May 08, 2024

Going Deep with Eric Denis, the DJ Behind CMYK

Going Deep with Eric Denis, the DJ Behind CMYK

Amidst the cosmopolitan hustle and bustle of Barcelona, you will find Eric Denis. Originally from France, Eric is a part of the city’s vibrant underground scene. Alongside his full time job, Eric is a DJ, label owner, event and festival organizer, and the man behind CMYK, which with 150k followers, is one of YouTube’s deepest wells for fresh electronic music. 

EARPEACE caught up with him for a DEEP, DEEP conversation about music, his projects and other thoughts. 

Eric Denis

What were your first music inspirations?

Initially I really was into progressive rock like Pink Floyd or Jethro Tull. Then I grew more into electronic music through highschool with stuff like Radiohead / Massive Attack & trip-hop in general.  This gradually brought me to labels like Ninja Tunes / Warp records that I listened to pretty much the complete discographies at the time, like literally record by record! Mostly music from the UK really aha. 

(editor note - Ninja Tunes + Warp have almost 8000 releases combined on discogs!)

In parallel I also was classically trained on clarinette and eventually ended up playing some keyboards in a ska-rock band too aha.

And hip-hop, loads of hip-hop - but mostly following producers rather than MCs: J Dilla, Madlib, Pete Rock… 


When did you start your various projects? Can you tell us a bit about them and how they all correlate?

So the first and main project I guess would be CMYK, as a Youtube channel.


It started when I was working in Brussels in 2013, and at the time I had just finished my studies and was traveling around on short term contracts in Europe. As I finally had some money to buy records, but was also traveling often, I got in the habit of systematically ripping them to digital. This way I could leave the records at a friend or something if I had to change city and couldn't carry them but still have the music with me.

I'm a very organized person aha, my iTunes is a sanctuary of playlists by genre, rating, year etc.

So yeah, eventually I had a decent library of vinyl rips and realized most of it wasn't on YouTube, it wasn't really a thing at that time. So as I was a bit bored in rainy Brussels winter I figured why not share them online, and that's how it started. I then kinda naturally just used it as my DJ name. However since quite a few years the channel has been more of a side-thing that I maintain, and I've been focusing on more 'real-world' projects. So let's talk about the rest hehe.

Another key project is Kommuna, which is an event series and record label started soon after I arrived in Barcelona, where I've been living now for 9 years or so. I run the project with Pekkuliar and we've had like 9 vinyl releases (4 on a previous sub-label ran with Rubi focused more on old stuff, 5 on the current one where we focus more on friends & own productions). We have the new one coming up soon after a bit of a break and it's funkyyyyyyyy!

We've done events in pretty much all possible places in this city, and after a few years of break and general demotivation because of Covid, we're actually really getting back strongly into the promoter game! We have a super exciting variety of events lined up til September: regular events in lovely intimate clubs like Studio Stereo or La Textil, an Off Sonar event on Thursday with Bizarre Trax & 192gmbh, a villa party with Truly Madly & Nothing But Nice annnnd what is certainly the most ambitious and exciting project I've ever done, the third edition of a small festival for 300 people called NEST.

NEST is done with a much larger group of talented friends with a wide variety of skills. We also found a new really incredible space in the forest between the Catalan hills never used for our type of music. It'll be 1h from Barcelona from 6-8 September and we're preparing something really special - the feedback of the 2 previous editions has been incredibly gratifying despite the extreeeeme amount of work and I feel like this time, with the extended team and learning from the previous editions, we will create something really awesome while also surviving the workload!!

Finally (I know that's a lot, sorry), I have a small webradio called which I built during Covid, compiling the best of the best of the best of my iTunes playlists, focusing on a chill-out vibe but like from literally every genre possible. There's about one month long of music playing in shuffle and it has a small but faithful audience - for example a PhD student from MIT sent me an email telling me he spent 2 years listening to this while writing his thesis aha - that was really a super cool email.

Kanvas is also an alias I use for publishing mixes or gigs that are focused on ambient / downtempo, which I get to do more and more locally and I'm super happy about that! It's a nice fresh challenge to elegantly put together music that is not necessarily matched in style or bpm.



How has the landscape of the music industry evolved since you first started?

So I'm talking like a fossil now, but I guess it's been 10 years since I've been active in 'the scene' through Youtube at least and I've definitely seen a bunch of waves passing by, with most of them still around but maybe catering to a new crowd.

I would say that I started in the "Romanian / Hoppetosse minimal wave", and then we had the "smooth dubby old-school UK tech-house end of 90s-early 00s wave", then maybe the "darker electro / break / Uruguayan wave", and now I feel we're switching towards a dominance of more funky, joyful sounds, spearheaded by for ex Risky Bookings, or Rakya even before maybe. DJs are less afraid of vocals / vocoders / cheesy synth lines or farty electro basses and I feel it's due a lot to the French scene actually, but maybe that's some confirmation bias as I'm French. Also, Dawidu.

