meta-scriptDJ Charlotte De Witte Talks Exploring New Sounds In Belgium Lockdown, Her Rise To The Top & Sexism In The Industry |
DJ Charlotte De Witte Talks Exploring New Sounds In Belgium Lockdown, Her Rise To The Top & Sexism In The Industry

Charlotte de Witte

Photo: Marie Wynants


DJ Charlotte De Witte Talks Exploring New Sounds In Belgium Lockdown, Her Rise To The Top & Sexism In The Industry

"I never would have dreamed of being where I am now. I mean, no one can fully grasp what has happened," the Belgian DJ/techno producer said

GRAMMYs/Jan 28, 2021 - 05:34 am

At 28 years old, Belgium-born DJ/producer Charlotte de Witte has firmly established her place as techno royalty. Soon after discovering her love of underground dance music at 16 years old, she began DJing local clubs. Just two years later, in 2011, she won a DJ competition to open the main stage at the massive Belgian dance festival, Tomorrowland. She's been on a roll ever since.

After taking over her home country, she swiftly made waves across Europe in 2016, including in dance club hotspots Berlin and Barcelona. That same year, she played her first stateside shows—in Brooklyn, of course. By 2017, she was one of the most buzzed-about new underground DJs in the U.S. scene and played both EDC Las Vegas and Detroit's iconic Movement Electronic Music Festival in 2018.

In addition to her in-demand tour schedule, she's released hard-hitting techno banger after banger, launched a label, showcased her effortless style in a collab with TOMBOY, and cultivated her ever-growing fanbase on media content (she currently has 1.7 million followers on Instagram).

And while 2020 meant much more time at home in Belgium than she's had in years, it was still a triumphant one for the powerhouse producer. In November, she was named DJ Mag's No. 1 Alternative DJ, and the following month she celebrated the one-year anniversary of her label/event brand, KNTXT. recently caught up with de Witte to learn more about her journey to the top, what the 2020 slow down felt like for her, her experience with sexism in dance music, and more.

You were named DJ Mag's 2020 No. 1 Alternative DJ, what does that recognition feel like for you?

It's a pretty big milestone to hit, especially in the year that's as weird as 2020. It felt like a massive hug from the scene and from the people out there. [It felt like they said], "Hey, thanks for being connected and thanks for sharing the music." Carl Cox was always No. 1 since the beginning of this alternative list [in 2018]. So, to knock someone like Carl Cox off the throne is really massive. And I mean, there are so many incredibly talented people on there, so it's still pretty surreal actually when I think of it. It's incredible.

You're the first woman to get to the top of the list and while it does feel like things are shifting a bit, I'm curious what you think needs to happen within the dance industry to keep lifting up more women, and people of color, to the top?

Well, I'm a firm believer that the dancefloor and the dance scene should be a place of total freedom, a place where you can express yourself no matter your gender, your color, your beliefs, your sexuality—it doesn't matter, it should be a place of freedom. I think there's still a lot of work when it comes to equality and fighting for those rights. I think you can always do more things, and it's very important to keep an open mind and to keep an open conversation about these things.

I can speak a lot about gender inequality because obviously, I've been having these questions since I started DJing. I don't think there should be necessarily a 50-50 equal division on the lineup, but there should be equal opportunities and equal chances, and you should treat people the same. So I think there's still work to do, but it's getting better. You see more and more female DJs popping up as well and getting a lot of opportunities same as male DJs, but there's still a lot of work. It's important to keep an open mind and keep the conversation going, always.

"I'm a firm believer that the dancefloor and the dance scene should be a place of total freedom, a place where you can express yourself no matter your gender, your color, your beliefs, your sexuality… So I think there's still a lot of work when it comes to equality and fighting for those rights."

One thing I think about a lot is the term "female DJ." Do you have instances where people say, "You're my favorite female artist?" How do you deal with that? I'm sure that that can be pretty frustrating.

It is, it's incredibly frustrating. And it happens all the time. A very annoying thing that happens as well is, when people online tend to compare DJs, 99 percent of the cases, it is between two female DJs. And indeed, they refer to you as a female DJ or "DJane," that's also a word.

I've been DJing for 11 years now and it's bad to say that I sort of got used to it. Not that it doesn't give me the chills, I mean, if someone in my close surroundings would say something like that, I would probably say something about it, but I realized that this mindset is a very slow one to change in people. Also, people don't fully realize what they're doing with saying those things—that doesn't make it right—but there are much worse things you can say than referring to someone as a female DJ. I mean, there are a lot of other battles to fight.

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I remember you getting a lot of buzz in 2017, and, from the outside, it's seemed like you've had a steady, rapid rise since then. What has the journey to where you are today felt like for you?

It's always sort of fascinating to look back at it myself because indeed everything has been a massive rollercoaster from where I was 11 years ago. How I started, I never would have dreamed of being where I am now. I mean, no one can fully grasp what has happened. In the beginning, it was really the tiny clubs in a tiny area where I used to live and then just massively going with the flow and doing what [felt] right. And I think having a lot of luck and being surrounded with the right people and doing things at the right time together with the right kind of motivation and ambition that you need.

