“When you think about Frankfurt – it was Freebase, back in the days.” Founded by Bernd Maus, Carsten Schuchmann & Olaf Zern, the store changed leadership, location and name during its life cycle before finally closing shop in June 2016. Now there’s a new record store in town (minus the sneakers): GOSU, and one of the creative sparks behind it Manuel Schatz, a name equally tied to Freebase history becoming somewhat of an emblem for the store as he led the ins and outs of its daily operation, music selection included. You could say that the DJ and producer has always been an entrepreneur. The experience at Freebase would develop a base that he could and would draw upon, having been compared to the likes of record dealer Dorian Paic (in his former days). “But you’re not getting in there and getting out as a DJ. You have a platform – it’s up to you what you get out of it.” And that’s exactly what Manuel and the team around him have demonstrated since the conception of GOSU.
It’s a crisp morning in Frankfurt, and there’s somewhat of a calm in the air post December 26. But it’s business as usual for GOSU and the morning shift…
(Manuel) The funny thing is that I just reflected yesterday about it. I really never did anything for school. When I’d get home, backpack into the corner and I’d start playing computer games, or DJ-ing. And when you come from a town like mine, you get yourself into an apprenticeship after school, that’s just how it goes.
So how did the opportunity at Freebase come about? I was on the balcony at Robert Johnson when I got introduced to one of the guys working for Freebase – they were looking for a new apprentice. Ok fuck it I’m gonna do it… put everything on one card. I even managed with a friend of mine who’d booked Meat (Carsten Schuchmann) to play the warm-up so that he could see I’m a normal guy who knows records etc etc. I started in 2010. I did everything from ordering the records, doing the accountings, taking care of the online shop, selling… Phil and I – we were the heart and soul.
So the day that Carsten and Chris told you that they’re shutting down the store, what emotions went through your head? This was your baby after all – 6 years working there… When you’re working there for such a long time, you see what’s happening every day – what’s working, what’s not. I knew it was just a matter of time. That day they asked me to come into work a little earlier and to be honest hearing the words out loud was like a punch in the stomach… but after 22 years I can really understand that they didn’t want it anymore. You underestimate how intense running a shop can be when you have to make a living from it. The thing is that I did everything at Freebase but it’s different when you don’t feel this pressure about the numbers. Anyway the conversation continued and they told me that they wanted to sell me the shop.
We want to keep this legacy going – and we trust you to do that
I felt super honoured. But it felt so surreal… that you have a dream and it could now come true. I went out for a cigarette and that day Dietmar came by. I was like “hey how it’s going – just a funny question – you wanna make a record store with me?” And he says yes! He’d actually been talking to Phil about it. Such a huge random coincidence as I really was just joking.
So how did the idea to take over Freebase then translate into the concept for GOSU? Well we had time to think about it, the financials involved for the reconstruction etc etc but then it became clear that this was actually a moment where new energy could flourish – new guys doing something completely new.
I guess that it also meant freedom – in the sense that you had the opportunity to put your mark on Frankfurt? I have total respect for what Carsten and Chris did but I do feel that things could have been done differently. The traditions began to collide with the new ideas of our younger generation and what was in trend at that moment; you could see that it’s not working out all the time.
(Phil) The thing was that towards the end of Freebase, people weren’t going there as much. The in-store events had stopped as Cartsen and Chris wanted to focus on their careers. Here we want to rewrite the concept. We’re getting people together. And we wanted to go back to the city center because somehow we felt that people didn’t really get over to the other side.
(Manuel) Because there’s an invisible barrier of water.
But Freebase used to be the social hotspot…
Exactly – for so many famous DJs when they had a stopover… and you know in the early days of Freebase there were more clubs here so more DJs were playing, they’d all stop by the shop to have a proper dig (Ricardo Villalobos, Roman Fluegel etc etc). When Dorian, Vera, Federico, Einzelkind, Frank Lorber, Markus Fix were all living here they’d meet every Thursday at Bella Vista to have some proper food and then go over to Freebase for their ‘stammtisch’ and this was really like every Thursday because the records would arrive on Thursdays and Fridays. They were checking out the new releases, the test pressings, there’d be conversations about music, and the label heads would be there so lots of deals were made.
Basically you could see the whole of the Frankfurt scene inside the shop every week. It was a melting pot. The social aspect that’s happening now in afterparties it used to happen in the record shop, especially in Freebase.
So your idea is to recreate that at GOSU? Yes something like that. I miss it somehow to see the regulars. We still have people coming over but there isn’t this motivation and enthusiasm going on. It’s a shame because we have so many friends coming over, and they’re all checking out their productions on the soundsystem so for the customers it’s a sneak preview. And people then ask for the record… this is what also happened with me back in the days. I remember Reboot and Carsten standing behind the booth listening to the new release on Get Physical (Meat and Einzelkind – Meat is Murder) “Oh fuck I need this track – I need this track”. So when it came out the first thing that I did, I went to Freebase and I bought that record. This is what you don’t get on the Internet – this kind of social interaction, the culture. For example, Markus and Phil, they met at Freebase.