There is definitely something really cool happening in France for a few years, and I feel the eras that are actively dug by fellow Discogers have switched towards more 2003-2008 rather than the usual 96-04, so it sounds more modern and digital.

There's also some people that really got deeper in more EBM / 80s stuff like Libertine, which I really respect but is not always for me, and a bit of a UKG revival since quite a few years now with people like Dr Banana or Alec Falconer getting the recognition they deserve and that I'm super happy about as I've always been a big UKG / 2step influence since I started collecting.


What influences and inspirations shape your DJing style? How would you define the music selection you are looking to share with people?

So I've always been on the more happy side of things, and I'd say in Barcelona I've been one of the few for many years to regularly include UKG records like 98-02 in my sets, so that's certainly a distinctive factor, and I'm also very fond of vocoders and cheesier sounds. Globally, I'd say I play a mix of house, UKG and funky electro with sometimes some tech-house rollers to make transitions more manageable.

A lot of my music has vocals or really recognizable melodic elements, I don't really like to play music that just rolls through you in a club - I'm hoping for people to go home with a melody or two in their heads that they can sing along and remember. I also don't really like to do anything too complicated in terms of technicality (except the occasional backspin hehe), just going from one track after the other without long overlaps as the tracks I play usually have elements that would otherwise clash. 

It's actually quite distinctive from what I share on the channel as most of it is 96-06 era although I do regularly play a few promos / demos that I'm sent, of course.


Can you share any tips for aspiring DJs looking to break into the industry? What do you think has been the biggest change since when you started?

Honestly I'm not sure I can share tips to 'make it as a DJ' since I haven't made it myself aha - it's still just a very, very time consuming hobby as I have a full time job aside. It's just where most of my free time goes really, and since Covid I kinda stopped being active on IG for years and that certainly affected my career. These days I mostly get local bookings (which I've actually been enjoying as it gives me more time for my projects and social life but I do miss traveling more regularly and meeting new music passionates / discovering new music scenes!).

However, I'd say the ideal way to make it is certainly to produce some exciting music while having developed a unique personal music taste through decades of geeking & record digging, without too closely following any 'DJ influencer' or ‘music wave’.

I think trying to draw inspiration from many music genres, not staying too contained in the codes of a ‘scene’, going to see live concerts and being open to experience new music in general is critical to long term success as well. Inspiration can also come from different types of arts, or even just playing video games!

All the rest, like networking / hanging in the afters with the right people, social media, doing strategic bookings to get invited back etc. should ideally just be noise (spoiler: it's not).


Why Barcelona? How has the city changed since you have been there? 

I did my Masters degree there, and just kinda came back after moving around for a year as I felt the most at home there, and still do! It's just a great city - it's relaxed, it's beautiful, it's international, there's a pretty decent music scene but without being maybe a bit too intense like in Berlin and it's easy to travel around with a well-connected airport.

The scene clearly has grown a lot, at the time we were just like 2-3 crews doing the kind of music we do, and now there are like 20 small teams and labels and it's awesome - loads of good friends have started to make nice parties, for example Mirador or Simple Times have been doing inspiring stuff and it creates opportunities for collabs and keeping things exciting for the public as well!

A lot of great artists with significant careers also moved here in the last few years, I think mostly due to the rent situation in Berlin that I heard has become pretty difficult for people with inconsistent incomes like musicians.


As a promoter, what are the biggest challenges to putting on an event in Barcelona? What is it like dealing with the local authorities? 

While the city has a well known and growing petty crime issue, most of the police energy seems to be concentrated into shutting down illegal or semi-legal parties lolz.

It's really difficult here, and you face real legal & financial repercussions. I've heard a few horror stories - at some point it's just not really worth the risk, especially if you do it mostly for fun like many of us.

A new trick has arisen post-Covid of doing events actually outside of Barcelona city, in the neighboring towns, which are much more welcoming and also less intense on regulations - for example you can put a proper soundsystem at a beach bar in Hospitalet where the airport is, while it's prohibited in Barcelona city!

But yeah, doing things fully legal is a real challenge and it's a shame because many people would want to, but the expense and admin pain is just too much for small teams that don't generate much profit or none to justify it.


How do you stay current with music trends and discover new artists?

Well I've the chance that the Youtube channel provides me a continuous stream of music as I receive demos daily from people submitting tracks!

So it's been pretty easy to stay on top of things + of course I always go out on a regular basis to listen to some music and have many DJ & promoter friends with whom we exchange constantly.


What role do you believe music festivals play in shaping culture and society?

