Franck Roger : Touch of Soul

INTERVIEW

Franck Roger : Touch of Soul
Christophe Chom’s

29 August 2018

Having recently stopped by Bangkok and Phuket on a tour of Asia, the DJ, producer and label boss embodies a generation of “Body & Soul” artists committed to making hips shake and minds dream.

Clubs in the country of smiles only rarely receive artists of the caliber and intensity of Franck Roger.

For twenty years, this prominent member of the House Nation has been churning out recordings and tours, collaborating with an impressive who’s who of electronic music, from Masters at Work to DJ Deep, from the legendary Parisian label Straight Up to the iconic Carl Craig’s Planet E, from his own productions on Real Tone Records and now Home Invasion, to appearances on Defected or Circus Company.

Finding Franck Roger at the turntables of small venues such as Bangkok’s Glow or B-lay Tong Phuket’s Undaman club says a lot about the reality of the Thai scene, where a handful of enthusiasts are trying at all costs to defend quality music in front of a lightweight audience, and in more-than-restrained conditions.

“I discovered Glow during my previous visit to Bangkok, at Vogue Lounge,” Franck told Latitudes. “After a set in front of a mostly empty dance floor, a friend of a friend took me there, telling me ‘come, come, it’s the place to be’ and there Jam, the club’s manager, offered me to come play next time. But apparently, the more we move forward, the earlier the clubs close, there on my rider we’re scheduled for 2:30…”

Promised Land

In the early 2000s, Franck could be found at Bettino’s. Indeed, he worked at that time in this famous record store near the Bastille, a center of gravity for the capital’s soulful and groovy scene.

“It was a wonderful time. I was young, I was 23 years old! We had set up a studio at rue de la folie Méricourt with Olivier Portal, the founder of Playin’ 4 The City and of the Straight Up label. We were installed in quincunx and each had our space. He would come down as soon as he heard something he liked. We smoked and we made music all day, it was the time of Tamashi with Mike L., a first maxi, with Olivier Portal playing keyboards. Right after, we created Sun Orchestra with my old friend, Jérôme Batistelli. I met up with him again three years ago in Berlin, and we’re going to start Sun Orchestra again, but to do a live show.”

These were the beautiful days of a very musical House, full of groove and without concessions on the beat, but still giving pride of place to the vocals and to the instruments, mixing them blissfully with Jazz, with Soul…

“At that time, there was no minimal, no micro-house, or anything like that. Groovy techno from Detroit, yes, but for my part I was more New York, New Jersey, Chicago… I grew up with disco, my parents bought a lot of records and went dancing a lot. In our house it was a lot of black music: Motown, Donna Summer, Temptations, Supremes, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder…”

Flashback

In the 80s, when a young Franck really started out in nightclubs, there was still no clear distinction within what was agreed to be called Dance music.

“This was the time of Break for Love that always played on NRJ, and we asked ourselves what it was, House, Dance? DJs were rocking Lil’ Louis, tunes like Promised Land, Show me Love, Dr. Alban… We danced, we didn’t care about labels. But what really made me groove was the music of New York… After my parents’ divorce, we left the province and I found myself in the suburbs, in an inner city in Colombes that contrasted heavily with my life in Vendée… That’s where I discovered rap, Cypress Hill, IAm, NTM. I lived with an uncle who was very knowledgeable in music and who made me discover Terent Trent d’Arby, Neneh Cherry, Acid Jazz…

My father died at that time, unfortunately, and I received a little bit of money, very little, like, €1,500. My mother told me to go get my driver’s license, but I said no, I’m going to buy MK2! I bought the turntables, a mixer, a pair of Bose speakers and an amp and, after my evening’s homework, I started to mix…”

Shortly after this, Franck left port and spent three years in London. At Burger King, where he worked and cleaned the toilets, an Indian colleague offered him to work in a nightclub…

“It wasn’t really more glorious over there, we were buzz boys, we cleared the glasses, we took out the trash, but the atmosphere was more pleasant. The club’s boss always saw me arrive with a Rough Trade or Tower Records bag, and one day he tells me, ‘hey, let me listen to what you have’.

I played Allison Limerick Where Love Lives, which I had on a Roger Sanchez compilation. And then he tells me, ‘OK, you want to do a warm up next Friday?’

It was my life’s biggest fear! This was in a club called Another Ground at Oxford Street, where the resident DJs were Seb Fontaine, Judge Jules and Sasha… These guys had it, it was the good days of the Ministry of Sound. We went there when we left the club, we had passes. I still have shivers from it, there was Morales, Masters at Work, Junior Vasquez… Everyone was there, it was really a blessed time, around 1996.

And so I kind of became a resident at Another Ground for a little while, and then I went back to Paris to calm down the excesses. There, I recorded tapes, I pirated DJ Deep’s broadcasts, it was a revelation. He was receiving everything, DAT from King Street, from Blaze, from Kerri Chandler… I cut my teeth in the Marais’ gay bars, and then I won a DJ contest that allowed me to play at Gay Pride and on FG, I wasn’t ying too high at that time either…

At that time I met my friend Jérome Batistelli from Sun Orchestra, Mike L and Bettino, Olivier Portal, Cyril (K)… With Jérome (Shade of Soul) we started to work for a while, and then Bettino helped me settle down and I started to produce among all these great people: BNO, Next Evidence, The Deep, Playin’ 4 the City…”

Franck then created a label whose productions were played for a solid decade on the decks of countless passionate DJs all over the planet: Real Tone, which hosted famous artists such as Jovonn, Mr V, Shonky, Maya Jane Coles and the Martinez Brothers.

Then, little by little, he developed a more electronic sound, more trippy and less soulful, which led him to create a new label, Home Invasion. This didn’t prevent him from bringing his old accomplice Mandel Turner together with other more purely electronic artists, such as D’julz.

“I try to stay modern in my music. For example, when I did After All (published in 2011 with vocals by Mendel Turner) I didn’t try to do something soulful, and the piece worked precisely because it hasn’t the codes, couplet, chorus, verse, chorus, ad lib, etc… The voice is just a hook, and it gathered everybody. I tried to do other pieces like that, but it didn’t work. Only one person can consistently do one-shots that always end up being hits, and that’s Dennis Ferrer.”

Lost soul?

“Unfortunately, purely Soulful music doesn’t work anymore,” Franck continued, “that’s why we stopped the 5 Beats parties at Djoon for example, the last night we did there was with DJ Spinna, we had an attendance of 200, while two years before it was packed! Times have changed, people no longer want to pay to get into clubs, drug use is massive and the public expects more extreme sensations. Also, we have to say that Soulful scene did shoot itself in the foot. We haven’t been able to reinvent or to modernize ourselves, to give a new dimension to the songs. On Traxsource, the reference download site, you almost only find Bill Whiters covers, stuff with samples by Loleatta Holloway or Defected acapella…

Fortunately, there are guys like Little Louie Vega who still do real productions!
To tell the truth right now I want to do rock, dub, I would like to do an album between Grace Jones, Arthur Russel and Little Dragon, you see, make a Franck Roger album like Extensions of Yesterday on Circus Company in 2013. I don’t think so, although on this album I still showed a few spins…”

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