|Playing favourites: Sven Weisemann
House, techno, disco and... modern classical? In this edition of Playing Favourites, RA's Richard Carnes sits down with Berlin-based DJ/producer Sven Weisemann to find out what really makes him tick.
Sven Weisemann is a somewhat strange figure in Berlin's electronic music scene. When he's not making elegantly smooth deep house tracks for labels like Mojuba, Liebe*Detail and House Cafe Music, he's busy composing modern classical pieces for piano and cello. Those more familiar with Weisemann's own productions may be surprised by his DJing style, as he weaves effortlessly between his trademark deeper sound and classic house and techno dancefloor jack tracks.
Influenced by the fast cuts and energetic approach of legendary US DJs such as Derrick May and Jeff Mills, Sven uses three turntables for maximum effect, and doesn't shy away from working the mixer to the bone. With such a wide range of influences and musical passions, we thought it'd only be right to catch up with Sven before his show in Bristol to spin a few records and chat about his music, Derrick May and what makes the Berghain so special.
Tresor 3, 1995
You told me last night that the first ever record you bought was by Jeff Mills.
Jeff Mills was my hero, along with Derrick May and Axis. I like the mixing style, with three decks, lots of skill and fast mixing. That really inspired me.
When did you first start DJing?
[I first started playing at home when I was] 14 years old, and then 16 was my first time playing in Tresor. It was so good! It was my favourite club at the time, and many great DJs played there: Blake Baxter for example. Tresor had a big Detroit connection, and it's a great label, releasing Joey Beltram, Blake Baxter, Jeff Mills.
The first record that I bought was Tresor 23—Jeff Mills' The Extremist EP—Really hard, banging EP. Really dark, atmospheric... my sound!
Is that more what you're early DJing style was like?
Yes, I was a techno DJ earlier on, [playing] Downwards, Regis, Surgeon. I was a big fan of The Advent, Colin McBean...
You said that you played at Tresor when you were just sixteen. How did that come about?
I played a two hour set at Tresor, but I played at the Globus—not the downstairs, cellar atmosphere. Yeah, it was a big moment for me. The people were nice, and it was just the best club for me with its atmosphere. I was booked to play again two to three months later, and also at the close of Tresor.
Were you not producing at that point?
I began producing in 2001 using Rebirth; you have a 909, an 808 and a 303, making acid tracks, and then I started using FL Studio... Fruity Loops! That's my program. I hate Logic and Cubase—they're too big for me.
Detroit is obviously a big influence for you. I guess Theo Parrish must slot in there somewhere?
Yeah, Theo Parrish, Moodymann, Patrice Scott... Theo Parrish is a really great musician. He plays piano, keys... I like Theo Parrish's sound aesthetic, it's just really unique. I like the distortion of the records, the mastering is just really damaged, but I like the slow tempo, and the drums that he uses are just really, really nice. I like it a lot. And the atmosphere is unique, a little like Moodymann, but he uses many samples. Old disco, Motown, soul, jazz...
Do you sample much in your own work?
No, I play all my instruments myself, sequence my beats myself. I may sample, but not often. I create my own groove, with my own energy and style, and that's where the Weisemann style comes from.
I also think Theo Parrish is a good reference point, because like you, not all of his tracks are built for the club.
Yeah, I come from techno, and when I was 16/17, I worked at Ambeat Records in Potsdam, and Nick Sole was the owner. He was my mentor. Soul, jazz and deep house... Nick Sole showed me the way to the deeper style, with more emotions and harmony, and that's very important for my production now. He's a really important person in my life, Nick.
For All the Music, 2001
We've talked a little about your love of Detroit, so let's move on to Chicago.
Tetrode Music, for me, was the best label in 2006, 2005 maybe?
This is the first one on the label from 2001.
Yeah. The rainy sounds, the rainy percussion and the atmosphere is awesome. It's a really good warm-up track. You start a party, people are coming into the club, this is the ideal track.
You started off DJing on more of a techno and Detroit tip. When was it that house music started to come through in your DJ sets?
When I was 17, I bought Kenny Dope and "Little" Louie Vega's "What a Sensation." Later came Larry Heard and his work as Mr Fingers—he's a really big influence as well. The soul in the track, the square bass—which many people like Brothers' Vibe have sampled. Robert Owens and Trax Records are also really important for me.
I love the deepness. My favourite deep house label is Naked Music from New York. Jay Denes is the owner of Naked, and he makes sure that everything has both great artwork and great music. I love the concept, and the records have very high definition sound. That's really vocal deep house music like Lisa Shaw. I like it a lot, NY deep house, but I hate the normal NY vocal house. Too much screaming and saxophone. Minimal saxophone and vocals are great. Kerri Chandler—that's good.
