Tuesday, 26 August 2008

TD salutes… DIYNAMIC

As deep/tech house label Diynamic prepare to release their first compilation, we talk to co-owner SOLOMUN (right) about soul, deepness and the state of the house scene…

We’ve always been fans of proper deep house here at Tricky Towers, so it’s nice to see the genre getting some decent props at long last. It wasn’t all that long ago that admitting a love of melody-driven, emotion-rich deep house was a major fashion faux-pas. Not that this ever worried us, of course – we’re all about as fashionable as a button-up M&S cardigan – but it must have been frustrating to those who produce and play the stuff for a living.

There is certainly a strong argument to say that interest waned in deep house because it got a bit, well, dull. I used to buy and play deep house all the time, but got turned off by the glut of identikit, supposedly ‘soulful’ 12s that began to flood the market. I like a nice bit of jazz as much as the next bearded nerd, but there are only so many flute solos and boring Hed Kandi-does-broken beat remixes you can take. No wonder most producers and DJs looked elsewhere for inspiration.

Now deep house is back, back, back! Not that it every truly went away – the Detroit connection, East Midlands soundsystem types and other ‘usual suspects’ kept putting out decent material. The difference now is that there are a whole host of relatively young, enthusiastic, up and coming producers pushing their own take on deep house. Inlfuenced by recent trends in techno and tech-house, they’re coming up with tracks that take the best of tech-house and add an extra-hot dollop of emotion. There are plenty of sweet melodies amognst the bleeps, blips and hypnotic chords, too.

One label that’s consistently been at the forefront of this belated deep house revival is Hamburg’s Diynamic, home to Solomun (part owner with sometime studio compadre Ariano Troillo), Stimming and H.O.S.H, amongst others. The Diynamic sound is far more warm and melodic than, say, Innervisions, but sharper and brighter than some of the Omar S/Theo Parrish style material. There’s space in the mix, but it never gets too sparse – there’s always some musical element to tug at the heart strings or set the pulse racing. Just look at Solomun and Stimming’s ‘Eiszauber’ – the perfect fusion of deep and techy.

In October, Diynamic will release their first compilation, ‘Saturday, I’m In Love’ (no, we’re not sure what they’re on about, either). As you’d expect, there’s a disc of label highlights mixed by Solomun which really sets out the Diynamic agenda. It rounds up two years of releases, treading a fine line between the familiar (the previously mentioned ‘Eiszauber’, H.O.S.H’s ‘Steppenwolf’) and little-known. Perhaps of more interest, though, is the first disc, an unmixed selection of brand new, unreleased cuts.

It’s here that the comp really comes into its own, alloing each of the label’s now familiar artists – and friends – to strut their stuff. As you’d expexpect, there’s some great stuff, much of it exploring the blurred boundaries between tech and deep house. Solomun and Stimming’s opener, ‘Lemniskate’, is a particularly good example of this; icy, haunting and sparse, yet deep and rich, too. Similarly detached is ‘Your Lonely Nites’ by Trickski, someone you’d always rely on to provide suitably hypnotic fodder. There’s plenty of melodic fare, though, too. Take Solar & Poppcke’s quietly anthemic ‘Night Train’ or Jay Shepheard’s ‘Beast Regards’, a midtempo workout that will please nu-disco heads as much as deep housers. The rubbery synth bassline is particularly good. Then there’s the seemingly impossible to pigeonhole efforts of Oslo’s Ost & Kjex. Their ‘Sicksnack’ is just plain bonkers; vocal house from another dimension, complete with Detroit synths, dub harmonica and satisfyingly old skool drums.

It’s a fitting celebration of one of the most on-point house labels of recent times. It’s also a good excuse for us to talk to the label’s totem, Mladen Solomun himself. He’s not an easy man to track down, but he eventually calls us from his cousin’s house via Skype. “I’m in Croatia,” he tells us enthusiastically. “It’s a beautiful country. Here is where my aunt and cousin live. The water’s so clear and everything is perfect. You must come to Croatia!”