Do you think that the opening of GOSU has pushed forward the Frankfurt scene? The Frankfurt scene was already established but with GOSU there’s another point of view on Frankfurt I’d say. Back then when you looked at Frankfurt you had each label on its own, but since GOSU has opened it feels like people see us as working together.
If we think about this on a larger scale – ‘party tourists’ come over to Frankfurt to go to Robert Johnson, now GOSU also features on that ‘line-up’. It makes the weekend more complete. How does that make you feel?
Super proud… I don’t even know how else to describe it. I get messages from people all over the world saying that they listen to the shows, that they want to come over to dig. Nico Etorena for example is coming already on Thursday and stays until Sunday so that he can have a proper dig and meet up with all the people here. So a guy from Uruguay wants to stay longer just to check out the store – it’s incredible, the fact that you just do what you love and you touch other people.
I don’t have impossible dreams, you have goals (which could be possible) but opening my own shop this was a dream.
So tell me who makes up team GOSU? Phil, me, Dietmar and Nils. I guess I’m the leader so that we have some sort of structure but we each have a role (I don’t like the hierarchy).
And if you guys don’t agree? (Phil) We debate. (Manuel) But it didn’t happen yet. (Phil) Most of the things we’re on the same page – so when it comes to the shop of course we’re on the same page.
(Manuel) It’s still a learning process for us because we’re still so young, even though it feels as though we’ve been here for years it’s only 1 year and 6 months. I’d say that now we’re in the stage where we reconstruct and we improve. It’s not as impulsive anymore.
But I’ve always thought of you as level-headed, maybe that’s because you know how to say no to a Saturday morning in Robert Johnson ha! Would you say that you’re impulsive? Oh yeah, especially when Phil’s showing me music – instant decision to press. Thing is, up until now (and I have to tap on my shoulder) but with everything I, all of us in fact, have made the right decision. I’m following my intuition… if I like it I like it.
Well you don’t need to be picky – there are some great records coming from here… JA for example, the OFFM compilation was done in one week. Saturday we were talking with Max Best about the Lifesaver compilations wondering why there was no representation from the Friday artists. In ten minutes we had the idea. Monday and Tuesday we had the first tracks and the following Saturday Tom, Rob, Nils and I met at the studio and we just went for it to make the last track. Artwork, mastering, pressing followed.
Why did you want to get it out so quickly? Because it was a fucking good idea and that was the time to put it out. I’ve been in the Frankfurt scene for 7 years now, but in total collecting records it’s something like ten to twelve. I’ve seen so many ‘big names’ struggling to get gigs and I always see that they’re somehow not going with the trends. You don’t have to sell your soul or so but you have to move on with the scene because when you break it down you’re still an entertainer and if you’re not down with the moment, you can’t do that because the scene is changing nearly every week… and especially when you’re in a record store you see what the people like, what they’re going to buy, what they’re going to ask for – if you consider all of this and see who’s getting the hype now etc etc you understand your direction, it’s easy.
If you’re a cool person and do it with a lot of realness and stand behind your project – and not just do it because of the trend – it’s even easier to get bookings.
So is this the basis on which you’re selecting your stock? No, ha! The thing is the records that I’m buying for the shop is what I like even if they’re not super trendy. Of course you take some labels into the store that you know you can make some money out of, but I’m always looking for something that will put people on a different direction. And if there’s a record which I’d say doesn’t fit, including from friends and local labels, I don’t stock it. It’s not personal but it doesn’t make any sense to have 5/6 copies in the store that don’t sell. It’s not in the right hands in that moment. There’ll be other record stores who deserve it more and will sell it.
Where do you buy the records from? It’s diverse – if you want new releases you buy from different wholesalers e.g., Word And Sound or Small Black Dots, or the label, even the artist. Then you have the big distributors like Kompakt or you ask the labels directly when you can’t find them elsewhere. For second hand releases, retired DJs, private collectors, even customers with ‘extra’ vinyl approach us.
Is the idea to create a GOSU sound?
It’s a tough thing to say that we want to create a GOSU sound – there are already a few people that have said to me that we’re standing for a certain kind of electronic music – but the GOSU sound is what we’re putting out on vinyl.
It’s super important for us that the store has a really personal collection, that there’s someone standing behind the counter ordering the records who has a sense of the customers and not led by trend. We’re trying to be as open-minded as we can be… you want to educate people but in the end it doesn’t get you anywhere if you have this intellectual edgy sophisticated music that nobody buys, so in every genre that’s going on from disco to techno or electro to minimal whatsoever we try to act somehow as the filter for the people so that they don’t have to go through the ‘fluff’.
