Playing Favourites: Till von Sein

Posted: February 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

> Backroom Productions – Definition Of A Track ( New York Underground Records) 1988

A rare tune from 1987. Indeed nothing but a track.

I knew this from the vinyl edition of the DJ-Kicks by Terranova. At that time it fit right in with what they were trying to represent with that compilation. I used to play this track regularly back then, it was very good for warming up.

So you actually know this for quite some time then.

Yeah, of course! I was not into Terranova that much, but the compilation had some brilliant tracks on it. East Flatbush Project and such.

This has some kind of Hip Hop vibe to it, too. But it does not exactly sound like 1988.

No, and I didn’t know that (laughs).

Would you still play it?

Definitely. I don’t know when and for what occasion but it is a class track.

It somehow reminds me of the bonus beats they used to have on the flipside of old House records.

Yeah, but bonus beats have gone out of fashion a bit, apart from Hip Hop. Argy had some for that Sydenham track “Ebian” on Ibadan last year. But I think it is not really relevant anymore for the current generation of House producers.

The percussive elements really distinguish the sound of that era from today’s productions. Lots of handclaps, or here it’s rimshots.

My problem is that I don’t really like all these percussion sounds from drum machines. I prefer sampled real instruments. This is probably some classic Roland drum machine, like a 606. I would take the bassdrum and hi-hats from somewhere else. The toms of these old machines are always cool, but the bongo sounds for example are not for me. I wouldn’t use that for my productions. I couldn’t do these 100 % authentic references. I think it’s supercool to listen to in a Prosumer record for example, but I couldn’t do that.

You got qualms about doing something like that?

No (laughs)! I’m just working on a new track for which I sampled an old Amen-break. I don’t care, if I like it I use it. This kind of break is in 90 % of all Drum and Bass tracks and nobody cares, so I don’t care either.

> Phortune – Unity (Jack Trax) 1988

This is an old track by DJ Pierre, from his Acid House days. But it is different to most tracks he produced back then. It is pretty deep.

It’s great. Awesome vibe for 1988, I could listen to this all day. It doesn’t tranquilize my feet, it’s not boring, it’s perfectly right. And I would grin from ear to ear if I would hear this in a club.

Some of its sounds have aged really well.

I really like this. I think it’s a pity that there are not so many tracks with great basslines at the moment. There are a lot of simple, functional basslines without much of a melody. Of course it’s effective and some current tracks need some of these dominating, functional elements, but a track like this for example needs a bit more, and I miss that. It’s also simple, but it has more and different harmonies. I like that, it gets me hooked. I would love to buy this on Beatport (laughs)!

Yes, that could be difficult.

> Eric B & Rakim – Follow The Leader (MCA) 1988

My problem with Rakim was that he always had this special position. He was almost like the Beatles. For people like me in their early 30’s raised on Hip Hop he was always untouchable. Also MCs like Guru, they had these particular songs that were unbelievable, but for me they never meant the same thing as a whole as for most other people into Hip Hop. I always had other MCs that I found untouchable.

Did you consider this to be too mainstream?

No, not all! I also would not talk bad about Rakim, there’s no way doing that.

I remember hearing this track the first time during a night-drive, on the car stereo in an Acid House radio show.

That must have been an instantly scary vibe.

Yes, I was really surprised. It has these sinister soundtrack elements but it kicks. It sounded different to the Hip Hop I knew until then. Very dynamic.

Yeah, but a lot of current Hip Hop also has a faster pace. The stoned 90’s are over. Hm, this is difficult for me. I love a lot of late 80’s Hip Hop. Ultramagnetic MCs for example. It is not my office soundtrack by any means, but I love cycling to that. I really discovered Rakim when I was 15, around the time of their album “Don’t Sweat The Technique”, which I really liked. I knew their older stuff from parties, it always got played, but it never touched me the way Ultramagnetic MCs or KRS-One did.

Maybe sometimes it’s the same with Hip Hop as in rock music where you support a camp and not the other. Either Beatles or Stones. Kiss or AC/DC.

Blur or Oasis (laughs). Yeah, KRS-One or Rakim.

> KC Flightt – Planet E (Acid Drop Mix) (RCA) 1989

I knew this track, it’s cool as fuck.

Yeah, this is really exceptional in many ways. First of all it samples the Talking Heads, unlike most other Hip House tracks. David Byrne is even dancing in the official video. And then rapping from the perspective of an extraterrestrial inspecting urban districts from the ghetto to the suburbs is not the usual Hip House stuff.

