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Daniel Haaksman: Baile Funk Man’s Totally Tropical Taste (interview)

Reported by JontySkrufff on May 8, 2010

“If you run a label these days it’s a lot of work, you don’t make any money and there’s almost no reward except for occasional DJ gigs. The majority of clubbers don’t give a shit about labels any more; the label has disappeared as a factor or relevance. In the 80s and 90s the label was everything and then came the artist.”

Six years after he launched uber-cool baile funk crossover label Man Recordings, Daniel Haaksman remains an outsider on both the club scene in his adopted home town of Berlin and beyond, despite being one of Europe’s key musical innovators of the last decade,

“I realised that in order to find more DJ gigs I had to make my own music and do more remixes to get more visible,” he continues.

“People who follow music and insiders might know that I run Man Recordings but the majority of club bookers don’t know: and also, they don’t really care. It’s such an exotic sound.”

The ‘exotic sound’ he’s referring to is baile funk, the Miami bass flavoured electronic dance music that grew out of Rio’s notoriously violent favelas in the 80s and remains the dominant soundtrack of Brazil’s urban poor.

Introducing it to Europe in the middle of the noughties, Daniel, along with the likes of Diplo and Switch helped break down the formulas that previously dominated house music though ironically right now he’s bored of Baile funk’s rigidity.

“For the first three or four years the label was only releasing baile funk though for the last 18 months I think baile funk has been in a crisis- an artistic crisis. There hasn’t been much innovation” he suggests.

“Europe really accepted and embraced baile funk several years ago, even though there aren’t many clubs playing this particular sound whereas now we have this term ‘tropical’ which includes all these different sounds such as baile funk, kwaito from South Africa, and all the other regional electronic music styles.”

The ‘tropical’ term he’s referring to is currently London’s ‘Next Big Thing’, certainly according to leading UK scenester Buster Bennett who last week declared “new musical genre ‘tropical’ finds a home’ in a press release promoting his latest London club night Mersh (adding he’s ‘the accredited pioneer of the ‘Tropical’ term and person responsible for coining the term’). Daniel’s attention, however remains more than a little focused on Brazil.

“In the 30 year history of baile funk there have always been phases where it got boring,” he smiles, “And then a new wave of producers came along, changed it and it developed again very quickly. I’m sure that’s going to happen again,” he predicts. He’s also dismissive of Western, European music in general.

“Pop music is dead at the moment, there are no new ideas. It’s just nostalgia that people are warming up again and again. The only genuine innovations are coming from countries like South Africa, Brazil and Argentina,” he insists,

“There’s still so much interesting music out there generally, that uses elements of Latin and South American music and also African music that can be put into a club music context. After five years I can say that I’m opening Man Recordings towards a more global sound anyway, one that’s not necessarily rooted in one place. One that’s not rooted in English language lyrics but rather Portuguese or Ghanian or South African.”

As well as signing up original Brazilian baile funk artists he rapidly launched his ground-breaking Funk Mundial fusion series, commissioning then relatively unknown European producers including Crookers, Herve and Sinden to essentially Europeanise  Rio funk.

“When I started playing baile funk as a DJ I noticed there were no tracks which could link it to club stuff and my initial idea was to create some DJ tools to help mix the music together,” he explains, “Then I thought, ‘why not make hybrids? With MCs and baile funk elements, over music created by European producers with a European sound?’

Six years on some of his Brazilian signings (notably Edu K) have gone on to achieve significant critical and commercial European success, while many of his European helpers are bona fide superstar DJs, though for Daniel himself he remains resolutely committed to breaking- and playing, cutting edge music.

“As a DJ, I’m always looking for new music, I always want to play tracks that no-one else plays,” he explains.

“I’m 41, I was raised in the 80s and I was there when club culture started and back then it was always about playing the most radical shit. Of course, the kids of today think differently and it’s much easier to find tracks from here and there. I think today it’s less about individuality and more about following whatever is hyped at the moment. For me what was important was to be as individualistic as possible and to create your own sound.”

Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): How did you first become involved in promoting baile funk?

Daniel Haaksman: “I was visiting Rio twice a year (around 2004) finding a lot of music at street markets and at that time baile funk was at its artistic, or creative peak. I started to meet all the main producers and DJs then established the series Baile Funk Masters, which allowed those guys to present their own productions without having MCs singing over the beats, as instrumentals. I also met a lot of MCs and the Funk Mondiale series emerged. 

The majority of stuff that comes out of Rio is really badly produced, most of the tracks are based around badly sampled MP3s and when you’d play them in clubs they’d always fall flat compared to the tracks you’d play before or after. So I started commissioning people like Stereotype, Sinden, Herve and the Crookers to make the tracks.” 

Skrufff: How are you prioritising between being a DJ/ producer and promoting others through the label?

Daniel Haaksman: “At the beginning I was releasing music by other people basically because I’d found all this great music and wanted to put it out. But then I met Oliver $ through Jesse Rose. Jesse had been following what I was doing, and contacted me and told me ‘I really like what you’re doing with Man Recordings, I like your approach’, I met Oliver $ and we started to work with each other and discovered we clicked really well together in the studio. He comes from a classic house and techno background but he’s very open-minded and I always brought him crazy samples and music he’d never heard before. After I while I started releasing my own tracks and doing my own remixes.”

