10 things to know about DJ Snake, French-Algerian global star

By Soufiane Khabbachi
Posted on Wednesday, 22 June 2022 17:33, updated on Thursday, 23 June 2022 16:25

DJ Snake in Cannes, France, November 2021 © Pariente/SIPA

His new track "Disco Maghreb" is already expected to be the hit of the summer in North Africa. A look back at the meteoric rise of this French-Algerian DJ, with a string of successes and collaborations with the music industry’s greatest already under his belt.

1. Humble origins

William Sami Étienne Grigahcine (his birth name) was born in 1986 in Paris to a French showman father – who left home when he was only two years old – and an Algerian mother – who had a series of odd jobs (nanny, cleaning lady) and brought up William and his younger brother on her own in a low-income housing estate in Ermont in the Val d’Oise.

He often talks about his background in interviews and says that the multicultural environment in which he grew up has influenced his musical universe.

“In my building, there were Haitians listening to Kompa, Antilleans listening to zouk, Arabs listening to raï…,” he said in an interview with Konbini.

2. Self-taught

He started mixing when he was in sixth grade, at the house of a friend who owned turntables. Not quite fitting into the French education system, William stopped his formal education in the 10th grade after being expelled from high school. He then worked in a record shop in the Châtelet district of central Paris. He never went back to school and has no diploma.

Today, several of his tracks have exceeded one billion views on YouTube. DJ Snake has won numerous music awards and collaborated with stars like Selena Gomez, Kanye West, Lady Gaga and Travis Scott.

3. Snake

He owes his stage name ‘Snake’, to his remarkable ability to… outrun the police. In his younger days, William was involved in tagging and graffiti street art and always managed to slip through the hands of police.

On the set of France 2 in May 2022, the artist referred to the origins of his nickname in unkind terms. “It was a shitty idea when I was a kid, but now it’s become a habit,” he said.

Journalist Laurent Delahousse issued a rapid-fire response saying: “A shitty idea that, nevertheless, has travelled around the world.”

4. Breakthrough

In 2012, after several failures, the future star found himself in dire financial straits. He was about ready to throw in the towel. “Nothing was working, the people around me were discouraging and bringing me down,” he says.

He then decided to go for broke and rented a studio in Boulogne-Billancourt, where he shut himself up for the months of July and August, with the ultimate hope of creating the sounds that would allow him to finally make his breakthrough.

“I told myself that if I didn’t succeed by the end of the summer, I would go to work like everyone else to fill up my fridge, and I would keep music as a hobby. In any case, I had no choice, I [was] overdrawn […] €80 ($84.75) on my bank account,” he says. A successful gamble. Thanks to Turn Down For What, produced with Lil Jon, he immediately earned worldwide fame.

5. Michelle Obama

The song that made DJ snake a success has only… four words. This is a double paradox for the singer who, because of his poor English, was forced to hire a Canadian translator when he travelled in the US to make himself understood.

“Looking back, I don’t understand how that piece worked,” he says. Music is an inexact science. The song has four words. I never imagined that one day Michelle Obama would post this on the internet.

The former First Lady of the US made a video in which she humorously hijacks Turn Down for What in response to an online question about how many calories she burned “every time you turn up”.

6. Feminist

The star has cultivated a somewhat unorthodox lifestyle compared to many others in his universe: He doesn’t drink alcohol or do drugs and has never even smoked a cigarette. DJ Snake also says he is well aware of his impact and influence on the public, especially young people.

Calling himself a feminist in an environment “clearly” stricken with machismo, he won’t compromise on certain principles. “I don’t want clips with naked girls, homophobic comments, or drug promotion. I don’t make concessions on that. I know what I do and don’t want to promote,” he says.

7. ‘Love letter’ to Algeria

“I am a soldier of France,” says DJ Snake, who describes himself as “very chauvinistic”. If this Franco-Algerian has a special relationship with the country of his birth, it is not exclusive.

He describes his new track, Disco Maghreb, released on 31 May, as “a bridge between different generations and origins, linking North Africa, the Arab world and beyond” and “a love letter to [his] people”. It has already been predicted as the hit of the summer in North Africa.

8. Paris Saint-Germain fan

On Saturday 11 June, the DJ brought together more than 60,000 people at Paris’ Parc des Princes, which hadn’t hosted a concert since 22 June 2010. He has been a regular visitor to the Paris stadium since 1995 – he was a Paris Saint-Germain season ticket holder for several years. Today, DJ Snake is close to Kylian Mbappé and Neymar and claims to have been behind Achraf Hakimi’s decision to sign with PSG over Chelsea.

9. Introvert

Too intimidated by girls and too shy to dance at parties when he was a teenager, young William chose to take refuge behind the decks.

“It was a bit of a hideout for me. I didn’t have the courage to dance in front of everyone,” he told France Inter. His reserved nature is still visible today: used to playing in front of huge crowds and the world’s biggest stars, he confesses to being most nervous when his mother attends one of his concerts.

On stage or in front of the cameras, he never removes his sunglasses. A way of protecting himself, he admits, which also has an advantage: when he wants to stroll incognito in the streets of Paris or elsewhere, all he has to do is take them off and no one will recognise him.

10. Pride

Stung by commentators who predicted that Turn Down For What would be a one-time success, DJ Snake claims to have written Lean On in two hours, in his kitchen, while “cooking pasta”.

A way to keep the legend alive? On Youtube, the clip of the track he co-produced with the American electronic dance group Major Lazer has been viewed over 3.2 billion times…

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