I think those aspects really made the difference and got [me to the next level] in Belgium, first of all. And then things just started heading off on a worldwide basis. And indeed, for the past three years, minus this year, I've been touring non-stop and I've been probably one of the DJs touring the most in the world. And it's incredible. So it's been a rollercoaster, but touring really made me happy as well. It gave me so much energy. It was extremely exhausting, but it shaped me so much as a human being.

What has it felt like to finally have some time at home and off the road to reflect on all of it?

Well, 2020 has been a bit strange. I was lucky to be with people that I really love, very close to me. I think without them, I would have fallen into a black hole. There is no doubt about that. Even now, mentally, it's not easy, but that really kept me going. Also, having the time to have a normal pattern in my life, a normal sleep cycle, healthy food, because you don't have to eat shitty airport food again, [has been good]. So I'm trying to be productive. And [I'm] resting a lot. I did realize that my body and my mind could both use the rest at the beginning of the lockdown, so we rested.

I think it's been a very interesting year to work towards the future, but it's confusing because no one really knows what it is—I don't want to [get] too philosophical or too depressing. But I think it's been a year to be productive and to really clear minds, and take the experiences from the past and try and shape the future.

You released a couple of EPs in 2020—including Return To Nowhere and Rave On Time—and some remixes and singles. Did you work on those before or after lockdown?

I made them at the end of 2019, so everything was already scheduled. When everything happened, we were thinking of holding back the [label] release of Return To Nowhere and Rave On Time until a time where we could go to clubs and festivals again because they're made to be played at those places. But we just decided to go for it. It provides some music in these times.

I made the Bob Moses [and ZHU] remix in March and that one just got released [in December]. So that's the only thing that had a short time span [from when I made it], but all the others were made before. Now we've made some new music that's coming out in 2021, so hopefully we'll be out of lockdown.

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I talked to a couple of DJs at the beginning of lockdown. If you're used to making music for the dancefloor, it's like, "Well, what do I make now?" Some artists talked about not feeling motivated to make dance music when they didn't know when that space would return. I feel like any time good dance music comes out it is a good thing, we need that release of moving our bodies, wherever we are.

I get it. But it is strange to make dance music [in lockdown]. In the beginning, it was still OK because the memory of the dance festivals were still fresh. But after 10, 11 months, when I'm sitting in the studio, it's really tough to make something with a strong kick. I'm experimenting a bit towards more ambient stuff, which is nice as well, to have [during] this time of experimenting. I completely understand what they said, it feels so strange even listening to new music or trying to find new techno tracks. It started to be very strange. I think it makes sense. You're just so distant from it, but you have to keep it alive. [Laughs.]

To that point, what are you most looking forward to when you get to return to the dancefloor?

I think the entire experience. Stepping on to your flights—preferably without a mask by then—arriving at your country of destination, going to restaurants there, the conversations you have with the people there, the promoters, the club's hard-hitting bass—the volume, the loudness that we all haven't heard in such a long time—and the energy, the sweating, everything. I'm sure it will be very magical once it comes back because we will not take it for granted anymore. It will be a new era, we just have to be patient.

It's going to feel weird.

It is. And I think there's going to be so much energy on the floor and the explosion is going to be massive. Like every single show will be—it already was unique, but it will be incredibly unique and very intense. Hopefully, by then we can look back at it as a healthy reset because people don't take it for granted anymore. I think that is a good aspect. And people are also starting to realize the importance of having clubs and festivals around and nightlife culture—because nightlife culture has always been the ugly sister that no one wants to talk about. Everyone just regards it as drug-filled and dirty. And it is, but [it's not just that]—nightlife is really important. I think we still have a very long way to go [in order] to convey this message to people and for people in charge to realize that we matter a lot.

Recently in Germany, they declared that techno was music.

That was cool.

Now, German nightclubs can get the same funding and tax breaks that other venues do. We've seen the nightlife community come together to ask for relief funding for clubs because otherwise many are not going to survive. You're right, it matters and not just to "ravers," it's important to so many people, including those who work in it and keep those industries alive.

Exactly. There's so much more to it than what an unknowing person thinks. I think it's important that people are made aware of that. We still have a long way to go. I mean, why at the main stage [of a festival, do] you never really have DJs? You can have electronic music acts, but when you talk about a DJ, they are never fully considered a musician. That's a never-ending discussion. So, I think the fact that Germany did state that techno is music is a good start.

You just celebrated the one-year anniversary of your label, KNTXT. What was your goal when you were launching the label and what is your vision with it going forward?

Basically, to find a creative platform for my music, but also music from other artists—that was the main thing, to release good music. And to organize parties, that was also a very important part of it. We did a couple in New York, Milan, Barcelona, and London. They were going very well and we are going to start again as soon as we can.