It could be anything but as long it makes sense to buy this vinyl – we see a potential in it that others perhaps don’t when they listen to it for the first time or the second time.
Also, when I listen to a record I’m thinking how it can work in a club or how the people are reacting to it, whether it’s good for DJs or bedroom DJs because that’s also a difference. The main thing is that I see a soul in it – if the sound is already catching me when I’m listening on a cellphone or a laptop (even if it’s just one track that’s the motherfcuking bomb) I’m going to buy it because I know that there’ll be a time when people are asking for it. But we’re not the ones who say that there’s bad music or good music, there’s just records that fit into the concept and with our customers. And music is such an emotional thing – there are so many factors that influence your decision, for example if I have a bad day and I miss a record because I wasn’t able to judge whether or not it’s good for us, I’m kicking myself two weeks after. So basically I’d say that there is no GOSU sound, but there is a GOSU filter.
You’re all DJs – can it be difficult sometimes to sell the records that you really like? There are records which we’d love to have, not just for DJing but also because they’re tied to special moments for us. But if you break it down, from nearly 15000 we kept 15 or so, or we borrow them for a weekend because we’re taking care of the records. In the end we buy records to sell them and take care of our customers, so I guess we step back with the DJ mindset.
What’s the average life cycle of a record? 2 days to 2 weeks. Sometimes when I believe in a record – it flies.
People ask you for advice when they come into the store? Always.
(Phil) This is what makes Manuel so important to the store. People were coming to Freebase because they knew that he knew his stock. People were humming a baseline and he’d call it out. He knows what’s good, what’s not and what’s good for the people that are coming here – that’s important. I can’t recall a moment when he wasn’t right. He taught me everything: how to sort records, how to ask questions, how to find the record the customer is looking for.
(Manuel) Perhaps because everyone in my family – my grandfather my father – they were all salesmen. My father used to tell me that I could sell a fridge to an innuit ha! Thing is, when you’re living in Frankfurt and you’re buying records, at least once you’ve been in front of me. So I know everyone, I know what everyone is collecting. But I’d have to say that it’s getting less now.
This is only natural though when you consider that GOSU is encompassing the borders beyond Frankfurt… When I was at Freebase I knew everything that was happening in the city – which party, who was playing, where it was. And now, if I don’t have the Robert Johnson flyer I have no idea.
Tell me about the day the store opened. We were super happy and confident that people would come and they did [smiles]. It was streamed live too. We invited good friends to play and all people to join us that 12 hour ride, or 10 hours I’m not sure anymore, or only 8 hours haha.
The last part where we closed the show I was incredibly moved, but also very sad that my parents couldn’t come… I could feel the tears in my eyes. Tuesday was our first working day – we’d been here until the late hours the night before pricing up the first batch of records (super hungover too because we had an afterparty after the opening) – you know there were actually 4 to 5 people lining up on each turntable.
So you had a good first day. From what I see you still have very good days. It’s not something that had a hype… JA it depends – the thing is that the Frankfurt people are lazy (in all honesty). They’re not coming here to buy a lot, which is a shame but as you can see the tourists make up our customer base. Wow they’re desperate to come here in fact. Take the last December 26 for example, Karl got so many messages before the party, from people asking if and when we were open.
Have you ever thought about what you can do to get the locals here into the shop? We’ve done everything – we’ve had the live streams supporting all the locals DJs. We have the OFFM compilations. We’ve imported records from the US from Activ-Analog so that we have something special. We’re the only ones to receive the Timeless Records, other than Ultrasuoni in Rome. We have happenings, we have exhibitions.
I don’t know what else we can do. And actually travelling to Barcelona recently I’ve seen how much time and effort people make to get to a record store, up to 35 to 40 minutes, it’s incredible.
Do you think that it’s perhaps owing to the fact that the people here they know that GOSU is here and so there’s no hurry?
JA… and also because of the Discogs thing.
But how do you see Discogs impacting on your business? In the context and timeline of your business it’s always been there. I’d say about 8 years now. And yes you’re right it’s not a competitor. Thing is you have everything in front of you – you can sit in front of your computer smoking a cigarette, beer in hand, hand down your pants. It doesn’t make sense to go out to the record store… but then for example Vera comes into the store and in 2 hours she spends 80 euros and still has so many records that she needs to listen to.
“In Berlin your records would be sold out so quickly.” (Dorian Paic)
“You have so many good records – you have to look only two or three times and then you find something super good.” (Frank Frost)
But the thing is these are the old school guys – they know how to dig. They know what they want as opposed to always looking for the last record played by the hottest DJ on the scene. The problem is that not many people can understand a record if it’s not the right time or context. And usually it’s not the right time because it’s not the trend. But it’s a cycle. And I’d say that now when I play in Frankfurt for example, I don’t think about this notion of trend. It’s taken me a while but since I opened GOSU I am very comfortable with the records that I have and how to play them – and you know what, the feedback is great. You see the whole dancefloor dancing – job’s done.