I think it depends on what kind of festivals we talk about. I don't really see the biggest ones as something super inspiring personally, and even in our scene on the medium-sized one they have a tendency at replicating the same names over and over on their line-ups.

There are promoters who really try to make an effort on innovating though, always bringing fresh names or oldschool legends that you wouldn't have thought of booking etc. I can think of Atipik and their festival Le Chant des Oiseaux as something really intimate and fresh, or Nostromo in a much bigger category but still making an effort in inviting pretty interesting stuff like Alexander Robotnick for ex, that was a sick booking idea!

Hopefully these types of experiences contribute to inspire more people into enjoying music and help them discover new artists!



What do you consider when choosing locations for your festival?

We have had only 2 editions so far and both in the same location, of only 150 people, so it's really as intimate as it gets.

It kind of came to us rather than we chose it, as our friend Cosm (from the Mass crew in Leeds) ended up living in that old rural farm and offered us to make a festival and we said 'ok cool lessgo'. There really wasn't that much thought put into it aha and we had to pull it off in like 2 months or something, it was PRETTY improvised and a bit of a miracle we made it work.

It had a forest, a pool, a rave cave, it was awesome but also limited in space and infrastructure.

For the new space on the 3rd edition we're working on, we were looking for something with similar characteristics but where we could scale up significantly and have more control on everything - we'll need to bring our own generators, toilets etc. but it's all in our hands.

We also want to be able to play music at loud volume at least into part of the night of course, have 2 stages, have comfortable accommodation for artists & staff at walking distance, and have beautiful scenery with nice features (we have a forest, a river, hills around...).

Buzzing to show y'all!


Can you share any lessons learned or insights gained from past editions of your festival?

Have back-up plans on any critical infrastructure & items - everything that can go wrong will go wrong. We had electricity cuts, showers breaking down, rain in the middle of droughts, ice shortage in the whole of Catalonia etc.


How do you decide between releasing music on vinyl only and digital?

We used to be vinyl only hardcore with Kommuna, but as I got back more and more into non-dance music digging during Covid (which I mostly do digitally) and just in general through the situation, with Pekkuliar we decided to release the old releases on Bandcamp. It just made sense at this time.


Now I think we have a reasonable balance of releasing on vinyl, and like a year later putting it out on Bandcamp. It gives a nice little second life to the music and still keeps the attractiveness of the record, I think. 


As a DJ, what is your best advice for keeping your hearing safe while being exposed to loud sound for such a long time? 

I'm not sure I've been the best student here. I've made custom-made molded ones at some point, but lost them after a few years and never made them back - it's a bit of a pain to do and quite costly and such a small item is very easy to lose. So I'm super glad that a brand like EARPEACE can offer a much more affordable and convenient alternative!


In general, I do try to not put the returns / headphones too loud, it's usually not that necessary, and when I'm clubbing if I don't have earplugs I never stay in the front too long and regularly take some air from the sound.


When DJing, what tips do you have for finding the balance between too quiet and too loud to keep the party pumping?

I think it should be more the job of the sound engineer tbh, my job would be more to keep a constant steady flow of volume as a DJ and the sound engineer can balance up or down depending on the capacity of the system, his metrics, and the amount of people in the room.

Except in a warm-up situation where you clearly want some evolution in volume and intensity (but with a max that should be defined at a safe level by a sound engineer).

I'm also often quite conscious of the highs being too high (which are the frequencies causing damage as well), so frequently you might see me mix with like all the high EQs at 10am to compensate a bit for that.


As an event organiser, what steps do you take to find the right volume for people to fully immerse in the music without breaking their ears? 

Well a bit like above, I leave that responsibility to the sound engineer and of course we review and suggest adjustments if needed.

Actually, for the festival we're thinking of buying a big digital decibel meter to put on the DJ booth and kind of agree on a reasonable amount with the sound engineer and ask the DJ to stick to it. We'll probably invest in that soon! It's the best way to keep the DJ aware of where he stands in volume - it can be very difficult otherwise as you don't really hear the same thing as the audience.

I heard they have these new hilarious passive-aggressive dBmeters that are connected to the DJ returns, and if you go over a certain threshold for long enough they just turn down the monitors so DJ is fucked. Love it.

Can you tell us two records that don't leave your DJ bag at the moment?

That recent EP from Charonne's new label Velvet Spirit is fucking sick 

I am totally in love with the 'I'd Rather Dance' track by Numero 6 which I've no idea who that is but mamen killed it (and the other tracks are super cool too).

Otherwise, I'm the proud owner of a VG++ copy of this classic by Peace Orchestra aka Kruder & Dorfmeister 

So that's something I love to bring in a warm-up.


And finally, open question, one thing you would like to see change in 2024? 

More peace and less nationalism…

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