Legendary DJ, producer, and artist, Jeff Mills, often credited as one of the pioneers of Techno, is creating a special multimedia piece at The Louvre inspired by Egypt. We spoke to the man himself to find out more.
Legendary DJ, producer, and artist Jeff Mills aka The Wizard should need no introduction. Hailing from Detroit, this iconic artist is often credited as one the original pioneers of Techno music. Travelling the world to showcase his various art projects Jeff Mills has been featured in some of the biggest artistic institution including CCCB of Barcelona, the South Bank Center in London, and Pompidou Center, but arguably none will be as big as his latest installation. From February to June 2015, Jeff Mills has been commissioned as a resident artist by arguably the most famous museum in the world The Louvre. Given carte blanche Jeff Mills' new project “Duos Ephémères" will showcase five different multimedia performances combining music, cinematography, and choreography.
Starting on the 6th of March, Jeff Mills is planning a special piece that will resonate with Egyptians and in particular the Ancient Egyptian Collection in The Louvre. It explores the idea of the “cycle”: the circadian cycle of the appearance and disappearance of the sun, the cycle of drought and flooding of the Nile river, the cycle of birth and death of beings. Collaborating with French choreographer Michel Abdoul and three contemporary dancers, Mills is planning to mix conceptual music with body movements of the dancers, mirroring their images on screens and presenting a testimony of the past.
Needless to say we were very intrigued, and were fortunate enough to speak to Jeff Mills ahead of his show to learn more about this iconic artist and his amazing plans for The Louvre.
How did Jeff Mills become known as The Wizard? What is the origin of the nickname?
Back in the late 1970 and early 80’s, it was quite common, almost mandatory, that DJs took on a pseudonym. It was really early in DJ culture and to be noticed by your name that somehow reflected your skill was looked as being exceptional and highly gifted. Wizard was a suggestion to me by my best friend at the time. Around 1982, we were mixing in my basement and he said, “Hey man, you need a nickname! Something like The Wizard or something like that!" I replied “Hmm, that’s it. It’ll be The Wizard! Then, I was left to the task of living up to that name, so I practiced even harder.
Tell us about your experience working with the collective Underground Resistance and the decision to relocate from Detroit after establishing it as one of the origin hubs for the Techno movement?
Mike Banks and I literally recorded music around the clock. When that wasn’t enough, we built another studio set-up in order to produce music simultaneously. Before we worked together, I worked in radio, so I had a large amount of recording equipment, and Mike was a studio musician that played with many bands, so he had a large amount of keyboards, so when we started, we already had all the equipment we needed. We worked quickly to establish a particular sound - this can explain why the first 10 releases varied in style. We both loved Jazz, so we tried that area, we both liked Rock, so we created hard driving music. We both like Science Fiction, so the early releases like X-101, X-102, Waveform EP, Sonic EP and many others leaned more into that direction. More than anything, we both loved House music.
As a multimedia artist, do you begin by creating visuals then adding audio, or vice versa? Explain your creative process.
Actually, the idea and concept comes first - image, then sound. I need to have a certain amount of time to think about which perspective I’d like to approach the subject with then, once that’s established, I look to find examples of images that can use to relate to it. These can be just about anything. After that, I then move to create sound. But, just enough sound to serve and highlight the video and concept without intruding on it. I always try to never lose sight as to what is the most important or primary fixture when mixing art forms together.
Will Duos Ephémères be the first work of yours commissioned by the Louvre?
Yes, it is. It’s a great opportunity to have been invited. To have complete artistic access to Le Louvre isn’t something that is regarded lightly. It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What do you hope to convey with Duos Ephémères?
All the presentations and performances revolve around the subject of time - approaching the subject from various angles in hopes of revealing something precious to the audiences. It is a subject that links all living things together. I designed it to be the common thread that ties all the concepts together.
Have you visited Egypt before?
No, not yet. It’s been a dream since as long as I can remember.
