|Playing favourites: Moomin
RA talks to the respected German deep house producer about his love of hip-hop and the art of sampling.
Berlin-based Sebastian Genz may only be known under his moniker Moomin since 2010, but his musical traces go back to the mid-90s. Hailing from Kiel in the very north of Germany, Genz became fascinated with early hip-hop, funk and breaks after spending endless hours in front of the radio, armed with nothing but a tape deck. Driven by his love for sampling, scratching and self-made mixtapes, he began to DJ regularly around 1996 and eventually took a dive into the world of production towards the turn of the century.
Years later and disappointed by the state of German hip-hop, Genz turned to electronic music and began to incorporate his love for sampling into house tracks. After releases on Berlin imprints White and Aim, Genz eventually approached Smallville's Julius Steinhoff with a demo tape. The result was his Sweet Sweet EP and his acclaimed debut album The Story About You on the Hamburg-based label in late 2011.
We talked to Moomin about his early influences and his transition from hip-hop to house through the prism of some of his favourite records.
Talk to the People
I wasn't sure to include this, because it sort of sticks out from the rest. This one came from my dad, who owned a fairly big record collection. As a child I always asked him what might be interesting for me or I went through the records myself. All the "older" readers probably know how playing records has this fascination for a kid: Looking at the sleeves, watching the red light and the record spinning. For some reason, I remember playing "Talk to the People."
I can imagine records like this are quite demanding if you are a kid...
It was certainly challenging. But as I became interested in music, I was always looking for samples and breaks, so I mostly skipped through the tracks. Only as I got older, I took albums as entities that are supposed to be listened to from start to finish.
Now that you are older, what do you like about this record?
I admire Les McCann because he is a proper self-taught musician. I really like the way he plays harmonies and how he incorporated different styles from classic jazz to funk and soul vocals into his music. I'm not sure, but I don't think that was all that common when this album came out.
Diamond & The Psychotic Neurotics
Stunts, Blunts, & Hip Hop
I started listening to hip-hop around 1992 and Stunts, Blunts, & Hip Hop was among the first hip-hop records I ever owned. Diamond D is probably one of my favorite producers from that time. But I also like the way he rhymes, which is something special, being both a great producer and a good MC. The same goes for Lord Finesse.
...who happens to be another member of the Diggin' in the Crates crew.
Big L, Showbiz, A.G., they were all part of it. I picked Diamond D. from the top of my head. There are so many producers from that time that I admire: The Tribe, Grand Puba or Pete Rock and Premier, to name two of the more popular ones.
This album came out in the heyday of sample hip-hop. As you just mentioned how you were looking for breaks yourself, was this one of the things that drove you to hip-hop?
I didn't really grasp the concept of sampling at first. I merely took the music I heard for granted. But my father always asked me: "How can you listen to this? It's all stolen!" He often showed me the original songs, you know, some of the more popular stuff by Booker T, ESG, The Shadows and such. I guess that's when I became fascinated by the idea of sampling as a distinct form of art.
Do you think albums such as this are still made these days with all the talk about licensing and copyright infringement going on?
Definitely, take Damu the Fudgemunk for instance. He has a very old-school, sample-heavy sound that reminds me a lot of the old days without sounding dated at all. There are a lot of young producers embracing this technique. I suppose the clearing of samples only becomes more of an issue if you're planning to release on a major label, which is probably similar in electronic music.
Given your love for sampling, this record seems like an obvious choice.
Yeah, definitely. After all these years it is still amazing to see what Shadow did back then. Most hip-hop tracks used to have one or maybe two samples, besides the drum and kick patterns. Shadow managed to use five or six simultaneously. And it's not just about the number, it's about which samples he picked: He basically went through all sorts of different styles in order to find exactly the one sample, the one break he needed. And then he put six of those together to create something entirely new. I'm not that much a fan of his recent productions to be honest, but Endtroducing remains unmatched.
It is not really hip-hop though, is it?
I think with Endtroducing Shadow created something unique, his own trademark sound, so to say. Obviously I can't speak for the guy, but I can imagine early Ninja Tune, Coldcut and Steinski were just as much of an influence to him as early sample hip-hop.
How did you find out about records like this in Kiel?
Northern Germany used to be the British sector for a long time, so we could tune into the BFBS [British Forces Broadcasting Service] and received some other radio stations as well. As you can imagine, the music they played was quite different from the local stations: Hip-hop, jungle, electronic music. But there was one particular show on German NDR4 as well. It was called Black Traxx with DJ Marius No. 1. One day, he played the first album by DJ Krush, which is not quite the same but somewhat similar to Shadow. That's how it went: I picked up stuff on the radio and then, money permitted, tried to track it down.
Ninja Cuts: Flexistentialism
There are probably a hundred Ninja Tune compilations by now, but I chose this one for a reason. Back then in 1996, my parents gave me this one for Christmas. As I said before, I listened to a lot of British radio stations back then and I eventually came across Solid Steel by Coldcut and DJ Food. Those shows were amazing! Each one of them was more like a compilation on its own, in the way they picked and arranged the tracks. I think Flexistentialism sums this up quite well, both in terms of music and selection.
You did several mixtapes yourself, didn't you?
