Frenchman Charles Siegling says he owes the success to time living in Hong Kong
Techno star Charles Siegling is returning to the city where he first found fame, writes Oliver Clasper
Hong Kong isn't the first city that springs to mind when it comes to electronic music. The city's nightlife and clubbing scene is vibrant, having grown in diversity and reputation during the past few years, but to date it has produced only one internationally recognised name.
The techno duo Technasia - made up of Parisian Charles Siegling and Hong Kong native Amil Khan - met in the French capital in the mid-1990s, but won global acclaim in electronic music circles after relocating to Hong Kong. Both were studying in Paris - with Siegling pursuing a degree in film studies - and both had fallen hard for the vibrant and hedonistic world of house and techno, genres which were still in their early stages. This was the tail end of the acid house boom, which had exploded in Britain, and a good 10 years before the ascent of megastar DJs.
"I was initially interested in working in sound design for films, but I soon realised that clubbing and electronic music resonated with me in such a way that it was all I wanted to be involved in," Siegling says over the phone from Ibiza, where he has been playing gigs over the summer. "My family had given me a synthesiser when I was eight, and as the years went by I added a drum machine and other equipment. From there I started making music, inspired by Depeche Mode and that kind of sound."
By 1994 Siegling was DJing at clubs in Paris and forging a reputation of his own, inspired by the heavyweight underground DJs from the US such as Detroit luminaries Jeff Mills and Derrick May, as well as "the best French DJ of all time", Laurent Garnier.
After meeting Khan in Paris, Siegling visited him in Hong Kong, and once he saw the city he knew he had to relocate and focus on Technasia full time. "I've always said Hong Kong is a vertical city. It's also the most futuristic city in the world. It's made up of islands, and in a way isn't supposed to have all these buildings, which makes it so unique. I was born in Paris, but my family live in the south, so I was used to the countryside: fields, sky, animals, cheese, baguettes - you know, the traditional French picture."
As the new millennium drew near, Technasia released a slew of singles on their own label, Sino, including Force, which became an anthem in techno circles worldwide and shone a spotlight on these producers operating out of Hong Kong. It's a pulsating, driving, dancefloor track that manages to be uplifting without losing any of its weight; the accompanying video (which can be seen on YouTube) is the perfect testament to a city that throbs and heaves at a million miles an hour. In 2001, the duo released their debut LP, Future Mix; by then, they were virtually unstoppable.
Despite the name of their outfit, neither Siegling nor Khan were focused on trying to "put Asia on the map", or represent either the city or the region as a whole. "It was really me and Amil making music for ourselves, without the added pressure of holding the torch for something else." They began playing in Hong Kong as well as Asia and Europe, including a 50-date live tour in 2003 that preceded their second full-length release, 2006's Popsoda.
But by 2008 Khan was the father of a young family, and was increasingly focused on his family business. It became clear that despite their strong friendship, Technasia couldn't carry on touring together. It was an amicable split, but a tough decision nonetheless. "Music, both the making and playing of it, has to be a full-time thing, and if you can't commit fully then it gets very hard," Siegling says. "But we've been good friends for 20 years now, and always will be. We have something very special. He's still interested in the music I make, and asks me what I think about his own projects. We have a connection that can't be broken."
Siegling continued to perform and release music under the name Technasia, and although he had all but left Hong Kong, he released a third album in 2010 titled Central, which he describes as "mastered in Paris but born in Hong Kong". With a cover featuring the red tiles of the Central MTR station, the album was a love letter to the city Siegling had called home for almost half his life. "It was strange. It was kind of the last album as the old Technasia and the first as the new Technasia." Since then, Siegling has become a staple of the global techno and house circuit. He left Paris almost three years ago for the more relaxed climes of Amsterdam, describing his home city with a mixture of affection and frustration. But having turned 40 and becoming a father, his wild days are behind him: "I wanted to give my daughter a better life. I didn't want her to grow up in the mess that Paris has become."
This summer he will play 18 dates in the biggest clubs in Ibiza and Europe, but arguably the most important gig will take place on June 27, when Siegling returns to Hong Kong to play at Central club Volar.
"Coming back this time will be strange for me as I'll only be [here] for one night. I'm used to coming for at least a week. It doesn't feel right to me, as the city is basically a second home. I should be staying longer," he says. "But I've heard great things about the new Volar, so it's going to be a great night."
Technasia, June 27, 10pm, Volar, B/F, 38-44 D'Aguilar St, Lan Kwai Fong, HK$200 (advance from www.ticketflap.com HK$250 (door). Inquiries: 2810 1510