DJ T. on the history of tech house

Words by: DJ T.
Posted: 20/2/18 14:30

DJ T. has played a major part in the evolution of dance music over the last 20 plus years, effortlessly balancing the work of DJ to producer to (magazine) Editor to club founder. You would be hard pressed to find an individual with such an incredible depth of knowledge. When T. talks, you should listen.

His long and storied career takes in such things as founding the long-acclaimed Get Physical label, as well as launching Germany’s still-essential dance music bible Groove Magazine. He was also behind opening Frankfurt's acclaimed Monza Club and, of course, has a bulging discography that takes in countless EPs and LPs that are full of invention, take in a wide range of influences from classic house to disco, techno to tech, and were released on on labels like Get Physical, Poker Flat, Aus, Truesoul and Moon Harbour. Of course, having been there at the start of tech house and remaining a core part of the scene to this day, he is better placed than anyone to talk about the highs, lows and on going evolution of the day's most divisive genre.

 

Ibiza Voice - Hello DJ T. Before we get stuck in, tell us what's good and what you are doing? 

DJ T. - Touring! It has become a bit of a tradition to escape the cold winter months in Europe by going on a long overseas tour. This one is the longest winter tour I’ve ever been on. I left Berlin mid-December and have done shows in Asia, New Zealand and Australia. For the past month now, I’ve been touring my favourite part of the world, the Americas. I’ll be on tour until mid-April with gigs in the US, Mexico, Ecuador and Peru.

Ibiza Voice - We recently published an article that caused a bit of a stir. A controversial subject area in dance music. The article gave a voice to something that has been brewing in the club scene for a while. We looked at the idea that those from a more traditional 'tech house' background can no longer identify with new wave tech house that dominates the Beatport charts and seems to drive the masses to big venue dance floors. What is your take on this? 

DJ T. - I can agree with a lot of the main statements in the article. It isn’t just producers and DJs who are annoyed – certain club-goers are not keen either. We’re facing a problem that has surfaced in other genres of club music over the past 10 years. We can observe it when new sub-genres emerge or old ones undergo a process of redefinition. When these new movements attract a certain amount of attention, there will always be someone who pops up right away to invent a formula for it that can appeal to the masses and work the bigger floors.

Once Pandora’s box is open, an army of copycats jumps on the formula. The moment this happens a genre starts to disconnect from its roots and get boring and generic. It’s an artistic dead-end, because from that moment on, it’s no longer about developing a sound anymore – it’s only about reproduction. Something very similar happened to deep house 5 years ago. It was subject to so much corruption that the younger generations suddenly thought that everything was deep house – not knowing what this sound had been about for the previous 20 years.

Currently, there’s extreme confusion when it comes to defining styles, which raises the following question: If producers such as Robin Schulz, Felix Jaehn, Solomun, Kerri Chandler and DJ Koze all fall under the same label, then what’s the point of even labelling music anymore? After all, the labels are supposed to help consumers to get oriented. The offshoot of this is that the artists, releases and labels that represent the traditional sound of the genres lose their forum and become invisible in the digital world. That’s a big pity. Unfortunately, the people with the most authority – the ones most qualified to interpret what’s going on – they missed out on the opportunity to influence the situation. This applies to Beatport too and all the other influential digital media platforms.

Two years ago, when Beatport announced that it would introduce new genre categories, I had actually hoped that this would lead to more logical category names and clearer distinctions. If I could have advised them, then, for example, I would’ve given a different name to the music listed under big room – probably something with the word ‘pop’ in it. I’d take 90 percent of the music currently in tech house and put it in big room and add the word 'house'. Theoretically speaking, 'big room' can refer to anything you play on a big floor – I think categories like this are misleading. I would definitely invent a new category for the music that has been successful in the deep-house category over the past few years, since 80 percent of it really no longer has anything to do with deep house. A lot of it can be seen as a modern form of progressive house. 'Minimal trance' would also be a term that would describe it more aptly, because the melodies and riffs of these tracks are more in sync with trance than to house.

       



Ibiza Voice -  As a DJ, you yourself were integral and very much a key operator in tech house from the beginning. What did it sound like at the start and what distinguished it from the other styles that existed at the time?

DJ T. - I can’t remember exactly when I heard the term for the first time. It must have been around 1994/95. At that time, producers in America and Europe were starting to take house to the next level. The beats got harder, the BPM faster, and the bass lines took on a more pumping sound. It suddenly made no sense to call these tracks deep house anymore. On the other hand, they were too deep and too funky to be called techno. So they called it tech house. If I had to name a few tracks that were representative of this early phase, for example, it would be 'The Murk Groove' version of Liberty City’s 'If You Really Want Someone' and the 'Hardback Dub' from Salt City Orchestra’s 'The Book,' two of the biggest club hits in 1994.

Ibiza Voice - Over the years, countless sub-genres have emerged. Do you perceive them as independent styles or as sub-genres of tech house?

DJ T. - 

Basically, most of it was just tech house for me. A few types strongly dominated for a few years and then disappeared from the scene. Others have remained until today. In general, one can say that until the late ’90s, the Europeans and, above all, the Brits, were the most influential.