It turns out the Bosnia-born German is on holiday, taking a much-earned break. There’s no doubt that he’s earned it – over the last 18 months he’s gone from a virtual unknown to talked-about househead number one. As well as his material on Diynamic, Mladen has released a string of must-hear 12s on Compost, Sonar Kollektiv, Dessous and Four:Twenty. It’s made him the toast of European dancefloors. And so, we reckon, he should be.

“I don’t know about that,” he says modestly. “It’s great if there’s someone outside who loves it. What is important is that I like it, and I’m not always 100 per cent with a track. You know how it is – every artist thinks he can do it better. There are other people who are better.”

Perhaps, but few have had such an impact on a scene that was, as we have discussed, seriously in danger of becoming stale. At times lately it feels like we’ve been drowing under a mountian of boring, soundalike minimal records and snooze-worthy, prog-tinged tech-house. The Solomun/Diynamic sound has been a thrilling antidote to this – a veritable gust of fresh air.

“Over the last three or four years there have been more fans of this sort of music we are making,” Mladen agrees. “It’s very hard to describe what is happening right now. In every track you have a little bit of techno and a little bit from deep house, but what genre it is I don’t know. Whether it’s a tech-house or minimal or house record, it needs a small hook. A bit more harmony and soul. It doesn’t matter whether it’s house or minimal, it needs that hook.”

“Soul is very important to me – it is the number one thing. It could be a techno track or a house track I am making, but it is always important to me that there is soul.”

Soul is most definitely evident on such quietly anthemic outings as Feuervogel (one of many collaborations with his friend Stimming), the string-drenched Samba’ and undeniably big ‘Deadman’. Even defiantly early morning offerings like ‘Beauty & The Beast’ feature an element of funk and soul amongst the rumbling sub bass, aquatic beats and old skool bleeps.

This balance between heavyweight dancefloor pulse, hypnotic rhythms and soulful melody is something Solomun has been working on for a long time, first through years DJing in Hamburg – most notably at his own DIY parties – and latterly in the studio. “I think my sound is a mix of the things I’ve heard over those years, the music I am passionate about and the music I have played. All the stuff I produce has influences from all these things. When I DJ, if it is a good party and I have the chance, I like to play 124 BPM all night. That way there is a lot of space.”

Originally a hip-hop, funk and soul fan with an obsession with breakdance-friendly B-Boy beats, the 32 year-old first fell in love with house and techno in the 1990s after years obsessing over the new wave synth-pop of New Order and Depeche Mode. After re-igniting his passion for DJing eight years ago, he first stepped foot in a studio in 2003: “There was a good friend of mine who had a hjip-hop label. We started working together once a week. At this time I was so full of ideas and I really wanted to produce my own music. For me it was also practice time – I learned so much from my friend. I saved some money to buy my own stuff and from three years ago onwards I spent all my time in the studio to check things out. It was a very massive and important time for me.”

Fired up by spending time in the studio, Mladen teamed up with sometime DJ partner and friend Adriano Trolio to launch Diynamic at the beginning of 2006. Their first release was the ‘Solomun E.P’, a three-tracker featuring collaborations between Mladen, Adriano and Gebruder Ton. Slowly but surely, over the next two years the Diynamic sound took shape, and the label began to grow. More local producers joined the fray, most notably H.O.S.H and Stimming. As well as releasing their own well-received material, each collaborated with the label’s fast-rising front man.

“Working with these guys, it was amazing. Stimming and Hosh are the only people I’d like to produce with, because we have the same opinion about music and the same flow. There are no arguments. It’s my opinion that everything you do in your life, it’s good if you have two or three good friends beside. So I am very lucky that now everything is cool with these guys and we have a nice future altogether. These guys are great - they have the same heart like us and are honest.”

With the compilation due to drop soon, we reckon Solomunn’s stock – and that of friend Stimming and Diynamic as a label – will rise considerably in the next 12 months. So what can we expect, music-wise? “The next release on the label will be a track by Stimming called ‘Una Pena’ with a remix from Argy. After that comes a collaboration between me and Ost & Kjex. It’s also a very funny track. It’s got a Hamburg version and an Oslo version. These guys are crazy. They always have a lot of ideas. Too many ideas for one track!”

