The king of blends talks to Attack editor Greg Scarth about his new Impressions mix, explaining why he thinks DJs should be eclectic and how Michelin-starred chefs inspire him to perfect his craft.
In recent years, Teki Latex has concentrated the majority of his efforts on DJing. The Parisian one-time rapper, Sound Pellegrino co-founder and Overdrive Infinity curator has built a reputation as a truly versatile performer who can rock a party with blends and technical tricks just as easily as he can dip his toe into an increasingly diverse pool of music.
I am your chef Teki Latex, and this is what's on the menu tonight...
With his new Impressions mix, Teki explores the art of the blend, layering hip-hop, techno, grime, Michael Jackson acapellas and much more over each other to create a dense collage of sounds that somehow adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Knowing how seriously Teki considers his art, we asked him to talk about his current views on DJing, from track selection to technical approaches. His answers make up what he describes as “a manifesto of sorts”…
Attack: Why is eclecticism important to you? A lot of DJs claim to have eclectic taste but generally stick to one specific style in most of their sets.
Teki Latex: DJs who claim to be eclectic because they play house and techno in the same set are always funny to me. These are two close cousins from the same family. You’re not being eclectic; if anything you’re being incestuous.
But yeah playing many different styles is not a calculated thing for me and we used to hate the whole ‘eclectic for the sake of being eclectic’ schtick. We thought the term was cliché and we envisioned ourselves as champions of picking the greatest tracks from all of the different genres we like, while still hating on certain genres and refusing to include them in our musical world, because some shit is just wack. Hence rejecting pure eclecticism that would imply just being satisfied with everything.
we envisioned ourselves as champions of picking the greatest tracks from all of the different genres we like
When I say ‘we’, I speak of the sort of scene and group of people which spawned from internet forums and certain club nights and our label Institubes’ entourage back in 2002 to 2004 – I always considered my musical raison d’être to be that scene in that particular moment in time. Post-underground, pre-banger, when we, as indie rap and weird intelligent dance music fans, started understanding that a lot of the most interesting, original and experimental stuff going on in music at the time wasn’t happening in the underground, but rather in mainstream music – in pop, rap, R&B and in very danceable club-focused music.
Basically we were fans of so-called ‘nerdy’ music like Def Jux, Project Blowed, Antipop Consortium, Warp and Prefuse, but we realised that the most avant-garde stuff was actually being produced by Neptunes, Timbaland, Outkast and Mannie Fresh but also DJ Assault, ghetto tech, Bmore, and more straight-up electro and techno like the stuff coming out on BPitch Control or Gigolo Records, from Miss Kittin to Vitalic – dance music that wasn’t considered ‘intelligent’ enough, or maybe ‘too dancy’ in a pejorative way by electronica snobs.
That state of mind became a sort of blueprint for our way of understanding and appreciating music at the time. Pop was no longer taboo, and when ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears came out, that long weird glitched-out break in the middle sounded just as valid as something by Aphex Twin or Squarepusher to us. We were genuinely convinced that Aphex Twin and Britney Spears were the same music at that point, and it became somewhat of a mantra for us. It wasn’t ‘being eclectic’ as much as finding common threads between extreme styles of music, being more fascinated by the extremes than what’s sitting in the middle. We strongly rejected middle-ground music.
Of course my music taste has evolved since, but I guess I still unconsciously tap into that sort of school of thought when I conceive a set. My brain is trained to classify music not by genre but rather by abstract notions – I guess attitude, feeling… the kind of images certain tracks evoke – I see common denominators and threads between the different tracks i select, so there is an obvious sense of coherence for me. I also believe in surprising people during sets. Playing a DJ set in one single style is quite flat and boring. Even when I’ll announce I’m doing an italo disco set, I’ll throw in some curveballs and anachronisms in there. Because otherwise it’s just extremely boring when people know the exact plot of the movie before seeing it.
On Impressions you focus on the art of the blend. Blends can quite easily cross the line into the world of cheesy mash-ups, where the novelty of the combinations starts to become the focus rather than the more important question of whether they sound good. How do you make sure you’re adding something to the music rather than just throwing things together because they’re unexpected or surprising? What are you looking for?
