Having sought out genres that vary from Sheffield’s electronic bleep to Sun Ra’s jazz to Indonesia’s Gamelan, S-Max is considered a walking music encyclopaedia. With a particular expertise in electronic music, his DJ sets range from minimal techno and early 90s electro to dubstep, drums and anything else that takes his fancy. His music – it’s funky it’s danceable and most definitely not boring. Back in the 1990s, when in Frankfurt and starting his SUPERBLEEP DJ NIGHTS with Losoul, he was regarded a musical “weirdo”. It’s obvious today however that S-Max has never let go of his anti-conformist ways. Interviewed in Berlin, he happily shares his thoughts, opinions and passion for unique sounds whilst also giving us background on his heavily sought out Boogizm label which he started with music partner Fym, and of course his most recent LowMoneyMusicLove EP.
So when did you move to Berlin?
Three years ago but it feels like yesterday. I lived in Vienna before; Vienna was a completely different situation for me. The first time that I came to Vienna as a DJ, people wanted me to move out there – they liked me, they wanted me to be a part of their enlarged family. In Berlin, I got the same signals and I probably know more people here in Berlin, but funnily enough Red Rack’em (the British producer who runs Begerac) recently asked me, “When was the last time a producer or artist invited you to his home, his private space?” And I agree, it’s very rare. You meet somewhere at parties, in a cafe… I think the English interpretation of a friend and the German interpretation differ massively.
Is it more important, or intimate?
Yeah. I would call maybe 15 people in my life friends and not the 1,000 I know or don’t know on Facebook [laughs]. The use of the word friend definitely differs in different cultures. Where are you from?
Indonesia… There’s not much electronic music there!
Yeah but other music. I’ve got several records with gamelan and different things.
Aside from club music what other types of music do you collect?
Everything that touches me and widens my perspective on sonic beauty. To list genres here would be too much but right now I am really impressed by modern classical music and jazz. For any ‘open’ musician, it’s regarded as a great source of inspiration, as is any non-western music.
When you produce music, what has to be there for you?
It depends on the context. In this context, it’s about groove. It’s gotta be funky and maybe there should be some personal element. But to put into words how you feel about music – it’s impossible. Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. You listen to something and it either does something to you or it doesn’t. As with everything, things either interest you – you see something and you’re drawn towards it – or you’re not.When making music in this field, it’s about groove. I have also made music outside of this field: short films, stageplay and performances.
In lots of your records you have that defining bassline…
Yes I think so, because I’m hitting hard on the physical aspect all the time. With dance music there should be a trace of funk, at least! Robert Hood for example, his music is not explicitly funky but he does care for the details that make it swing – there are little thingies with high hats that keep it rolling. Then there are people who make loop techno and it’s absolutely static, nothing is moving. These are just details but for me they make the whole story, like “whoop! I relate to it!”(or I don’t).
Basslines are a real part of dance music. And that is what the UK did when they embraced this concept of house, in comparison to the Germans and the Belgians. After the first acid-house records the British put in sub-basslines, taking this from the dub-culture, for example the first Warp releases like LFO by LFO. These kind of beats are still fresh now, and they were done in the early 90s. The producers felt the funk in the tracks coming from Chicago and Detroit and they cared for that: bodily quality, groove, the physical aspect…
Of course I’m just talking and reducing complex phenomena into sentences. In the end language is just an approximation, you never really catch anything serious by putting it into words. There were and are tendencies but it’s not ‘The Germans’ or ‘The British’. Language reduces life to “facts”, luckily there is a lot more on offer.
So which German or Belgian producers do you think make funky music?
Soulphiction/Jackmate, Thomas (Zip of Perlon) – his 12″s on Perlon are funky! Then there’s Losoul (my former DJ-mate of the SUPERBLEEP6000 team), Daze Maxim, Isolee, KrauseDuo/Musik Krause! There are so many more that I can’t think of right now!
Can you tell me about your SUPERBLEEP6000 DJ TEAM?
