Posted: March 8th, 2013 | Author: Finn | Filed under: Features | Tags: Indoor Life | No Comments »
Though being a Disco and a Post Punk enthusiast since a tender young age, Indoor Life admittedly passed me by for quite some time. In pre-internet days, all the media resources I had access to (which actually were as many music magazines I could afford to read and as many radio shows within reach I could listen to) proved their unreliability by not offering me any information about them. There was no good friend who discovered their releases in a record shop, and they escaped my digging fingers as well.
When I finally stumbled upon Indoor Life years later, while researching potential gaps in my extensive Patrick Cowley collection in the web, even the few low research details and low quality vinyl rips I could gather made it more implausible how this outfit could fly so below all radars, and more importantly, for so long. How could I unearth the entire catalogue of a phenomenal band like Philadelphia’s The Stickmen while still being a teenager, who had less information circulating, less releases and probably never toured outside the US, and totally overlook this one, which connected even more of my interests? A band from the golden days of San Francisco Disco and Post Punk, produced by the legendary Hi-NRG originator Cowley himself? Post Punk AND Patrick Cowley! It was puzzling to say the least, and it sounded too good to be true.
Only it wasn’t. The CD-R copy a friend in the UK had sent me (I may have had internet access by then, but file sharing was still way ahead) sounded even better. There was a notable absence of guitars, but not to be missed, as the bass played with as much heavy funk as anything featuring Bill Laswell, but with a different edge, in perfect unison with ultra-precise and similarly heavy funky drums, both often deviating to rhythm and groove of an almost feverish quality. The synthesizer sequences and sounds indeed were similar to what Cowley did on his famed productions in the Disco area, but here they were a whole lot more experimental and dark and added a congenial atmospheric edge to the proceedings. A plethora of weird effects and particularly this absolutely stunning and unique use of the trombone added even more. And on top of it, this charismatic voice, sounding like nobody else’s, singing words of strangely tainted romanticism and that kind of futuristic alienation that would not age awkwardly. Listening to it all I was floored, and instinctive attempts to compare it to other seminal protagonists of that time soon failed into nowhere. And as that meant seeking parallels to other music created in an incredible productive and innovative era, this of course was quite something. Indoor Life were an impressively smart archetype, ahead of their time in many ways. Like in hindsight, so many were not.
It was certainly predictable that I would purchase everything they did, even if it would take years. But I would as certainly never have predicted that I would ever be involved with what the person behind the voice had done with Patrick Cowley before Indoor Life, or that I would even get to know him, and find him to be one of the finest and most interesting persons I have ever met, and a good friend. But that’s another story. In the meantime, consider yourself very lucky that you have much quicker access to the genius of Indoor Life than I had. “Archeology”, indeed…
(Liner notes for Indoor Life retrospective)
Posted: April 13th, 2012 | Author: Finn | Filed under: Features | Tags: Interview, Louche Podcast | 1 Comment »
To mark the start of our new podcast mini-series on record shops, Finn Johannsen of Hard Wax Records Berlin chats to Josh about his place of work, the state of the vinyl industry, and of course his excellent newly recorded Louche Podcast.
So Finn, this marks the first of a new mini series of Louche podcasts, focusing on dudes like yourself who work in record shops. Tell us, how long have you been working in Hard Wax and how did it come about?
I’m working there since the end of 2010. It was basically coincidental. I realized that all the deadlines that come with working solely as a freelancer were not that compatible with my newborn daughter and I was vaguely looking for some additional steady work. I was a regular customer at Hard Wax and dropped some hints that I would be up for it if there was some vacancy. Then Achim (Prosumer) decided to quit working at Hard Wax and I got the job within just a few weeks.
Your one of the shop’s house music specialists right? Do you take pleasure from discovering music to sell in store?
I’m probably particularly knowledgeable with House and Disco. But then I’m over 40 now and buy club music as long as I can remember, thus I’m able to offer some good advice on almost anything we are selling. And this applies to anybody working at Hard Wax. We all know a lot about music, and all of us are eager to learn much more. And we like to provide our customers with what we know and love. You need the urge to do so by any means, else maintaining the high standards of the store would not be possible. If you lose the thrill of unpacking and checking the week’s news or delving into sounds you were not accustomed with before, you better reconsider. But I doubt that will happen too soon. There is always good music to discover, every day.
Do you feel responsible for breaking any producers into the scene? Has anyone seriously blown up after Hard Wax stocked their music?