Also, the older Ibadan stuff is important for me. The new Ibadan stuff from Dennis Ferrer and Jerome Sydenham is a bit more Panorama Bar/Berghain style and I hate it. It's too commercial for me. Ferrer has created a new platform, Objektivity, which is fine, but the old Ibadan is true soulful house music. Joe Claussell-style, very percussive with African influences which I like, but now, it's not the Ibadan sound for me.
These are really industrial sounds—I like it. Dubstep is a very important style. It's a new style, but dubstep for me is the bridge between techno, dub, drum & bass, trip-hop, breakbeat—it's a great style.
Are you listening to quite a bit of it at the moment?
Yeah. I bought a lot of records. For me, Martyn is the best dubstep producer of the moment for me. His style is a mix of dub, house and tech, which I like. Burial is also a great producer, but his style is more melancholic; darker and very cinematic. There are so many new good dubstep producers at the moment, and a couple of old faces from drum & bass of course.
Is dubstep something that's growing in popularity in Berlin at the moment?
Yeah, it's really popular in many clubs. Berghain have created a party series with Scuba, which is great, and it's very important for the music. Dubstep started off in England, right?
Dubstep for me is a bridge for all styles which is so exciting. You can be so experimental with the beat structure as well. It's a fresh style.
Do you get to play much of it in your sets?
A little bit. In my set I play about three of four dubstep tracks. The 4/4 is the normal step in the club, but I like it when you break the constant beat, and the people are crying. The flow and the mix are really important though.
The Blue Notebooks, 2004
I'm a big Max Richter fan. He creates wicked atmospheres. I paid about £60 last year for the sheet music. However, my biggest influence as far as soundtracks go is Ennio Morricone. He is a hero to me—the maestro. Michael Nyman's The Piano, John Barry, John Williams—all heroes.
Is that something that you would want to get into, soundtracking films?
That's my dream. When I'm an old man and I can't DJ any more, with my damaged ears... then I'll create soundtracks. That's my dream, but it's difficult to break into the scene. Hopefully in the future.
Do you have some work coming out that's in a more modern classical style?
This year comes my Xine release, which is my piano and cello project. Also, in August there's my 4xEP release on Wandering, which is a sister label of Mojuba and a.r.t.less. It's a label for all music. After that in October my Xine album will come out, but only on CD.
What can we expect from the Xine stuff then? Is it quite minimalist?
Yes, minimalist, with a really melancholic atmosphere. It's my style of piano. Xine is a soundtrack to a film that hasn't been made. There are twenty tracks on the CD, little pieces of two or three minutes, and some longer tracks on there. I'm very proud of this project. Many people write and ask me when my piano album is coming out, and I'm really glad it's finally going to get out there.
Beyond Deep, 2007
What do you think about the new school of Detroit producers coming through?
Many producers are creating new labels at the moment, with white labels and stamping—that's cool.
A little bit like Mojuba.
Yes, but the concept of Mojuba is the artwork and music as one. That's really important for Mojuba, a.r.t.less and Wandering. Don Williams creates all of the stories for Mojuba—on the reverse you have a little Japanese story, with characters and Japanese text. The Japanese people are really receptive, saying "Oh, that's from Germany? That's so nice!" which is really cool.
There are a lot of new producers from Detroit, but the king for me has to be Omar-S. He's the creator of the new Detroit school, and a really crazy guy. He tunes up speed cars as well. He creates a really good atmosphere though. It's so raw, rough and dry, but really direct. His new stuff isn't really my thing though. I prefer the older tracks, the first Oasis release and the first FXHE... The newer one is OK for me.
My new project is also in the Detroit style, but it's more downbeat tracks for home listening. It's not the typical Weisemann sound. It's on a label called Essays, which is a new sublabel from the Styrax guys, and a new platform for myself. The problem is that the sound quality isn't great on seven inches, and in the middle of my tracks there are many strings and melodies. As the needle gets closer to the end of the record, the sound keeps on degrading and degrading, so we decided to make the record play inside out so that the sound quality starts off bad but then gets better and clearer as the record goes on. The B-side track is more in the electro style, like Convextion. That's really important for me, producing in different styles.
"The Life We Choose" (E.R.P. Remix)
The Life We Choose (The Texas Trill Mixes), 2008
Ah, acid electro. [laughs] Is this Drexciya?
No, actually. This is Convextion, but under his E.R.P. moniker.
Ah, I have all of the Convextion and E.R.P. records at home, but not this one. Acid is not really my thing. The album though—I think it was from 2006—that was the best album of 2006 for me. A lot of people wrote that it sounded a lot like Basic Channel, which I thought was crazy. Gerard just comes from another world. His style and sound aesthetic is just so unique—so awesome. The Convextion stuff is more for the floor, and the E.R.P. stuff is more downbeat and electro style. I love the pads as well.
