In the midst of his worldwide DJ gigs, experiencing a highly inspirational phase in life, and envisioning an exciting future, I had the opportunity to get hold of the French Techno stalwart François X. Having just returned from performances across Europe and the US a few days prior, François-Xavier, by his birth name, began telling me the details of his vibrant and exceptionally busy past weeks. It’s no surprise that he has become a highly in-demand and celebrated DJ and producer, consistently delivering captivating sets that blend fast-paced techno, elements of trance and ghetto-tech with a touch of elegance. For over a decade, François X has showcased his talent at renowned venues such as Concrete, Berghain, and various festivals. 
In his latest two EPs, the label head has explored new sonic territories, pushing the boundaries of techno, with its unique sound and scene, thereby inspiring artists and audiences worldwide. 
To delve into the core of his inspirational mindset and creative vision, I sat down with François X and discussed everything from his evolving sound and artistic approach to his ventures in operating labels and his future plans.

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Your sound is very versatile and seems to be constantly evolving, for example, with your last EP “CEO,” which was sonically something new. How would you personally describe your sound and how it has developed over time?

The characteristic, the shared element within my music, has a somewhat cinematic quality. It’s emotional, with a lot of deep feelings. I’m making music not only for fun; it’s like an emotion I need to translate into music. So there’s this huge and deep feeling around it. It sometimes leans into this mix of melancholia and utopia – sometimes you have melancholia in the background, but always with a utopian dream. 

“I think it evolves naturally. As an artist, you need to have a certain appreciation and be in the present.”

You must be aware and accept the music you are known for. What I mean by that is as an artist, you have a peak time, a momentum when you’re young and part of this fresh wave of artists. You are trending, which changes when you get older. Then, in turn, you have to be aware that you’re not always the reference, so you have to pay attention. And when you pay attention, you can also discover fresh stuff that could put you in a fresher mood and then make your evolution more natural. I’m not following the trend to be trending but rather discovering a trend, picking out elements, and mixing them with my own stuff – and having something fresh again. For me, this process happened a bit before COVID, and I refreshed my sound a bit. In the techno scene, everything was about speeding up the BPM. But I think my personal evolution was setting up my creativity freely, not following any trend or rule. And by setting myself free, I could expand my creativity and be more versatile. I think this evolution came from both sides – being aware of the scene I’m in and also setting myself free.

I appreciate the way you approach sound creation by drawing elements from various sources and skillfully combining them. You seem to not just adopt what you hear elsewhere or follow trends blindly, but instead, you take those elements and create something entirely new.

Exactly! Sometimes a new style pops up, and many older, more experienced artists would approach it with a bit of defiance. But on the contrary, you can also say ‘Interesting, good idea. I’m gonna mix it up.’ And this is what I did. At first, I was also a bit more like, ‘Oh, what is this?’ But there is always going to be new people, the new generation – do they have better ideas? No, but other ideas, newer ideas. And then you’re like ‘Oh, cool idea,’ and a new, fresh wave of inspiration is coming your way. 

I assume this was partly the way you created your latest EP, “CEO”? It’s giving more elements of pop music and modern dance music.

The previous EP “Digital Fever” was also a bit like that, but I think for “CEO,” the first track “Infinite Anthems,” for which I did the latest music video, was the most significant step I took. And it was indeed linked to what I just told you – this track was something completely new for me; I even sing on it. During COVID, I started getting more into pop stuff and producing rap beats with my friend Sam Tiba, which gave me the idea of producing my own music like this. And then for “CEO,” I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s drop a track like this.’ And the reaction? Nobody was expecting it. The funny thing is, when I started doing this, a wide range of ideas opened up to me, but there are even more – the possibilities are endless. I don’t want to say bad things about techno because this is my music. However, sometimes you feel a bit restricted by its rules, but you can quickly turn them around. By allowing myself to produce this poppy/rappy track, I was like, ‘Yeah, you can sing, you can use different kinds of effects, a different structure, and then you can make a more pop-like video, not a classic techno one.’ I thought that this was cool for me. I think that was the start of doing more stuff like this. It’s not a radical change, but it’s part of the progress.

