Firstly, we have to like every track we work on and secondly we never go into the studio saying lets make a hit; thats impossible. We never did that, it all happens by accident more or less. Of course, you have your experiences and you develop certain methods but you can never just walk into the studio and produce a hit. You try to do your best and you want to be happy with the result and you want to be able to play it- thats the main goal. All the other aspects are out of your control.
Chatting down the line from their Berlin headquarters, superstar electronic producers Tiefschwarz are clear about their formula success, though clear in the sense that formulas dont work. Not least from their experiences with their breakthrough remix for Spektrum of Kinda New which catapulted the brothers to crossover, international success,
With the Spektrum track, for example, we actually put much more effort and time on the vocal version and the dub mix was done in one afternoon and we were totally unsure whether Playhouse would even like it, they continue.
Then Ata from Playhouse called us and said the dub version is amazing, this is going to be a hit and we said really, do you think so? He said wait and see, this is going to be massive and he was right. And thats how it works; you have to let the music speak for itself. Of course, after doing so many remixes you learn more about arrangements and what works. Another important tip is not to put too much effort into one track, you need to find the right moment to stop. After a certain stage you cant really judge whether tracks are good or not.
Since Kinda New broke out globally the brothers have gone on to remix everybody from Missy Elliot to Roxy Music and Depeche Mode, simultaneously touring the world as big name DJs sitting broadly in the category of electro. Ironically they started their careers as deep house obsessives in 1990 and more recently have become more closely aligned with Berlins ubiqituous minimal movement, though theyre quick to distance themselves from any lazy pigeon-holing.
We wouldnt call it minimal or techno, our music has a broader club appeal, it also depends on how we feel day to day, when were in the studio, they explain.
For example, we did a remix for Roxy Music recently which is very warm, with vocals then at the same time we did a really minimal remix for Depeche Mode, a dub version, which is completely minimal. We dont like to be put in boxes that much, we want to stay open. The only thing that were really interested in at the moment is that we want to produce proper club music, whatever its called.
Theyve also applied the same principles to their new Fabric compilation, a single disc CD with a distinctly minimalish vibe from the likes of Troy Pierce, Claude Vonstroke and Tiefschwarz themselves (Damage) and the aforementioned Depeche Mode mix). The pair have also just released a double mix CD on Timewarp which similarly follows a stripped down vibe.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Where are you at musically right now?
Tiefschwarz: Were really into this melodic techno at the moment. These days theres so much great music around in all different genres, for example, theres amazing stuff in deep house, and also Detroit sounding stuff, minimal and vocal stuff. For us the Fabric CD is a very close representation of the music we like at the moment. Its more minimal than stuff we did years before, thats for sure.
Skrufff: Speaking to Japanese website Higher-Frequency.com several years ago you described moving on from deep house saying we crossed the border, we said OK, we are not deep house anymore, sounds like a pretty big leap?
Tiefschwarz: It was a movement that took place over years. We were producing proper deep house until the end of the 90s but now thats already 7 years ago. The first really important switch was when we signed to Classic (Records) because at that time our music became more empty, more dubby and with less vocals. It became more electronic in general and thats what it is- I wouldnt call it minimal or techno, our music has a broader club appeal.
Skrufff: Youre best known remix remains Spektrums Kinda New, do you feel like that remix is your song?
Tiefschwarz: Most remixes are an additional production; for that one we changed the original song completely and by the end Spektrum started playing our version in their live sets, so for us it was a completely new song. Thats what we do most of the time, we dont use much from the original. There are also some arguments about remixes, about whether remixers should get some of the rights, because they tend too write a new song around the old song. Remixes in the 80s tended to be edits whereas these days, you might pick one piece, or one vocal phrase and thats it, the rest is a completely new production.
Skrufff: Was that Spektrum track a career changing track?
Tiefschwarz: Spektrum was the track which opened the Tiefschwarz horizon to a wider crowd. Even people who dont go to clubs became aware of us because it had some kind of crossover appeal, not in a commercial way, just because it was so successful. It was an underground record that was commercially successful and that was a breakthrough point for us because from that moment on more commercial crowds started knowing us. Even trance DJs played that track, it was very important to us. I dont know if its our best one but its certainly the most important one.
Skrufff: You started DJing in 1990 just after the Berlin Wall came down, how much were you viewing rave culture as a genuine force for change at that point?