It's a really nice analogue sound as well.
Very analogue, but Convextion actually makes it all with Ableton.
Yes, really. That's a secret, but not anymore I guess! The first Convextion record on Matrix Records, which is Sean Deason's label, for me that's the best Convextion release. It's very rare and goes for a lot of money now, but I picked it up from Nick Sole for five Euros. It's mastered by Ron Murphy as well, who's an absolute legend for me.
"Let's Go Dancin'" (Club Mix)
Let's Go Dancin', 1981
You also mix a little bit of disco into your sets, right? I take it disco is a big thing for you.
Yes, disco is really important for me. My favourite disco musicians are Chic. They're just awesome; the basslines, the groove... all played live as well. Disco's a very important style for all kinds of music, and DJ Sneak, Moodymann, Theo Parrish—they all use disco samples heavily in their work. I don't really play too many original disco tracks in my sets though. They mostly tend to be edits, or records that sample disco tracks.
Do you edit your own tracks at all?
Yeah. I'm a big Prescription fan, and the older Prescription records are all very expensive. I have them all at home, but I played at Tape Club in September of last year with Soulphiction, and played Prescription 11. I played a good set, and it was a great party, but when I got home and looked in my case, the record was nowhere to be found! I paid 60-80 Euros for this record, and I think it was stolen. That's why I'm now recording all of my rare records to CD, so this doesn't happen again! It was quite a shock for me.
I also have many records where the short tracks have the best groove, so I'll make a ten minute edit of a two minute record, so that I can play it out. I'm making a lot of edits at the moment though, of my favourite tracks and short tracks. People will come up to me in the club when I'm playing them, and ask me "Sven, what is this? I know this," and I'll tell them "This is the mix! Two records are playing at the moment!" I always really enjoy it when people say that to me.
"Theme from It's All Gone Pearshaped"
It's All Gone Pear Shaped, 1994
What is this? It sounds really Detroit.
It's from the UK actually. This version is from the original 12-inch on Robs Records, but the track was signed by Derrick May for a re-release on Fragile Records a couple of years after.
Yeah, it sounds a lot like Derrick May. Is it really expensive?
Not really. I picked this one up from Discogs for about £3.
Is it a bit of a secret, this record? I don't think many people know about this one. I'm quite surprised it's from the UK as well.
Are you a big Derrick May fan then?
Yeah, definitely. He's a very important guy for Detroit, but also a bad guy. At first, Aril Brikha sent the Art of Vengeance EP to F Communications, who told him that it didn't fit into their sound. Then Derrick May signed the EP and it became a massive hit worldwide, but Aril Brikha got absolutely no money from it—crazy. Derrick May is a bad guy though, really. He's a busy bad guy.
Great music though.
Yeah, he's a legend.
No productions any more though.
Yeah, that's the problem. Why?
He gets far too much money from DJing, I guess.
I think that the problem is that he's scared, because there are a lot of new artists and a there's been a lot of new input to the techno scene. If Derrick May produced a new track, it's likely that people would say "Oh, it's not as good as his early stuff." In every era of my life I want to make music—when I'm an old man I still want to make music. And Derrick May... no music. Why? It's a mystery, really.
Pépé Bradock & The Grand Brûlé's Choir
I play this every time, but I play the Karizma edit. The original is really atmospheric with a live beat and a tambourine, and the emotion is really melancholy—it's a great house track. The Karizma edit has a more typical Karizma beat over the top—very stomping, little broken beats, and the strings come in slowly with a filter. You play it and people start crying—not screaming, but crying. Really! Then comes the beat, and then after three minutes the big sub... a great track. The best thing for me when I'm DJing is when I'm telling my story, and I look to the dance floor and see a guy or a girl dancing, and then close their eyes, and that for me is my mission. That's so important for me... and then I am happy. The people dancing and dreaming, and feeling my energy.
Do you have any favourite places to DJ?
My favourite gig ever was in 2006 in Turin, Italy. It was at a 100 capacity club called Fluido, which is directly on the river with a glass panel front—a little bit like Watergate. The crowd was rocking, crying, screaming, jumping... but I didn't play a house set, I was playing more of a techno set. Chain Reaction, Vainqueur, but a much harder set.
Is that the style that you enjoy playing most, for yourself?
Yes, really, but most clubs are for house or minimal, and the cool hard techno for me you can play only at Berghain. My first gig there was downstairs in Berghain, and later I played in Panorama Bar for the Mojuba label night, which is better for me. Berghain is a big techno space, with a great soundsystem but the acoustics are really bad. The problem is that you've got a really expensive one million dollar soundsystem in a really bad room, and the acoustics are very important. Berghain is a very unique club in the world though, because of the gay and lesbian clubgoers. The gays make the atmosphere in the club. Without them, there is no Berghain or Panorama Bar.