And what about you, Mladen, we wonder – is there an album on the way? He’s surprisingly coy on the subject. “I am thinking about an album, of course. I’m hoping next year, maybe winter. First, I need a little bit of a break and when I get back I have some remixes for NRK and King Street, then a release of my own on Diynamic. It is important for us to make the album for Stimming, and we want to do two video clips. I have met some guys who can do it.”

And with that, we let him go and enjoy his holiday – we reckon he’s deserved it.

Monday, 18 August 2008

TD Interviews… HATCHBACK

Last year’s debut Hatchback single, ‘White Diamond’, was undoubtedly one of our favourite singles of 2007. Like mate Dan Judd (best known as Sorcerer), Samuel Milton Grawe makes magical music – star-gazing instrumentals that owe as much to Neu! and David Axelrod as they do to obscure electronic disco and classic European prog rock. With a debut album set to drop in September on Lo Recordings, we thought it was about time we caught up with the man Hatchback

TD: So Sam, what first inspired you to make music? We’re guessing you were playing around with sound long before ‘White Diamond’ came out…
SMG: “Well I’ve been making music for a long time – since I was 14 years old maybe. I’ve always loved music and at an early age, the first time I saw a synthesizer I was fascinated by it. That was when I was maybe five or six, and that was a little Casio. Since then I’ve always loved music. I always loved listening to tapes in my Walkman. I traveled a lot as a kid and that was the thing that you had with you. At high school I really got into progressive rock like Yes and Pink Floyd, and I started making music like that on keyboards and on the computer. After that I got into stuff like Tortoise and Stereolab and Future Sound of London, and started digging more electronic music. Since then I’ve steadily been plugging away making music that sounds good to me. I have influences in the thousands and there’s no one thing. I think you’ll hear it if you listen to the album. There’s not one thing I’m going for, more so I feel like every track is its own little world.I like the way that if you listen to a later Beatles track, every song has its own production universe and sound that they’re going for. That really interests me. Artists now with the way labels are, their albums will have a “hit song” and the rest of the album tries to sound like that. I love those kinds of records where every song sounds a little different, like Simon and Garfunkel or the Beatles, so that’s kind of one thing that influenced me.”

TD: The first track we heard of yours was of course ‘White Diamond’, which was a revelation when it first came out last year. It seemed to fit in with the Balearic/cosmic mood of the moment, despite – we’re guessing – not being directly influenced by either…
SMG: “As far as ‘White Diamond’ goes, I wasn’t trying to do something Italo or Balearic – I’d just been watching the movie ‘The White Diamond’ and I was trying to make a kind of floaty new age track. That’s what happened…”

TD: Lets talk a bit about your debut album, ‘Colors Of The Sun’. Although it’s pretty varied and takes in a lot of influences, it hangs together particularly well. We’d say that was down to the distinct atmosphere you seem to generate. The same could be said for your material with Dan Judd as Windsurf. Does Dan have similar influences to you?
SMG: “Dan I always think of as the Jackson Five, hip hop and R&B music from the 80s, and I’m Pink Floyd and Krautrock, and somewhere in the middle we meet. I think those are the things he came to earlier in life. I love those things now, and he loves krautrock and progressive rock. That was definitely what I was nto when I was 14, 15, and I appreciate a lot more now. We just came from different places to be in the same place.”

TD: We hear from Prins Thomas that there’s a Windsurf album due very soon on Internasjonal?
SMG: “Yes, it’s done. We’re waiting. It’s due any minute.”

TD: That’s Norwegians for you. Mind you, you guys are in California, which is a pretty laidback pace itself…
SMG: “Well, we both have jobs and we do other stuff, so we’re just happy it’s happening. In a way we’re both waiting for albums to come out. The Hatchback album represents maybe two and half years of tracks I made for myself long before there was talk of an album. So if it comes out next month or the month after it doesn’t matter, we’ll just keep making more tracks.”

