If you had to arrive at a single word with which to describe Freude Am Tanzen’s history and ethos as a label, you’d probably find that the term ‘idiosyncratic’ the best fit. Run from the university city of Jena in central Germany, the label has spent the last fifteen years establishing itself as an outpost of innovative dance-music sounds and a prolific antithesis to nondescript house and techno grooves.
The brainchild of Thomas “Spatz” Sperling, the label was launched in the winter of 1998. Originally a relatively small-scale venture with a sporadic release schedule from then little-known producers, the imprint steadily expanded, putting out memorable cuts by the likes of DJ Koze, Wighnomy Brothers and Onur Özer in the early ‘00s.
Never one to stand still, the last few years have seen the emergence of a second generation of home-grown Freude Am Tanzen talent, with producers such as Marek Hemmann, Mathias Kaden and Douglas Greed taking the imprint in new directions.
What’s more, today Freude Am Tanzen is no longer just a label. In addition to putting out records and throwing special label parties at the likes of Berghain and Watergate, they also operate a DJ agency and run the Fatplastics record store in Jena. That’s not to mention the imprint’s various sub-labels, such as Musik Krause and FAT-zig. As the label approaches its fifteenth birthday, I Voice skyped with Douglas Greed to chat about the past, present and future of one of Germany’s most loved imprints.
What is your responsibility in the day to day running of the label?
I organise some of the promotional stuff, writing info sheets and stuff, and I take care of the label podcast. I’m also involved in listening to the new tracks that come in.
Three or four of us listen [to the demos] before everybody states their opinion and fights a little bit, and then we decide together what to release.
I’m picturing a big open-plan office with everyone lounging around listening to new music.
Not exactly [laughs] These days we’re a little bit spread out, so we have an online folder where the new music arrives. There’s always a lot of discussion, not only about the new music but about everything to do with the label.
What are you hoping to hear when you’re listening to demos?
We’re not looking out for a certain sound or style, but for artists. I think it is hard to describe Freude Am Tanzen as being connected with one certain sound, especially in the last four or five years. Matthias is playing his straight-up techno thing, I’m electronica influenced, Marek is pop-techno.
So, it’s not like we only listening out for tribal techno or something. If it’s good music, then it will be released. I would even go as far as to say that if a mind-blowing death-metal band [sent us their music] I would love to release them on the label. But I think I would be the only one, so it would never happen [laughs]
Has that open mindedness been an imperative that has slowly emerged during the label’s lifetime or has that always been at the core of Freude Am Tanzen?
I guess that the idea has always been there. Even today, the core of artists are our friends. We all grew up going to this multicultural youth centre called Casablanca in Jena and we were all resident DJ there [at some point]. Spatz has been running the club for twenty-years now and that’s where we all got to know each other.
Back then in Germany you had to decide between [spending a year after school] doing military service or social work, and almost everyone at Freude Am Tanzen did their social work at Casablanca, doing stuff like bringing down the lights from the hall or cleaning it up after some rock band had puked all over it. That’s how I got to know the guys and got to show them my demos.
Almost all the guys got to know each other there and even back then it wasn’t about a certain style, it was about people. It’s not about one sound, but then a lot of labels say that. There are certain labels that, as a DJ, you can know what you are likely to hear from their release. I think it is difficult to know what to expect with Freude Am Tanzen.
You might disagree with me, but I think the one thing that you can expect is that everything the label releases will have an ethos of, literally, ‘freude am tanzen’. You know, the joy of dancing.
Yeah, ‘freude am tanzen’ is not only a name, but something of a motto for the label. It’s about enjoying life, enjoying dancing. We never take ourselves too serious.
Let’s talk about Jena. To what extent does a small town mentality inform the label?
There are only 100,000 people who live in Jena and, if I am correct, 23,000 of them are students. So it’s a pretty young and small town. I’m currently living in Berlin for two-months and you can get really lost in the city and the nightlife, but in Jena you know almost everybody, which is kind of nice and it’s also kind of shitty [laughs] In Jena there isn’t as much of a possibility to get sucked into [your own ego] as there are people who will always knock you on the head and tell you to take it down a notch. You can’t flee conflicts, instead you have to resolve them. And that’s why we are all so tight. Listening to myself, it sounds like a kind of hippy thing. But it’s good.
When you’re making decisions as label what comes first, making ends meet or pursing artistic expression?
I seriously think that that we [pursue] artistic aims over concerns about business. At this point, the label has got used to the fact that you don’t make money by selling music anymore. So for us, it’s just a case of keeping our artist pool small and doing what we really love. In fact, it is the label nights that pay for the office stuff.
This December marks fifteen years of the label. What are you going to do to celebrate?
We are going to have a tour with all of our artists and we’re also going release a special sampler early next year. I think we are going to do something silly with the sampler again, like we did with the soup-themed sampler we put out for our 50th release. We already have two or three strange ideas.
Looking back over fifteen years of Freude Am Tanzen, what have been the highlights?
The Robag Wruhme releases got a lot of attention and were a big turning point for the label. But personally, I really love the Ian Simmonds’ The Burgenland Dubs album that came out on Musik Krause in 2009. Also the experience of releasing my own album two years ago was really special. But the big highlights for me have always been the label nights where we all play together, as well as the daily life of the label, such as getting everyone round a table for dinner together. That’s the good stuff.
|Freude Am Tanzen
Address: Schillergasschen 5, D-07745 Jena, Germany
FAT 064 - Monkey Maffia – M.M.M.C.3.EP
FATCD 008 - Karocel – Plaited LP
FATZIG 009 - Douglas Greed – Recombinated EP
FATCD 009 - Marek Hemmann – Bittersweet LP
MOST SUCCESSFUL TRACKS
FAT 022 - DJ Koze – Lighta Spuba
FAT 042 - Marek Hemmann – Gemini
FAT 050 - Mathias Kaden – Red Walls
FATZIG 010 - Various Artists – Freude Am Tanzen Picknick Compilation – Late Summer 2013
FAT 065 - Tim Vitá & Oliver Ghermann – 24 Pieces EP - September 2013
FATCD 010 - Mooryc – Roofs LP – November 2013
Various Artists - 15 Years Of Freude Am Tanzen compilation – Early 2014
Douglas Greed, Mathias Kaden
Marek Hemmann, Mooryc, Monkey Maffia, Krause Duo, Berk Offset, Fiendrehstar, Gathaspar, Kadebostan, Karocel, Metaboman, Taron Trekka