Mawazine Festival 2017: DJ Snake bites back at lawsuit

DJ Snake, who played at the Mawazine Festival last week, talks about a lawsuit over his hit Turn Down for What, the Arabic influences in his music and his love of sunglasses.

DJ Snake at the Mawazine Festival in Morocco. Courtesy of Sife El Amine
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It is perhaps a sign of the times, that with sudden ­music success, often comes intense legal scrutiny.

The latest artist facing a copyright claim is DJ Snake. He and hip-hop producer Lil Jon were hit with a lawsuit this month over their 2013 EDM anthem, Turn Down for What.

The action was initiated by ­rapper Freddie GZ who, as part of the group Tha Architectz, released a track of the same name in March 2013 – six months before DJ Snake’s song became a hit.

Freddie GZ says the duo copied the title of the song. According to court documents, he claims he came up with the refrain Turned Down for What in 2012, releasing a song of the same title in March 2013, six months before DJ Snake and Lil Jon's version. "There is no possibility that the infringing work is a­ ­creature of independent creation," ­according to the lawsuit.

The lawyer handling the case for Freddie GZ is Richard Busch, who made headlines in 2015 after successfully representing the family of Marvin Gaye in their copyright lawsuit against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for the 2013 chart topper Blurred Lines.

In his first public comments about the case, shared exclusively with The National, DJ Snake says he is taking it all in his stride.

Speaking before a mammoth gig in front of 80,000 people last week at the Mawazine Festival in ­Morocco, he says legal ­action comes with the territory.

“This is going to happen to any successful artist, no matter what, so I am ready for this,” he says. “When you are on top, people are trying to bring you down. So you do have to prepare for this and be ready. All I will be doing is keep bringing those positive vibes. I do this for the fans because they show me so much love every day.”

DJ Snake is certainly the man of the moment in the world of EDM.

After making a name for himself as a club spinner and ­rising-star producer in Paris, the French-Algerian DJ (whose real name is William Grigahcine) was enlisted by Lady Gaga as part of the production team for her 2011 album, Born This Way, a gig that subsequently earned him a Grammy Award nomination for Best Album.

Armed with some serious industry kudos, Snake released the buzzworthy single Bird Machine in 2011 and was snagged to remix works by heavy hitters including Kanye West's New Slaves (2011) and Major Lazer's Bubble Butt (2013).

But it was Turn Down for What that really caught the attention of the occupants of dance floors around the world.

The insanely catchy song dominated global dance charts and racked up more than 600,000 million views on YouTube for its surreal, hedonistic video.

Delve further into the track, and you notice the main synth groove has a distinctly Middle Eastern-style melody.

“There is a definite element there and that is inescapable,” says Snake. “I have Arabic ­heritage and that will always come out in all music if you ­really listen to it.”

Snake recalls that classical Arabic music was played constantly in his childhood home in Paris.

“My parents loved it, but particularly my mum,” he says. “She was a fan of all the great classic ­artists – people like Wardah, ­Abdul Halim Hafez and, of course, Umm Kulthum.

“I don’t know the songs they were playing, but they have always been there and so it is a part of me too.”

Snake capitalised on Turn Down for What's success by releasing his well-received debut album, Encore, last year.

It featured another club hit, the Justin Bieber collaboration Let Me Love You (which Bieber ­performed at his Dubai concert this month).

The latest single, The Half, has Snake infusing his electro sounds with urban music courtesy of hip-hop guests Swizz Beats, Jeremih and Young Thug.

“It is one of my favourite songs,” he says. “It started out with me wanting to make a hip-hop track and I wanted to put some of my ­favourite people together.

“Jeremih and Young Thug are some of my favourite hip-hop artists of the moment so I am so blessed to have them on there.”

For such a self-described “low-key guy”, Snake’s relatively ­sudden elevation, from sweaty club gigs to closing the ­Coachella Festival this year in front of ­hundreds of thousands of fans, took some adjustment.

He says it is primarily ­responsible for his decision to wear sunglasses whenever he is working functions – including during this interview.

“I have no problems with my eyes,” he says with a laugh. “It was because when I became big I suddenly I found myself playing on stage with 200,000 people and that is scary.

“I remember my manager told me just put on a pair of sun glasses and that should mitigate the panic. So I tried it and it worked. Now people recognise me with my glasses and it helps me feel better – and also to travel incognito.”

The Half by DJ Snake, featuring Swizz Beats, Jeremih and Young Thug, is out now