m so proud to be a part of this amazing industry and can’t express my gratitude to everyone who voted me your No.1 DJ for the second year in a row. It means so much.”
The big news from this year’s Top 100 DJs poll results is that David Guetta has retained the No.1 spot that he claimed last year — a decade after he was first crowned the world’s No.1 DJ back in 2011. The Frenchman now joins an elite grouping of Dutch DJs — Martin Garrix, Tiësto and Armin van Buuren — who have won the Top 100 vote three times or more. So it’s a big congratulations to David, a global ambassador for the electronic dance music scene who keeps on innovating and reaching the parts that few others can.
“It’s wonderful, I’m so happy,” David exclaims to DJ Mag. “To do it two times in a row as well — it’s the third time, but two times in a row is pretty crazy. It’s been an incredibly busy year for me, but it’s always nice when you work hard to feel like people can see it.
“I’ve been doing this for so many years since I was playing funk records as a teenager. It’s amazing to be able to pursue your passion, and I just hope — cos I also started from nothing — that being No.1 after all these years is an inspiration to kids that are bedroom DJs like I was.”
Guetta’s first Top 100 DJs victory in 2011 was a definitive marker for how EDM was replacing trance as the dominant bigroom/festival sound at the time. “It was the beginning of that EDM era in the festivals,” Guetta said. It followed his string of dance-pop hits where he effectively — finally — broke down the doors of mainstream America for dance music virtually single-handedly.
‘When Love Takes Over’, featuring the vocals of ex-Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland, was his first multi-platinum international smash — a UK No.1, it was also the single that made US radio stations start playing dance music in the daytime. ‘Sexy Bitch’ with Akon, ‘Memories’ with Kid Cudi, ‘Who’s That Chick?’ with Rihanna, ‘Titanium’ with Sia, and ‘Turn Me On’ featuring Nicki Minaj and others followed in its wake, Guetta making a feature of collaborating with hip-hop/R&B artists and crossing over into the mainstream charts. He also produced ‘I Gotta Feeling’ for the Black Eyed Peas — another global smash.
His move into the pop world was essentially a calculated transition to cross dance music over into the mainstream. “I was always feeling strongly about the quality of our music, and thinking ‘Why are we not as big as hip-hop or rock or pop,” Guetta told DJ Mag last year. “Why is the music industry looking down on us? I think all those hits made us more respected in the music industry. And also everybody got more money!”
In truth, Guetta has always had a yearning to make things more accessible. “That was always my thing since I started,” he said. “Even as a DJ, my thing was always to take my inspiration from the underground and find a way to make it more accessible, and more melodic, with harmonies and stuff. I’m a musical person, I like melodies and harmonies.”
Guetta had certainly paid his dues by the time he hit mainstream paydirt. Originally a hip-hop DJ, he started running clubs in his home city of Paris as house music swept Europe in the late ’80s/early ’90s and steadily built up his rep through singles, DJ gigs and his own club-nights such as the prophetic F*** Me I’m Famous parties in Ibiza. Two decades of activity in the house music scene, and he switched it up to become the most famous DJ/producer in the world thanks to his run of pop hits.
A natural-born collaborator and empath, David spent the 2010s consolidating his position as a top DJ/producer, but in recent years he’s started to seek out more underground credibility once again. In 2011 he released ‘Nothing But The Beat’, a double album where the first half was collabs with people from the hip-hop/R&B and pop worlds such as Lil Wayne, Taio Cruz, Nicki Minaj, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Timbaland, Jessie J and Sia (the epic ’Titanium’).
The second side was stuffed full of instrumental dance tracks. He then created the Jack Back label in 2012 for electronic music releases that weren’t EDM pop, and towards the end of the decade started using the Jack Back alias to play more underground shows and to differentiate the house music he was creating from the more commercial material.
This journey away from the pop mainstream coincided with Guetta finding that there weren’t enough big EDM tracks that he liked to fill a big festival set. He needed more bigroom tunes for his big room shows, so set about creating more of his own. “I took two years to dedicate all my efforts into DJ culture, without trying to do any crossover records,” he said. “I went a little bit against the grain — when a lot of DJs are trying to make pop music, I did it the other way around.”
Hooking up with Danish pal MORTEN, he came up with the ‘future rave’ concept via the ‘New Rave’ EP. Characterised by techno drums, a trance sensibility and EDM dynamics, tracks such as ‘Never Be Alone’, ‘Make It To Heaven’ and ‘Detroit 3AM’ came out just as the pandemic was about to shut down the planet.
