Q&A: David Guetta on Leading EDM's American Takeover

'I didn't bring it to America. I just made it acceptable'

david guetta
© Erik Kabik/ erikkabik.com
David Guetta performs at Encore Beach Club in Las Vegas.
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David Guetta insists on sharing his salad. It's a windy Memorial Day in Las Vegas, and the French DJ-producer is relaxing in his expansive suite at the Encore hotel. Below sits the posh Encore Beach Club pool, where yesterday afternoon Guetta played a two-hour set, mixing his massively successful pop singles with thumping electro beats – the same ones that made him famous in Europe long before he crashed the U.S. in 2009, both with his One Love LP and a little Black Eyed Peas hit called "I Gotta Feeling."

"You want to eat?" Guetta asks. "Look at this salad; it's huge," he persists. "These are American portions anyway. You wonder why everybody's fat in America." He grabs a small serving of raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing and nudges it across the table. Resistance is hopeless. The 44-year-old father of two begins to smile.

"You see – there is a different vibe for this interview already," Guetta says, laughing. He'll co-headline a sold-out XS nightclub gig with the Swedish DJ Avicii later that night, and pocket several hundred thousand dollars in the process. Despite all this, Guetta is a humble, soft-spoken and patient man. Pausing every so often to cut his filet mignon, Guetta talked with Rolling Stone about recording from the road, leading EDM's American takeover and more.

How did you spend your day here in Las Vegas?
Today was not a usual day. I got totally jet-lagged, so I went to bed at noon. I spent my afternoon in bed.

What's all that equipment sitting on that table?
That little box? It's called UAD – all the best compressors and reverbs and effects you can find in a very expensive studio, in the form of plug-ins. So I can make music without going to the studio and using my laptop.

Have you come to prefer this portable style of recording?
I don't really have a choice. And to be honest, it became for me a standard way to do it. I'm not [of the] studio generation. Before I would make music in my home studio instead of doing it on the road. But the idea is almost the same. The first time I went to a studio in my life was for "I Gotta Feeling." All the kids now, that's how they work. It's also about the power of laptops now.

You play shows all over the world, but Las Vegas in particular has become an epicenter for dance music. People are calling it the new Ibiza.
Everyone here loves to compare it to Ibiza, but you can't really compare it to Ibiza. When it was born in Ibiza it was not an industry yet, whereas this is starting already as an industry. So it's difficult to compare. Vegas is extremely organized and marketed. Ibiza, at the beginning, I remember going to full-moon parties that were for free and people would take mushrooms and look at the moon and the stars and you would have thousands of cars in the middle of nowhere. That's how it started. Is this a huge phenomenon? Yes. Is this a good thing? Yes. It's wonderful.

 I say [Vegas] is becoming the new Ibiza. But it's not yet. Because only now people are starting to understand this music. The first years I was coming here, they would come to see the biggest DJ the day before they went to see the best magician. I can feel kids are more into dance music every time I come. But at the beginning, it was like, "Ugh." We have a mission. We're here to give a good time to people but we're also here to make them discover new sounds. We have a responsibility in always pushing it further.

House music was born in cities like Chicago and Detroit, but it's taken years for dance music to reach mass popularity in the U.S. Why do you think that is?
Yes, it was born in Chicago and Detroit and then European people turned it into something trendy and popular. It's just that for some reason media were refusing to see the culture, even though it was here in the U.S. This music was born in the gay black clubs, and then it was the rave scene. So the image was, "OK, this music is for gay guys or kids on drugs." A lot of people are saying, "You brought that to America." I didn't bring it to America. I just showed the people that were refusing to see it how big it is. I just made it acceptable.

You've worked with many hip-hop and R&B artists, from Lil Wayne and Usher to Nicki Minaj. How deliberate was that?
I was listening to hip-hop at home and I was playing electronic music. One day I was like, "Why can't I try to put it together?" But those communities were really opposite at the time so it was difficult. It just happened.  I remember when I produced "Sexy Bitch" and "I Gotta Feeling" and all those records, every urban artist was calling me and saying, "It's really crazy that we're working with you because this is really against what our culture is. But we love it, and it's so incredible and it's so positive and it feels good at this moment where everybody is having such a hard time. It's just feel-good music." And so many urban artists are calling me like, "Can you give me that feel-good music?" I've created a bridge between European electronic culture and urban American culture, and I've worked with established brands. So media has given us a chance, an opportunity that I never had before.

Does it bug you when other DJs try to replicate your success with a similar sound?
People tell me, "What do you think about people doing the same thing you're doing?" I'm like, "That's amazing!" I'm flattered and happy. I'm proud. And in the same way, on a production level and on a DJ level, I need to be able to reinvent myself. When urban dance music became so big, I came with a new sound, a new single – "Titanium" with Sia – that is totally different from what everybody else is doing and goes against the current.

Sia has been a pop singer and songwriter for years, but now she's breaking through with dance music.
It's funny. When we recorded "Titanium" she was like, "Well David, I don't want to be an artist anymore. I'm done with this life. I just want to be a songwriter. I don't want to tour. I don't want to do anything like this anymore." When I heard her voice [on the track], I was like, "That is insane. No one is going to be able to do better than this." And she was like, "OK. Last one!"

Has she thanked you?
[Laughs] Not really. I am the one that is thanking her. She brought something really special.  And we've kept working together on [Flo Rida's] "Wild Ones" and other records that are coming up. She's really amazing, and I'm glad she didn't totally stop.

Are you constantly reaching back and forth with artists about new collaborations?
The way I do it is more like I make beats without thinking who this is for. This is what's so amazing about being an artist who is not singing. I'm not limited. I make music and then I'm like, "OK this would be nice for a girl. This would be nice for this girl or this girl. I could see a rap here." I can call anyone. It's perfect.