The initial offspring of Jazzanova's renowned Sonar Kollektive imprint, Berlin's esteemed Innervisions label is now in its own right one of the scenes most respected contemporary purveyors of quality electronic music. Headed by the eclectic Dixon (aka Stephan Berkhahn), it's reputation for releasing quality music hasn't faltered since the first signs of hype were appeared courtesy of Ame's ubiquitous 'Rej.' I Voice took time out with Dixon to discuss the label, the 'Mannheim' sound....and who he'd have in his all time electronic music XI......
Hello Stefan! How has 2009 been for you so far?
It's been really great! I've managed to find a good balance between playing in small and big clubs and have played some good festivals and managed to make time for my holidays. I've also been playing live as part of the Critical Mass group (Dixon, Henrik Schwarz and Ame's laptop Dj'ing group) which was a nice change from the usual Dj routine.
Yes, I've been meaning to ask you about the Critical Mass project with your label mates Ame and Henrik Schwarz. How does this work? Is it similar to say, what Luciano is doing in Cadenza right now with his Aether project?
I can not really reply to this as I've never witnessed Luciano's project. I saw a couple of short videos and read some interviews about the Aether project but that's all. I imagine it shares similar basic aspects but maybe our way of doing things is more tailored towards the music itself then the actual presentation. For instance, we don't include visuals. We're no more than just 3 people on a stage! You could strip it down like this: I take care of the beats and basslines while Frank (Ame) and Henrik (Schwarz) cater to the melodic side of things. If you witness how we present our music you'll notice they've a harder job them myself! Hahaha!
We play remixes of certain tracks we've released over the past five years or so...so the audience can actually hear brand new versions of some of our "classics." In the beginning the idea was to perform live in the way that we knew what songs we were going to play but never when and how. It was all about creating moments and taking the risk to fail. The problem with this was that was great for imtimate club gigs catering to about 500 people but as soon as we played festivals we realised that there the delivery of our sets need to be much more "on point". So basically, we outlined a running order for the songs and tried our best to manipulate them in a way that even on big festivals we got away with playing tracks that have more then just a groove and a break.
Why tour as a group? Wouldn't it be easier to do your own gigs?
Of course! The easy way however, is not always the best way. We had some amazing events, with the standout show being at the ADE in Amsterdam last year - an event that's up there with my career highlight so far.
You've a new mix album "Temporary Secretary". Can you tell us a bit about it?
The last thing I released was my mix cd with Henrik and Ame called "The Grandfather Paradox". With that CD, we tweaked and mixed different music from the last 50 years. This current mix is essentially, the opposite of "The Grandfather Paradox" - its all about summer 2009. It's more about "here and now."
Are all the artists on the mix somewhat connected to Innervisions?
No. My goal with every mix I set out to so, is always to mix things up. Maybe the track-listing will surprise some people. Well, hopefully!
With the amount of sets/music etc. available for free online, is the mix CD still relevant?
If I'm being honest, no, they're not. Anyone can download the newest music for free on a day to day basis online. So if you're planning to release a CD with some tracks you like, then you've no chance that the CD won't be somewhat "dated" in dance music terms by the time it's released. With this CD, I actually finished it in july and it's due for release in October. But thats also why i chose to ask most of the producers of the tracks I licensed to give me all the parts of the tracks - so I could create versions that never existed outside of this mix before. I wanted to make the process as unique as possible. I guess around 10 of the 15 tracks on the mix are seriously different to the orginal versions So you can only here these versions on this specific CD! A Dixon Dj set is focused on the dancefloor whereas my mix CD's are much more open...
So how did it differ between producing the Body Language mix? Was it a more creative process?
By far. The Body Language mix was more what one would refer to as a "normal" mix cd. But then again, 2 years ago the electronic music world was not the same!
How does the mix compare to a Dixon Dj set?
A Dixon Dj set is focused on the dancefloor whereas my mix CD's are much more open. I basically try to make CD's that work under different circumstances.
Regarding Innervisons, can you tell us how the label was formed?
I first started to run the label as a sublabel of Sonar Kollektiv but after a few releases i realised that i wanted the label to be ran as it's own company. So i hooked up with Ame, and the rest as they say, is history!
You guys were playing house while the rest of Berlin were spinning minimal. Do you purposely try to shy away from the popular sound of the time to remain underground?
No, not at all. Basically, we play whatever we're feeling at the particular time. That's the most important thing that I've learned in my career: do what feels right to you and you will stand out. If everyone is playing minimal, why should I do it also? I'd sound like everyone else and the last thing I want is to become predictable.
What's the best and worst things about having the label based in Berlin?