Around 2000, the French came and left their mark on the genre. The music that artists such as Phil Weeks, David Duriez, Chris Carrier, Jef K and Gwen Maze produced and put on their labels was, for me, the essence of the genre – tech house in its purest form. Fortunately, they’ve remained true to their roots to this day.

Producers like Daft Punk, Alan Braxe, Cassius etc. then developed the version that appealed to the masses and was labeled French house. Shonky, Dan Ghenacia and Dyed Soundorom (together as Apollonia), Franck Roger, Mr KS, Gauthier DM and DJ Gregory aka Point G, are producers who’ve led French minimal and tech house into the current decade.

In the early 2000s, the Americans showed off their stuff. For a few years, West Coast house was one of the biggest influences in tech house. Producers including Brett Johnson, JT Donaldson, DJ Buck, Jay Tripwire and labels like Siesta, Tango and Seasons are just a few of the big names from this era.The years around 2005 saw the start of a new generation of German producers and labels. Moon Harbour, Desolat, 8Bit, Oslo and Cécille were some of the German labels that started releasing state of the art tech house. Suddenly the term Loop House was on everyone’s lips. Matthias Tanzmann, Loco Dice, Reboot, Nick CurlyRobert Dietz, Johnny D, Federico Molinari, Markus Fix gained global recognition as artists. A lot of their productions sampled Latin American and African music. At first, that sounded refreshing and creative, but then the whole world started copying them, which led to an endless flood of sample house. In the end, it led to a total overkill, because most of the productions no longer had any of their own ideas left; they just relied on striking samples.


In the first half of the 2010's, one version got really big that offered fluid transitions to a sound that could be described as “Post-Electro House.” Maceo Plex’ label Ellum stood for this sound in its early phase – or the early productions by Hot Since 82. At the same time, tech house got very funky and bouncy again. A whole generation of new producers and DJs took up the legacy of Chicago house and brought it into the next decade. In this context, people like Jamie Jones, Martinez Brothers, Seth Troxler, Catz’n Dogz became key figures, which they still are today. Apart from that, there are a lot of producers that really stand out, who created their own sound universes. These include Mr. G and Kink for example. In terms of style, both are hard to classify. Sometimes they are more techno; sometimes more house. Without their productions, contemporary club music would really fall short.

Unfortunately, in the past 3-4 years, fewer and fewer people have managed to set new, original accents in the tech house genre. Names that spontaneously cross my mind are Emanuel Satie, Santé, Italo Johnson, Audiojack, Groove Armada, Kevin Over and Mr. Tophat & Art Alfie. I like the productions by all these artists, because they don’t just rely on one formula the whole time. Each of their tracks sounds different and they always manage to surprise me. This list is by no means complete. I don’t have enough time here to come anywhere near listing everyone important.

Ibiza Voice - In your opinion what needs to happen to bring more movement and creativity back into tech house again? And into the rest of club music?    

DJ T. - Musically, the producers and DJs just have to be more daring again. I would like to see more courage – more people who break out of patterns and experiment again. A lot of tech house and other club music is simply programmed for maximum effect – it’s gimmicky music that only serves one purpose: to function. But the lack of ideas and the way huge parts of contemporary club music are all interchangeable – this needs to be viewed in a much broader context.

In 'The Art of DJing' the widely acclaimed interview Dave Clarke recently held on Resident Advisor, Clarke touched on a few sore points that are very true. I can only repeat it in my own words: If I look back over the past 30 years of club music, I can only, unfortunately, say that we are currently in a phase where it’s less and less about the music itself and increasingly about everything else: image, marketing, getting in with powerful cliques in the industry, etc.

Yes, many of the big acts from the so-called underground and especially from the tech house field draw on the same structures and mechanisms as EDM. Young artists let managers plan their entire career from the get-go. The only thing that matters anymore is generating reach and visibility on the internet. Observing this it feels like the music is nothing more than a promotion tool. I have to admit that for 1-2 years, I let myself get caught up in this game. Just a little bit, but enough to feel the emptiness of that way of operating.

I realised it simply isn’t me, so I went back to mainly focusing on the music. The stuff I was saying about the producers, it applies to all digital media and their so-called journalists too. Most of them just copy each other. Bold headlines often seem to be more important than the substance of the entire text that follows. People don’t have the balls anymore to separate the wheat from the chaff and to say that something sucks. When i used to be the publisher and editor of the German Groove Magazine for 15 years, myself and my editorial staff were only thinking about 3 things: How can we help the music buyers and club goers understand the style and what the culture is about? Where it all came from? and How can we convey what is going on in the minds of the people who are putting all their love and energy into the music they dance to?

Ibiza Voice - How does this effect you and your work as an artist?

DJ T. - There was a time, 2, 3 years ago, when all that stuff was getting at me a bit too much. I can now truly say, I feel the same as Dave Clarke in his interview. I am not bitter, I have made my peace with it. I watch it all from the greatest possible distance. I really look forward to every gig where I can spend 2-3 hours dropping tracks from 25 years of music history and afterwards a few people come up to me and tell me they had a great time. I am having a wonderful tour across three different continents with countless memorable shows and I have made countless new friends on the way.

Let us all talk more about the music again.

:: DJ T. on Soundcloud
:: DJ T. on Facebook

 

Enough reading. Sit back. Listen.


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