DJ David Guetta living the moment after 20-year wait for stardom
Music maker who championed house over more commercial fare never thought his time would come. Now it has, he is simply thrilled still to be performing live, as he will in Hong Kong this month
You remember that period, about six years ago, when house suddenly took over from R&B and hip hop as the dominant idiom of mainstream pop music? David Guetta did that. The 47-year-old French DJ, musician and producer is responsible more than any other person for one of the more seismic shifts in recent popular music history. If you're looking for a figurehead for the electronic dance music (EDM) takeover of the charts, he's your man.
Guetta performs at AsiaWorld-Arena on June 14, having played at the same venue two years ago. "I have an amazing memory of that night. It was a fantastic show, really crazy, and I'm so looking forward to coming back," he says
He still gets a thrill from performing. "Everything I do in my life is about that moment. The way I sleep, the way I eat, the way I think, the way I make music - it's all about what's going to happen when I drop that record."
Guetta's big break came in 2009, when three things happened within a month. The Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am, a fan of Guetta's minor 2007 hit Love is Gone, asked him to produce a song that subsequently became inescapable: I Gotta Feeling. At the same time, R&B superstar and former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland caught one of Guetta's DJ sets, and loved an instrumental track he played.
Rowland asked him about it when they subsequently met, and when she discovered it was his own music, asked if she could add some vocals to it. The result was the euphoric, soaring When Loves Takes Over, and suddenly Guetta was a star in his own right. Then, not long afterwards, urban music megastar Akon heard a performance of the song and suggested to Guetta that the two work together. The Frenchman booked a studio that night and the result, Sexy Bitch (aka Sexy Chick for radio play), outsold even its predecessor.
But for an overnight sensation, Guetta was quite a slow-burner, plugging away as a DJ and latterly a producer for more than 20 years before it suddenly all went crazy with his fourth album, while he was already in his 40s. As a DJ, he started in the 1980s playing soul and disco, and for most of his career focused on house rather than commercial pop. As an artist he released his first single, Nation Rap, in 1990, although not much followed before 2001.
"From the beginning, I always wanted the house scene to grow bigger and believed that it would," he says. "I felt there was no justice that we were not getting as much love from the media as hip hop or rock. But I never expected it to happen to me."
Signed to Virgin on the recommendation of Thomas Bangalther of Daft Punk, a personal friend (he got his US record deal thanks to Paul Oakenfold, who became a fan after a chance meeting at a festival in the UK), his first two albums Just a Little More (2002) and Guetta Blaster (2004) made little impact outside the francophone world, and 2007's Pop Life fared only slightly better. But since 2009's One Love, featuring When Love Takes Over and Sexy Bitch, the hits have just kept flowing: Getting' Over You, Sweat, Titanium, Lovers on the Sun and Dangerous, among many others.
The 2011 album Nothing But the Beat featured one side of monster pop collaborations and the other of entirely instrumental electronic tracks - Guetta also owns electronic label Jack Back Records - while 2014's Listen, recorded after his break-up with his wife of 22 years, Cathy, was his most personal, reflective album.
After all that, he remains surprisingly modest, perhaps because his mega-fame took so long coming. The name of his summer residency on the Spanish party island of Ibiza sums it up: F*** Me I'm Famous. "I just love music, to be honest," he says, sounding slightly bemused by the whole thing.
One secret of that success has been the range of his collaborators, with a particular focus on urban artists - representatives of the sort of music that dominated the charts before he did. He's worked with an astonishing line-up of pop royalty, including but not limited to Pitbull, Rihanna, Ludacris, Timbaland, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg, Nicky Minaj, Chris Brown and Lil Wayne.
Of all his collaborators, he selects multi-faceted Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler as the most interesting and surprising he's worked work with. "Sia is one of the most spectacular people," he says.
"She's really an alien when it comes to writing songs. It's incredible to witness it. She's such an amazing performer and when she sings, anything sounds good, so I have to try not to fall into the trap of relying on her voice.
"The technical aspect of music is important, but what makes a record a hit is not the execution - it's the original creative idea."
Inevitably, as the primary living avatar of dance-pop, in addition to acclaim and popularity, Guetta also receives his fair share of flak. His explicitly commercial sound has become muso shorthand for the cheap house-driven excesses of recent pop - the juddering, soaring builds and drops, the churning bass lines, the Auto-Tune - and his live sets are often sniped at by underground DJs.
Not that any of this bothers Guetta himself. "DJing is a different job now," he says. "When we do a show, it's a concert, and we're selling ourselves as artists and not DJs."
And there are very few DJs from the '80s who can say that.
David Guetta, June 14, 8pm, AsiaWorld-Arena, Hong Kong International Airport, Lantau, HK$580, HK$880, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 3128 8288