I certainly helped some producers before I started working at Hard Wax, particularly as a journalist. But I’m modest enough to not drop names. They know. As an institution, Hard Wax surely plays a role. A record stocked and recommended at Hard Wax is still a welcomed quality marker, and it takes some responsibility and care to maintain that status and also not to abuse it. There are quite a few labels and producers affiliated with the store who left their mark after the heyday of the classic Hard Wax labels, which is great. The same goes for labels and producers we discovered or supported over the years. If you follow our tracks on a regularly basis, you should be aware of who I am talking about. But any store in our position should do that the best they can, to keep things going.
You must have an absolutely massive vinyl collection at home, but whats the deal- do you get to take home whatever records you want?
I have a few thousand records but I decided to keep it at a certain level and thus my collection is now more or less like a revolving door. Whenever I buy some records, I also sell some. I have the privilege of being handed vinyl promos and of securing records that sell out quickly, but it is not that anything that might interest me automatically gets put into my shelf. When I’m not in the shop, I check out the website like any other customer, and I also miss out on releases if I do not have the time to do so. But if you are surrounded by so many new releases every week you also learn to distinguish what kind of records you really need. I only buy records on the terms of my musical preferences, and nothing else.
What do make of the vinyl game currently, or after the last few years? Do you think there has been a noticeable resurgence in people buying wax recently?
Vinyl sales are still going very strong at Hard Wax, but sadly that is not necessarily a reality for other smaller shops, who are often struggling to stay open or have to close down eventually. There will always be music collectors who prefer the convenience aspects of digital releases, and music collectors who favour a haptic vinyl release. It is a fact that there still is a DJ and collectors vinyl market that labels and producers can cater for. And I do not blame anybody for preferring a certain format, as long as they make good use of it. Hard Wax is very determined to sell vinyl as long as possible, that is for sure.
Do you produce Finn? Or ever considered getting into it?
No, I don’t. Being a father, working at Hard Wax, co-running the Macro label with Stefan Goldmann, playing out in clubs, writing. Consider me well busy. Who knows, someday a ridiculously limited stamped white label hyped and killed for by people of all nations could be my doing, but I probably won’t tell. As for now, I have nothing to tell. That is the absolute truth.
Can you tell us a little bit about the mix you recorded for us please?
It’s basically a run through records I took home from the shop and played out regularly at the moment I recorded the mix, two months ago. A mixture of artists and producers I think are well worth supporting and who have their own distinctive signature sound, and some tunes that just stood out for me. It also touches most characteristics I look for when buying records. If you would have heard me playing out at that time, this is what it probably would have sounded like. I rarely ever play the same set twice, but some of these are still in good use. Which speaks for the records included.
And lastly, what are your favourite record shops to go digging through?
Since I started working at Hard Wax, I have considerably less time for digging than before, but I try to spare some if possible. But then it is mostly shops with second hand vinyl, or flea markets. In Berlin, I like shops like Audio-In, O-Ton, Power Park, Cover Music and some more. I also love checking out shops I haven’t been to before, which luckily enough is still happening. Shops in other cities that I enjoyed the most recently were ZeroZero in Zürich, and A-Musik in Cologne. My favourite shop ever for digging is a store called Plattenkiste, in my hometown Kiel. The sheer amount of rare and good stuff I bought there since the 80′s is just incredible. The owner is not really interested in music, and every record costs 1 €, regardless of format. You have to dig deep, but you will find.
Words by Josh T
Interview for Louche April 2012
Posted: March 16th, 2012 | Author: Finn | Filed under: Features | Tags: Boris Dlugosch, Front, Groove, Klaus Stockhausen, Phillip Clarke, Robert Johnson, Willi Prange | No Comments »
(printed on a Front T-shirt)
The typical club coordinates in Hamburg in the mid-1980s moved somewhere between mod culture and northern soul or post-punk and wave – in locations such as Kir – and disco preppydom at Trinity, Voilà and Stairways. The port of call was usually chosen by whether the evening plans focused on music and dancing, women or drinking. Some locations would satisfactorily cover all these needs, but in Hamburg it’s always been customary to frequent new locations as soon as an imbalance of these factors becomes too apparent. DJs usually didn’t do any mixing in those days and the music was often quite a wild potpourri of styles, so the nightlife crowd was used to only dancing to a couple of tracks and spending the rest of the night doing other things.
