Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden is proving to be the dance music film of the year. It is an authentic yet melancholy exploration of Paris’s dance music culture in the 1990s and 2000s, following the French House, Deep House and Garage clubs in which her brother, Sven was immersed. Indeed, Sven Hansen-Løve, of the DJ duo Cheers, serves as the inspiration for the character of Paul in this semi-biographical film. We caught up with him at Soho House a few hours before a screening of Eden to learn more about his creative input, his views on Hollywood’s depiction of DJs and, of course, Daft Punk’s involvement in the film, which chronicles the scene from which the superstar duo emerged.
Starting with the name of the film, ‘Eden’ obviously brings to mind biblical connotations, the fall from grace and so on. How did you go about choosing the name?
It was my sister’s choice. It’s related to a fanzine called Eden which introduced me to the music. I discovered it, loved it and became friends with the people who ran it. I ended up writing for the fanzine, including an interview of Daft Punk.
It was the perfect title, because it also relates to youth, the paradise of youth and that time period when the music was so positive. The interesting thing is that they called it Eden even in the early nineties because they were already talking about a paradise lost. This music, even in the beginning, was always about mentioning a paradise lost in some way.
By thinking in that way from so early on, do you think the scene expected its own eventual collapse, just as disco had its glory years?
Yeah, definitely. As crazy as it sounds, they already thought the music was dead in the early nineties. It had a sense of its own death from the beginning, in a way. Perhaps because we were “resurrecting” aspects of disco, but also because there is a melancholy aspect of it, having a sense of the past. So that’s why I think Eden was the perfect name.
Is there an aspect of nostalgia to the film then?
A little bit, but my sister and I tried to avoid it, nostalgia is too negative and we tried to stay more positive. I have no nostalgia really. When my sister mentioned the project and asked me if I wanted to collaborate, I already started the process of getting myself out of it. I was just trying to move on anyway, so it wasn’t difficult to avoid nostalgia. My sister, too, you should ask her, but she probably tried to stay a little bit cold, avoiding over-glamourising the whole story.
So what motivated you to tell Eden’s story?
It was my sister’s project. She had the idea a few years ago because she had finished the last of a trilogy with her previous films and wanted to try something completely different, a film where the music would be almost like a character of its own. She wanted to try and say something about our generation in the nineties and the electronic dance music scene in Paris.
SHE WANTED TO TRY SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, A FILM WHERE THE MUSIC WOULD BE ALMOST LIKE A CHARACTER OF ITS OWN.
It was a time period she found interesting and she asked me to collaborate with her. We started out just talking and she took some notes, asking more and more about my memories of those years, and as it grew I ended up writing almost half of the script.
It’s interesting you say that the music would be a character of it’s own. You’ve said before that you believe a good DJ set is like a journey. How do you think your experience as a DJ affected the way that Eden tells its story?
What is important as a DJ is the way you deal with time. You have to deal with the way you build your story, because you are telling a story when you are DJing. You do two things, which are the same as when you write a fiction story: you try to build a story with a sense of time, and you try to create a mood, an atmosphere. You have times [in the film] where time goes faster, where time goes slower, so I do think that my DJ experience gave me a sense of that.
On the subject of time, the film spans over 20 years. How did you decide what to include and focus on?
I guess those choices were more my sister’s choices, because she really wrote the structure. My role was more of writing dialogue and particular scenes. Her structural choices are related to her own style.
More conventional, mainstream cinema is structured in a more “classical” screenwriting way: you have your main character and some characters that are present throughout, and you see the evolution not only of the main character but also of the characters around him.
[My sister] is into a more realistic, naturalistic approach: you might see a character then that character disappears. If you take screenwriting lessons, they would tell you not to do that, ever, but she has different approach, she comes from a different school of film writing.
It’s fair to say that the film is a far deeper exploration of club culture than what Hollywood usually produces. Your sister’s approach is likely a significant contributor to that, but there’s more to avoiding conventional cinema’s dance music clichés than structure alone.
The thing about the movie industry is that it costs a lot to do a film, and money becomes a big part of it. Hollywood can’t go into details and specifics because they might lose some audience, they have to be general. To go deeper, you have to find other films, where there is less money involved so it’s easier for the filmmaker to show what they want to show.
Leading on from that, what do you think is the effect of “Hollywood” films like Max Joseph’s We Are Your Friends on public opinion of club culture.
I feel like [We Are Your Friends] is like the anti-Eden. It tells the same story in the completely opposite way. They look a bit the same, but in the end they are completely different. I think that the people who want to know more and go further into what this music scene is really about will go deeper, with [films like] Eden. But at the same time, the young crowd just want to have some fun.
I FEEL LIKE 'WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS' IS LIKE THE ANTI-EDEN. IT TELLS THE SAME STORY IN THE COMPLETELY OPPOSITE WAY.
So why do you think the film has had a better reception in Europe than in North America?
In the States, you have to understand, it is a foreign film, and foreign films never have success there unless they are super, super mainstream, commercial. It will always be a small crowd, but we had incredible interest from the media in the States, so clearly they felt a certain relation to it. It’s a niche film, looking at something that is really European, really French, even if we made some links to American culture through music.
Not just Daft Punk, but also when Paul goes to the States. You have this young white guy going to the Chicago ghettos to meet these musicians and producers. It makes a very strong contrast and I found that very interesting. It’s also in the tradition of France’s close musical links to America through Jazz and Blues.
It’s still the case though that a lot of the American hype surrounding the film is focused on the Daft Punk element. Do you think people are going to be disappointed that Daft Punk are only a minor sideline?
The thing is, you have to understand that we would never have been able to do the film without them. We knew from the beginning that we had to ask them to give us authorisation to do it, and that was okay because I was friends with them and they liked my sister’s films.
Their help was huge, with funding and so on, but the side effect was that when you put Daft Punk on something, it really eats everything, cannibalises it, because they’re so big. We had to deal with that, and the American distributors knew that they couldn’t reject the help Daft Punk’s name would give the film, and then it was tricky. I don’t think many people will be disappointed, because in the end they know it’s not a film about Daft Punk, the message is rather clear and you get that after a while.
How much creative input did Thomas and Guy-Man [Daft Punk] actually have in the film, funding and licensing aside.
Well, we showed them the early draft of the script and they gave us comments and suggestions, particularly regarding the scenes that involved them. They really collaborated with us and they were really nice and helpful.
How did you feel as French Touch started to die out in the mid-to-late noughties?
My music was really deep house and garage, though I was close to some artists in the French Touch movement, but I knew that the music I love was also dying. After a while I didn’t care anymore, I cared for a while but then I moved onto something else. I never tried to force anything, I think it’s always better if things happen in their natural way.
What do you think of the rebirth of deep house and garage in the last few years?
I think it’s always coming back and forth and will probably disappear and appear again. It’s not a complete rebirth, I don’t see it like that. When the music has been so important and meant so much at some point, it will always come back again. I’m glad that some younger artists are influenced by garage, and also I am DJing again a bit, it’s cool but it’s not more than that.
What’s been the effect of the film’s release on your DJ career?
I made reconnections with people I lost touch with and I had a lot of interest for promotion of the film. I played many festivals overseas and I also played again in Paris, but I do it in a more detached way, I have a different approach, more relaxed, serious and professional. I’m glad I’ve changed, because I was wrong before. I couldn’t differentiate between partying with my friends and work. It’s all work now.
Cover Photo by Andrew Kovalev
The film is due to release on 24th July, 2015. Find your local screening times here.