Yeah, I wasn't really into producing at first. What I wanted to do was to play records, to mix them, to scratch them. So after I got my first turntables I started to record mixtapes, which I sold for a couple of bucks to friends of mine. I only started to produce my own tracks around 1998, 1999. The first beats I ever did were made with an old MS-DOS program called Fasttracker. Which reminds me: A friend of mine still has the MiniDiscs I recorded back then...I really want them back...[laughs]
Let's go back for a minute: Do you remember when you decided to become a DJ yourself?
There was a club in Kiel called Tanzdiele, where Finn Johannsen used to be a resident DJ. I was about 14 back then, so obviously I couldn't go to any clubs yet. But they ran something like a pirate radio station once, during which I unwittingly recorded a set by a group named Boomerang Clan, who played some great funk and breaks. Later I learned that it actually was a mix by Q-Bert and Mixmaster Mike called "Pumpkin Squeeze Musik." Anyway, I was lying in my bed, wide awake, thinking: "Oh my god, what is this music? Where does this come from? How can I do this?"
When did you find out what it was?
There was a breaker in Kiel named Swift. He and his partner Storm used to be quite famous in the breakdance scene. Anyway, he had something like a small shop, where I bought mixtapes whenever I had the money. One day, I visited the shop and in the background there was this one track playing. Of course I asked the guy behind the counter what it was. It turned out to be "Take Me to the Mardi Grass" by Bob James, The guy, named Lutz, was surprised to see me that interested in it and he gave me his number. Later, he occasionally took me with him to Hamburg to go record shopping. He taught me a lot over the years, so if you're reading this: Thanks Lutz!
Boards of Canada
Music Has the Right to Children
As you just mentioned MiniDiscs and tapes, here is a duo whose early recordings were only discovered years later.
It's quite amazing, isn't it? I visited their Discogs page the other day and noticed that their oldest stuff dates back to 1987. So they must have been about 16 back when they started. That's impressive.
This record came out in 1998. How did you get from turntablism to Boards of Canada?
I probably got this a bit later than 1998. But still, towards the turn of the century, hip-hop had lost a bit of its appeal to me. There was a wave of commercial hip-hop flooding the German music scene that kinda put me off. Don't get me wrong, I'm not an old-school elitist, but that stuff didn't do much for me. All of the sudden people were walking around with Adidas and fat laces or Vans sneakers. You know, previous status symbols became something like a commodity overnight.
So you turned to electronic music?
In a way, yes. Warp Records were probably among my most important influences back then: Boards of Canada, Autechre, Aphex Twin, as well as Funkstörung. All these acts created music as I had not heard it before.
But at the same time, Boards of Canada, just like Autechre, were more influenced by hip-hop than one might expect.
I think I know what you mean: Some of the more beat-oriented pieces on Music Has the Right to Children may have been influenced by hip-hop. But that is just one side. More importantly, Boards of Canada have a very unique way of combining atmospheric textures with abstract beats. There is always a moment of uncertainty and surprise in their tracks, and yet you can always tell a Boards of Canada track from others. I guess that is why their music appeals to a lot of listeners that came from both a techno and a hip-hop background.
Now we are moving to Detroit...
Oh yes, Theo Parrish. You know, every time someone asks me which records influenced me the most, I feel a bit uneasy because I have heard and enjoyed so much music over the years that it is basically impossible to choose a couple of favorites. I mean, even the ones we are talking about now are more or less interchangeable. But then there are tracks such as "Overyohead" which still stand out even after you heard them a hundred times.
Do you see this SP 1200 over here? [points to a drum machine on his desk]
It is a classic piece of gear for hip-hop producers. But Theo Parrish uses it as well and the way he does it is amazing. "Overyohead" starts off with some dry, almost mechanical drum patterns before he throws in some chords that are pitched for about five minutes. And then, after seven minutes or so, there is this piano. This combination really hits home.
Was this one of the records that inspired you to start producing house music?
No, I discovered this one much later. My personal transition to house was a slow process, tip-toeing from the more experimental beats of Autechre and Boards of Canada to classic 4/4 beats. It was exciting, because house and techno were something new to me. I had to dive in just like I had done years earlier with hip-hop; I had to check out labels and draw connections. It took me until 2004 or so to discover the established names, you know, Moodymann, Pépé Bradock, Theo Parrish and Sound Signature. Playhouse played an important role, too.
Jazz Carnival (Space Jazz Mix)
I almost always carry this one with me. I'm even a bit afraid to play it (a remix by Global Communication) these days, because I used to play it so often. [laughs] But yeah, that's a number that really gets me. You can play at the beginning; you can end a set with it and once you have established a certain kind of vibe with the crowd, you can even play it at peak time.
It is a remix of Azymuth's "Space Carnival," a jazz-funk song from the late '70s. Do you know the original?
Yes, but it's hardly noticeable. It doesn't sound like the original at all.
I think it's interesting that Global Communication did this remix. I always associate them with their ambient productions.
They had their fair share of dance tracks and remixes in the past. I recall another house track called "The Way" by them. That's another great piece! I could probably have picked that one as well...
Is this the kind of house you enjoy the most?
It depends. I tend to listen to different stuff at home compared to what I play in a club. But if we're just talking about the latter, this one comes pretty close indeed.
Published / Thursday, 03 May 2012
Photo credits / Christian Olofsson