However, a little off the beaten track, near Berliner Tor, there was Front, a club Willi Prange opened in 1983. In 1984, Klaus Stockhausen from Cologne became the resident DJ and like his fellow DJs in others parts of town, he played a mixture of boogie, synthpop, electro, hi-energy and Italo. However, in the eyes of the rest of the city, Front soon had a special status. The main reason for that was probably that most of the guests were gay, that is if one can believe hearsay, who didn’t mind partying the weekend away so far-off from the usual Reeperbahn and Alster area haunts. On the other hand, what was perhaps even more deciding was Stockhausen, who was miles ahead of his colleagues in many ways. I first heard about his amazing DJ skills from one of my best friends, who was a few years older than me and had been frequenting Front since 1984. One evening he’d persuaded Stockhausen to sell him a set of live recordings on tape, for quite a lofty sum – well, the man certainly knew what he was worth.
When I heard the tapes for the first time, I was pretty stunned. I’d always had a weakness for all kinds of danceable music, but what you could do with it when you mix it was totally new to me then. I spotted certain parts of my record collection, but somehow it all sounded different, more energetic and more exciting. There were many instrumental versions, laced with sound effects, scratching and a cappella vocals. You could hear different records playing at the same time, sometimes for several minutes on end, or certain parts for just a few seconds. Most of the time I couldn’t even tell the tracks apart anymore, and I didn’t have a clue how he did it. Moreover, the choice of music was always both very stylish and adventurous. Must be mind-blowing to hear him perform live, I thought.
The nights at Front were already quite a steamy affair at that time, but things really took off at the end of 1985, when Tractor and later Rocco and Container Records started stocking the first house imports. In fact, I only really noticed house when “Jack Your Body” and “Love Can’t Turn Around” suddenly became hits in 1986, but I took an instant liking to it. It seemed like the perfect synthesis of all sorts of club styles, and yet it was also really basic and direct. A promising variation in the chronology of disco music, so to speak. And according to ear witnesses, house was monopolized as of day one at Front, even though there weren’t that many records you could buy, but whatever was available, you could hear it at Front. The European club landscape is admittedly too diverse and extensive to pinpoint where things were actually sparked off exactly, but if you take a look at the musical history books of other countries, Hamburg was in there damn early, without even making a big fuss about it. The regular weekend guests from England certainly seemed to have set out to the touristic wasteland on Heidenkampsweg with full intent to dance and were not there by chance.
The first time I was actually part of the bizarre queue that lined up in good time in front of the stairs leading down to the club was in early 1987. I was almost of age and a little tense. It seemed as if the cool guys around me could hardly wait to be let in by the grumpy moustached geezer who was in charge of the cellar door. The proud majority of the audience consisted of pretty boys in glamorous outfits and half-naked muscle-packed leather types, and there were plenty of them, later to be found on the dance floor, dancing and screaming their hearts out in delight. The club itself was anything but glamorous – “bare” would be putting it mildly. There was nothing on the walls apart from a few emergency exit signs on which the word “danger” blinked from time to time and intermittent slide projections of meaningless phrases like “I mean… is he…” or “…and suddenly…”. The dance floor was surrounded by low platforms with railings which – owing to the low ceiling – meant you were even closer to the nasty tweeter loudspeakers of the sound system that wasn’t exactly good, but it was very effective and, what’s more, very loud. The light-show merely consisted of different-coloured fluorescent tubes, sporadically lighting up the dark dance floor at incomprehensible intervals. And in contrast to other clubs in Hamburg at the time, it was very dark, not to mention the incredible fug of more or less naked bodies that was dripping from the ceiling or channelled back onto the street by the ventilation system, pouring out right next to the entrance as a thick cloud of steam, as if announcing to the outside world like the smoke at a papal conclave what levels of excess had been mutually reached that weekend.