Ah the SUPERBLEEP6000 DJ TEAM… In May 1991, I started to DJ and have my own night at a place called BASEMENT in Wiesbaden, and it attracted enough people to continue! (There were all kinds of resistance though!) One local DJ physically attacked me – he wanted me to stop “playing this weird shit in this city!” I did special breakbeat parties too.
Then in 1992 Losoul asked if he could join and another friend MORITZ became the third DJ. Also CARO, who had played in the punk clubs during the 80s joined in too. From that point on I would occasionally play in Berlin, Dresden, many times in Cologne, and several other German cities – it was all so exciting and new! The term “techno” had started to appear in the mass-media and so suddenly this pure underground concept had morphed into something much bigger yet pretty numb (as what happens to all phenomena that someone sees a market in…)
One local DJ physically attacked me – he wanted me to stop “playing this weird shit in this city!”
So, back to the SUPERBLEEP 6000 NIGHTS – we started with “2000” because the year 2000 was so close, went up to “4000” and ended up with “SUPERBLEEP 6000”. We were booking DJs like Matthew Herbert, Johnny Fiasco, DJ Traxx, Bernhard Badie, Boo Williams, Daniel Bell, Terrence Parker, a lot of UK DJs playing decent house like Chris Duckenfield etc. and many many more. We basically brought DJs from the international scene to a town that had otherwise remained completely ignorant to the global scene where there was a more refined understanding of house and techno… and I loved it! Every Wednesday people would come to fill our club and many understood the difference to the more commercial techno that was being played in the Frankfurt area – we were dancing every Wednesday [smiles].
At that time (around 1993 / 1994), Ricardo would ask us to play at his early parties in Darmstadt, and we would have him play at SUPERBLEEP… but back then we were just homies – none of us were famous. The same with Thomas (ZIP of Perlon) – I will never forget his DJ-set in 1997, that’s when I realized that there are more people here with a sense for funk and originality!
If you look back on it now it must all sound quite amazing and in a way it was… but as I’ve said before “no sentimental ‘the good ol’ days”, cause now is now! You and I live now!”
You started Boogizm with your music partner Fym. It has to be noted that today your records are very hard to find! Can you tell us a bit about Boogizm and what it stands for? Are you planning to release any more music under Boogizm?
Fym and I founded BOOGIZM in 2000 – why? So that we could control 100% of what we put out – from the music to the artwork to the label info which all form the message that we wanted to communicate: a playful yet healthy sense of freedom from the non-conforming ‘mediocrity’. The artwork and the label info are also important in order to create a coherent piece of art. Another main reason was that the labels that I had previously worked with, would not release those tracks, that I regarded as the most outstanding. The response to our first release was overwhelming. When I saw BOOGIZM 001 in Andrew Weatherall’s charts and Daniel Bell then contacted us… we were able to see and prove that those limited concepts about club music were wrong. Actually, mentioning our first release – the current hype makes us consider repressing!
Have you noticed that a lot of people are listening to your music?
It’s pretty jungle-ish right now to understand exactly what is happening. Since I’ve lived in Berlin I’ve noticed, regularly people tell me that they play my music. Some guy came up to me two years ago and told me that people are playing the Below record of mine. People are even paying 100€ for a remix I did. It’s kind of cute in a way and my artist ego gets a bit ladada… but anyway, crazy world…why would you buy a record for 100€!
Maybe because younger artists are more interested in finding older records than the newer ones…
So the conclusion would be that in the now, there is not much substantial music being made as in the past? Wouldn’t that be sad, and weird?
There is a lot of old music to find and where you will also find beauty – I always tell people to listen to the old techno from Detroit. There are artists that people know about but not so much as regards to their early music, Carl Craig for example. There is an old Carl Craig that I really cry to and there is another Carl Craig who decided to make money. And that’s fair enough.
Nowadays I prefer to find new music. For sure there are new paths that people are exploring. For me, only UK music is doing this right now – this open space of UK bass, 2-step, dubstep, drum and bass half time genre. You listen to this music and you can tell that two years ago nobody produced in this way. They’re making all these kinds of syncopated beats with wooden sounding effects – you are rhythmically feeling something, whereas with house and techno I haven’t seen any mega changes.