Yeah, indeed (laughs). Has Carl Craig named his label after this track?

Good question! I don’t know.

That was the first thing that came to my mind. Was KC Flightt really big back then?

He had quite a few club hits that you can still hear in sets.

“Let’s Get Jazzy” for instance. But this one is brilliant, we heard this in the office a few times and my colleague Mateo had to write down notes right away. These Talking Heads samples are really funny. Killer bassline! I never got into Hip House, because most of it was just too cheesy.

But you originally come from a Hip Hop background, are you not tempted to use its culture with the things you do now?

I actually kept looking out desperately for older Hip Hop stuff in this tempo to play in my sets. But each time I thought I had found something right for the purpose I realized I would totally make a fool of myself with that in the club. I was also thinking about producing something like that myself, but it would never ever have this classic flavour. I couldn’t live with those bland party lyrics either. It’s thin ice.

Well, smart music with smart lyrics is something else to achieve. This is probably why this one remained an exception.

> Original Rockers – Push Push (Cake) 1991

One of my favourite tracks ever! I had some my best moments with it, and some of my worst, due to those awful remixes.

Which ones?

On Great Stuff Recordings! Tomcraft’s label. There are two crucial tracks that influenced me the most when I got into House music. This one and “From Disco To Disco” by Whirlpool Productions. And Great Stuff really had the nerve to re-release both these tracks within half a year (laughs). It was nearly time to use this typically German trait of writing letters of complaint.

Why was this track so crucial to you?

It has so many connotations for me. I really love these cheesy, ravey chord sounds. The beat, this dirty bassline, the breaks, all of it. I didn’t hear it played out by other DJs in clubs so often, I had to play it myself and then head for the floor.

They did some other interesting House productions, too. But this is the best example for their combination of Dub/Reggae influences and a House groove.

It is divine. I discovered other Dub influenced House and Techno like Basic Channel probably much too late. And it is like with Rakim, there are some tracks I hear at home or in a club, and I think they’re phenomenal. But then other tracks just don’t get me. You might tell me it depends on the context or the right moment, but it doesn’t move me. And then I hear something like Round Two, and the sun rises, and I think “What a masterpiece!” I like Dub in electronic music, but more in House than in Techno. This current Dub Techno renaissance passes me by more or less. I like this clash with “Push Push”, especially with the vocals. It is actually pretty commercial. I could play this to my mother and she would love it.

Yeah, this is a party tune. But a good one.

I’m waiting for the moment to dare something like that, but it’s scorched earth.

> Dub Poets – Version (Massive B) 1992

Again House in Dub, but this time from New York .

I knew the original version, “Black And White”, from that Bobby Konders compilation on Gigolo. As I heard this I thought, “Damn, this version is even better!”

Bobby Konders really has a special status for House. He has not produced so many tracks, but all of them had his own trademark sound.

Yeah, he is only producing Reggae and Dancehall now, right? This is really classic New York Deep House style. As mentioned earlier, it has a real bassline. Great.

Agreed, his basslines were really melodic, but also very heavy.

Yeah, you can tell he’s influenced by Jamaican music. There are other New Yorkers that started out with a certain kind of style and later switched to something different. Kenny Dope for example.

Yes, the Burrell brothers who like Konders released a lot on Nu Groove later turned to R&B. There are a lot of American House producers who got frustrated with the money being made elsewhere and turned to R&B or Hip Hop. And they rarely return to House.

Bobby Konders has never made House again?

No, never.

Wow. How come he got this compilation on Gigolo?

Hell is a fan.

You really have to say that in this long lasting trash phase Gigolo had, this was really outstanding stuff.

Bad conscience maybe?

It was definitely a cool statement, you have to give him that. I was never a Gigolo fan, but I saw this in the shop, it had an interesting cover, and I bought it.

Motorbass – Les Ondes (Different) 1996

I’m really sad that I couldn’t get this album in a digital format so far, because I never convert vinyl. I have tried it before, but I was never satisfied with the results. I regularly would love to play tracks from this album. This is from the phase where House really got interesting for me.

This was indeed introducing the first wave of French House with something essential.

I only knew them from their Hip Hop productions. La Funk Mob, Mo’Wax, MC Solaar and such. And suddenly they came up with something completely different. I think I wouldn’t have gotten into Motorbass, Super Discount or Alex Gopher right away without having heard their Hip Hop stuff first, but as I became aware that they were also doing these sounds it interested me. Great stuff.