Besides that, we just want to be a creative place and connect music with other things. For instance, I'm a big foodie, so we are trying to see how we can connect music with food or chefs because a lot of chefs are also big techno fans. It's a very interesting platform to discover things from. And now we had the collaboration with the headphone brands AIAIAI . That was a very cool one. We had a fashion collaboration too. It's just a bit of putting out your arms towards the other creative industries. It's nice, it's very cool.

To celebrate the anniversary, you released a vinyl box set that includes the new track "Lighthouse." Can you tell us a bit more about the sonic elements and mood of the song, and what else you have in store for the White Label?

Well, "Lighthouse" is the first White Label release. White Label-wise, we still have to explore what direction we want to go with it. I think our main focus is to release EPs like we've been doing, but I think "Lighthouse" was a very nice addition to this collector's box set. I also made that track a while ago.

It's very dancefloor-oriented, it has an acid line in there. Fun fact: in "Lighthouse" you hear a voice saying some things; it's my voice saying the definition of context, and I reversed it. I like reversing things because it makes things sound less common or cheesy. The definition of context is in there. So, you're getting context on context, basically.

Reversing parts of audio is somewhat common in hip-hop—Kendrick Lamar used it a lot on DAMN. Producers will play a drum loop or something backward and it feels like you're like falling backward or dreaming.

Yeah. Some things just sound more interesting in reverse. And I have the feeling that, especially with vocals, it makes things a bit more alienating. If I would just have said the definition of context, it would be a bit lame.

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What do you think are the essential elements of a great techno banger?

It's always a tough one when they ask you to define music because I can give you a Wikipedia-type definition, but in the end it's also very much of an emotional experience and what is best for me, is slow for someone else. But I think techno is a very functional 4/4 beat. It's not necessarily happy, it's quite undeground and it can be quite repetitive and loopy and can be quite stripped. So it's not chaotic or not happy sounding. That's how I would describe it to an audience. It's not like EDM where you can put your hands up in the air. I mean, you can put your hands up in the air, but not because they tell you to.

"I am drawn to sort of the 'less is more' aspect of [techno]. You don't need a lot of very audible elements to give you a lot in return. It speaks to me in its emptiness, in a way."

What specific elements are you typically drawn to in a techno track?

I am drawn to sort of the "less is more" aspect of it. You don't need a lot of very audible elements to give you a lot in return. It speaks to me in its emptiness, in a way. It just gives space to a lot of the elements that you use. And that underground side, which is just more interesting to me because it makes me think about those things and wonder.

When did you first start listening to techno? And at what point did you know that you wanted to start producing music yourself?

I started going to these underground clubs where I went to school at the age of 16, 17. I think that's where I first got in touch with electronic music, but also the more underground side of it. Electro was quite big in Belgium back in the days, but it also started getting me in touch with techno music. So, my initial step into electronic music was electro, which you don't hear that often nowadays.

Gradually, by digging deeper into this world of electronic music, I found techno and I'm still there. I think I started producing a couple of years later. I also started DJing almost straight away because I fell in love with the music and I wanted to do something with it. Initially, it was just for me, like I was mixing tracks at home, to listen to on my iPod when I was going to school and never thought of putting them online.

But at some point, I did [put mixes online] and then things just started rolling. Music-making started a couple of years later because I felt a need to not only play other people's music but also to explore this world of beat making myself. Because it's a whole world and it's extremely fascinating to delve deeper.

You dove in, that's awesome.

Yeah, sort of. And I could—my parents were always supportive, they just let me do me. I mean, I wasn't harming anyone with it. They just saw that it made me happy, so they just let me be. It was cool—I was lucky as well. A crazy path.

What are your release plans for 2021?

I've been working on some stuff to release on my label, KNTXT, in 2021. Also, we have a remix that's coming out. I think a lot of people will release a lot of music in 2021 because everyone had so much time. I have stuff coming and I'm very happy with the results.

I really look forward to playing it on the dancefloor and seeing the reaction of the crowd. I've been playing some of the tracks on [live]streams [I've done] but having six cameras pointed at your face—even though millions of people are watching—can not compare with the crowd. So I really look forward to that moment.

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Watch Backstage Interviews At Ultra Music Festival 2023: Carl Cox, Charlotte De Witte, Joel Corry, Subtronics & More
Ultra Music Festival 2023

Photo: Rukes


Watch Backstage Interviews At Ultra Music Festival 2023: Carl Cox, Charlotte De Witte, Joel Corry, Subtronics & More

Relive the thunderous celebration of electronic music with exclusive backstage interviews with several acts on its 2023 lineup: Carl Cox, Charlotte De Witte, Joel Corry, Subtronics, and other leading lights.

GRAMMYs/Mar 27, 2023 - 03:18 pm

That's a wrap on Ultra Music Festival 2023, where many of the top-flight innovators and tinkerers of the global electronic music scene assembled to deliver a festival to remember. While the performances alone were vastly memorable, the talent's backstage expressions were also compelling. Immerse yourself in the interviews below.

Hannah Wants

Sam Devine

Charlotte de Witte

Carl Cox


Dom Dolla


Joel Corry

A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring


Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

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