You asked me who were my three all time favourite producers, so can you tell me yours?
Three is not enough!
Well you asked me!
I know I know… but I’m not interviewing you! 🙂 In terms of records that have changed my life, it’s got to be LFO – their first album “Frequencies”. I’ve probably listened to it several thousand times. It was released in ’91 and it’s still great!
Then it would be Photek, until ’97.
And Cristian Vogel for sure. Cristian Vogel is a phenomenon in all the things that he has done musically. He hides music in order to get you to listen to it more attentively but his music is that complex that you need to listen to it many times to get the details. Do you know his funk collaboration with Jamie Lidell, “SUPER COLLIDER”… Jamie Lidell is the British guy who now produces funk/ soul, that nice that you hear it in the supermarkets! He used to produce very demanding electronic music – a combination of jazz and funk that a lot of people found really disturbing. I imagine that his first Warp album is not something that a lot of people are at ease with, the second one however all my friends like because he’s singing – it’s something they can grasp. Back to his collaboration with Cristian Vogel, they did this more than 10 years ago and it’s still the most futuristic funk. I also saw them live, with a bass player and a drummer. They’re making electronic music but it’s funk, real funk, with vocals and a bassline and still sounds futuristic. Even after more than 10 years of knowing his music and I’m listening with my headphones, I still discover something that makes me think “huh?… There is something going on here that I really didn’t notice”. His music makes you listen. And it works in a club because it’s funky!
Cristian Vogel – ‘We Equate Machines With Funkiness EP‘ (Mosquito)
So three producers… who did we have? Cristian Vogel, Photek, Mark Bell of LFO, I’d also have to add in Juan Atkins, Jeff Mills and Underground Resistance. There’s so many! And then there’s the other important productions from Sun Ra, the early Pink Floyd, Arnold Schönberg, RZA, Richard D. James, Robert Gordon, just to name a few of the other influences I have had.
Let’s talk about your recent LMML EP. This is the first piece of music that you have released since 2011. I’m sure you receive a lot of EP requests so why did you choose LMML?
I can’t really remember… But I do remember that I was surprised by these young guys and their variety and music. In the area around Frankfurt where I’m from, even 10 years ago they would have cut your balls off if you played anything with a beat that does not have a straight kick like electro. I used to do it and people never understood it. A friend of mine in Frankfurt who runs a record shop has said that it’s finally happening; there are young people that aren’t caught in the same structures as the older generation were. There’s more of an openness. When I play here in Berlin, or in Prague, people seem to not only be into the minimal techno/house. That’s something that is changing for the better. A lot of people used to be confused when I started incorporating Dubstep into my sets but even in Club Der Visionaere that works, even in places where people think that only tourists go it works – they don’t know anything but you don’t have to know anything about music, you feel something. I won’t make an intellectual discourse. “How can you play Cristian Vogel?” Because it’s funky… it’s cool, due to its funkiness, its basslines, it’s physical not just intellectual!
Before the snippets were online and from just reading the title “Dropping acid on your astro turf” I thought you were paying some kind of homage to acid music.
I didn’t mean acid as in acidhouse. I like to use language to create a certain picture, I like to use it in an playful way. Originally, I wanted to make a dedication to all the pioneers of electronic funk on the record (but the labels don’t give any info).
How did you make this EP anyway? Do you have a studio in Berlin?
Yes I occasionally have access to a studio here. The tracks for the “DROPPING ACID….EP” were worked on pretty intensely in terms of the final edits, working on the subtle details…
Thanks for making a podcast for Say What! Can you tell us a bit about it?
This mix is a really important one for me. Originally Cristian Vogel had asked me to create a sonic comment on his album, ‘Eselsbrucke‘, based on the composing methods of Iannis Xenakis. The mix starts with a composition by Penderecki followed by some jazz by Sun Ra. It includes some gamelan edits too.
Edited by Kaajal Shah