These Hip Hop origins are quite obvious with “Pansoul”.

Yeah. The beats and samples are so twisted, you always think something is stuck. They have their very own groove. They had a strange approach to loops. It often happens to me that I build beats and they sound straight to me, being a former Hip Hop kid and all, but others think they are kind of rugged. And you tweak around a bit more with it, and the others are right.

Is that your attitude in general, to keep it spontaneous, rough, maybe even a bit unformed?

Definitely. I would like to do tracks that are perfectly finalized in production and arrangement. I appreciate such tracks a lot. But I think I just can’t do that. I have to admit that. A track like Âme’s “Rej” is perfectly produced, very well balanced, and requires more skills than I have.

But as you develop, these skills might develop, too. Maybe in three years time you’ll be on a level where you are totally meticulous while producing.

Yeah, of course. But I may be not the person for that. I also have a fulltime job, I do a lot of working on tracks while travelling around, with earplugs on trains and planes (laughs). I produce tracks by kind of going back to that approach Hip Hop producers have, not spending more than a few hours on an individual track. I kind of like to keep it raw.

Well, the history of House and Techno is built on tracks which were made with such an approach.

Yes, I often hear tracks where I ask myself how long it took to make them, some of the Rhein/Main scene for example. And then you hear guys like Âme or Stimming, who clearly put a lot of effort in it. But it’s not my thing, right now at least. But I was different last year, and next year that might change again.

So you’re in your improvisation phase?

Exactly. I’m just not a knob twiddling Techno kid. When I see equipment with all the functions and possibilities I have my eyes wide open and my jaws drop, but I can’t work that way. I feel more attracted to the MPC productions of the Baile Funk scene for instance, that keep it raw and efficient. I can’t think of nothing that sounds like Motorbass. They really had their own sound back then, didn’t they?

Yes, I agree. I think it is interesting that you couldn’t compare them to producers from other countries, but it was the same with producers from their own country. They really lent some diversity and originality to the evolving French House phenomenon.

Yes, Daft Punk was something else, and even Bradock was doing classic Filter House in the beginning. Daft Punk came from Rock, and you could tell. They were in your face right from the start. Motorbass was really different in comparison.

> Whirlpool Productions – It Happened Last Night (Ladomat 2000) 1995

This is from their first album, early German House.

This is totally great, really up there. As for German House, they were really ahead of their time, don’t you think?

Absolutely, it was a meeting of three very talented individuals. I guess they wanted to be glamorous and clever at the same time, and in my opinion it worked.

This track is insane, it really blew me away. I think it’s timeless. Who was the person responsible for most of the tracks? Was it Justus Köhncke?

I think they really worked as a collective, bouncing the ideas between each other that each one of them came up with. I talked to Hans Nieswandt a few years ago, and he said that he was the one mainly behind this track.

Ok. I must say that the stuff by Justus was what stood out for me the most after Whirlpool split up. It really appealed to me. Is this track on Ladomat?

Yes, that was a very interesting label, especially at the beginning. At that time there were not many labels with a similar approach, mainly Playhouse in Frankfurt and some of Wolfgang Voigt’s labels in Cologne , and Ladomat collaborated with both those labels and their artists. Looking back, what distinguished Whirlpool Productions from a lot of their peers was that they went ahead and made a whole album, there were not many other around in Germany at that time.

Tiefschwarz come to mind, but that was later. I remember that the ones behind Ladomat, like Carol von Rautenkranz, were different to other label people. They came across as being very powerful, compared to Playhouse for example.

The parent label L’Age D’Or was very successful with Independent music that was called “discourse pop” and such. All the acts had an intellectual stance, and they also extended that to their dance outlet. You can hear that in this track, too. It’s by people who know a lot of music. It works as a club track, but it also has these smart details, like melodies leaning on lesser known Evelyn King songs, Steely Dan references and so on.

Yes, Nieswandt is quite an expert with music for example, and a journalist, too. I think it is interesting how they got together with their different backgrounds and got to party, and then they end up with a project this successful, and a real hit song. That is kind of unique. But they certainly didn’t make music for the kids. I knew it had some impact, but when this came out I was probably too young to really appreciate it.

> Soylent Green – After All (Playhouse) 1998

Roman Flügel produced this just a few years later, under his Soylent Green moniker.

Well, this is incredible. I’m always surprised how multi-faceted Roman Flügel is. It could have been released just now, like the reissues that just came out, it is totally timeless. It has a lot of different elements that work perfectly well together. Some of them might not work as well if you would hear them on their own. It’s the interaction that makes it’s fascinating. Is this a rare track?