His renewed focus on DJ culture led to his 2020 victory in the Top 100 DJs poll, and following on from his fundraising United At Home live streams in Miami and New York in 2020 he pulled off the Paris edition of United At Home by playing a virtual concert from the French capital city’s renowned Louvre Museum on New Year’s Eve 2020, in aid of Unicef and French food package charity Restos du Coeur. He then took the concept to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and raised almost $2million in all from the United events.
He had his first ‘in real life’ gigs back in Florida from the end of May 2021 onwards. He soon moved onto Las Vegas before playing EXIT in Serbia, Creamfields in the UK, Untold in Romania, and then back to the UK for the Isle Of Wight festival at the end of September. “I did like [the lockdown] but I love performing and the energy it gives me,” Guetta says. “My whole life has always been about music, it’s my passion, so for me, it doesn’t feel like work.
I’m so happy I was able to play again this year but I’ve also been enjoying plenty of studio time.”
Guetta put out a tonne of new music this year. “I’ve released more music than ever,” he says. “The fact that I was not touring, I had so much time and energy. I’m a bit of a hyperactive person, and I gave everything to music. It gave incredible rewards.”
He kept one toe in the pop world by dropping ‘Heartbreak Anthem’ with Little Mix and Galantis, which reached No.3 in the UK charts in the summer. He also released singles in 2021 with Afrojack, Rita Ora, Becky Hill, Sia, Joel Corry and Raye, and MistaJam and John Newman, plus a new future rave numbers with MORTEN, ‘Impossible’, and a future rave remix (again with MORTEN) of ‘Titanium’.
“I remixed Shouse’s ‘Love Tonight’ with a future rave spin, which has been amazing to play out live,” he adds. “It was so incredible to see ‘Memories’ go viral on TikTok such a long time after I released it, this inspired me to release a 2021 remix. I also celebrated the 10-year anniversary of ‘Titanium’, too. It felt like I was covering 100% of the spectrum.”
Somehow, the amiable Frenchman also found time to make a film with DJ Mag to showcase his production chops, demonstrating how to create a future rave edit of ‘Titanium’ that’s primed for festival action. And he starred in a How I DJ video for DJ Mag too; Guetta came to DJ Mag’s London HQ to share a host of DJ tips and techniques including a demo of his hybrid setup, how to key sync, creative use of FX, and much more.
“I’m super happy with the Top 100 chart this year, especially seeing my close friend MORTEN finally getting recognition,” Guetta concludes. “We have been having big success together with future rave, I’m really proud – and this is just the beginning!
“We’ve been working on future rave for more than two years now, and it kind of became the leading sound of festivals,” he continues. “We’ve loved that people have been imitating the sound and also doing it in their own ways. Our responsibility as producers is to keep pushing the envelope — the next release [‘Alive’ at the end of November] is completely different; it’s that same spirit, maybe even more underground? It’s still the idea of taking underground music and taking techno and trance influences in an underground way, but to make it accessible to the main stage because of the level of energy. And how phat it sounds. I think we’re going a little bit deeper.”
Congratulations once again to David Guetta: the world’s No.1 DJ 2021.
How was your first gig back after lockdown?
“Incredible! I played one of the first gigs in Vegas when the clubs opened. I always said the first moment when the sound came back on in a club, and we’re together again, was going to be amazing and that night will certainly go down in history for me as one of my favourite shows. The energy from the crowd was out of this world.”
How have the last 18 months changed how you view your work/life balance?
“I had a lot of time to reflect, refine and create music that has inspired me like never before. With no shows, I was in endless studio sessions and had the time to start the next chapter of my ‘Future Rave’ sound together with MORTEN. I had a normal sleeping routine during the pandemic for the first time in 20 years, waking up at 8 am, going to the gym and heading to bed at the same time every day.”
What further steps should the industry take to combat climate change?
“I know a lot of DJs, including myself, are off-setting their carbon emissions, which is great, as we’re travelling so frequently.”
What’s the best bit of tech you’ve added to your studio or DJ setup this year?
“I got two crazy new plug-ins! One is a sidechain plug-in called Kickstart by Cableguys and Nicky Romero, and also the new VolumeShaper by Cableguys too.”
What’s the best album you’ve heard this year?
“Nowadays it’s not really about albums, there are so many great releases coming out every week. It was really exciting to see the Swedish House Mafia return. They’re good friends of mine and we released two tracks together, ‘It Gets Better’ and ‘Lifetime’. Also, I love all of Joel Corry’s records, and Tale Of Us!”