Skrufff:  Berlin’s best known electro club WMF closed down suddenly in February: what do you make of the club scene here at the moment?

Daniel Haaksman: “I’ve been in Berlin since 1997 and seen how it’s developed from the illegal underground warehouse squat type scene to the stage where clubs started to get more commercial to today where it’s so commercial and so different from the 90s that you have to have big names on the bill, otherwise no-one will come to your club. When I first came to Berlin it wasn’t at all about who played it was more about which club you’d go to. So if you went to WMF you knew you’d get cutting edge electronic music, at Cookies you’d get more housey, glamorous music, for example, whereas nowadays it’s just about who plays; and having as many names as possible on one line-up. So unfortunately it’s quite difficult for locals to get residencies.

At the same time there’s a very healthy club scene here thanks to all the tourists who come to Berlin. There’s a kaleidoscope of clubs playing all types of house and techno music. Though I must say I’m still quite disappointed that the sound that I’ve cultivated has absolutely no following. There’s a very mono-cultural music scene going on in Berlin. Considering that there are so many young people here and so many possibilities for running clubs people are still very conservative.”

Skrufff: Why do you think so many clubbers are so conservative?

Daniel Haaksman: “Germans are conservative generally, it takes a long time for them to open up to innovations and new ideas. I’m not surprised. Also in Berlin the techno scene has become an economy, with labels, bookers, clubs and DJs so a lot of lives depend on that culture. As it’s become the world capital of house and techno this will never go away because so many people are moving to Berlin who are still feeding this whole machine- the techno machine- it’s a big mother-ship.”

Skrufff: You don’t like it?

Daniel Haaksman: “I don’t hate techno, when I grew up I used to listen and play a lot of it but back then it was new and fresh but there’s not much new happening anymore: apart from people like Jan Driver, Oliver $, Switch, Jesse Rose, they’re the ones putting in new sounds and ideas and that’s why I relate to them and can work with them. They respect me. With all the minimal and deep house guys I know them personally but I can’t relate to their music anymore, it’s too one dimensional and too hermetic. We’re on a great time for music these days but so little is reflected in the music that those people play.”

Skrufff: You’ve talked in earlier interviews about the Brazilian artists being ripped off previously, and how you taught them about licensing and ways of making money, are you still able to pay them much now, given downloads and blogs? Is it harder to help them?

Daniel Haaksman: “Yes for sure. I’ve stopped releasing vinyl 12 months ago, they weren’t selling any more, my distributor collapsed, so at the moment there’s no reason to put out vinyl records any more. But at least I can still pay my bills and I break even, for example by licensing tracks to Japanese compilations or occasionally to advertising or synchs. But there’s definitely no big money to be made. I always tell my artists, use the releases as a platform to get shows and gigs, and that’s it.”

Skrufff: Talking about Brazil, you had some run ins with a character called Marlboro who controls much of Baile Funk, he sounds like a scary guy . . 

Daniel Haaksman: “No, he’s a nice guy, but he’s a businessman and he’s business-orientated. Brazil is still very much a country with a third world background and history. The way people run businesses there is much less friendly, or friend minded than here. It’s more cut throat there; you get paid for one recording and even if it becomes a giant hit, you never get paid anything else. People have managers who take 70% of their fees. They don’t make any money from radio airplay because there’s no royalty system. The artists there are really fucked. It’s the same thing in Jamaica and Africa.”

Skrufff: What did the Brazilians make of you suddenly turning up?

Daniel Haaksman: “They’re always surprised that I call them again after releasing their records and send them royalty statements six months later. I want to operate like a European guy, paying each artist as it was agreed by contract.”

Skrufff: Have you been ripped off at all by any Brazilian labels?

Daniel Haaksman: “No, not at all. Some people have put out tracks from me on compilations without getting permission or license agreements but I don’t really care. It’s great if the music that I put out floats back to Brazil: so there’s a circulation process going on. That’s what music is all about anyway. Baile funk itself is based on Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa, Miami bass and is a product itself of this circulation of ideas. That’s how music innovates anyway.”

Skrufff: Have you DJed at any balls in Rio?

Daniel Haaksman: “Yeah, I played a couple of favelas. But I have to say, it’s great for them to have a European DJ playing baile funk for them but at the end of the day they don’t understand why me, as a guy from Berlin coming from a techno background, is actually interested in their culture and music. For them I’m exotic in the way that baile funk DJs spinning in Europe are also considered exotic.”

Skrufff: How was the experience of playing in favelas for you?

Daniel Haaksman: “It was great, sure. But as I didn’t speak Portuguese, I didn’t understand the lyrics in the songs I was playing so people had a completely different reaction to the tracks. And sometimes they would be offended because many of the funk tracks are really pornographic. But they have a great beat and a great sound and energy which was why I played them. It was great, but I wouldn’t say the gigs were spectacular or a super experience. I played once at a big festival in Rio but it was basically just for rich Brazilians and middle class kids that knew about electronic dance music anyway. But playing for the favela kids was different.

For example, I played a track by Sinden which has a speed garage beat and for the favela kids anything to do with house music is considered gay. Almost all the clubs in Brazil which play house or techno are pretty much gay so for them playing them house tracks they just didn’t get it. It wasn’t the case that I got booked again or they were massively enthusiastic.” 

Click HERE for Daniel’s Kid Conga video

Jonty Skrufff ( Follow Jonty on Twitter