A quick catch-up with Seb Fontaine ahead of his set at St Helens festival Reminisce this weekend
This weekend will once more see Reminisce Festival taking over Sherdley Park in St Helens for a day of unabashed rave nostalgia. Now catering for nearly 20,000 retro-hungry ravers, this year's festival will see the likes of Shades Of Rhythm, K-Klass, Ultra Nate, Rozalla, Jeremy Healy, Expansions, Rob Tissera, Jon Pleased Wimmin and many more revisiting the days of dance music when was an all-conquering force in UK youth culture.
Not forgetting, of course, Seb Fontaine, who's a veteran of the festival and this year is coming back for more. We got him on the phone to find out how he prepares for a retro set and what special memories the rave days hold for him…
This isn't your first time at Reminisce, is it?
"No, I did one of the first ones, but it was a lot smaller then – looking at the line-up now I can see how much it's grown over those few years. The reason I haven't been back before is that I normally I try not to do too many gigs in one area too close together, and Reminisce has always been a bit too close to Creamfields. But I think Reminisce has got big enough now that it's become kind of its own thing."
I saw you at Back To The Old Pool in Blackpool last year, as well – do you do a lot of these sort of 'nostalgia' bookings?
"I don't like to do too many, so I try and choose the best of them. There's a big revival going on right now of the generation that turned nightclubbing into a way of life, so I'd be an idiot if I didn't want to play for the people that helped me get where I am. But equally there are a lot of these sort of events now, so I try and pick and choose carefully."
"That Blackpool one, for instance, was great… except that my set started right after the England World Cup match. I thought great, once the match had finished everyone'll be up for a party, but the trouble was, with the heat and people's bladders perhaps not being as strong as they once were, as soon as the football finished everyone just legged it for the bar or the toilets!" [laughs]
So what percentage of your gigs now would you say are playing oldies, as opposed to upfront stuff?
"It's really hard to say, because I never play just oldies – even at the nostalgic gigs I'll still play some new stuff. I'd very, very rarely play a set that was just old records: for me it's about blending the old and the new, that's when I'm happiest."
How do you prepare for a set like this, compared to a normal gig?
"Well, it's not as easy as you'd think! Last Sunday I was playing an oldies set at Creamfields, and someone said, 'That must be nice and easy for you'. And I was like, 'It's really not, because you've got to try and do something with a load of records that people have heard thousands of times before.'
"So I'll do loads of edits, and try and dig up some of those great old records that people have maybe forgotten about, so that it's not just the same old, same old. It's tough – in fact I'd say it's actually tougher than preparing for a normal gig."
So do you have any special re-edits lined up for Reminisce you can talk about?
"Er… yeah. I've just done a re-edit of La Luna, To The Beat Of The Drum. And Tall Paul's done one of Voodoo Ray… we've done loads, actually. Often it's not so much about actually re-editing the track, as it is about just making it sound up-to-date. Sometimes it's just the kickdrum that needs sorting out.
"It's really weird: those old records were EQ'd differently than how they are now. I like to throw in a few new ones as well, and when you play old and new tunes together you can really hear the difference: these days everyone masters everything to squeeze the last few possible dBs out of it. So if you want to play an old 90s tune in the middle of all that, you might have to do a bit of work on it first."
Did you ever think you'd be sharing a bill with the Venga Boys and Whigfield?
[laughs] "Well, it's a party at the end of the day, a day out in the sunshine to dance around to some old tunes. So if you have some more serious music and then you have a fun, cheesy PA, does it really matter? And I'm quite looking forward to Urban Cookie Collective – I've always had a soft spot for The Key.
"Also, one thing I like about Reminisce is it does draw quite a mixed crowd. You get younger people there as well as us oldies, and music that we once perceived as cheesy or uncool, they might not be so snooty about. So I think it'll be quite interesting."
Moving on from Reminisce, what else is going on in Seb Fontaine World right now?
"Tall Paul and I have just started doing a radio show on Music Box, and that's building really, really nicely. It's kind of like we never stopped doing it, and it's really good fun.
"Plus I've started making some more Reflect stuff with Julian, and then this summer has been absolutely insane on the gigging front. I've done 24 or 24 festivals already this year, and I think I've got one Saturday free all year. So it's been a really busy time, playing some really good gigs, some for the older crowd but a lot for younger people as well."
Finally, the day's called Reminisce, so let's have some reminiscences! Tell us about some particular records or clubs from the old days that mean a lot to you…
"For a record, I'd have to say Voodoo Ray. Y'see, when I first used to go to raves, it was to DJ hip-hop in the back room, because that's what I did – I was 18 and I loved my hip-hop. But Voodoo Ray was the record that turned me on to house. I was playing at Biology, one of the big M25 raves, in this big warehouse in Greenwich. I walked through into the main room, and it was like an awakening!
"People were dancing on the speakers, swinging from the ceiling, and the music… house music hadn't really grabbed me before but when I saw it played at this warehouse party, saw the reaction it got, saw the atmosphere, I just fell in love with the music there and then. So yeah, Voodoo Ray – that's the record that dragged me from hip-hop into house."
"It's harder to name a particular club or rave, because if I think back to 1989/90 when I was first going out, London was just so good back then! There were so many places to go. I used to like Raw, under the YMCA in Tottenham Court Road. I also liked Subterranea, because I was west London boy, but basically there were so many great warehouse parties back then it's hard to single one out."
And what about a funny story – any comedy rave-era misadventures spring to mind?
"Oh God… ah yeah, I know! We did have this one friend [laughs]… we were at one of the big raves and our mate kept trying to borrow money cos he wanted to go on one of the rides. He was like a kid pestering everyone, y'know, 'lend us a quid', so eventually we said, 'Okay, what's this ride you want to go on?'. And that's when we realised it was actually the generator for the soundsystem, chugging away…"
Words: Russell Deeks
Seb Fontaine plays Reminisce festival in St Helens this Saturday (7 September) - last few tickets available here.