How has 2019 been for you so far?
I just returned from my first big South America tour with the new live set with stops at legendary venues such as The Bow in Buenos Aires, D.Edge in Sao Paulo, Baum in Bogota and Bassick in Quito. Naturally I’m always very busy in the studio after being away for so long, taking care of client projects but also working on my upcoming releases this year. I have many exciting releases and collabs coming up in 2019, and I’m also preparing for a major announcement regarding my live set – so there has been a lot of work to do in the past weeks.
You’re about to make a return to the mighty Poker Flat Recordings, tell us about the EP?
I believe this is my darkest, most electronic and most Techno EP so far. Both tracks are heavily driven by modular synths. And the arrangements may be a bit more abstract than with my previous releases, with many elements blurring the lines between being either typical percussive or traditional melodic/harmonic elements, they are both. The synths on both tracks are nearly 100% Moog Modular, with a few bits and pieces sprinkled in here and there from the Minimoog, Buchla Music Easel and Arp 2600.
I am very pleased that Sailor & I contributed the vocal to Chemistry. It was difficult to sing on this rather abstract soundscape, but he pulled it off wonderfully. I am very happy with the juxtaposition of the dark, bleepy synths and his sweet and catchy vocal lines which might even push the boundaries a bit of what’s usually within the scope of Poker Flat. This is my first release after the huge success of ‘Stars’, my Bedrock EP from November 2018, which went to #1 in the Beatport Progressive Top 100. And now I’m super excited to come up with another vocal track, which in my view is very different from the last release – but equally strong.
Bedrock, Aeon and Flying Circus are also among the other labels you have released with, do you have any advice for other producers on how to approach a label and get your music signed?
A tough question, and I believe there is no short answer, not least because there are so many different ways to handle this. I have been involved in this process countless times, not only as an artist and producer of my own music, but also as a mixing engineer working with other people. What always helps is a bit of luck, to be at the right place in the right time. But when the opportunity arises of course you have to be able to see it in the first place, and then also be prepared for it! The music itself, the tracks, have to be good, and when you can tell a bit of a story as an artist persona this can help too. But what’s really crucial is, and that is largely a question of experience, to know when something is finished and good enough to be presented, and to whom. It is so easy these days to send a demo to dozens of labels at the same time, but the brute force method rarely ever helps. The better your sense is where your tracks would fit musically, the more focused you can start a process with that label.
Sometimes a release is not the result of a label signing the demo right away, but the fruit of a bit of a back and forth, the label requesting some adjustments, maybe new or additional tracks not presented with the first demo, etc. As a producer I think it’s important to be open for advice, which, especially when the label owners / A&Rs are DJs themselves, can be very precise and helpful. But at the same time it’s also good to have a sense for when these possible changes would go too far – then pursuing another label might be the better choice. At the end it’s not about having a release at any cost, it’s about nurturing your integrity as an artist, while being open for advice. As a last thing, I believe private Soundcloud playlists are the gold standard for presenting demos. Five to seven tracks is ideal to present both some continuity and some bandwith – and to give the label a few options.
Let’s talk about your live set for a moment, how did you come to play live rather than with a regular DJ setup?
This answer, on the contrary, is very simple! I am not, and have never been an electronic music DJ! I have been DJing a lot in my life though, and I even made a living from it for a short while after I moved to Berlin in the late 90s. I love vinyl, and I always played what they used to call Rare Groove, a blend of soul, jazz, bossa nova and latin jazz, some soundtracks. After a while it became clear to me that I wanted to focus more on the production and studio work side of things, and at that time in my life I didn’t want to compromise my daytime activities too much in order to push my career in nightlife.
I’ve always been an instrumentalist, a musician, and the process of writing music, writing songs is with me since playing in bands while still attending school. So when I finally started to release music again in 2017 it was obvious that my goal was to set up a live act at some point. While I absolutely respect the art and craft of DJing, this is simply not who I am. I have been invited to DJ at house and techno parties here and there, but I always refused, because I see no point in trying to pretend I were someone I am not. And there are so many incredible DJs out there whose quality I could never match even when they had a really bad day and I caught a very good one.
As a live act, on the other side, I have the feeling I can bring something to the table that maybe not every one else can. Playing my Moog Sub 37 through my SSL XDesk directly into the Funktion One at Baum/Bogotá was a mindblowing experience – one of many more to come!
And what’s one thing you find most challenging about playing live?
To be honest, it’s not the playing! I’ve been making music on stages since I was 14, so that aspect feels totally normal for me. Before one of my recent South America shows I had food poisoning and I didn’t sleep at all the night before the show, but of course I had to travel on that day. On top of that there were huge technical issues at the venue, and despite them trying to make it work for four hours with me waiting backstage, I finally had to go on stage without soundcheck. But the crowd never knew what went on behind the scenes before, the show went down a breeze. I’m sure for my more experience live colleagues a night like this one sounds quite familiar, but for me it reaffirmed that the playing itself isn’t really the issue. It’s what’s happening around it.
I am traveling with two heavy flight cases of equipment, so you spend a lot more time at airports and customs deks than DJs, and more often than not sound checks don’t run smoothly. As a result often you’re finished when all the decent restaurants have long closed. The real challenge for me on tour so far has been to find a good place to eat after everything was finally set up for the show.
We read you’re also a studio engineer and do a bit of writing for the music technology platform Sound On Sound, how do you find the time to wear so many hats?
This indeed is a question I am asking myself all the time, and it feels like something has to give. I am definitely continuing to do all of this, but I am in the process of shifting gears a bit. The more my live set picks up momentum, the more I can justify to scale back my studio activities a bit. I still fully enjoy this part of my work and I will always continue working as a mixer and/or producer on client projects, but I definitely want to be able to reserve a bit more time for producing my own music.
It’s been excellent to get a chance to chat to you, however brief, let’s finish things off with one album you never grow tired of?
There would be so many, but the first one that came to my mind reading the question is Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis. It’s hard to believe that it has been made already 60 years ago, but it still is so full of mystery to me, and I just can’t get enough of these muted but incredibly majestic trumpet lines, and in fact they still keep growing on me. At the end of the day I think it comes down to this – mystery. I have a solid musical and technical understanding, but for me to never grow tired of a piece of music it has to keep challenging me, to present a certain something that transcends my own musical horizon.
Hannes Bieger – Chemistry arrives March 8th on Poker Flat Recordings.