Well, first of all, these aren’t your good old cheeky mashups that remain super safe and that forcefully combine two cheesy songs into one super cheesy mega tune. On the contrary, I’m trying to do sweet and savoury associations that almost always have an element of anachronism or contradiction in them, yet make sense because the two melodies combined create a harmony that’s just too good to ignore. But it’s all stuff that I would consider dope according to my personal standards – there is zero amount of irony, at no point am I playing something i don’t genuinely find awesome just because it’s ‘silly’ or it’ll get a reaction.
it's all stuff that I would consider dope according to my personal standards – there is zero amount of irony, at no point am I playing something i don't genuinely find awesome just because it's 'silly' or it'll get a reaction.
It’s all just really dope tracks that go well together. And most of the time I’m trying to say that even though they come from two different places, periods or styles, I’m convinced these songs have the same energy or the same intent and I’m going to prove they go well together.
I’m balancing Topper Top’s raw serious underground energy with No Limit’s fun, nostalgic vibe but at the same time in my head they are filed under the same weird abstract angry futurist non-crusty ragga stomping category.
Same when I’m putting OMD’s ‘Souvenir’ on top of Juelz Santana and DJC, I’m trying to underline the common dramatic minimal romanticism in those three tunes despite differences in periods and contexts.
It feels to me like the Bérite mix you did shone the spotlight on the music above all else, whereas this mix and your deconstructed trance mix emphasised more technical elements of the DJ’s craft. Do you enjoy using these showcase mixes to highlight quite specific elements of what you do as a DJ rather than throwing them all together?
The Bérite mix was totally about showcasing that new style of music I’ve sort of helped create (even though I’m not a producer and that music wouldn’t exist if these amazing kids didn’t produce it) and also maybe give a certain mood board of ideas in the form of non-Bérite tracks blended in to show the roots of that style and have the mix sort of act as an instruction manual for understanding the essence of Bérite. Again it’s not 100% Bérite because I just can’t do 100% of one genre, but it’s the closest I can do… and the other styles thrown in are ‘Bérite-compatible’ – I would even say that there would be no Bérite without them. I’m really trying to go somewhere with this Bérite thing because I think the French scene needs its own style of club music with its own flavour and ‘rules’ somehow.
I'm really trying to go somewhere with this Bérite thing because I think the French scene needs its own style of club music with its own flavour and 'rules' somehow.
Deconstructed Trance Reconstructed was all about building a beautiful sonic structure out of musical Lego. Impressions is more: “I am your chef Teki Latex, and this is what’s on the menu tonight – a little bit of Bérite, a little bit of rap, a little bit of techno, a little bit of grime, a little bit of dance music you loved when you were a kid, and mixed together it’s going to make you feel good…”
I don’t want to be a one-trick pony so i like to do different kinds of mixes to show different sides of my craft. During club sets when the context requires something different, something more progressive, subtle or ‘mental’, I’m not gonna do blend after blend after blend like a madman. I might play a more stretched-out set, conceived as a long build-up or come-down, because the kind of party I’m playing or the time slot – or the amount and type of substances the audience is on – requires that.
I don't want my DJ sets to turn into acrobat shows. The highest form of technique is making the technique itself invisible
To watch you play, there’s a lot going on technically, but you rarely draw attention to that. Is that a deliberate policy?
Obviously I don’t want my DJ sets to turn into acrobat shows. First of all the highest form of technique is making the technique itself invisible, in my opinion. Technique shouldn’t get in the way of your set’s flow. When I ask for three CDJs on my rider it’s not because I want to show off, it’s because I want my superimpositions to be more fluid and relentless and my pacing to be more tight and I want to blur the moments when one track starts and the other one finishes. So it’s all about putting technique at the service of a better DJ set that’s going to make people dance and feel things.
Second of all, there are true turntablists in the world who can actually transform music with turntables, or people like EZ who push technique to a point I haven’t reached yet, so I couldn’t really claim it as ‘my thing’ even if I wanted to, out of respect for these people.
Tell us how the Netflix series Chef’s Table inspired you.
I was watching that show and I found a lot of things in common between a chef’s approach and a DJ’s approach. It’s almost a cliché thing to say but these are two jobs where you have to balance your own creativity and identity, with the satisfaction of your customers.
I’m trying to approach the art of DJing like a chef would approach his cuisine. You have a certain palette of sounds at your disposal and you can provoke certain feelings in people when you make a mix, and you try to balance it in a way that’s delicious. You’re supposed to use nostalgia, harshness, deepness, repetitiveness, BPM changes like a chef would use spices or flavours in order to assemble and cook a great meal. So you’ll sprinkle in a little bit of hard techno belters, you’ll balance it with something more quiet and deep to calm things down after a while, then you’ll complicate things and confuse the listeners, you’ll play a succession of alien grime sounds they have never heard anywhere before, then right after that you’ll surprise them with something very familiar, something that’ll instantly conjure vivid images from their youth, when they weren’t expecting it, in a context they are not used to.
