Although it was established in 2005, and officially launched with the staggering and highly successful "Eve by Day" by Patrick Chardronnet, which has sold 10,000 copies, the beginnings of the label can be traced back into the late '90s, when Flitsch and Henkel first met. "Martin and I were both studying at a private academy for marketing. Coincidentally, we were both put into a house outside the city by our school, where we bumped into each other for the first time. Among the residents was Markus Müller, who later became one of our first signings. With Martin's interest in house music and my socialization with German techno, we quickly realized that we have a lot in common," Alex remembers.
Five Essential Connaisseur Tracks
Patrick Chardronnet - Eve by Day
The EP that started it all. With its wide open spaces, its touching chords and the steady, trance-like build-up, it has become an almost inconspicuous, but nonetheless incredibly effective dance floor anthem.
Kollektiv Turmstrasse - Tristesse
The name might be deceiving, although those affective strings amidst an irresistible groove will remind you of life's transitory nature, and the fact that every night out has to come to an end...eventually.
Afrillounge - Lux Dementia
Once the break kicks in after four minutes and that memorable piano-riff takes over, it's hard not to close your eyes and throw your hands in the air. Elegant, crystal-clear deep house—the way it's supposed to be.
ZoëXenia – Uncovered EP
The soulful vocal fragments may remind you of Cassy, but it's the dreamlike deepness and dub influences that will continue to haunt you.
Wareika – Impulse
Almost ten minutes of constant twists and turns, intricate percussion, late-night jazz pianos, distant choirs, all paired with an impeccable drive on top of an excellent production.
Unlike most imprints, Connaisseur was founded upon a well-thought-out concept: The trio contacted different designers beforehand in order to establish its own corporate identity from the very beginning. "Our experience in marketing helped us to come up with a clear concept, so we knew exactly what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. Of course we were lucky that 'Eve by Day' became a club hit, which made things a lot easier for us in the subsequent year, both in terms of money and promotion."
Over the course of the past few years, the division of tasks has became clearly structured: Alex does most of the label's office work, Hilary is responsible for accounting and Martin, now residing in Berlin, does promotion while maintaining contacts with the pulsating scene in Germany's techno capital. Additionally, with the help of the label, Alex has become an internationally renowned DJ, having played gigs all over the world within the last year. "It is tough to depend solely on a label these days, so being a DJ on top of that seems like the obvious choice. I have been spinning records since the middle of the '90s, but it has certainly taken up a lot of my life since the launch of Connaisseur. Besides, it is important to have a face that goes along with a label, and as long as you maintain a balance with your work as a DJ and your work in the office it is a lot of fun, although it also means to occasionally lay low on the weekend," Alex says with a smile on his face.
Laying low wasn't in the cards for the label after the massive success of Chardronnet's "Eve by Day." But while that record—and a few more—have been called "minimal trance" on more than one occasion, Connaisseur has quickly stepped forward, moving seamlessly between the melancholic house tales of Plasmik and Estroe, the dub-drenched soundscapes of Dutchwoman ZoëXenia, prime time dancefloor stompers by Daso and Rekleiner and pulsating, piano-driven techno tracks by Afrilounge and Wareika. Despite the seemingly disparate influences, every record seems to retain a melodic element—a tale of distant melancholy—while moving its listeners both emotionally and physically. Alex sums it up: "A Connaisseur track has to convey a message. That might sound simple, but it has to move us in a very special way. We try not to be too restrictive, as you can easily end up in a drawer from which it is hard to get out. On the other hand we try not to follow every trend that pops up. Timelessness and warmth are words that come to my mind; every record should have its very own character, which is not always easy to achieve within the minimalist sound structures that dominate techno these days."
This cohesion is only helped along by the label's excellent artwork, created by designer E. Maximilian P. Pfisterer, who also does cover design for Dirtybird and Mothership Records. He's been with the label since the beginning, crafting intricate bilious green and black artwork for the main imprint's releases, while Supérieur (a Connaisseur sublabel) employs a more abstract black and gold color scheme. The confidence in their designer has led to a close collaboration between producers and the artist. "Many artists like to use the label's trademark monocle which can be found on every A-side, to convey something special or personal," says Pfisterer. "On Plasmik's records, for example, you can see their parent's dog Senta within the monocle….Wareika's Florian Schirmacher [on the other hand] sends me scans of African tribe masks or self-drawn sketches, on top of highly cryptic emails, full of literary references, which are sometimes hard to decipher. It is not easy to come up with a suitable artwork, although he appreciates it when I am able to come up with a thorough concept."
The newest sub-label, Outils du Connaisseur, has no issues with such things. Its focus is, as its name indicates, on house-related tools and dubs, and thus seems to keep up to date with the electronic music scene, which saw a return of dancefloor tools this year, not only with the help of Patrice Bäumel's soaring "Roar." It proves not only the label's insight, but also its philosophy to keep moving forward and not rest upon initial success.
But is too much hipness a good thing? With 16 different artists on the first 25 releases, one cannot deny the touch of cosmopolitanism that seems to surround Connaisseur. Unlike Oslo and Cécille—both successful labels which are not only closely tied to a new generation of labels in and around Frankfurt, but which are also based around a tightly-knit social network—Connaisseur has quickly moved beyond its base and welcomed new artists to its roster.
Whether it's Dallas-based producer Mariel Ito, AKA Maetrik, Switzerland's Ripperton, the enigmatic Chymera from Ireland or the promising female Dutch producers Estroe and ZoëXenia—Connaisseur has quickly established a remarkably international and culturally diverse artist pool. Alex chuckles as I mention the numbers, "By now I realize that is in fact a lot of artists, and we are trying to keep our next releases limited to those who [have] already released a record for us. We also try to keep a very personal connection with our artists, to positive surprise to some of them. We try to meet them and bring them together. I really love working with different artists, as everyone is different, and thus has to be dealt with differently. Some literally need to be treated with a carrot and a stick… [laughs]."
As far as the future? Aside from the launch of Outils, Alex is working on a new series called Alex Flitsch meets…, in which he jams with different artists in their studios, starting with an upcoming collaboration with Audiofly. It's yet another example of the label's philosophy to keep ahead of the game, and to release music from connaisseurs for connaisseurs. Or, as Alex might put it, from music nerds for music nerds.