- Derrick May arrived late to dinner, tired yet upbeat, and plonked himself down at the head of the table. He was hungry but worried that a full meal would put him to sleep, so he settled for bread and butter. To his left was Fabrice Gadeau, director of Paris's Rex Club, while Julien Veniel, AKA D'Julz, was to his right. Despite his weariness, May regaled the table with stories of hazy nights spent at Rex in the '90s. He's been a regular at the club since 1992. The night he made his debut, Veniel was on the dance floor.
Ever since house and techno first took hold in Paris at the turn of the '90s, the city's club scene has laboured through a series of peaks and troughs. Numerous clubs, artists and musical movements—French touch, Ed Banger-style electro—have come and gone. One of the few constants, though, has been Rex, a venue that first put its weight behind electronic music in 1988. Over the course of the next three decades, it's helped launch the careers of several French DJs, including Veniel. Through Bass Culture, the night he launched in 1997 in reaction to the then-dominant and increasingly trashy French touch sound, Veniel brought DJs like Terry Francis, Cassy, Luciano, Loco Dice and Raresh to Paris for the first time. Now, 20 years later, the bi-monthly residency remains stronger than ever.
Veniel had booked May to headline the third of six parties celebrating the milestone. While May went back to the hotel to rest, Veniel warmed up. At dinner he'd been concerned that the club might take a while to fill up—it was the first day of popular festival We Love Green and the sun had been shining—but when I arrived, just after 1 AM, a solid crowd was grooving along nicely to his smoky deep house. The next hour or so was a masterclass in building a dance floor. From longer blends he gradually moved into sharper transitions, switching abruptly between basslines to keep the vibe upbeat. A steady stream of vocals, stabs and melodies added just enough colour to keep you interested, though they never clouded the roomy basslines beneath.
Just after 2 AM, with the room firmly onside, Veniel went ravier, leaning on early '90s cuts like Sven Van Hees' "Mars-X-Press" and Fierce Ruling Diva's "You Gotta Believe (Atomix)." The crowd responded well, hollering their appreciation during quieter moments. There were many things to like about Rex—the size, the sound, the amount of seating—but the commitment of the audience stood out. Unlike in London, where there's always someone pushing past you, people mostly had their feet glued to the dance floor.
May turned up fashionably late and, after a few high-fives, mixed straight into Ron Bacardi's "Rock Your Body," a record he'd been handed several hours earlier by Veniel. (It came out on the Frenchman's Bass Culture label.) Along with Delano Smith's "Midnight Hours" and Mr G's "Lightz (G' Out Dub)," it was one of only a handful of standout tracks; the rest had too much of a booming big-room quality that paled in comparison to Veniel's detailed selections. To finish, May took a couple of bizarre left turns: first, into a beatless, drawn-out passage of grating strings, followed by the kind of euphoric number Sasha might have dropped in the '90s. When the music finally stopped, a die-hard few snuck into the booth for selfies. May's evening ended as it had begun, with him holding court.