I’m standing behind what I’m doing.
What’s been your best memory in the shop, despite it currently stretching back 15 months? What made me super proud was receiving the review from Sammy Dee when he was here “super store – super records – keep on going”. This for me was a special moment.
(Phil) And James Dean Brown’s observation “This is a really great record store” I think he even said that this was his favourite store. These compliments from artists who have a whole legacy behind them – it means a lot.
What would you do if another record store, with a similar concept, were to open here in Frankfurt? Break his legs [everybody laughs]. No, we’d be ok about it because in the end it’s not a competition. What people can’t find in that record store they find here and vice versa. And as more and more record shops open, the more people come to Frankfurt. They have a complete weekend here, and this is in part what makes Berlin so interesting for the people, because you have so many record shops and so many options to go out. Here in Frankfurt for the moment you can go to one record shop and one party.
Also one live stream if you’re a DJ ah!
In the end we’ll continue with being subtle and understated. We don’t want to be fancy, we just want to be ourselves and know that people enjoy their time here. GOSU just brings Frankfurt back on the map, with attention to people. The idea is to grow organically, and if somebody wants something from us we do it but there’s no intention to seek out these opportunities.
So you make the link between GOSU and Frankfurt. On a final note, what about the relationship between electronic music generally and Frankfurt? Do you think the city supports the sub-culture?
I’m not super involved in politics but I am fed up with the situation here. There’s an idea that we’ve become an urban population all living together – the rich banker guy next to the construction worker next to the immigrant… but in my opinion the city does everything to destroy this feeling. Burger joints and fancy coffee shops open all the time. There’s no more affordable space. What me and you see as cultural hotspots – these places they shut down for the ‘noise pollution’. I can understand why people are moving to Berlin… because you can’t change it here. In Berlin, the government whilst totally bankrupt, allocated a million euro of tax money so that clubs can invest in sound insulation. Tourists go to the city to go out, more record shops open than close – this is what we’re missing. With GOSU we’re trying to do something, now we’re approaching the politicians:
It can’t be that because of the high rents and situations going on around us that the record stores are dying – the cultural value that music has brought to this city over the years is being killed.
Now the Museum of Modern Electronic Music (MOMEM) is going to happen because the government finally gave the go-ahead, but if you’re not opening something super sophisticated or for the upper class you don’t have a chance – you have the rich guys and the poor guys and nothing in between and this is what’s quite scary.
Our dance floor fits into the lower end of this spectrum… Of course and the problem is that if you can’t get any money from the poor you focus on the rich, you do everything to make them comfortable. Here you have to hustle to find a way to do the party, to keep things going, that’s why we’re so motivated and try to bring this quality on the payroll because with mediocrity you can’t win shit.
You have to be excellent to achieve something. Yes, otherwise you don’t get bookings, you don’t release and especially when you want to make a living out of music you can’t live in this city because it’s just too expensive. The parties, the afterparties, the happenings, everything that you see in Frankfurt is always the result of a co-operation. We’re working together. For example, if there weren’t the HWSD party where the whole of Europe comes over, you wouldn’t be able to make the afterparty. The circumstances have to be right to make cash. And it’s super rare that a location pops up, and no one knows how long it’ll stay there before the next investor comes around. You really don’t know what to expect over the next 5 years, especially in this area around Robert Johnson. The land has been sold. It could be possible that Robert Johnson is closing down and then what’s left – not even a techno museum would change anything then.
You know its interesting that Sven Väth made history in Frankfurt, being the first DJ ever to receive the Goetheplakette Medal, but he’s not living here anymore. Of course he had a huge impact on the history of techno but you can’t help but wonder why there can’t be more of an emphasis on the present…
Nobody gives a shit what’s happening right now but you know what this is the future – we have HardWorkSoftDrink, we have Traffic, we have Oval Distribution, we have GOSU, Sturo, we have so many good producers so much quality output. And we’re keeping the spirit alive, keeping the people coming to Frankfurt, they’re spending money – it’s good for the government. Help us to keep this up because in all honesty, I don’t know how long-term GOSU can be.
But you’re already worried about the future of the store? Thing is I’m very down to earth and realistic. If it lasts for even 5 years I’d be so grateful because this is what brings me some joy and peace – it’s what I love. God I really respect that Carsten and Chris had the balls to do this kind of thing for 23 years, especially 2005 onwards when so many record stores had to close. So yes I’ll do it for as long as I can as much as I can, to do the best for the scene the shop the people, and to change something that went in the wrong direction in the past years.
Well you’re rewriting the concept – putting out a different point of view Manuel.