Front was a place that you’d go to in order to dance, rather than to pose, although you could of course also do both if necessary, and wander from left to right, spellbound by the booming splendour. The atmosphere was extremely physical and highly sexed: the Front kids had designed their temple, paying reverence to hedonism with unconditional allegiance. In fact, nothing mattered as long as it was fun. If you left the dance floor, not that anyone would ever want to, the only distraction was a bar with a few benches, one floor down, whose drinks taps were tipped to the beat accompanied by the sounds of partying bar staff – often dressed in torero outfits. Other distractions included the notorious toilets, which were extraordinarily highly frequented and snubbed any notions of segregation of the sexes, as well as a pinball machine that never worked. The exuberance was deliberate, controlled from a DJ area which was very different to those in any other clubs in one respect: you couldn’t see the DJ. It was an elevated dark booth that you accessed through a door from the dance floor, and the DJ – whom you could only catch glimpses of – could look out through two tiny crenels. That had the effect that you concentrated on the music and sometimes it seemed as if it was coming from another world, although you were fully aware, of course, that the master of ceremonies responsible was something special, applauded with screams of delight on the dance floor. Clearly a renunciation of the elsewhere increasingly popular trend of hero-worshipping specific DJs – a trend that was ultimately the reason why Stockhausen laid down his headphones forever in 1991 to pursue an equally successful career as a fashion editor for well-known lifestyle magazines. I only found out many years later what he actually looked like, thanks to a series of photos in a city magazine, though it didn’t really matter anyway. The same went for his highly talented successor Boris Dlugosch, who became Stockhausen’s protégé as of 1986 and took over the baton after he left, directing the next era of the club just as stylishly – as did other DJs such as Michael Braune, Michi Lange, Sören Schnakenberg and Merve Japes. In time, more and more celebrities came, but were hardly taken any notice of.
These conditions didn’t change much in the years that followed. There were rituals like the quadraphonic test record that crackled away with the lights turned off, usually heralding in the final phase with a review of disco classics, though the Front’s sound system made even those sound like they’d been reborn in a ball of lightning. There were various wild and special events plus the annual birthday bash where, believe it or not, everything was turned one notch higher. Unforgotten is also the performance of an innocent busker who, on the outbreak of the first Gulf War, was engaged ad hoc on the high street and nervously played “Give Peace A Chance” on his guitar to an ecstatic audience.
In the developments of house music and all the various different styles emerging from it, Front served as a tough yardstick in the following years. First came the acid phase, which also conquered the rest of Hamburg in other new locations such as Opera House, Shag and Shangri-La, and the first wave of Detroit techno was welcomed with open arms. In those days, trips to clubs in other cities were often rather disappointing by comparison, and you soon looked forward to the next night out at home. In 1989 the New York hybrids of techno and house from Nu Groove and Strictly Rhythm followed, and the post-acid developments from Britain, such as Bleeps or Shut Up And Dance and 4hero, generally referred to as breakbeat techno back then, were also received to some acclaim. When techno started to increasingly define itself in terms of hardness as of ‘91, Front returned to its groove roots, leaving the speed-freaks to get on with it at locations like the first Unit. Overnight, garage and deep house were virtually mixed to new heights under the aegis of Dlugosch, without losing any of the easygoing dynamics on the dance floor: the delirious frenzy just happened to sound a little different now. Front embodied thrust and style and had brought its followers up on house to its best ability, which is why Hamburg never became much of a techno city compared to other metropolises. The club featured in Face, I-D and Tempo magazine as a world-class location and, with Dlugosch, was at least on a par with purely house and garage clubs in the USA and England, and was practically unrivalled on the continent for many years, which was underpinned by the fact that Front soon started to book big names from abroad. DJ Pierre slipped up on Wild Pitch and made up for it with acid meets garage; Mike Hitman Wilson botched up completely; Frankie Knuckles put a towel round his shoulders, placed a bottle of cognac and a desk fan in front of him and then set out to communicate just that; the Murk Boys were mutual love at first sight; and Derrick May didn’t want to stop.
But the first guests also offered insights into other scenes, which got more and more club-goers interested, and competition in Hamburg soared, generally using Front as the benchmark. The gay crowd felt increasingly more corned by prying eyes, and eventually the faces of the first generation gradually stopped coming and started going elsewhere. Not only the spirit of the pioneering age was waning but also the music began to lose its intensity. Even the 24-hour petrol station round the corner suddenly shut down. Nevertheless, like many others I felt privileged to have witnessed the emergence of house, happening live at such a special place that we all still carry in our hearts. At some point the show ran by itself and at other venues – as of ’94, I went there far less frequently, until I got a wake-up call in ‘97 when I suddenly heard about the farewell party. I preferred to remember it as it was in its heyday and decided not to go. Befitting for a truly legendary club, the deco was later auctioned like relics to the highest bidders. But I already had the perfect souvenir and it still adorns my door: the sign of the ladies’ toilets, mysteriously stuck to my T-shirt one Sunday afternoon when I woke up on the floor at a friend’s place still in my outfit from the night before. Those were the days. Klaus Stockhausen is still the best DJ I’ve ever heard and for me the club’s intensity is still unparalleled, minus a bit of sentimental glorification. It left a deep impression on me. Whenever I drive into Hamburg coming from Berlin, I always steal a glance at the Leder-Schüler building and hear music in my head. This used to be my playground.
