The Pool are delighted to announce that we have started working with Gilb’r.
Here we introduce the man to you via a brief potted history, a fascinating q&a and a stellar mix…..
There are parts of the story of Gilb’r aka Gilbert Cohen that have all comforting familiarity of conformity. This is because, in parts, the story of Gilb’r adheres to the archetypal narrative of the DJ/label owner story. Growing up in the sedate milieu of the French Riviera the young Cohen found solace in the Nice annual jazz festival. A move to the more cosmopolitan surroundings of Paris coincided with a career move that would galvanise this early fondness of music as Cohen was enlisted as a radio DJ and music programmer for Radio Nova. When a demo tape landed from I:Cube in 1995 Cohen launched a label and 20 years later we are still listening to the output of the much loved Versatile Records. For more on the fascinating history of the label you should delve into the illuminating article from RA’s Aaron Coultate.
However what is very unique and edifying about the story of Cohen is his continuing enthusiasm for dance music and it’s evolutions and newcomers. Both as a label owner and a DJ Gilb’r continues to forge new relationships with artists and DJs whether it be by releasing their music, buying their music or collaborating with them in the studio or back to back sets. Gilb’r is a name that you now see very often with a b2b suffix alongside the brothers Fett (Burger and Soto), Young Marco and Jan Schulte. In recent years he has collaborated on records with Acid Arab, DJ Sotofett and Jorge Velez amongst others. Indeed if you want ample demonstration of how much Cohen is a musical spirit that is not beholden to inertia and the ‘old days were the best days’ mantra then look to February this year when Cohen flogged a large part of his collection, a ceremonial act of dispensing with any sentimental musical detritus cluttering his psychic record box. Now based in the flourishing underground dance scene of Amsterdam Cohen is finally at a point where his label is at it’s most liberated and vital whilst his DJing has reached a place where his encyclopaedic knowledge is offset with the ceaseless verve and passion that was forged in the mind of a young Cohen at the Nice jazz festivals.
So in many ways Cohen has an early story that is characterised by elements that can be seen in the story of others growing up in the nadir of the pre-Napster era. The freedoms, the inspirations and the rise to success have been enjoyed by many others. Where Cohen is unique and divergent though is that his label is still around and he is still a DJ and producer that dance music enthusiasts, young and old, engage with not as a retro act but in pure terms. His is not a story of naff t-shirt collaborations, rock dance collaboration vanity projects and duff tech-house mix cds that have marred the career trajectories of some of his contemporaries attempting to circumvent the problems of a shifting production base within the dance music economy. Cohen’s story is guided by his own avidity for new musical experiences and a zest for meaningful collaboration. As a result he is now in a position where all of his choices, past and present, appear organic and never contrived. When it comes to musical expression Cohen is versatile…
Cohen kindly agreed to answer some questions for us…..
You started with a keen interest in jazz music? Has this interest stayed with you and what did jazz teach you?
Absolutely, that was my first musical real emotion/shock. It stayed with me,even though I don’t listen to much jazz anymore,just when i need to clean my head and go back to basics. It made me feel how powerful it is to have musicians improvising together, how deep you can get using a medium (an instrument here) as an extension of the self to express feelings, and how free you can be with the music….and of course,the shuffle.
One of your first roles was as a radio programmer and DJ for Radio Nova. How did this occupation influence your approach to being a label owner and club DJ? Do we see a clue in your label title?
Actually one of the reasons I left Radio Nova (in 1996),was because I was getting more and more into new music. We were checking almost everything that was released. But when you program a radio station it is not about your own taste (even though i have to say ,we had a freedom that allowed us to program very underground tunes for the time – 1992/1996) But at some point, that passion I had for new music and DJ’ing took over the will to be “middle of the road”.
But the name of my label is definitely after my Nova experience. I had some mentors that totally opened my mind, I couldn’t imagine then to do a label with only type of music. I was exposed to so much music and met such incredible people,from techno and house people,to African and Maghrebian artists to main hip-hop artists as well as avant-garde..
