The pop-conscious house sound of Dixon and his Innervisions imprint has been one of dance music’s biggest success stories over the last few years, but it didn’t just happen overnight. Dixon himself has roots in drum n bass and even Atari Teenage Riot-style digital noise, as well as a long resume of residencies in Berlin that stretches back to the mid-nineties. Historically, he's tied to Jazzanova and the downtempo/broken beat scene, a loose and varied scene which even saw him as recently as 2005 releasing a yoga-themed mix CD. In short, it’s a career which has never quite slotted in to the prevailing sound, especially in a techno-oriented town such as Berlin.
Yet recently, with the winds of dance music shifting back towards deep house, especially of the German variety, and Innervisions splitting away from its more eclectic parent Sonar Kollektiv in such a fully-formed, and massively successful, fashion, suddenly all eyes are on Dixon. The Yoga CD has been forgotten, deleted from the collective memory by a Body Language mix for Get Physical and showcases at Sonar. “Three years ago everybody was playing minimal, and there I was with my house records,” laments Dixon. “I was so alone in the dark, you know? Now I have the feeling that everyone is playing Innervisions stuff. After my gigs everyone comes and says, “That was so cool (laughs). It’s really been a big change.”
For evidence of Dixon’s emphasis on song-based house music, check Wahoo, his collaboration with songwriter Georg Levin, or check Body Language Vol. 4 or his well-received RA podcast, both of which are seamless dance music sets seemingly wholly composed of house songs rather than tracks. It’s an accessible approach (Body Language Vol. 4 contains hits such as ‘The Sun Can't Compare’ and ‘It’s All True’), but it’s his ability to ferret out gems from lesser known artists such as Owusu & Hannibal or Kathy Diamond (as well as his access to unreleased Innervisions tracks) that raises him to the level of a tastemaker. So where does Dixon find all this music? “I really think records find you. I believe in having a circle – Kristian from Âme runs a record shop called Plattentasche in Karlsruhe so he provides me with a lot of stuff. Marcus Worgull has a record shop in Cologne. Mostly it's like, "Have you seen this?" And then I go searching for it. Basically I have two good friends that are running good record shops. And besides that a bunch of promos.”
“But there is also living in Berlin – the clubs here don't play what I play. So when I go out, I hear something new. Someone will be going crazy about a new techno or electro or minimal track, and I'm maybe not feeling it at all, but it's still an input. If it was all about super close friends and all the DJs that I love in Berlin, it would be incest, you know? Where would you get the inspiration? So I'm pretty lucky to be here in this city where there's a really good nightlife but I play a small role in it. When I go out here, it keeps me fresh.”
We talk about turnover – on one hand, DJs tend to cycle through new material so fast that your average clubber misses most of it, versus the other extreme of rabid fans expecting every Luciano set they download to be different. “If you're playing every weekend three gigs or whatever, you want to have new stuff,” says Dixon. “The more you play, the more you can’t stand earlier records. With that schedule, there will be certain tracks that you've played twenty times already in just three months. You don’t want to hear it anymore. But then you go to Turkey for the first time, and somehow you have to play it. So it’s a balance – you are consciously pushing yourself to play new stuff, but then again that other track is good, so play it again.”
”I’m not against older music. I always play some old stuff in my sets,” Dixon continues. “Maybe some people only play new stuff, but if you've been in this business long enough, you play old stuff. I think we're all the same like that. As I said before, there's not that much good stuff coming out, and secondly you always have flashbacks where a new record reminds you of a record from eight years ago, and the new one is shit compared to the old one or whatever. For example, I’m playing 'The Wanderer' by Romanthony again. In the end, the most important thing is not to be bored. Doing the same thing over and over again is boring, you know?”
Here's ten from Dixon's record bag.
Laurent Garnier - Back To My Roots [Innervisions]
"This is the new Innervisions. I was playing with Laurent Garnier at the Panorama Bar and he played this track. We signed it instantly. The EP has two tracks but actually I signed just the one track that I'd heard in the club. For me it wasn't necessary to hear the other side because I really loved the track. It's a very tribalish timeless production that brings together what Laurent Garnier has gone through in the last ten years from his techno period through to his whole jazz and ambient period. It's twelve minutes long, as techno records tend to be these days, but it works. A lot of twelve-minute long tracks are great tools but nothing happens. Basically this is a record that you can listen to from beginning to end – it tells a story and this is what I really love. The B-side ‘Panoramix’ is a tribute to the Panorama Bar and it's the hit on the EP. Laurent made it the weekend after we signed the record. It's an old school organic track that everyone is digging, but for me it's just so-so. Well, not really (laughs) – I guess most people will think it's the big track of the EP. So the B is more organic and housey, but the one I like is more psychedelic."
Foals - Red Sox Pugie (Henrik Schwarz Mix) [White]
"This is a song and that's why I love it. The band asked Henrik directly for a remix, but at the time he didn't know that they were about to sign a major deal – he just liked the track. I think the original is “punk” although I'm not sure if this is the right word as I don't know much about that music. Henrik turns it into a mixture of pop and house with very interesting production that has really great listening appeal. In the new DJ Magazine there's a four-page article saying that The Foals are the new revolutionary band, but I hadn't heard about them before and neither had Henrik. These days, Henrik does a lot of remixes for the majors but sometimes they don't want to put it out so we’re planning to put other music released by our artists on our website so that whenever there's a remix hopefully we'll always have them."