The worst aspect of Berlin is that you've never time to concentrate on your work as there's always someone visiting and you have to show them the city, scene, clubs, restaurants, bars and record stores. The best - i always feel like I'm at the pulse of the scene.
So what's your take on the 'Mannheim sound'? Does it even exist?
Of course. I think it is great that they pushed each other so well and established their own thing. I definitely respect someone who doesn't care what others say but does their own thing. The music itself? It's not really my thing though. It's good and has it's place, but i expect more then just good grooves from a record.
How would you most accurately describe your music tastes?
I am sorry but i always fail with this question. I simply can not do it!
What excites you musically in 2009?
Nothing. A lot of interesting stuff happens but nothing is exciting right now. But in a weird way, I'm ok with it. I don't expect music to always excite me. It's like the weather.... I don't want to live somewhere where its always summer. I need seasons - I like change. Personally, I always felt more attracted to the deeper side of things, in all music genres...
What role do your fellow friends and producers in Innervisions play in the label?
Frank and Kristian are my partners. Matthias runs the office. Henrik is not directly involved but we're always asking him for his opinions.
What is it about deep house which appeals to you? You grew up in a techno loving city. You must like that too right? I noticed a Ben Klock track is included on "Temporary Secretary"...
Definitely. When i started to go out there was not a great difference in the music. Maybe that's connected to the fact that back then Dj's played all night long. That meant they'd start with slow house, then banging house, then techno then back to more cooled down stuff. Nowadays, if there's a guest Dj that plays house the warmup Dj does the same. Personally, I always felt more attracted to the deeper side of things, in all music genres. I prefer to dance to stuff that you can fall into then stuff that is constantly banging.
You're somewhat notorious for not sending out Dj charts. Why is this?
I don't like to fulfill expectations. In times where everything is available I guess I like to stay a little mysterious. People should show up and be surprised what direction I'll go in. Maybe then if they don't like me, at least they experienced it as opposed to them just seeing my charts and listening to the tracks on blogs online. I have the feeling that these days people think they KNOW what a Dj's like simply because they read something about him/her online. It's like watching a movie and thinking you know the book. Maybe you do know but you'll never know for sure if the movie is different to the book if unless your read it.
Do you ever get to go clubbing anymore?
Yes, although not as much as I usually play about 2-3 times a week but whenever there's a chance to, I go out.
What is it about the scene you like and dislike about the scene in 2009?
I have the feeling people that 90% of people are happy with things right now. I don't really see people trying to do things the hard way anymore. Dj's and producers aren't pushing themselves to be more than just average. On the other hand I love the fact that flying has become so cheap. Dj's AND ravers can now travel and experience the difference between the club cultures in different cities/countries than their own.
On the road or in the studio?
Well right now I'm on a 3 day stopover in Berlin and then it's back on the road again - so a bit of both!
Rumour has it you're quite the football fan and chairman of your local team. Does managing a label and guiding a team have it's similarities?!
Ha - it's totally different! Once you understood the basic rules and you've developed a style in football you can stick with it. As for the labels, there's no right or wrong way of doing things....and everything is changing constantly. In January you think you know how to handle a new situation and then in summer its already changed again.
So what artists would be in your all time musical XI then?!
Phew! I cannot say for sure as music depends on moods and football does not. Let's just say these guys would be included: Klaus Schulze, Fela Kuti, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. As for the rest....I'm not too sure right now. Lets see who would play for the other team!
01 Icasol – Ongou
02 Fever Ray - If I Had A Heart
03 Roland Bocquet – Exotique / Ame – Tube Beat
04 Jazzanova - Let Me Show Ya (Henrik Schwarz Remix) / Daniel Paul - Something About You (Instrumental)
05 Precious System - The Voice From Planet Love / Ben Klock - In A While
06 Junior Boys - Hazel (Ewan Pearson’s House Mix)
07 Butane - Inferno Jack (Kalabrese Remix)
08 Peter Kruder - Law Of Return
09 Kiki - Good Voodoo (Visionquest Remix)
10 Code 718 - Equinox (Henrik Schwarz Mix)
11 The Machine – Fuse
12 Cortney Tidwell - Watusii (Daphni remix)
13 Ame – Setsa
14 Tokyo Black Star – Sepiaphone
Fri - 13.11.09 Neffertiti Gothenburg
Sat - 14.11.09 Cafe Capital Antwerpen
Fri - 20.11.009 La Regine Paris
Sat - 21.11.09 Ego Hamburg
Sun - 22.11.09 Panorama Bar Berlin
Sat - 28.11.09 Robert Johnson Offenbach
Sat - 12.12.09 Fabric London
Sat - 26.12.09 Trouw Amsterdam