TD: Do you think being based in California has any influence on the kind of music you’re making? California does have a musical history that includes both quite freaky psychedelic sounds and really laidback stuff…
SMG: “I think that it has. It’s not an everyday thing when you’re living in a city and just farting around, but there’s a natural influence, maybe more so than musical. An influence of driving North along the coast. I forget, having been here for ten years, how mind-numbingly beautiful it is. That kind of space, that environment, has had a profound influence on me as a whole. Both Dan and I have traveled together – we’ve been down to Mexico and other places in California – and those experiences are always fun. They always refresh us. Whenever we’ve come back from Mexico we’ve always made great music, because you still have that vibe in your mind.”

TD: I have to admit that when I first listened to ‘Colors Of The Sun’ I had this image of you and Dan driving round California in a clapped-out old bus, Ken Kesey style…
SMG: “I wish! I definitely have hippy commune dreams. I wish I lived in a geometric dome and raised goats! Maybe one day if I sell enough copies of the album!”

TD: Musically, although there are strong electronic influences, ‘Colors Of The Sun’ is not a dance record by any means, but those getting into yours and Dan’s music are primarily DJs and clubbers. Do you find that odd at all?
SMG: “I don’t know. We’re definitely not DJs – I don’t think either of us know how to beatmatch. There are things about that kind of music that we like. We’re certainly making some form of electronic music, it’s not necessarily club music though. DJs in general, and hip-hop DJs… I’m always amused that Dr Dre found some sample from David Axelrod. It’s strange to think of him listening to those 1960s records to find that sample. With DJs it’s the same. Prins Thomas, for example – he owns thousands and thousands of records, I’m sure he doesn’t just listen to club tracks at home.”

TD: One of the things that’s interesting about [Prins] Thomas and Hans-Peter Lindstrom is that although their influences are different to yours, they’re very much into interesting 70s synthesizer music and progressive rock - which is a trait shared by quite a few of the Norwegian ‘space disco’ producers. It seems strange that there are these parallel scenes going on across the other side of the world where people are influenced by similarly odd things, and the music that results shares some similar atmospherics and characteristics…
SMG: “There was an interview for a local newspaper here that talked about the Norway-Bay Area connection, because there are a couple of other artists here – ARP and Dominique Leone – who are signed to Norwegian labels. I don’t know why – maybe it’s because we both have West Coasts, maybe it’s because watching the sunset over the ocean is profound. I could have something to do with the environment.”

TD: You traveled around a lot with your parents when you were young. You must have had some amazing experiences you on your travels - at such a young age - which shaped your outlook and opened you up to different types of music…
SMG: “Yeah. One thing that I always loved was film soundtracks. My parents were really into Abba and the Eurhythmics for some reason. Obviously I was exposed to a lot of Indian music and different sounds and places. I saw a lot of the world. It’s a special experience – it’s not journalistic. I can’t just recall all the places I went, but there are still times when you smell something or hear something and it brings back memories. There’s something about music and smells that brings back experiences. Sometimes you try and get a vibe where it’s recreating something from that.”

TD: You mentioned film soundtracks… is that a big thing for you?
SMG: “Oh yeah. I always loved film soundtracks and just instrumental music in general. A lot of club music is instrumental, but it serves a different purpose. It’s functional music. Bands like Tortoise or what we’re doing is serving a different purpose.”

TD: You like to get a cinematic feel to your music, and when it works – as we’d argue it does on ‘Colors Of The Sun’ – it allows people to imagine whatever they want really. It might conjure up certain images for them, but it will be different for every person…
SMG: “Exactly! In a way it’s a shame you have to put titles on songs, because it should be that everyone can title it for themselves. I kind of think of it as a soundtrack for what I’m doing – riding the train to work, or driving my car at weekends, whatever it is. Before I was releasing records, that’s what the purpose of my music was – entertaining things to listen to on the Walkman. Now it’s cool that other people are into it and it’s somebody else’s soundtrack too.”
Hatchback’s ‘Colors Of The Sun’ album is released by Lo Recordings in September