The worst thing about flying to Ibiza on David Guetta’s private jet is that the ceiling is a little low, so when you need to use the facilities after two glasses of champagne, you have to duck your head a bit to keep from bumping it on the bathroom door.
The second-worst thing about flying to Ibiza on David Guetta’s private jet, or pretty much anything in his life, for that matter, is nothing.
Guetta’s plane – a twin-engine Cessna CJ3, piloted by two smiling Germans named Thomas and Manuel – is cruising six miles above the Mediterranean, on its way to deliver Guetta to Fuck Me I’m Famous, the weekly club night he hosts in Ibiza during the summer. It’s probably the most celebrated dance party in the world – attracting everyone from Dr. Dre to Jean Paul Gaultier. A couple of years ago, Will.i.am showed up, and Guetta invited him up to the booth to freestyle; it’s not much of an exaggeration to say those few minutes changed the sound of contemporary pop.
With a few notable exceptions (Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim), European dance music has always been one of those things that America just never got – like Roberto Benigni, or socialism. But ever since the Black Eyed Peas turned pulsing Eurohouse jams into U.S. chart gold with the insanely massive “I Gotta Feeling” (which Guetta produced) and “Boom Boom Pow” (which employed the same sample that Guetta played for Will.i.am that night), American pop has moved to a continental beat. These days, you can’t go five minutes on your local Top 40 station without hearing a song that sounds like a Guetta production (not a few actually are Guetta productions). The titles are intentionally generic and international-friendly – “When Love Takes Over,” “Little Bad Girl,” “Without You” – but their ubiquity is turning Guetta into a new entity: a bona fide pop-star DJ.
Growing up in Paris, Guetta always knew he wanted to spin records. “I remember this meeting with my parents and my math teacher when I was 14,” he says between bites of raspberry soufflé, the sunset glowing aubergine through the window of the plane. “They were saying, ‘You have a problem – you’re not studying.’ And I was like, ‘I want to be a DJ – I don’t need to be good at math!'”
Before long, he got a job spinning at a gay club – a skinny (straight) 17-year-old who wasn’t legally allowed inside – and from there it was a slow but steady journey to headlining dance festivals for 80,000 ecstatic fans. “I always had a good connection with people,” Guetta says. “That’s the most important thing when you’re a DJ. But what really made me explode is when I created that new sound – electro mixed with urban soul. That became the new standard of American pop music today.”
Guetta talks about his success in a matter-of-fact way that is just stoked enough to not sound boastful. (“A lot of people think the French are arrogant. But really, we’re just telling the truth.”) But he also expresses wide-eyed wonder at how the son of a Jewish-Moroccan sociology professor found himself powwowing with Bono and collaborating with Will.i.am on a project for NASA. And then there are things like his recent visit to Atlanta with Akon. “He took me to this black strip club called Magic City,” Guetta says. “I never knew what ‘Make it rain’ meant. He gave me this big pile of money” – he makes a gesture the size of a small safe – “and said, ‘OK, you have to throw the money to that girl.’ I said, ‘Throw money in the air? That goes against my whole education!’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah – that’s why we do it!'”
When Guetta touches down in Ibiza, a van collects him on the tarmac and shuttles him to his waiting Land Rover. After a quick trip home to drop off his bags and grab a short nap, he’s back out at Pacha, the tri-level pleasure fort that’s home to Fuck Me I’m Famous, where 3,000 fans – Russians, Germans, Spaniards and Swedes, each of whom has paid 70 euros for admission – queue up six deep for €15 vodka-sodas. In the VIP area, endless bottles of Grey Goose are downed at tables costing upward of €6000. The men are rich and tan, the women are all eight feet tall and beautiful. The bathroom line is a Babel of hotness.
Guetta goes on at 3:45 a.m. At 4:30, his wife and business partner, Cathy, delights the crowd by passing out rainbow light sticks and cherry-flavored freeze-pops. At 5:05, three guys in eight-foot-tall robot suits march out to perform a choreographed dance routine with laser guns that also shoot fire. At 6:30, Guetta leads a champagne toast while his new single “Without You,” featuring Usher, booms in the background. (He’ll play it twice tonight.) Paris Hilton materializes wearing a Fuck Me I’m Famous trucker cap, raving about how Guetta is a genius. Finally, around 8, Guetta doffs his headphones, raises his arms in victory and heads out the door to his waiting Land Rover.
The next afternoon, he’s on the patio, his white-stucco villa tucked into the island’s foothills. The backyard is dotted with palm trees and carved-stone Buddha heads, and the swimming pool is shaped like a giant crucifix. It’s the kind of place that could only belong to a rock star or a Bond villain.
From a sliding glass door, through white curtains fluttering in the breeze, comes Bruno, Guetta’s elegant manservant. The two exchange a few words in French, and Bruno re-emerges a few minutes later with salads. After that, it’s honeydew and sliced pears, followed by two of the biggest pieces of calamari known to man. “I eat, like, super-healthy,” Guetta says. “I hope that’s OK.” He doesn’t smoke or do drugs, and only rarely drinks, though he does cop to a weakness for jamón ibérico. “It’s the best ham in the world.”
After lunch, we walk past a tepee and a sculpture of four-foot-tall silver letters that spell music and love to Guetta’s studio. Stuck to his desk is a yellow Post-it note with Usher’s e-mail address. (AOL.) Taking a seat in his butterscotch-leather chair, he unzips his suitcase and pulls out the MacBook that contains his music. He’s starting to work on material for his next album, due in 2012. Right now, he’s limiting his production work to friends like Usher and 50 Cent. “I’m only doing favors now,” he says.
Before long, it’s back to the plane for the next gig. We’re about to take off when Capt. Thomas sees Guetta putting on his hoodie. “Are you cold?” he says. “Do you want it warmer?”
“Maybe, like, one degree warmer?” Guetta says. A second lunch is served, seaweed salad and sushi, and by the time the tea service is cleared, we’re in Belgium. The city is Liège, an old steelmaking center hit hard by the industrial decline. The show is outdoors, in a huge tent set up in the middle of a field. There are 15,000 kids eating pannekoeken and drinking something called Mega Fuel, girls in impractical outfits, Richter-shattering bass. Guetta takes the stage in a black hooded tunic and spends the next three hours bobbing to the sound of 15,000 Belgians losing their collective shit.
“I love my life,” Guetta says after. “I’m happy that my records are selling really good. I’m happy to be the biggest DJ in the world.”
A lot of people think the French are arrogant. But really, they’re just telling the truth.
This story is from the November 10, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.