Boola - Predator [a:rpia:r]
"This track and the next one by Radio Slave are two tracks that both have very interesting beats, a bassline and one chord but nothing more. So this is one of those “boring” tracks that I spoke about earlier. It’s by Boola, a new producer from Romania who is releasing on a:rpiar, the label of the new supergroup. I actually think he sent us two or three tracks and one of them we really loved and thought we might sign to Innervisions. But then he was like, "Oh, unfortunately the one that you like has already been signed to a:rpia:r." But this one sounds like an old Mood II Swing record so it pushes a certain button in me because it's got a great groove."
Radio Slave - Tankatakan [Rekids]
"This is a very untypical production for Radio Slave and for me as well. It's almost like a broken beat in that it's a 2/4 beat. It's not a straight house beat at all. It's very minimal but it has a different flavour than his other stuff. Radio Slave is doing a lot of interesting stuff now. I have a CD with ten of his remixes and tracks which are very housey and I love to play them all. He has been around for a long time – he produced house for six years and he's also doing the Quiet Village stuff too so he's always been doing completely different stuff. I think after releasing a hundred records that all sound the same, but that all work, he needed a change. I don't think house is a new or better thing for him. It's just something that feels right."
MySpace: Radio Slave - Tankatakan
Koss - Earth (Âme Remix) [Mule] & Koss - Dear African Sky (Henrik Schwarz Mix) [Mule]
"These are two remixes of Koss, who is a Japanese artist that is basically known for his ambient stuff. He's one of the reasons we decided to release an ambient CD on Innervisions. The last Koss album I have is four tracks – all of them are fifteen minutes and it's just "atmo". Anyway, these remixes are from an album where there's going to be a Moodymann remix, a Theo Parrish remix, and Henrik and Âme have also done remixes. The Henrik Schwarz remix is, as the name says, very African. I think it's a real journey. It's not really a dance track but it has an unbelievable vibe. I think this remix and The Foals remix show two completely different sides of Henrik – now he is in a position where he doesn't have to concentrate on doing remixes that people can dance to. Now it feels like he's just doing music. Sometimes he is doing techno and sometimes he's doing a track like this Koss remix, which is very Afro and not for the dancefloor. It could be used, but I don't think it's pushing enough. The Âme remix is the complete opposite. It's like a very intense dancefloor record that's maybe a little comparable to the last Âme on Innervisions, which was very noisy and very tense. So the basic idea of this remix was to translate the original ambient feeling, which is very intense, into a dance record that's not just defined by a beat and a bassline that work, but by a certain strong atmosphere.
Loco Dice - Tight Laces [Desolat]
"This is one of my favourite tracks right now. I was really surprised by the Loco Dice album, which was produced together with Martin Buttrich. I love his stuff right now, and especially on the Loco Dice album it seems to be more housey. You know, the story goes that they especially moved to Brooklyn, New York to make the album and smell the spirit of house music. (laughs) Basically you can hear that they left the Dusseldorf countryside. Seriously, this track is Mood II Swing in 2008. It's a house record which sounds like how I imagine those guys would sound today. It has a new approach of course and a new production definition that has the feeling of the old dance tracks that I love. I play other tracks from the album too but this is my favourite.
MySpace: Loco Dice - Tight Laces
Martin Buttrich - Stoned Autopilot [Planet E]
"This is from the last Planet E release Stoned Autopilot. Again, I think it's the B-side that's maybe the most successful on the EP. I really love this track because it's only when you play it out that you realise the beat is so far in the back even though it's still a very pushing track. It's not defined. The bass drum is so low here that it gives a lot of space to the actual music and the music is programmed in such a way that it still hits the people. If anyone else produced a track like this, people would go leave the dancefloor saying, "It's time for a beer now", but Martin has a certain way of keeping the people on the dancefloor screaming with tracks like this. Not just staying on the dancefloor but reacting very strongly to it. Sometimes Martin's too cold for me and it's not what I really love but all of his releases are tracks that I have to check out to see what he is doing. I used to think that his tracks don't have enough highs, that he should make them more working, but if you play two or three tracks that way, you realise just how much more relaxing it is. So that's why I really like him."
MySpace: Martin Buttrich - Stoned Autopilot
Tokyo Black Star - Game Over & Caballero [Innervisions]
"This a new record from Tokyo Black Star or Alex from Tokyo – these are two tracks from his forthcoming album. I think they are going to be released later this year in October. Both sound a little like a story. Alex is a French guy that was brought up in Tokyo but now lives in New York, and you can really hear these different influences in his productions because they really are all over the place. In person he also has this typical French look together with a Japanese attitude that shouldn't work together but somehow it does. And his productions always have silly ideas that I would never come up with. His album will be a new mix of all his tracks – a DJ mix which doesn’t just mix the tracks together, but uses for example a beat from one track with an atmosphere from another track to give it a complete flow."
Lil Tony Production - House (Raw Mix)
Lil Tony has different outlets – one is Nuspirit Helsinki and he's also in Future Beat Investigators. Basically he's this house don who owns like three clubs and little bars. He's this crazy little guy that also often goes to Japan, too. He's kind of like the DJ Harvey of Europe, you know? He basically has a little studio home where he makes these new tracks. This is the very very rough, or as the name says, a raw mix. It's based on a sample saying "house" and like a lot of the tracks that I really like, it has a great atmosphere. Not the best beat or bass in the world but all together a certain atmosphere that makes it special.