Many thanks to Walter Fasshauer, Patrick Lazhar and Frank Ilgener.
R.I.P. Willi Prange and Phillip Clarke
Text translated by Carol Christine Stichel for the accompanying newspaper to the book Come On In My Kitchen – The Robert Johnson Book. Original German text here.
Posted: February 26th, 2012 | Author: Finn | Filed under: Features | Tags: dj-rooms.com, Finn Johannsen, Interview | No Comments »
We go back in the days when DJ rooms only existed as an expanding Facebook page. Finn Johannsen, author, label owner and DJ from Berlin sent us his wonderful room, packed full with records. Of course we’ve had a little interview with him…
Tell us and our readers, when you started DJing:
“I’m playing records in public since the mid-80′s”
What else can you tell us about you:
“I’m an author for several mags (de:bug, resident advisor, sounds like me, groove and numerous other print and web publications). I’m also co-running the label Macro Recordings, and working at Hard Wax. I live in Berlin”
The size of your record collection?
“I think around 8000 records”
What equipment do you use in your room?
“2x Technics SL-1200 MK2 turntables, 1x Ecler SmacFirst mixer, 1x Yamaha RX-495RDS Receiver, 1x Harman Kardon HD7300 CD Player, 2x 1970′s Bang & Olufson speakers, 2x JBL Control 1 Pro monitor speakers, 1x Sony MDR-7506 headphones, 1x Technics Stereo Cassette Deck RS-TR373, 1x Technics Cassette Deck RS-B675″
Your record choice for the lonely island?
“Sister Sledge – Thinking Of You”
Posted: January 31st, 2012 | Author: Finn | Filed under: Features | Tags: Edit, Interview, Resident Advisor, Will Lynch | No Comments »
Contributed some thoughts on edits for Will Lynch’s feature at Resident Advisor.
Posted: December 29th, 2011 | Author: Finn | Filed under: Features | Tags: 2011, textura.org | No Comments »
01. Morphosis: What Have We Learned (M>O>S)
Although Rabih Beaini sure likes to improvise (check him performing live with his analogue setup whenever you can), he has managed to develop a puzzling signature sound that is as rough and ready as it is beautifully textured and detailed. In comparison to this album, most of 2011′s other productions in electronic music sound like wringing a handful of mediocre ideas to death with a considerable array of gadgets, but no result. Truly individual music from a true individual.
02. Reel By Real: Surkit Chamber – The Melding (Artless)
Considering how long Martin Bonds was an active part of Detroit Techno’s history books, the actual released output was irritatingly scarce. Listening to 2010′s retrospective on the same label, I had the feeling that he was perfectly fine with keeping his back catalogue slim but impressive. And then this came along, a collection of more recent tracks, and I just felt grateful that this lovingly curated album made public what could have been missed so easily, yet again. Employing a much wider set of references, this is the sound of Motor City transcending the paralysis of its own tradition and then some.
03. Jeff Mills: Star Chronicles – Orion (Axis)
Admittedly some of the most determined space traveller’s recent output is not without flaws, but never enough so as to get me tired of his ongoing mission to refine his sound. Still, every single one of his releases seems to be more unique and consequent than the majority of Techno productions some are ready to dismiss him for. He has created his own universe, and he roams in it. His music has surpassed club credentials, and even if some of his concepts may be pretentious, I would never blame him for pursuing his interests and painting them with his increasingly more spaced-out sounds that are so obviously his own. Let others try to reach the point where they become their own reference. Most will be forgotten when Jeff Mills will be heading for yet another galaxy.
04. Virgo Four: Resurrection (Rush Hour Recordings)
So many tales about the ruthless business tactics of the early Chicago House labels, and unfortunately most of them are true. I don’t even want to know how many gems have never seen the light of day because not every artist was willing and able to take a stand against that. I’m just grateful that sometimes things turn out how they should have, no matter how long it takes. This box set has not a track on it without the power to name and shame legions of clueless copycats. It is a testimony to musicians doing music because they just have to, even without anybody even having the chance to notice it. For every House afficionado still admiring the sheer beauty of their original Trax releases, they did more, in more styles, and now, at last, it can be heard.
05. Surgeon: Breaking The Frame (Dynamic Tension)
It is almost ridiculous that Surgeon is regularly drawn into the debate about what will become of Dubstep since it embraced Techno. For certain, he does not have to worry to deliver less in a genre newly discovered than in a genre left behind. Both Dubstep and Techno owe a lot to his work as DJ and producer, and this album does not even stress that, it just shows how he keeps getting better and better with what he does, and how he will thus be ever important to what is going on.
