|Sven Väth: I play trance
DJ, producer, promoter, label boss and club owner Sven Väth is a techno institution. Intimately involved in all facets of dance music over the past 25 years, Väth has been witness to and withstood, almost all of its different developments and trends while remaining a constant fixture in the techno world.
Still one of the most popular and central DJs in the electronic music scene, his Cocoon franchise continues to go from strength to strength. Since starting in the late ‘90s as a club night, Cocoon has branched out to become Vath's own umbrella organisation. The booking agency looks after many of dance music's biggest names. The label has built up a strong catalogue of dancefloor monsters and mix CDs from people like Villalobos, Loco Dice, Funk D*Void and of course, Väth. And not forgetting the summer residency in Ibiza, which has become an institution on the island.
The most recent addition to the Cocoon family has been a state-of-the-art club in Frankfurt, which opened last year and now sees a constant stream of techno elite gracing its decks. And for those unable to visit the club, Väth regularly takes the Cocoon experience on the road, next week checking into Nocturnal and the Robots party at BED at the Miami WMC.
Recently, RA had a chat with the man himself on the Tokyo leg of his ‘The Sound of the Sixth Season’ tour.
"I still like melodies and harmonies. I'm a romantic person in a way and I like to play tracks where people maybe smile or feel touched."
Sven Väth may have built up a diverse resume over the years, but first and foremost, he is a DJ. That he has managed to do it so well, for so long, suggests that Väth is doing something right.
"I've played for 25 years now and I have my roots in rock, dub, industrial and in new wave. Today when I pick my tunes and I make my selection, I have a history so I can mix up styles in a very experienced way, " he explains. "There's everything happening in my music. When I play a long set, from eight to twenty hours sometimes in the summer, I play very long sets and I cover everything. I don't mind playing a pop song if it's a good song. I like to play music in general but I focus on electronic music and avant-garde."
Along with presenting a diverse range of carefully selected records, an integral part of Väth’s DJing is his interaction and the bond he forms with the crowd. Väth is constantly animated – waving, dancing, shouting and having fun.
"[Often] people don't know the music but they just follow and they trust you. This feeling that they give you, that they trust what you do, gives you the kind of freedom to perform and do what you want to do. The good feedback then pushes you even more to make it that little bit better."
This seems to be one feature that sets Väth apart from so many of his peers. He really makes an effort to ensure the crowd is having fun and the right party vibe exists. The emphasis is on the music, having fun, dancing but the attention he pays to the punters really does make a difference.
"I just do what I want to do," says a modest Vath. "I think it's something which has a very strong energy and this is what the people feel. I think for me I follow my heart with what I'm doing and I want to make people happy because I'm a happy person. For me, I use the music to bring people together and have fun."
It is this basic expressive, almost primal, aspect of his music that Väth sees as important for what he is doing.
"It's a positive thing because people will always dance. We have managed to do our part with our music, electronic music, techno, whatever you want to call it. We are not here to change the world. I think we have found our place, our freedom to express ourselves, and I think that is the most important thing if you make music."
This desire to express himself and his feelings can most definitely be felt in the tracks Väth chooses. Commenting on the kinds of records he has been playing recently, Väth told RA, "I still like melodies and harmonies. I'm a romantic person in a way and I like to play tracks where people maybe smile or feel touched." Lately this side of Väth has become prominent once again, with recent sets including a lot more tech-trance and neo-trance records.
Indeed, here it is rather interesting to hear Väth’s take on ‘trance’ as he sees trance as 'a state of mind’, rather than a certain genre. He explains, "People are getting a wrong interpretation of what trance music is all about. Actually I think I play trance. I honestly do…because I don't let people go. I nail them on the dance floor – 'you stay!'".
"Today when I listen to DJs like Tiesto...I have the feeling with their music that they don't have the right musicians. They are following a format – always producing the same structures. It's a pop format for trance."
Before setting up his Cocoon franchise, Väth played a central role in helping forge the trance and tech-trance sounds of today by founding the pivotal Eye Q and Harthouse labels, and producing the classic albums, ‘Accident in Paradise’ and ‘The Robot, The Harlequin and The Ballet Dancer’.
“[In the early ‘90s on Eye Q and Harthouse] we produced music and I produced music with musicians. I'm a DJ. I'm not really a musician. I have a musical idea. I know what I want when I'm in the studio. I tell the musician what to do, but I can't compose on the piano or the keyboard. That's not my part. I had the chance to work with musicians so I told them what I wanted. This is the way we created the kind of music that people call trance today. It was the sound of Eye Q and Harthouse back in the day and it happened because I worked with musicians together."
Reflecting on the music that is generally considered ‘trance’ today, Väth clearly differentiates it from the sound he pioneered on his Eye Q and Harthouse labels. He suggests that the key difference is in the way ‘trance’ music is produced nowadays.
"Today when I listen to DJs like Tiesto -- I don't listen to them but it sometimes happens that I hear a track or two -- I see and hear that they were very inspired by what we did 15 years ago. But, I have the feeling with their music that they don't have the right musicians. They are following a format – always producing the same structures. It's a pop format for trance."
For Väth, however, there is no set formula to the music he plays, produces or promotes, beyond perhaps it being as fresh as possible. Even after all these years behind the decks, he still manages to keep ahead of the pack, directing rather than following trends in techno. When speaking with Väth his enthusiasm for music is overflowing and infectious. You can see and feel how much he's still motivated and driven by the new sounds, records and labels that are current today, and most notably those in his homeland, Germany.
"I think right now is very interesting – the music, what's going on today, is mainly coming out of Germany. I would say probably 80 or 90% of the records I played last night were from Germany. [Also] a little bit English, a little bit Italian, not so many American tunes anymore – just a few. There's a lot of good things happening in our country right now musically. I think there's never been a time when there were so many exciting labels and music projects like right now."
And if that is not enough of a reason to visit Germany, Väth’s Cocoon club in Frankfurt should be able to convince you to make the trip. Describing the venue as "a statement for the 21st Century" and born from his "long traveling, experiencing the world and seeing a lot of things", when asked about the venue, Väth simply says:
"I think I have created the best dance club in the world."