Sébastien Léger: Backstage at Piknic Électronik

Photo by: Soft Melancholy
Photo by: Soft Melancholy

We spent an hour discussing music, travel, family and life with Sébastien Léger at the special 15 year anniversary of Piknic Electronion September 1. Sebastien has been involved in the music industry for over 10 years and has seen and felt it all. He shares a bit of his experiences with us in this piece – from playing in expected countries, to discussing how his family influenced his love for music. A man of deep thought and extraordinary talent, the humble Sébastien was kind enough to share a part of himself with us before headlining the Piknic Electronik main stage.

Hey Sébastien! Thank you for joining us here at Piknic Electronik. How are you?

I’m really good! So happy to be here!

And you’ve just come from Lebanon if I’m not mistaken?

Correct, I was in Lebanon just under a week ago. It’s very interesting to see that the scene is very alive there, you know? The Middle East isn’t famous for parties; but that part of the Middle East – they love it, and I love it too. I would definitely go back, and there are some discussions about another show next year.

Lebanon is a beautiful and diverse country! Do you find your perceptions of countries change as you visit them?

To be honest, I’ve learned that it’s important not to have a specific perception of any country. If I’m booked somewhere, it means there is a scene there. There are some place of course that aren’t well known for their ‘love of the party’ but there’s definitely some sort of shift in this kind of music; as I mentioned, Lebanon has a vibrant scene. I’ve been touring in the region quite a bit, I’ve been to Egypt and I’m going to Jordan next month. I hope they like the music I make!

I’ve learned that it’s important not to have a specific perception of any country. If I’m booked somewhere, it means there is a scene there.

Do you find that what we may describe as the more underground style of electronic music is becoming more widely appreciated?

I’ve seen these changes but they’ve been subtle and incremental. I’m sort of like a diesel car right now – I’m working hard and I’m constantly changing but also taking my time. I went through so many styles, but I kept –  or I think I kept – some kind of funky style, in a way. Whatever I do, deep house, techno – whatever it is – I try to keep it groovy and funky. Maybe in the Middle East and some of these new dance music spots are attracted to this type of flow? I assume that some places I do not go, but some other DJs frequent, are just more attracted to music that isn’t like mine. I don’t go to these places for any specific reason, it’s just how it is.

How do you find Canada as one of the spots you’ve visited?

Ohhh Canada is the best in North America (sorry USA!). I have no idea why it’s the best to me, but I suppose in my case I’ve been all over Canada and I’ve always had a crazy good time. In USA it’s more of a mixed bag.

Last time you were in Montreal you played at Newspeak, so Piknic Electronik is a bit of a different vibe…

Haha! I remember that night perfectly! I was so sick, I had a terrible cold and I was so, so weak. I felt I didn’t deliver my best, but I really tried. Today I’m feeling so much better though, and I’m ready to play! Newspeak wasn’t that long ago, and I’m glad Montreal enjoyed despite my illness. The people who attended were definitely giving off good energy which helped, and today I feel the same way. It’s always more about the crowd, who give me something special. That’s the best I can describe it.

Do you find traveling has both it’s upsides and downsides? 

I have to say, people don’t have any idea what it is to travel all the time. People arrive at the gig, they have fun, and they go home – and they assume that you are on the same wave length as them. The actual shows are like 1% of my life. The rest is standing, waiting, sleeping upright and uncomfortably. If there was a button that could transport me from A to B I’d say “WHERE DO I SIGN?!” That would change my life. Wow.

Sometimes I actually have to arrive a few days before for whatever reason and it’s a waste of my life in lines or alone in hotel rooms! I’m not complaining, don’t get me wrong; there’s so much I appreciate about my career. But sometimes you just need to relax. There’s an upside and downside to every thing that we do. For example, I’m here for one day. What can I really do in one day? I’ve visited Montreal 10 times, but I haven’t discovered much of this city.

If you could be doing anything else for a living, what would it be?