How has Egyptian history and culture influenced this work?
When I was invited to be “artist-in-residence” (at Le Louvre), one of the first requests was to know how much access could I have to the Egyptian Wing of the Museum. I had always wanted to create something on the subject because being Afro-American, the Egyptian culture is always understood to be the most highly advanced race of people and culture ever - that within their belief and religious system, they knew many things about the stars and the universe some 12,000 years ago. Not 2,500 years ago as we’ve been taught to believe. What struck me the most about Egyptians was their belief of a different God for each day of the calendar year. 365 Gods. With each rise and death of every sun creates a new beginning and something to look forward too. I imagine living with this existence must have ingrained a large feeling and sense of optimism.
It’s rare to find DJs that still know how scratch vinyl. Do you think we’re crazy for saying so or is the art dying?
The technique is still around. Not as much as in the early times of DJ Culture, but scratching a record, same for break-dancing has advanced to an unbelievable level and skill. In hindsight, I can see that scratching was really crucial to the advancement of street and dance music. The way the DJ scratched was an indication for what type of music a new generation was wishing to have. For instance, a DJ scratching and mixing “Good Times” by Chic, lead to “Rappers Delight” by SugarHill Gang. The mixing of Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” lead to “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa. Without the DJ being able to maintain a particular level of skill, like Grandmaster Flash, DJ Red Alert or DJ Marley Marl, these hits might not have been possible.
Do you still do it during your performances? If not, how does that make you feel as one of the credited pioneers?
No, I haven’t scratched in quite sometime. The dance music I play now is quite different from that of the 1980s. For me, scratching records was a means to elevate my sense of involvement with music. To engage the music in that way that allowed me to be part of the creative process. I felt that I was contributing to production by making it more impactful to the listener.
When I started making music was when I really stopped scratching because I had found another way to be involved. I replaced scratching with a drum machine and digital sampler.
From what we gather you are a fan of Science Fiction. Do you believe the pyramids were manmade, alien gifted or just a testament to Sun Ra’s music?
I believe that they were the result and remains of a civilisation before humans. Not long after the Ice Age ended. Alien or not, the structures have been there, and perhaps many of the other Pyramids on other continents have been there longer than we imagine. It’s apparent that whoever built them knew the stars and star constellations quite well and paid attention to their movements closely. There is an old saying that goes, “The apple never falls far away from the tree”.
Is this the first time you will be collaborating with French choreographer Michel Abdoul? If so how did the two of you come together to work on this project and who else will you be collaborating with in Duos Ephémères?
Michel is the master of movement. We first met on a project I created for the Foundation Vasarely in Aix-en-Provence, France a few years ago. Then, he was one of group of dancers that performed a special show dedicated to Extra Solar Planets (Exo Planets). In the rehearsals, I quickly noticed how well he understood a particular way of movement – actually something beyond dancing. We talked about it and decided that maybe we can try to work together to materialise projects that I’m conceptualising. Creatively, we speak the same language and it’s easy to explain and present ideas. It’s wonderful to work together.
Which collaboration associated with this work are you most excited to present to the world?
It would have to be “Life To Death And Back” - the film and dance performance in the Egyptian exhibition. I think this has the most to say in terms of a human connective. It brings to light a topic that everyone must realise and experience.
Is there any chance that this work will visit Egypt in the future?
I very much hope so. We’re actively reaching out in all directions to those who might be interested.
If not then what does the future hold for Jeff Mills?
Well, luckily I’m always active. I still love to make and play music, so I’m always looking for reasons to do so. I still play well over 100 DJ events a year. I produce (on average) 3 albums per year, a growing career in classical performances and cross-genre collaborations, many art and film projects. Right now, I definitely knee deep in it!
How does one top exhibiting at the Louvre?
Maybe, owning it (?).
Photos retrieved From Jeff Mills Facebook Except Main Photo Modified from lepoint.fr