Photography: Jingyu Lin
Styling: Abigail Lipp
Grooming: Dillon Pena
In many respects, DJing has become the ultimate form of plagiarism. Artists mash together pre-existing songs on a laptop as a means of leaving their stamp on someone else’s legacy. You walk into any club, and it’s the same regurgitated bullshit playing full blast as a bartender serves everyone overpriced Stellas. Sound bad? Try attending the festivals: For $80 you get a one-day wristband, conked out white men with God complexes pressing buttons on stage, and under-aged girls overdosing on Ketamine.
That’s not to say DJing isn’t an incredible art-form. Everything I just said is applicable to other music genres — ever heard of Woodstock 1999? But because DJing has transformed from a geeky subgenre into the almighty capitalist monster known as “EDM” and is suddenly associated with power and social value, it’s having somewhat of an identity crisis. On the one hand, you have festival titans riding out their relevancy on the college circuit; on the other, you have purists who have spent years cultivating a sound that distinguishes them from all the noise.
Hugo Pierre Leclercq, who performs under the moniker Madeon, is the latter. At only 21 years old, he’s a prodigy who has collaborated with some of the biggest names in music, including Lady Gaga, Ellie Goulding and Coldplay. He’s also incredibly well spoken and posses a confidence and self-awareness that is rare in someone his age. When interviewed, he controls the process, from beginning until end. He already knows what all your questions are, even the random ones you thought were original, and then throws them back in your face with intellectual gusto. He begins with rehashed answers he’s given every journalist, but then builds upon them to create new conclusions solely indicative of your conversation. Multiple things are taken into consideration: voice inflection, rapport, and silences. In many respects, this embodies his method and approach to DJing; the ability to gauge what is appropriate for each audience, creating something truly exceptional.
We called up the reigning prince of French electronica to discuss magic theory, the rave scene, and his debut album.
I didn’t know this about you before, but I saw on your press bio that you turned to DJing after a brief period of designing and selling magic tricks.
Right, that’s one of the many things I did.
As a magician of ten years, I’m very curious – who’s your favorite magician?
Oh wow! Awesome. I don’t know, here’s the thing; I’m a fan of the design and the methodology and psychology. I enjoy reading books by people writing about magic more than I do watching performances or even performing. I like the science of it a lot. What could I name? Obviously, all the classics like Erdnase, Dai Vernon, and all the greats. But one of my favorite things as a child was this Derren Brown book before he got famous.
Yeah! Pure Effect was wonderful. I thought it was really impressive. There was this other Mentalism book by a Carl something that had a couple of incredible designs in there.
That’s not Corinda’s 13 Steps to Mentalism is it?
No. God, fuck! I need to go to the library again. There’s some beautiful stuff in there.
I was actually working at the Conjuring Arts Research Center over the summer and was surrounded by all these fantastic magic books.
Awesome. I still design effects and stuff. It’s one of my bigger hobbies.
What’s something you’ve designed that you’re particularly proud of?
I have a couple of effects that are not very impressive and very elegantly constructed that I like. Probably the most effective, useful thing I’ve done is this ace production routine. It’s very, very bare and clean and undetectable. I’ve been doing it for six years, over a hundred times, and then I also have the best torn and restored card routine in the world.
Do you now? I’ve been using Reuben Moreland’s and I don’t think anything beats that.
Mine is better! I swear to God, it’s so beautiful. I’m going to sell you my torn and restored card routine right now. It uses one card, no duplicates — a single card. You can do it piece by piece, capture every restoration, and there’s nothing hidden in your hand. It’s really, really fucking perfect and uses a very unique printing thing. It only works on certain cards in the deck with unique printing patterns to their face, such as 4s and 6s. I worked on it for like four years. I love it.
You have to show me that one day.
I’m not a good performer; I don’t enjoy performing very much. I like designing stuff mostly. When drunk enough, I will show something.
Have you noticed any underlying similarities between the creative processes of designing magic effects and making electronic music?
Yeah, I think there’s a similar geekyness and obsession for a very niche subset of the craft. When I got into electronic music production, it had a fairly lame stigma to it, which I feel is similar with magic. I remember when I explained to people that I was producing electronic music they would kind of laugh at me and think, “Boom, boom, techno, druggie stuff. You’re not really a musician.” It had a very similar feel of being part of a community obsessed with detail and by craft. And also the presence of very strong online communities around the subject. I can definitely see parallels between the two.
Things like the Magic Café and various EDM blogs. They’re rooted in sharing and openness.
Yeah, it’s different now. I’m talking about before the term EDM even existed, before electronic music was even on the radio. It’s changed; nowadays everyone wants to be a DJ, but back then it wasn’t big at all.
Suddenly, everyone has a laptop and everyone wants to be a DJ because, recently, it’s become this sense of power and social value.
I can definitely see some of the rock star attributes and cultural sensations in the dance music world. I feel like all these high-school kids are using SoundCloud and making trap mixes instead of playing in rock bands.
In a marketplace that’s become so dilated, how does an artist such as yourself make a name and really stand out from all the noise?