In addition to your productions, your journey began with live performances and DJing. How do you approach live performances? How do factors like the unique energy and atmosphere of diverse venues — ranging from massive festivals to intimate settings like Berghain closing sets — influence the dynamics of your sets?

I’m gonna be super honest; the difficulties about this ‘live practice’ are quite the opposite from a more regular pop or rap performance – we are touring around 52 weeks a year. That means that we don’t have a break. So sometimes you are in a loop of playing, playing, playing. And I can tell you that sometimes it creates this lack of feeling it because you’re so much on autopilot. You’re playing show after show, and sometimes you’re not anticipating a show, but you’re just playing the show. And sometimes, when the show is really great, afterwards you’re like, ‘Whoa.’ You’re not mentally preparing yourself for that. Of course, sometimes it’s different; you have big festivals or a specific show like a Boiler Room, but usually I don’t know what to expect. If I was a rap artist and I had an album released, performing it every show on tour, I’d always be prepared. But for us, it’s playing a new show every time, so the preparation is just to get yourself in shape to be ready to play the night. Hence, when you tour a lot, it is difficult to prepare your show artistically. Of course, you renew your playlist and the tracks you’re going to play, but sometimes you’re in a loop. Then it’s like you’re just making a plan. Do you stop at the hotel? You go for dinner, and then you play? It’s more about the surprising part of having a good show like, ‘Oh, this was great.’ But the ‘It’s gonna be great’ – this preparation only happens four or five times a year when you have a Boiler Room or when you play at a venue with massive capacity. So yeah, preparing a show means you have to be in shape. If we talk about the physical and mental aspects, I’m not drinking alcohol and don’t do any drugs. I never did. So for me, it’s just like going to a city, having a rest, preparing my set, going to dinner, taking a nap, and then being ready. But when you play a lot, you can get frustrated because sometimes you play the same tracks all the time, and you’re like, ‘I want something more fresh, more new.’ But you are always craving for more music.
Getting back to your question, how venues for parties influence my sets – the size, fame, times, and specificities are crucial. If you play a closing set for 10 or 12 hours, you have to prepare mentally and physically to feel at ease. The biggest difference is when you play at a festival because you usually only have one hour and a half, and most of the audience is not only there for you but also for all the other artists and for the festival itself. So you have to be really effective because when you’re playing for a big crowd, you can’t just start slow and build up. No, you have to be straight to the point. That is the general contrast between festivals and clubs.

“In Berghain, it’s different though. You have four hours in this big club and you have this specific vibe. I know it by heart because I’ve played so many times there, and you need to embrace that vibe.”

In addition to these factors, how does the scene or crowd influence your performances? Do you notice that every club, every city, every scene has a different crowd and atmosphere?

To be honest, it often feels homogeneous. I feel that the most radical changes I’m experiencing in the scene are between festivals, clubs, and Berghain.

Any memorable performances that ever stood out to you the most to this date?

When I closed Concrete in Paris. I played the last track of the club. It was cool, it was memorable to have the chance to really play the last track. An honor for me. But I have so many memories that I can’t pick a single one. It’s like, it used to be a blank paper, but there are so many memories that it is already a painting now, you know? 
But the Concrete one was something…

Speaking of Concrete, what does the club mean to you?

Concrete came at a moment in my life where I was slowly stopping my other job and becoming more known. Concrete propelled me to a more international audience.

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Getting back to the scene, you’ve been actively involved since the mid 2000s. Reflecting on it at the beginning of your career, how has the scene evolved over the time until today?