No, I don’t think so. Maybe the original 12”, but Playhouse released an album retrospective of Soylent Green a few years ago and included this track.

Hard to believe that the classic Alter Ego stuff just came out before that, and whatever else he was involved with at the same time, like Sensorama. This has a super sound, everything fits. I once heard him play as a DJ, that was very fascinating, too. Unfortunately Playhouse had a creative slump at some point. It’s a label that I always check out in digital stores and I noticed that I always end up browsing their back pages, and not the news. Of course I like My My or Prosumer, but some of their output was almost heading for Electroclash territory.

I guess they reissue older releases for a reason.

Yes, there are a lot of people who now try to sound like what Flügel did with “Altes Testament” back then. I do not oppose referencing or sampling certain elements of older tracks, but I would never aim for a hundred percent copy of something which has been done before.

> Precession – Sandcastle (Mike Huckaby Remix) Ferox 1996

This is an old school minimal track in the vein of Robert Hood, but already very much sounding like Dub Techno, too. I guess you could still play this at Berghain.

Definitely. Ferox had a renaissance anyway lately. This track still does it today, but not for me I’m afraid. I would not listen to it at home, I would not play it, and I would not dance to it for more than two minutes.

Is it too reduced for you?

Hm, that’s the question. I don’t like tools that much, that’s for sure. As we were talking about bonus beats earlier, I like it when it’s not a percussion loop going over five minutes, but good beats where every eight bars or so something is added or drops out. This here is really Techno. I can’t really explain it, but it doesn’t touch me on an emotional level. And I need either that or a track is functional, but has a certain basic warmth or liveliness that moves me. But who knows, maybe I’ll be in a club at 9 a.m. at some time soon, after dancing for a few hours, totally strung out, and this here will seem like heaven on earth to me. But that’s a condition I don’t have too often. But the main thing is that I have never been a real Techno fan. I’m not into Minimal, regardless if it’s by Robert Hood or Mike Ink.

You must have been quite relieved then lately that the music got more groovy again.

Sure! I remember liking the Ben Klock podcast on RA, it was lively and there was something happening. I also think what Marcel Dettmann does is interesting, but in the end it’s not really for me.

> DJ Gregory – Attend 1 (Kitsuné Music) 2001

Now this is great, exactly my turf.

You used to play Broken Beats for some time.

Yeah, and this is a bit like this West London style, with warm and organic sounds. Cool.

I think despite these bouncy off beat drums, the track has a certain Detroit feeling.

Yeah, there were also several people off that West London into Detroit , like Dego. Again, I like this because it’s lively. I’m that type that loves to dance in a club, or to jump around even. And this track would be something to get me going.

Have these kind of beats gone out of fashion?

No, not at all. Listen to Argy play, or Dennis Ferrer. “Bells of Yoruba” by Gel Abril. It’s still pretty much around. I like it when the beats are lively, and then there are such warm and dreamy sounds on top. There could be more of that. It sets your feet in motion, but your head is above the clouds. It’s something I want to achieve with my productions, too. A while ago I wanted my beats to be mellow, but at the moment I’d like them to be kicking, with contrasting sounds arranged around them. Nowadays people would put a hard pumping bassline under this track, and some heavy chords, and people would go crazy. But this way it’s much better. I have a real soft spot for a lot of stuff that came out of France after the 90’s. I don’t really care about what developed with Black Strobe recently though, or Ed Banger, or Kitsuné. There is a strange vibe right now in France . There are not many good clubs right now, it’s all about these snotty brats, and everybody else has to struggle. It’s a shame really. This track however has these end of 90’s Nu Jazz Style beats.

Yes, it is kind of connected to that scene, but I think on the other hand it is also very different. I heard it in a Derrick May set once, and I was surprised at first. But on second thoughts it totally made sense.

Yeah, totally. These Nu Jazz people just lost me when they went all noodley. People like Mark de Clive-Lowe or Daz-I-Kue, who tried to prove something to themselves with ambitious music that was Stevie Wonder meets Miles Davis meets Herbie Hancock. And you just thought, okay, but we already had that before.

But it seems that this scene then tripped over exactly this kind of pretentiousness.

Absolutely. And then they all started doing House. But lately there are tendencies that they swing back to this a bit. But I don’t think there will be a big Nu Jazz revival.