Hmmm. Does it have to be something other than music? If not, I’d love to be a sound engineer – maybe even a ghost producer! Haha! Some people have asked me to ghost produce for them but it’s not my thing in all honesty. Apart from music, I wouldn’t mind being involved in designing furniture for residential purposes. I love architecture. I love art. I’m drawn to this field because I used to be involved in fine arts in school and I was about to go into that line of career, but then I found myself in music and the rest is history… I was good at drawing, but I preferred music even though I’m just OK at it.

So you are really a true definition of an ‘artist’!

Yeah, actually it runs in my family. It was always there in the family. My parents were musicians.

Photo by: Soft Melancholy

Photo by: Soft Melancholy

I noticed that your family played an important role in your love for music. I recall seeing the beautiful post you wrote about your father when he passed, which coincidentally was right after you played here at Newspeak a few months back.

My father played a big role in my love for music, it’s true. He used to play the clarinet. He was in school when he won the National Music Award, he won first prize in that and Music Theory. He was in the national orchestra, and so was my mum. She played the cello. They were both the best in their fields in France – but I was not that good! I can’t even read music. But I trust that I have a musical ear.

My family being involved in music, I consider a gift. I don’t mean to sound pretentious or say I’m gifted – but it does feel like I’m predisposed to it because of them. It shaped who I am. I was always surrounded by music. I am always thankful for them.

Indeed it seems like music runs in your family. You have taken the next step in terms of musical mediums.

I wouldn’t say that I’m taking things to the next step! Haha! I honestly appreciate and enjoy the traditional forms of music production. I’m sort of old fashioned, I’d rather use the way I know to work, because I have experience in that type of method, than use something new. If I don’t really understand or know what it is that I’m doing, I don’t enjoy it and I feel like it can block creativity. I’m not comfortable with super brand new tech. People your age – I think your age anyways – they’re so much more tech savvy. These kids learn how to master things instantly, it’s crazy.

Digital files aren’t as ‘cool’ but a good mp3 or wav file will sound so much better than the vinyl.

Production software is definitely more accessible. It’s a different time – we’re not schlepping along to vinyl stores spending hours trying to find a good jam. Everything is at our finger tips.

I both miss and don’t miss that time. Vinyls are a great way to discover music in a very tangible way. But it’s so expensive, so time consuming, and heavy to carry around. They vinyl sound isn’t as good as people claim it is – yes, it’s special and warm and all of that. But it’s not as good as they make it out to be. It’s different but not better. Digital files aren’t as ‘cool’ but a good mp3 or wav file will sound so much better than the vinyl. Let’s not get into the technical side too much because this discussion would never end! Basically you’re going to miss some frequencies and you have to be careful not to be too loud or to this or to that. Digital is more limitless.

Haha! Since we were discussing your style of music production, your latest EP, Model D on Systematic, can you share a little bit about that?

Oh you’re certainly well informed! That’s actually a perfect example. Most of the synths in that EP were analog. For the past 2-3 years, it’s been 100% analog. In two of those tracks I’ve used these big modular synths that I have at home. It started with ideas, random stuff! From that point I build around what I’ve done on the modular. This is my way of working now. I’ve been making music for a long time, and when you have a routine things sort of sound the same because they either have the same groove or composition or harmonies. It’s in there and it comes out automatically. Using the modular like I do, it’s a bit more random and it’s inspiring. You wouldn’t come up with some of these patterns using your computer and a mouse. It’s fascinating. I still think my music still sounds like me, but it’s just a new way I like to do things. It’s refreshing to me.

I don’t believe I’m some kind of sound pioneer. I’m just trying to discover more of myself all the time because I am all I know. I don’t want to follow the same recipe over and over. EXCEPT MY KICK!!! I’ve had one kick for 10 years!!! Every time I try to change it, I can’t.

Using the modular like I do, it’s a bit more random and it’s inspiring.  You wouldn’t come up with some of these patterns using your computer and a mouse.

It’s your signature! If it works it works. It’s you.

True! I think people should listen to my style from the past 2 years because in a way I’ve returned back to my roots. I’m producing and playing more similarly to what I was doing 10 years ago than 5. I’m bringing that experience with me back to my origins. I think artists like to swap and discover styles, which I believe is important too. But I feel like I can go back to that sound and style I always loved, but with even more confidence in what I’m doing.

Sébastien Léger is on Facebook// Soundcloud