I think you have to be very conscious about not being part of a scene. It can be tempting because for a while scene can be the biggest thing. You want to keep up with it and emulate it, but as a result, you’re going to crash with it. It’s so much more valuable to get your own career independent of anyone else; people should become fans of you, not a genre or something bigger than you. To do that, you have to get a sound unique enough that’s not embracive of current trends. Just make the most of your own identity. I think anyone trying to chase what’s currently popular is going to be doomed.
Tell me a little bit about your specific process for creating music.
It changed a lot over the years, but right now I try to make music that is very intentional. I think it’s more of an intellectual process than anything else. I’ll think about music a lot and observe things in music that I listen to and find something that strikes my interest. I’ll have an idea and let it emerge through elements that are common to my production and songwriting style. Or I’ll experience an emotion in a medium and try to find a way to replicate that in sound. It will generally start with a clear intention of what I want the song to be, either emotionally or conceptually, and then I will sit down and make a blueprint and try to make it really quickly, and essentially have a layout for the whole song and all the chords and main melodies as quickly as I can. I try to build a set of tools to help me achieve those blueprints really quickly. And once it’s there, and if I like what I’m hearing and think the song has potential, I’ll start executing it and spending a lot of effort polishing it and re-creating it from scratch and making sure every decision is conscious, while staying respectful to the original source of inspiration.
What would you say went into making the blueprints for your newest album, Adventure?
The blueprint approach definitely scales up and extrapolates into the other details. I was very intentional in the way I designed it. When I started it, I had a very pure idea of how I wanted it to feel, and I feel like the end product is still fairly similar to that intention. Obviously there were twists and turns in making an album full of surprises, but I think in the end I still stayed faithful to that intention. For me, I was very interested in the contrast between the excitement of social interaction and isolation; one second you’re talking to people at a party and the next, you’re walking home alone in the middle of the night and it’s silent around you. It’s the stark contrast between interaction and loneliness. It’s kind of hard to describe, but I found that transition interesting and felt like it applied to so many different aspects of my life. For instance, the contrast between touring in this hyper-active lifestyle, and producing at home. I would alternate between those two highly contrasting lifestyles and was interested in having a blueprint of an album that started with these happy, sparkly, sometimes juvenile emotions, and then progressively got a little more solitary and contemplative. Visually, I pictured it as walking from this futuristic city into this desert of loneliness.
It has to do with the fact that you’re on stage performing in front of all these people, but then must retreat to create what they come for
Which is not a bad thing. It’s something I enjoy, but it’s definitely a stark contrast.
Before Adventure, you’ve collaborated with some of the biggest names in the industry. Did you have a particular favorite to work with?
I was very lucky to do big collaborations very early. That was always one thing that was appealing to me; I wanted to play shows, write original music, and produce for other people. When I produced for Lady Gaga, that was absolutely a dream come true. She was on the top of my list of people I wanted to collaborate with at that point, so that was memorable, that was very interesting. I came into it very humble, hopefully, and tried to keep this distance so I was a tool for her to execute her vision and it was her album. I was there to execute on what she wanted, rather than trying to stamp on it.
Is there any reason you didn’t reach out to her or any of the other people you’ve collaborated with to work on your newest album?
It didn’t go through my mind, to be honest. I had a fairly clear idea of what kind of sound I wanted vocally on the album. The people I was with were pretty much the top of my list, on my album. I guess there’s also a sense of not overreaching. I would have been a bit embarrassed asking. It’s also different because I’m appealed to Lady Gaga’s scale and ambition of being the biggest thing in the world – this superstar thinking thing. I like the scale of that ambition. But I love observing it, but it’s not necessarily something I would like to re-create. I don’t consider the other people I produce Madeon. It’s production; a different job in a way. Imagine something else.
Who’s your dream artist to collaborate with?
Probably Kanye West and Paul McCartney. I answered that a long time before they actually collaborated together, but those are on the top of my list of goals.
I asked RL Grime this once. When you’re on stage performing, what goes through your head when you’re controlling all these highly sexualized young people just by mashing together various electronic sounds?
DJing is my favorite hobby so I’m pretty relaxed about it. It’s immensely fun and I love it deeply, but it’s not necessarily my passion or something very meaningful to me on an emotional level. It’s just a great, fun activity for me. So I don’t have this sense of responsibility, and I’m pretty casual about it, which enables me to have so much fun. I guess what goes through my head is the problem-solving and puzzle-confidence of DJing. I try to never have a track list, so I’m instead thinking about, “Okay, what should I play next? How should I transition to it? What kind of creative transition should I come up with on the spot?” Just looking at my life and trying to piece together various music. I look at the crowd as this metric of how well [the music] is doing. Or I try to understand what I want, but even doing that makes it like they’re the bad guy in a way. I’m not very invested in the party scene. I don’t go to shows like that so I don’t really understand the people in the crowd most of the time, but I understand having a good time. That’s what matters to me. But I do think I have a certain sense of distance between what’s going on in the crowd.