If one person has personified and largely been responsible for this change it’s the 44-year-old Parisian David Guetta. The Frenchman’s music combines the populist US urban culture of hip-hop and R ’n’ B with the poppier end of European house culture. His smash hits polarize opinion among the purists, but they sell millions and millions. His collaboration with the Black Eyed Peas, I Gotta Feeling, was number one in the US for 14 weeks, and a global hit, selling 13 million units.
His rise has been unstoppable since, including hits with Kelly Rowland, Akon, LMFAO, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Sia, Jennifer Hudson, Snoop Dogg and plenty more. He has 31 million friends on Facebook, four million followers on Twitter, and is probably the most sought-after producer on the planet, his homogenous four to the floor beats as ubiquitous as the Neptunes were a decade ago.
I meet Guetta for a late lunch the day after his set at the poolside restaurant at Fontainebleau hotel. Sunbathers’ heads turn in slight disbelief as he makes his way around the pool. In person, he’s amiable and almost as relentlessly upbeat as his pop music. His favorite word is “crazy.” Despite his success and age, he still has a boyish enthusiasm and can’t quite believe what has happened over the past few years. How “crazy” things have got. “It was really like a war to get the music to where we are,” he says, grimacing and miming a tug of war, “because no one would let us through.”
The shift in populist tastes in the US is such that even the business magazine Forbes recently pontificated about the house music “phenomenon” and ran a series of profiles on the world’s biggest DJs. “The vultures are swooping above the industry,” says Ben Turner, director of the International Music Summit, Ibiza’s answer to Winter Music Conference, which is now planning to launch in Vegas. “After 20 years people have realized that EDM has matured and become the biggest youth movement in America since hip-hop. It feels like everybody suddenly wants a piece of the action.”
Guetta started deejaying 30 years ago in Paris as a teenager, long before most of his contemporaries were born. He and his wife Cathy ran nightclubs including Le Palace and Les Bains Douches. Balearic legend Alfredo told me that Guetta once booked him and Ibiza club Manumission to play in Paris in the early 1990s, which was the night Manumission promoters Mike and Claire first had sex live on stage, later a regular, and infamous, feature at their club.
Guetta’s parents originally frowned upon his choice of career. “My parents were extreme left,” he says, “so everything was against the system. I was walking barefoot in the streets of Paris when I was eight. When I started to DJ they hated it, because for them, nightclubs, and all of this life, was terrible and fake. But when I stopped doing only this, and became an artist, my mother was like ‘OK, now I’m proud of you.’ Which is crazy.”