That was possible cause the owner Jean-François Bizot (rip) was a rich eccentric visionnaire,who had a passion for music,and had decided to play the most upfront music,with no adverts (at the time).
Nova was really famous worldwide and people often made k7 when in Paris.
As well as releasing lots of different styles of music you’re a man who makes a broad array of music, located in various dance music styles. What is the key to being so Versatile?
Well, I don’t know…What I learned (and still do) over the years,is that the music it’s all connected, all started from the same primary thing, all talking to different parts of the mind and the body.
It’s frequencies. So my aim as a DJ is to make the connection between different styles,through my own taste of course and in a way people can dance to it(ideally).
There is so much good music, why be so restrictive?
Collaboration seems very important to you when you DJ or produce music, do you work better in collaboration?
Yes. When alone in the studio I can lose myself in sounds, ideas and time. Even though it’s very pleasant, it sometimes gets me away from the point:doing a track. I also like very much to share those intimate studio vibes, some exchanges/dialogue, some jams, some fun.
I was very lucky to work with I:Cube. That tought me so much, sometimes when producing together, a track could take 6/7 very different directions (I wish I recorded those!) in the making. You kind of never know where you gonna arrive at the end & it’s more difficult to have this on my own as there is no one to say stop at some point.
Dance music is in a strange state of progression; whilst some new music is hyper-modern in its production and therefore alien sounding, some new producers are still using the same drum machines and samplers that were used in 1996 and have a familar sound. With over 20 years as a dance music producer are you surprised to see the current state of dance music?
Somehow not really, as those old machines have something special and unique: a personality. For example, in every production I made (solo or not) I always used my Juno 60. Even after 20 years of using it it still surprises me with some sounds, I think it has to do with the components themselves. How a filter resonates, how you can combine oscillators etc.. The computer is amazing, and managed to get music production accessible to much more people, but you can also easily get lost,trying presets of new software forever.I also have issues with the midi of the computer.
With a real TR808 a sequence is gonna groove instantly, but with the computer there someting cold and ungroovy that is somehow not very musical.
What’s coming up for Versatile records? Should we expect any more collaboration with i:Cube under Chateau Flight?
Well,this year I think will be the year where we will release the most: A new Zombie Zombie record (Slow future) was released just last month, and already sold out. Now we have the King Ghazi double 12″. Some music i recorded in Jordan a few years back, with mixes from I:Cube and DJ Sotofett. Then my own 12″(Cham EP) is coming out in the first week of June.
Also,we’ll have a double CD compilation to celebrate the 20 years of the label: 1 x CD (older stuff) selected by I:Cube,and another CD where I did the selection (more recent stuff) A 12″ will also come out of this,with exclusive jams by I:Cube, Sotofett and me, plus a New Order cover by Zombie Zombie. Then we’ll come in September with John Cravache,a very special record which will be number 100 of the label. Pretty special record..and some represses also..and more!
How are you finding Amsterdam after your recent move?
Fantastic. Amsterdam has been amazing to me.I met great people, great club, great record stores, great online radio. It’s much more “human” than Paris, and less aggressive. It’s like a village, but only with the best sides.
My only issue there is …the food! (I’m not super croquette lover)
In February this year we saw that you sold a big section of your records? Was this to make space for new music or for other reasons?
The main reason was space. Then,over the years I accumulated many records in a lot of different styles. And now my aim is to get rid of what I’m not related to anymore. I started as a hip-hop DJ so I had pretty much most records of that time. Same with Drum and bass and so on. I was never a collector, I just bought music I liked. And today, I finally buy records that sound very special to me. My taste is now more accurate (to myself) Even though I still like a lot of different stuff..
What is your dream Pool party line up?
Grill Chef: Young Marco
Cocktail Waiter: Cosmic Neman from Zombie Zombie
DJ: Vladimir Ivkovic.