06. Pinch & Shackleton: Pinch & Shackleton (Honest Jon’s)
It seemed that as soon as rumour spread about the two collaborating in a session, the album was about to be released. But it certainly does not sound like a quickfire result. It is impressively accomplished, and already after a short while in, you begin to care less about who contributed what to the proceedings. It is just what modern electronic music should sound like when two major talents get together and nothing less. Keep the continuum and post-whatever talk for those who artistically vanish trying.
07. Container: LP (Spectrum Spools)
And suddenly, among all the good ole warehouse days mimicry, be it by means of analogue equipment or software replica, appeared this album. And it blew most of the competition to bits. I still do not know much about the artist nor do I care. I just hope he continues with this considerably psychotic and no less gripping take on the sounds of way back when and transforming it into something way ahead. A fine example for that it is always better to deconstruct than to reconstruct your references. It just lasts longer.
08. Drums Off Chaos + Jens Uwe Beyer: Drums Off Chaos + Jens Uwe Beyer (Magazine)
One of the most interesting German labels around. All their releases so far do not only look great, they sound great as well. I do not have the slightest doubt that it will be this way for quite some time to come. I’m not particularly knowledgeable in the Krautrock area but enough to maintain that the label’s initial agenda to fuse the modern sound of Cologne with the vintage sound of the German experimental ‘70s is so well-executed that it not only matters but becomes something else entirely. And I trust those people to come up with surprises as well. This project is of course already convincing by the names of the people involved. Jaki Liebezeit is not one to rely on past laurels, and his drumming is as tight and complex as ever, plus it mingles perfectly with the sounds of Beyer’s synths. The generation gap is hereby closed.
09. Ekoplekz: Intrusive Incidentalz Vol. 1 (Punch Drunk)
I can quite understand some people having their doubts about the music of Ekoplekz. To the passing listener it might seem chaotic, unstructured, aimless even. Retrofuturism drawer opens, Ekoplekz disappears. I, however, am old enough to vividly remember the vast output of the ‘80s tape circuit and all the wonderful ideas that came with it. And the ideas of Ekoplekz are so wonderful that they merit whatever release he has in mind. Kudos to Punch Drunk for featuring someone not afraid to merge the UK progress in bass and beats with sounds lifted from a romantic take on all the library musicians and electronic sound experimentalists who never had their say. Keep soldering that DIY gear and make me happy!
10. Kid Creole & The Coconuts: I Wake Up Screaming (Strut)
Of course the Kid’s comeback could not compare to the masterpieces of his past. The Coconuts are not the same, nor is his band. But as with his cohort Coati Mundi’s recent album, the lyricist wit is still there, as are some of the songs. As if I would mind. For me August Darnell is a genius and forever will be, and just to know that he keeps on doing what he is doing is well enough for me.
Posted: September 30th, 2011 | Author: Finn | Filed under: Features | Tags: Interview, Philip Marshall | No Comments »
Should anybody starting up a label in these crisis-shaken times even consider commissioning a proper graphic designer for label artwork, or is it better to spend the money elsewhere first? Have priorities changed?
Running a boutique label is a very good way to spend a lot of money with no real certainties of seeing that money again… A label’s or artists’ art direction can be an amazing strength, if well done. But, the initial attitude and concept of the release, the sequencing, its originality, the quality of the mastering – all these factors are important. I would suggest that unless you view every aspect of the release, including the cover art, as essential, then don’t bother. It’s all part of a beautiful whole.
Could you observe some sort of increasing DIY approach from the labels’ side in reaction to shrinking production budgets?
More, an increasing desire from labels to ask designers to work on tiny budgets. DIY: whereas at one point one would have a budget for a full campaign, these days the money goes less far – sometimes the finest details are skipped…
As someone who designed for bigger labels and smaller ones, are there differences in the assignments and necessities besides financial aspects?
In my experience, the success of any project, regardless of size of the label, depends entirely on a client/artist/someone in the process, having an eye for such details. Simple as that. I have worked for both large and small labels where a key individual has had personal interests in the whole and has allowed more time, money or “play” to occur. I’ve also known indie labels, full of cred, simply not be bothered by their design output. I’ve known major artists and marketing teams get very excited about artless details – “make the logo bigger” etc… But, so long as someone cares, or someone trusts enough, something good is usually allowed to happen…
Do you think that the flooding with releases even requires a bigger effort in the design stakes, to already stand out visibly?
