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Cerrone Interview: 20 Questions With Disco Legend

This sound set the scene for the many varieties of electronic music that followed down the pipeline, particularly as Cerrone — who got into music via drumming — gained notoriety as the first producer to extricate the kick drum from the rest of the percussive mix. This move emphasized a strong kick on every downbeat, popularizing the four-to-the-floor rhythmic pattern and laying the foundations for early house and techno.

Cerrone’s signature sound is also currently exerting major influence over pop music, which — as heard on recent hits like The Weeknd’s disco heater “Take My Breath” — has leaned hard into disco and ’80s synth during the last few years. Here, the now 69-year-old Cerrone answers 20 questions about disco heyday hedonism, his favorite producers and how passion has fueled his nearly five decade career.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?

I’m living in France right now, and I’m working on my new album. I also have the luck that venues are coming back to life. I will be playing next week in London, then in Paris the week after. Next month I’ll be in Tarento, Italy. Everything’s okay!

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

A Ray Charles vinyl record.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do or did they think of what you did and do for a living now?

My mother was a housewife raising her three kids, including me, the youngest. My father was a cobbler, nothing to do with music and he didn’t want me to do music, especially playing drums.

4. What’s the first dance music show that really blew your mind?

I have no real nor significant memories regarding “dance music shows,” but I still remember the amazing performance of Jimi Hendrix at l’Olympia in 1967, where I definitely caught the virus of becoming a musician and a performer.

5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?

I’d say DNA, my last album [laughs].But it’s a humble suggestion.

6. What’s the first non-gear item that you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?

This is a rather odd question. To be honest, I don’t remember! But I definitely remember that all the money I earned at the time was immediately spent to buy/improve/complete my drums [with] cymbals, toms, etc.

7. What’s the last song you listened to?

Elton John & Dua Lipa’s “Cold Heart.” I love this cover! A nice electro update of an ’80s classic, a perfect marriage.

8. The perception of the disco era is that it was wildly hedonistic and sort of a free for all of sex, drugs and music. Is that true?

Absolutely true. It was really a period of time where it was okay to dare about everything. But it was an important time for the LBGTQ community, too, giving them more exposure and ultimately more advocates.

9. If so, can you give us a classic hedonistic disco club night out story?

I could tell you some really weird, kinky and gross stories about Studio 54 where I went to several times, but… you can’t tell that today!

10. You’re often listed alongside Giorgio Moroder as the most influential producer of the era. Did you ever feel a competitiveness with Moroder? Did you two take inspiration from each other?

No, as far as I’m concerned, I never felt entering any competition with Giorgio, but rather a deep respect for his producing talent and melodic sense. I’d say it was great not to be the only one composing and producing music for the clubs, as well as sharing, from time to time the top ten charts. Giorgio with Donna Summer and me with “Love In C Minor” or “Supernature” — tracks that were always more than 10 minutes long.

11. Your sound is also having a comeback moment in dance music, with a big focus in the last year or two being ’80s synth and disco. What do you make of this comeback? Do you hear this modern music and feel that it sounds like yours?

In fact disco has never really left — if you consider that disco was made for the discos, hence the name. You call them now “clubs.” I’ve been asked this question many times since the ’80s. The disco was born in the mid-’70s and it was continued with its successors — dance, garage, techno, house, etc. But it’s true that today’s youngest talents are especially seeking that “original” ’70s disco sound, and it’s quite obvious if you listen to “Take My Breath” by The Weeknd.

12. Do you keep up with what’s happening in the current dance scene? If so, what elements of this scene are interesting or exciting to you?

Of course, I keep up with what’s happening — because I perform as a DJ, between 30 to 50 shows a year. Thanks to that, I’ve met lots of DJs who would perform either before or after me on stage, like David Guetta, DJ Snake, The Avener, and many more. I feel deeply connected with this world.

13. Do you use social media? What’s your take on social media being such a necessity for young artists?

I used to make 15-minute tracks. Now you need 15 seconds. So yes, I’m keen to use social media and focus on the good contents to provide and convince in 15-20 seconds. However, I’d love for social media to allow more time to get a better experience into disco. Disco and electronic music generally are musical experiences that hard to fully appreciate in 20 seconds — it’s like sex.

14. You’ve released, incredibly, 23 studio albums. What’s the secret to such productivity?

Passion! Never stop! I love producing music every day in my studio, then testing it live and finally selecting the best working tracks for my album. I feel privileged to still be inhabited by this passion.

15. Your album covers were often revised in the States to have less (or no) nudity. Were you trying to be controversial with those images, or was the U.S. just more uptight then?

Somehow yes, as it seemed relevant to have naked women on my covers, as I use female voices on my albums. The ’70s period was really sex-oriented, so it felt natural to bring some fantasy and sensuality on the covers. But yes, back then, the U.S.A. was still conservative and uptight about all these things. But it has evolved since then!

16. “Supernature” is arguably your biggest hit. When you listen to that song now, what do you think and feel?

Yes, when I perform this track live in front of 2,000 people in a club or 20-30,000 people at a festival, it is a great pleasure having an enthusiastic audience, whatever the country, raising their hands dancing with joy on their faces!

17. Who’s your favorite DJ/producer?

To name a few: Calvin Harris, DJ Snake, Daft Punk.

18. What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?

When all the record companies I went to refused to release “Love In C Minor,” I created my own label — which was back then quite exceptional for an artist, and barely understood by the business. As a result, “Love In C Minor” sold more than three million copies, and it’s never stopped since then. If I hadn’t made that decision, I wouldn’t even be here answering this interview today.

19. Who was your greatest mentor, and what was the best advice they gave you?

Well, I’m a lucky guy who had the opportunity to encounter and work with great people, with power, such as Jerry Greenberg and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records, Eddie Barclay or Bernard de Bosson, the CEO of Warner France, who encouraged me and trusted me. I did everything to be on the level, and it made me grow.

20. One piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Never forget to take pleasure in whatever you do, for this business is so difficult! Without sincerity and pleasure there would be something missing and that would only remain a dream.

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