A few months ago, Greg Broussard headed out to London for the gig of a lifetime. Best known to electro-heads as Egyptian Lover, the DJ/producer was booked to play Secret Cinema, a movie-centric party. On this occasion, the theme was Star Wars and Broussard was scheduled to step in as the Cantina DJ.
In more than 30 years, Broussard has played everything from roller rinks to car shows to after-hours. He's played across the globe for a wide range of different crowds. But, when you're a Star Wars fan — and Broussard definitely is one — there's nothing quite like playing the Cantina. Broussard recalls telling the crowd to "Shake it like a Wookiee" when he played a track called "Bellydance."
"That was just four months ago," he says when we meet in Little Tokyo. "I'm still on that high right now."
When Broussard, who now lives in Orange County, heard that Disneyland plans to open a Cantina as part of its Star Wars expansion, he started rethinking his career path. "I could retire and just be a DJ at the Cantina bar at Disneyland," he suggests.
Broussard remembers the first time he saw Star Wars — "It was so far ahead of its time," he says. Around the same time, Broussard, who grew up in South Central and went to high school in the San Fernando Valley, began his own experiments in music. At first he made mixtapes. Sometime around 1979, when kids in L.A. caught wind of a New York record called "Rapper's Delight," he started rapping. Within a few years, Broussard was accumulating synths and drum machines and began making his own tunes.
While George Lucas was taking movie buffs to the stars with his blockbuster space trilogy, musicians in the early 1980s were creating otherworldly sounds with new equipment such as the Roland Jupiter-8 synthesizer. Egyptian Lover was among them. His contributions to electro are many but his best-known track is "Egypt Egypt," an 808 jam that became a hit with break dancers, roller rink DJs and the folks at KDAY.
The track's popularity spread beyond Los Angeles, earning Broussard gigs from California to Florida. In the decades that followed, the song has resurfaced as a club hit whenever the crowd wants a dose of the electronic side of hip-hop. Broussard notes that a common misconception about the song is that the heavy-breathing hook was a nod to Kraftwerk. He was actually inspired by Prince, as well as a song called "Something About You" by the band Ebonee Webb.
In the early days of L.A. hip-hop, Broussard was better known as a dancer than a DJ, but a chance encounter at Culver City's Fox Hills Mall changed that. He recalls the time that he and his friend Snake Puppy (later of the hip-hop group L.A. Dream Team) were hanging out at the mall and ran into Rodger Clayton of the hip-hop crew Uncle Jamm's Army. Snake Puppy suggested Clayton bring in Broussard as a DJ. Soon Broussard was heading to a studio to help out with a commercial for an upcoming party.
"I was scratching on the commercial," he says. "I didn't know how popular it was going to be. We didn't know anything about scratching, just from Grandmaster Flash's Wheels of Steel album. I was just copying what he did."
At the party, Broussard won a DJ contest by scratching on Aretha Franklin's song "Jump to It." He remembers the reaction from that night. "When I looked up, I saw everybody just staring," he says. "I didn't know if that was a good or a bad thing. I was kind of nervous." Turned out it was a good thing.
At a later party, he brought in a Roland TR-808, which he had only recently picked up on sale at Guitar Center after finding out that Afrika Bambaataa used a drum machine on "Planet Rock."
After working with Uncle Jamm's Army, Broussard hired a keyboard player and went into the studio to cut solo tracks. He also created his own record label. "Everybody else I knew on a label was broke," he says, which made him wonder: "Where was all the money going?" When he heard it was going to the labels, he figured he should start one himself.
To this day, Broussard releases his work on his own label with his own distribution. He also books his own shows. While he never stopped playing, his gigs did pick up in the Internet era, particularly after MySpace gained steam and promoters no longer needed to know his phone number to reach him.
On Oct. 30, Broussard will release 1984, an Egyptian Lover album nine years in the making. He recorded it in some of the same studios in which he made his early material, using his original analog equipment. He says that he has tried working with digital production tools but doesn't like the results. "It makes me feel good to hear that warm, analog sound," he says. "The digital stuff hurt my ears. It wasn't right."
With analog, Broussard was able to connect with the sounds and feelings that got him making music in the early 1980s. "I just fell in love with it again," he says. "All the songs came out exactly how I wanted them to come out."
Out in the clubs, Broussard is finding new fans. He mentions a slew of recent gigs, all in different locations playing to different crowds. "The one thing they all react the same to is when I play the 808 live," he says.
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As Egyptian Lover, Broussard still captures the attention of new fans with sounds made with old-school gear. Even he isn't sure why this is. When asked, he answers, "I don't know. It makes you want to dance. It makes you feel good."
Egyptian Lover will be at Ameoba Music on Friday, Nov. 6 for an in-store performance and to sign copies of 1984. More info.