Tiefschwarz: For us in the beginning, we just loved going out partying and experiencing nightlife, the social aspect of nightclubbing was very important to us then, because we were a very small group of people. Music in general was important, whether it was techno, hip hop whatever, we were into quality dance music, though we come from an attitude of celebrating the night, more than a musical side. At that time we organised parties and started our own club and then we started digging deeper into the music side. At that point we were into this new groove, Strictly Rhythm sound, with the four to the floor bass-drums and New York garage sound. We loved it, bought every single record and studied it, we became real nerds, in fact, and thats when we started our first deep house club- and it was only about deep house.
Skrufff: Germanys club scene in the 90s was dominated by techno and trance, how big was your deep house scene in comparison?
Tiefschwarz: It was totally smaller, though became bigger gradually because the Americans in many ways conquered Europe, including Germany. People like DJ Pierre, Masters At Work, Larry Heard, and Tony Humphries came over and techno went a little bit down and house up. At the end of the 90s, techno became a niche and vocal house got really commercial and big, with labels like Defected having massive hits. And now the situation has completely switched and techno is back and stronger than ever.
Skrufff: In the 90s, were you friends with the likes of Sven Vath and Paul Van Dyk?
Tiefschwarz: No. Weve known Paul Van Dyk for just a couple of years and Sven for a while longer. We went to his Omen club a few times but to be honest at that point we were more in love with the house side of club music, or more Detroit style techno as opposed to the ravey, trancey techno, I didnt like that so much.
Skrufff: In the UK, now, youre seen as big name producers and DJs, how about Berlin, are you seen as local heroes?
Tiefschwarz: Firstly, were not really local heroes because weve only lived here for four years. We had a very easy route into the Berlin scene, as soon as we got here we had the opportunity to play at really good clubs and now we have an amazing residency at Weekend, where we play the first Thursday of each month. We feel respected in Berlin but we dont have the chance to play here very often because were always away. We feel very welcomed here, like were Berliners. Its also so international here, everybodys here, such as Luciano . Ewan Pearson, Magda, there are so many here.
Skrufff: How do you see London compared to Berlin, is the vibe different?
Tiefschwarz: Its definitely a different vibe in London but its also a great vibe, London is always the centre for electronic music because thats how it gets into the rest of the world. If you make it in London, it spreads out everywhere else. Right there theres a lot of focus on Berlin, but on London as well, you have amazing parties. Take Fabric; they have fantastic line-ups, for the size of the crowd, I dont know any other big club in the world, with such a big line-up, week-by week. Berlin and London are such different cities that its hard to compare. Getting around London is more difficult, its more expensive, its a different life. But content wise, London is at least as good as Berlin.
Skrufff: Have you always made a living through music?
Tiefschwarz: Weve always been self-employed and been our own bosses. I (Ali) studied art before I went into music but running clubs was our first business, with a partner, from 1992-1997. Before that I was an artist, painting. I do drawings, paintings, and abstract stuff. Art is always my parallel love.
Skrufff: Do you regard your tracks as art?
Tiefschwarz: Some of them are, others are DJ tools. For instance, the remix we did for Phonique, Red Dress, had a very arty appeal, especially for the time we did it. Of course music is art, its just a different media. Actually music is the most direct medium of art, because you cant escape it unless you close your ears.
Skrufff: Youre now firmly at the top of the dance tree after years in the business, how good is all this success, is it as good as you expected?
Tiefschwarz: We never expected it, for us we have a very simple philosophy when it comes to success- always take one step after the other. Were not people who have a hit record out then freak out and turn into these arrogant weird people, were both down to earth people. Maybe thats because were not 23 anymore. It all happened quite late which I think is important. When you experience success in your early 20s you dont even know where you want to go yourself- youre taken away by success then you probably have a manager and all that. Weve had a totally different development.
Skrufff: What did you make of the electroclash scene?
Tiefschwarz: Electroclash was a very important movement because it broke down some boundaries. It was something fresh that appeared from behind, no-one expected it to become so strong, it was like a hurricane. It helped get rid of all this high end shit, all this superstar DJ behaviour. The combination of rock and electro along with this naughty dirty trashy element was so important for music in general. It was so refreshing and it made music more sexy again. It brought girls back onto the dance floor and it was not so stereotype as before.. it was very close to fashion, it was perfect- it was a very creative moment in music. Im super-happy that it happened.
Tiefschwarz- Fabric 29 is out now as is Timewarp- compilation 6 (mixed by Tiefschwarz)