I started to officially play in 2007. Back then I was still working in finance. Music was more like a passion but it was not something I intended to do as a professional; there was no plan. When people say the scene was better before, actually the only difference is that there was no social media. It was just the start of the Facebook artist page. So the interaction was more distant. But this is the only difference because it was always the same music, fans, clubs, and (self-)promotion. It was the same. When people say it was better before, then it’s because there were no phones. It is just the technological tools that have changed. 
Same for the technical aspect – when the CDJs arrived, before the USB sticks, some people would be like, ‘They’re fake DJs, they’re playing on CD and we’re playing on vinyl.’ Every new technological item or tool comes with this slow approval moment. In maybe 15 or 20 years, there will be a new tool or equipment, and then Generation Z might be the ones to respond with defiance. That’s why I’m saying the only differences are technology and social media being more present nowadays.

There is this ongoing conversation on a shift from a more underground approach, what Techno is originally about, to a more mainstream and commercial realm.

Look at Sven Väth videos at Love Parade in Berlin in 2001; he’s playing in front of millions. Or Carl Cox, or Fatboy Slim, when he had this Beach Festival, there were millions of people. And I remember seeing videos when I was young, those archives on the internet, showing ravers in the early 90s being present on TV news asking for acceptance like, ‘We are not bad people. We are a movement; please let us do our thing. Give us spaces.’ And now that people are more accepting it’s more democratic. People can’t see the resemblance between them with their pal and the new people, the more commercial people. Back in the day, the scene was smaller.

“We pushed the scene to the max, we are all part of its rise to popularity and fame.”

Everyone who’s involved in the industry is basically part of its growth as well. Especially you, with the labels that you founded. That was a really big part of shaping the French techno scene. What motivated you to start your label DEMENT3D back then?

DEMENT3D was created by a friend of mine (HBT) as a party. He asked me to join him a few years after the ignition. We did parties in Paris around 2010 at Social Club with artists from the scene, such as Marcel Dettmann and Joy Orbison. We were not promoters, we invited everyone who we wanted so we were having friends around us who were doing good music. And I think after a few parties, after like two years, we were like, ‘You know what, let’s start a label to share the French vibe.’ That’s how we started. We did around 20 EPs and eventually we shaped the French techno sound. We had a huge impact on the scene and we were the first French Label of the Month on Resident Advisor. And then I started XX LAB.

XX LAB – what inspired you to create this label? Also, what is the difference to DEMENT3D and how would you describe its aesthetic and mission?

I’m alone this time. It is really linked with the fact that I wanted to set myself free. So basically, I’m a man of many influences and passions – fashion as well, for example. But I’m part of this generation, the ‘low-key generation,’ you know, you don’t show off; it’s more giving ‘if you know, you know.’ But at some point, you have to show what you’re doing. And in the back of my mind, I was like, ‘Okay, it’s time to test your taste and your direction, is it good? Is it gonna make sense to people?’ And at the same time, I wanted to be free. So that’s what motivated me to create XX LAB.

“I founded XX LAB to be on my own and to be free – to test and try out my artistic vision.”

Where do you see the label in the next years?

For me, it’s a platform. I started the label as a music label, but I want to do more stuff on it, such as clothing, music, artistic events…

So what other ventures are you planning on doing? Anything specific already?

For example, fictional storytelling. In the setting of a dystopian world. So with each of my releases or projects on the label, I have created elements, transposed from this XX LAB world. For example, the ‘Infinite Anthems’ video has this dystopian futuristic feel. I want to explore this concept further in exhibitions, presenting all these artistic elements which are all linked.

I see. This concept and futuristic theme also were very evident in your “CEO” EP.

Now all in all, after we delved into your labels, projects and career developments – where do you see yourself now at this point in your career? And what’s to come?

This question is deep! I’m seeing myself more and more confident in what I’m doing; I’m more open. And at the moment, I’m opening a lot of new channels and giving myself more freedom – no limits, breaking the limits.

“Right now I’m shaping my vision, pushing my creativity to the maximum, so I can fully embrace my vision in the future.”

Showing it to the world.

Exactly. That is my goal.

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François X’s latest EP “CEO”

fashion editor JOY SINANIAN
fashion assistant CAMILLE HUGUENIN