The flood is a digital one, mostly, and there artwork is somewhat lost – and few artists have begun to think, or had budgets to realise, what an album could be in these iPadded times… An effort, a point of difference, always is a good thing. However, there are so many people broadcasting on so many blogged-out channels, broadcasting to an ever-distracted audience, that one wonders if much what one sees sticks in the memory… Famous for 15 people…
How do you best make a point if you opt for artwork as a label owner?
I prefer direct – one message, simple, clear, yet with attention to detail, something other…
Are there rules for what a good artwork for a record release should display?
That’s a very difficult question to answer, as each release/artist/label has different requirements. Each project should be approached on its own terms.
Is there some kind of solidarity between designers and label owners to keep both fields going?
There are definitely teams – links between musicians, labels, archivists, curators, designers – who work well together, who have a shared agenda to keep on keeping on.
What do you think of alternative ways for artworks, like stamps, stickers, inserts etc. Do they limit the possibilities, or the opposite?
Again, each project should have its own voice, its own language – sometimes such things could work.
Would you say that the days of stamped white label releases to generate some mystery are soon over?
A mystery lasts a lot less long these days; “I have a mystery to share with you all” screamed from many social networks… One can still try to work in hiding, and this to me seems increasingly appealing, when there’s simply so much noise out there, so much broadcasting of average product. But then, to generate mystery in itself, the release must be perfect.
Is corporate identity still important for a label, or should every release test new ground?
I think that depends on whether the label wants to be an artist itself, to have a curatorial role. Certainly a house-style can amplify an imprint’s voice.
What will the near future be for graphic designers in the music business? Is a designed physical release something that will still matter?
I hope that as long as there are people making music and releasing music who have a passion for the sheer beauty of what an object can be, and as long as there are designers who simply want to do something out of love, not money, there will be. …but, if I knew the answer to that… I’d be learning Android app programming.
Posted: August 10th, 2011 | Author: Finn | Filed under: Features | Tags: Finn Johannsen, Interview, Macro, Pulse Radio, Stefan Goldmann | No Comments »
Macrospective is the new mix compilation from Macro Recordings due out 12th September. The label, owned by Stefan Goldmann and Finn Johannsen, is known for pushing the boundaries of regular techno and to demonstrate its back catalogue as well as their inventive approach to the scene, this is a double mix with a twist. The pair have selected exactly the same tracks for each of their mixes, but compiled the tracks in an alternative way- a method that highlights their individual talents as well as different parts of the tracks themselves. So when Pulse caught up with Finn and Stefan, we decided it’d be rude not to try and replicate their idea in interview form. Here’s what the pair had to say in answer to the same questions in a different order- Stefan’s turn first!
Pulse: Tell us a bit about your history as a producer/DJ. Stefan Goldmann: Around the year 2000 I had some basic equipment together and quickly learned to program nice House beats. I spent some years deepening my skills and knowledge, working with different labels. When I felt comfortable enough to do my own thing and not needing an A&R to tell me what can be released and what not, it was time for Macro.
Talk to us about the new Macrospective CD mix and how it all came about. Label compilations are boring. DJ mix CDs are boring. We wanted to do both in a way that excites us AND that reveals deep mystic truths to the listeners. I think our label catalogue isn’t boring. We love it. Even those who know it all might still find it interesting to listen how two DJs work it to get the best mix out of it. It is a contest with no winner or loser – I believe the material allows for several interpretations. That’s what we prove. I can’t recall anyone having done that before. That’s why we did it. Actually, we could have got all our DJs on it – that’s actually an idea: the Macrospective DVD with 10 mixes. But just with the two of us you get an insight of what drives us as DJs and A&Rs, too. It’s more compact and concentrated. Clarity is important.
You’re known as someone who likes to push the boundaries of concepts and techno itself. Where are you trying to push it to? To where no one else has bothered to push them yet.
What was the inspiration behind setting Macro recordings up and who runs what at the label? To me, that my ideas of what I wanted to do grew beyond what most A&Rs considered acceptable for their labels. I needed to eliminate the discussions and headaches. So one summer night, while having a beer in the park, Finn and I just where like: can we do it? Ok, let’s just do it. Now I make the tea, while Finn puts paper in the copier – meanwhile our mysterious boss, who is hidden from the public, sits in a mailbox in the Caymans and reaps all the money.