I also really related to the stories those chefs would tell about paying their dues in that world. Studying other chefs, struggling to impose your vision, having people say, “Hmm but you can’t cook a cauliflower like that! Sacrilege!” or, “You can’t stitch a duck and a chicken together and cook them – that is blasphemy!” and just doing it anyway. Having to reinvent your art constantly in order to stand out. Having to work in empty restaurants at first until someone understands the weird stuff you’re doing and you get a Michelin star and blow up over night. These are all things that are somehow applicable to DJing.
Sometimes I feel that not a lot of people understand what I’m trying to do and I have this double challenge of keeping my integrity intact while trying to be accepted as a top DJ. I want to play big or important shows and to be respected by my peers, and to be relevant for promoters, while still continuing to play what I wanna play, which fits neither into the techno/house/disco box nor purely into the rap/trap/grime box that successful DJs usually sit in. When you look at big DJs who operate in a certain circuit of credible events and festivals, they usually focus on one single genre and deliberately try to remain understandable so that they don’t become too much of a wildcard, a risk for promoters who don’t want to confuse their audience.
Sometimes I feel that not a lot of people understand what I'm trying to do and I have this double challenge of keeping my integrity intact while trying to be accepted as a top DJ.
I don’t want to play by the rules. I don’t care about format – you won’t see me play vinyl just because it’s cool, or use a certain kind of mixer, or start to play 4/4 techno/house sets, or big rap tunes from a year ago in order to give the people what they want. Because I can only be myself and tell my story. And if there is no recent example of a DJ playing the kind of stuff I play the way I play it, while making it big, then I’ll become that example. Hearing those chefs talking about the obstacles they had to overcome really motivated me, in that way.
I’ve always treated DJing like a martial art. I’m all about paying dues and climbing in the hierarchy of the best DJs until you reach the black belt, but now I’ve watched Chef’s Table I think the chef allegory is even more on point. I just wish there was a Michelin guide for DJs. And if you tell me that’s what the various annual top 100 DJs in magazines or websites are supposed to be, then they aren’t doing a great job at rewarding people who think outside the box, the way Michelin or Gault & Millau are.
I have this resting bitch face when I DJ, which makes me look really upset and grumpy.
Thanks to your involvement with Overdrive Infinity and Boiler Room, you know better than most the value of the visual spectacle of DJing (in terms of the scrutiny you’re placed under when people are watching via video streams). How do you turn that into a positive aspect of a DJ performance? Is that something you think about much?
People love a DJ who dances and smiles and has a jolly good time behind the decks and does all sorts of charismatic micro gestures. I am conscious that it’s important and I admire people who are in control of their image when they play, and I try as often as I can to be photogenic or just overall nice to look at when I’m playing, but sometimes I’m not skilled enough to do it. The energy and the concentration just take over and I just can’t take my eyes off the equipment because there’s all sorts of weird diagrams happening in my head and I need to stay concentrated if I want to achieve those plans.
I have this resting bitch face when I DJ, that just happens, which makes me look really upset and grumpy. But I guess it’s better than pretending to have a blast in front of people and the camera, and overacting it just because you hope it’s going to be contagious on the dancefloor when in reality neither you nor the audience are actually having that much fun.
I want to see less snobbery and more meritocracy in the DJ world. You should be rewarded if you work hard, no matter your style
Putting aside your own DJ sets, as a partygoer and a music lover, what would you like to see more from other DJs?
More surprises, more life-changing experiences in the club. Right now everyone is throwing the term ‘selector’ around – and granted obviously selection is a huge part of the art – but you have to have a minimum of beat matching skills to be a truly good DJ, because it’s what you choose to superimpose and the chemistry that it creates and how flawlessly your tracks connect that make the people want to stay on the dancefloor. You can’t be a dope selector and a wack technician, and hope to get away with it.
I want to see less snobbery and more meritocracy in the DJ world. You should be rewarded if you work hard, no matter your style, no matter who you are or where you come from, instead of only being accepted if you hang out with the right people or if you champion the right format and check the right boxes at the right moment.