> The Detroit Experiment – Think Twice (Planet E) 2003

This is from the album “The Detroit Experiment”, on which Carl Craig worked with session musicians. It’s also very jazzy.

Yeah, the live instruments are a bit much for me. I’m usually lost with such saxophone solos. Do you like that?

Mostly not, but it somehow does not faze me here.

I would totally make a fool out of myself trying to do something like this. It’s laden with stereotypes. As a white boy in Germany , I would have these associations with musicians in shopping streets or at fairs, who try to imitate something superior.

So you would not try it out of respect?

Yeah, it’s the question where you are coming from. I cannot really comprehend or follow what happens inside the people who play like that.

And if you would just sample it? What would be the ideological difference?

Well, if you think you have to sample 16 bars of something like this just because you like it, go ahead, do it. But it’s imitation. It depends on the associations you have with something. But I always thought doing such Jazz and Funk stuff in Germany comes across as cheesy. There was some terrible music with people trying that, and when Carl Craig does it, it is different.

I think it is interesting that on the one hand it is a rather straight funky mid-tempo track, but on the other hand it has these weird sounds and harmonies underneath which transform it to something else.

I would buy this right away. I also like the mid-tempo stuff by Prins Thomas and others that is similar to this. But you can easily burn your fingers with doing something like it, you have to approach it with some knowledge to make it good. I would never do it, even if I had the knowledge and the skills. I would also not make edits of a track, just because I like some parts of it.

So you would generally not alter music from how it was originally meant to be?

Exactly. I also do not like this approach of people like Richie Hawtin who only take bits and pieces of tracks in a 60 minute mix and when you ask the featured artists where they are they have no idea.

Would it annoy you if DJs would use your music that way?

It would really piss me off, seriously! (laughs) It always depends on what you’re trying to do, but I don’t make six minutes of music just to have it cut down to a few bars. If I wanted to do music you can easily reduce to that size, I would do it. You often see youtube videos with comments like this and that DJ played this and that extract of my track, but I guess it’s a question of what you want to do. I would not get off on that, it’s more of a shame really.

> Snoop Dogg – Sensual Seduction (Instrumental) Geffen 2008

I’m really jealous of this instrumental version. Where did you get that from?

It’s on the 12” release actually. So only on vinyl maybe?

Fuck! (laughs) I played this all summer. The chords are just brilliant.

I asked myself how someone like Snoop Dogg decided to use pads that sound like they were lifted from from an old flutey Deep House track.

Hm, that’s a good question. I really had not thought of it this way, but yeah! The whole album was pretty surprising. You can notice that a lot of these Hip Hop guys totally open up for such things at the moment. I don’t mean sampling O-Zone, but for example I got told that Timbaland bought a lot of records at the Freebase record store in Frankfurt during his last German tour. There seems to be quite some backlog. Well, he can do that.

I think if you have a status like him, you should do that.

I think it’s great when he does. It is so frustrating when people could do whatever they want, and they do nothing with it.

But Hip Hop was like that for years. It was very much isolated from dance influences and there were a lot of prejudices. It probably needed people with some status and self-confidence to change that.

Yeah, sure. But Snoop Dogg is often a parody of himself by now and people even expect him to do such things. Just think of the Country track on that album!

But with this track it does not sound like a gimmick.

But I think it was also a flop. It wasn’t a big hit. I remember playing this at the Fusion festival last year, and there were old friends of mine who are still much more occupied with Hip Hop than I am, and they came up to me and were really asking why I would play such things. It totally failed with them. The video was not in rotation that much and it kind of went under here.

I thought whoever likes Deep House, just has to like this, too.

It’s funny, there was not a moment where I associated the track with Deep House but now that you are pointing it out it is totally obvious. I think the reason is that I only knew the original version, and I didn’t notice the harmonies so much as with this instrumental version. You really hear the music on its own and you think “What the fuck is that?” I have also played Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” and completely failed with it, people in the club were really complaining. I never had that with this, it always worked.

Still it would interest me why someone is using something that sounds like Deep House in a Hip Hop context, and another producer is using Euro Trance like O-Zone.

Maybe the American kids just love the Hip Hop version with “Dragostea Din Tei” for its trash appeal, like the European kids do with the original version. It certainly is catchy. There always have been guilty pleasures in pop music that were still good songs, but what is happening in Hip Hop at the moment in that aspect is really sad. What was a really good pop song in the 2008 charts? “I Kissed A Girl”? Definitely not. I also can’t think of any pop album that was really good as a whole. It must be very frustrating for the kids growing up right now. 02/09

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