What’s getting you most excited in your musical life right now? That Finn is an official releasing artist now. And that everything is new and amazing. My whole life as a musician is changing. I’m happy I have a constant flow of ideas what to work on and how to make it work. Everything is shifting away from the traditional structures to new structures. While many are in panic, I’ve never before felt so free to pursue the music I want to do, to ignore what others believe is necessary to oblige to and to find new ways to support it all.
Pulse: Talk to us about the new Macrospective CD mix and how it all came about. Finn Johannsen: We found that it might be time to take a look back on what we did so far and to thank our artists for their contributions, but at the same time the usual formats for label retrospectives did not appeal to us. Stefan and me work together so well because we are very different persons and we are very different as DJs, too. Thus we came up with this concept because we thought it would reflect all that. When we compared the results it quickly became apparent that the experiment was successful.
What’s getting you most excited in your musical life right now? Music I had not heard before and which I find interesting basically excites me the same as when I carried my first money to the store to purchase records at the age of 6 or so. And I’m confident that it will never stop. And all the possibilities!
Tell us a bit about your history in music. Pretty much all I do for a living is closely connected to music. I buy music since the 70′s, I play music since the 80′s, I write about music since the 90′s. In the last ten years I co-founded Macro to release music, and I took up working at Hard Wax to sell music. Music Music Music.
What was the inspiration behind setting Macro recordings up and who runs what at the label? It was out of discontent mainly. We felt the complaint is not as productive as the act. Since then what we do and who does what is constantly in flux. We have friends that help, collaborators we collaborate with, and we establish missions to accomplish with every new week.
You’re known as someone who likes to push the boundaries of concepts and techno itself. Where are you trying to push it to? We just try to push things forward, no matter in which direction. And since we do that, with every closing door several other doors opened. And now our imagination is running wild.
Pulse Radio 8/11
Posted: November 22nd, 2010 | Author: Finn | Filed under: Features | Tags: Eric D. Clark, Funkadelic, Interview, sounds-like-me.com | 3 Comments »
In discussion with Eric D. Clark on “Atmosphere” by Funkadelic (1975).
How were you initiated to the Funkadelic world?
That’s rather hard to say; I believe I first heard Funkadelic… early 70’s? Seems as though I remember hearing “Maggot Brain” as my introduction to their music? And it would most probably have been at a party; maybe a cousin’s house or on a military base at a function? Don’t really know. However I seem to remember that piece first: I certainly had no idea what or who it was? At the time I thought the label art was somehow the band’s responsibility, therefore I would buy records according to the artwork; if I was at a friend’s house and they had something I liked I would go to the record store, usually with my father, and look for the same artwork and buy the record (we’re talking 7″ singles here). Needless to say it was often not what I was looking for. However, rarely did I return anything! This is how I ended up finding out about Led Zeppelin at age 5 or 6. I was looking for Rare Earth. When I finally witnessed Funkadelic’s artwork first-hand it cemented my high regard for their overall “thang”!
Was it a part of your childhood and youth in California?
There was a very strong and rich musical culture in our house. Every morning before school we were allowed to listen to music (no TV, only on Saturday mornings) that we selected from an extensive record collection procurred over previous decades and life in Kansas, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Poplar Bluff Missouri, Osaka, and wherever else our parents had been on their journeys with the military. This included 78 rpm shellac discs and 7″ children’s records recorded at 16 rpm. Father always loved Jazz and has an extensive collection of Blue Note recordings from the label’s inception until around 1970 something. Errol Garner was a big favourite, Booker T. & the MG’s. I did not really get into Jazz though until much later, though I liked Errol Garner! The rest was boring to me then. “Shotgun” and “Green Onions” I liked a lot but until this day I can’t stand James Brown for example?! Only one song that I can’t remember the title of, from around 1958. Mother was into Gospel and female vocal performers such as Morgana King, Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson, Dakota Stanton, Aretha of course, also some guys like Major Lance and Joe Simon both of whom I still love today. This collection still exists, excerpts of which you can hear in a set I uploaded to soundcloud.com/eric-d-clark under the moniker “The OZ Effect”. When I’d go looking for what I liked and tried to share it with them it was not met well. They tried to form me with classical which I found to be very little of a challenge, especially as I could trick the teachers by learning pieces twice or even three times as fast by listening to them on vinyl (my component stereo system was right on top of the piano next to my father’s AKAI reel-to-reel, which he bought in Osaka three years before I was born and I adopted; when I am at our house in Sacramento I still use this machine!). Funkadelic were strictly off-limits (very enticing) but I kept the records anyway, even though they were considered to be devil music by Mom and Dad. I was still under ten? Read the rest of this entry »