“I think some people misunderstand me in Germany right now, they think, sound-wise, that I’m a new Justice adaptation because I’ve played with them a few times. I have 100% respect for them but actually my DJ sets are becoming a little deeper again. Of course I’m not playing tech-minimal but I am playing music that’s more stripped down. I’m also not playing so many hits any more.”
By calling his debut compilation Maximize! in 2007, Berlin underground producer/ DJ Shir Khan made a clear statement of musical intent though two years on he admits his subsequent success has brought him more than a few dilemmas.
“It’s interesting, sometimes I talk to friends who tell me ‘you should be playing new rave, you shouldn’t be playing old records, you’re known for your maximal style’,” he chuckles.
“I say ‘I try to play some music that matches people’s expectations but I try to bring it in new directions. Of course, sometimes people are disappointed but I think it’s important to move forwards. Recently some people have started telling me I’m becoming quite a techno DJ but I don’t think that’s true.”
Whatever label he’s described with, he’s certainly pushed himself far beyond the Berlin confines he started out from 5 years ago, spinning mash-ups and bootlegs when all else in Germany was minimal. Five years on his sound has been recognised locally to the extent that he now presents a weekly Tuesday night show on leading German radio station network Radio Fritz, inviting guests such as Soulwax, Riton and WhoMadeWho onto his show. He’s also a major star of the blogging firmanent, though he’s no longer so devoted himself, he admits.
“I’ve started listening to some of my old DJ sets for inspiration,” he says, “What’s happened with these blogs is that you get individual tracks that become hot for two weeks then there’s already another track that comes along and it’s really hard to stay on top of all the music and to know everything that’s coming out right now. It’s a hassle so I decided to play lots more older music again and to make it sound fresh in a new combination. So I’ve been going back to old records that I played on vinyl and started getting them on digital because I play mainly CDs now.”
Aside from DJing, he continues to run his own label Exploited as well as putting out a steady stream of remixes from the likes of Mexican Institute of Sound, Evil Nine and Kissogram. Sitting in a warm Berlin bar, on a freezing winter’s afternoon, he admits he’s pleased with his progress since he last chatted to Skrufff in 2007.
“the Last time we chatted there was this new minimal sound breaking out in Berlin and I think that’s changed a lot,” he muses, “I had this CD called Maximize! which was a statement from me for 2007 and I was travelling a lot with it.
It was funny because sometimes you think that Germany is a really educated place musically but on the other hand when it comes to the internet and music blogs Germany is a little behind. So all the new hard electro sound only came out this year in Germany because music blogs are not so popular yet. For me it’s good that’s there’s a new variety of electronic music here and I wanted to change that last year but this year I’m already a bit bored of it because there’s too much right now,” he say.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Half of London’s trendsetter/ follower DJs have gone ‘new disco’ is that a direction you’re currently exploring?
Shir Khan: “I always liked disco but what I don’t like about it is that everybody’s saying they’re playing disco because they got bored of the hard banging electro, which I’m also a bit bored of. But I think a lot of these DJs are playing disco because it’s somehow perceived as being trendy. We have these Berlin Battery parties at Scala every month and we play a wide spectrum of music, starting with disco in the beginning, taking it up to pumping house, electro and bootlegs then in the end we get a bit deeper. Then very late we play really cheesy stuff but that’s the whole concept of the Berlin Battery night.
I still don’t like that everybody’s suddenly saying ‘we play disco’. I can imagine that happening in London because everywhere you go there are these small bars where they’re playing that banging electro and everybody’s saying they’re really bored of it- that London is so boring right now. When they come to Berlin they all love the afterhour places but it seems like the escape for them in London is disco.”
Skrufff: Much has changed for you in the last year, does it feel like you’ve broken through to another level?
Shir Khan: “I think I’m just moving forwards slowly, though I definitely made the next step with my mix CD Maximize! and also through my label Exploited. I decided to travel a lot in 2007 and 2008 whereas now I’ve made some changes, for example every week I’m doing a radio show on Radio Fritz and I invite all kinds of people. The show also allows me to play all kinds of music that I can’t play in clubs, maybe because it’s too experimental, whatever. I’m also working on the label more and stepping into the background more. I’ve not got big as such, I’ve just been recognised for a sound. I’ve also discovered that when I talk to my heroes they all know me for it, which I’m very happy about it.”
Skrufff: What do you make of Berlin’s scene right now, it seems that maximal has really come through . . .
Shir Khan: “Yeah it has, and maybe I’ve been quite responsible for it happening because I’ve been playing that sound since 2005. From even before there was a term for it. I also had deeper phases in there though really pushed that sound that became known as maximal though I just got bored of it because everybody started playing it and putting out tracks that sound the same. You hear all the DJs playing all the same tracks.”
Skrufff: Free downloading remains a huge issue particularly on blogs, how easy is it to avoid just losing money on running your label Exploited?
Shir Khan: “Hmmm, that’s a discussion every label is having right now. For me the blogs have been really important because I’m a small label and they brought me big promotion in the beginning. Of course, I don’t like it when they post every mix from a release at 320 kbps: I don’t think that’s fair but if they ask us for one track that’s OK. What often happens though is that somebody sends me in a remix and within days it’s on the internet. I always tell the remixers ‘please don’t blog it right now’, but I can’t control them. In the beginning I didn’t tell blogs to remove tracks but recently I’ve started telling some. Overall I think it’s a good thing for small labels and a certain kind of scene but of course you lose some money on mp3 sales. It depends on what you want. I’m now trying to build artists longer but it doesn’t make sense for the label if the artist grows but the label doesn’t earn any money.”
Skrufff: Do you download tracks from blogs personally?
Shir Khan: “I downloaded a lot of music from blogs yes but I must say in the last 6 months I’ve stopped a lot, because I get sent a lot of promos from producers directly via skype and ichat and I also buy a lot of music from download stores, which I didn’t last year. I also buy vinyl for my radio show and collect vinyl. I also don’t have so much time any more to download from blogs. I realised that I downloaded so much stuff that’s crappy quality- I don’t want to play crappy quality tracks when I’m DJing any more.”
Skrufff: How do you view the state of London’s scene right now?
Shir Khan: “I was quite disappointed with London the last time I was there, I don’t like the London scene in comparison to Berlin. Berlin has a lot more freedom, in London you feel so watched and controlled by security everywhere you go. There are bouncers everywhere, you can’t sit on this or that chair. Everything seems to be happening more in pubs and small places where the sound systems are often really shitty. Those parties can be quite fun but they’re more about drinking beer and getting drunk.”
Skrufff: Last year you played a lot of baille funk as I did, though this year I find myself playing none of it (‘the same as me’, Shir Khan), what’s happened to it?
Shir Khan: “Daniel Haaksman from Man Recordings has been the key guy pushing baile funk in Europe and I have great respect for him. He’s still really pushing the boundaries of the style and his current releases are really different. But in general I don’t find myself playing that much baile funk anymore; I play it more in my radio show. Still, Man Recordings is one of the freshest labels to me; sound-wise.”
For more on Shir Khan and his label Exploited, check the links below.
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)