"Caminando," "Enjoy Music," "Vandong," "Ronson." They're all different, yet somehow coherent, defined by something that Heinrich has dubbed "complex rhythm architecture." As he tells it, "Even I listen to [some of my] tracks and ten times I'm like, 'Where does that rhythm come from? I didn't hear that before." Inspired by the early sound of Cadenza, Heinrich has made a career from digestible confusion, and found high-profile fans in Ricardo Villalobos, Sven Väth and Luciano himself. We caught up with the DJ/producer in Frankfurt on a rare weekend off in January of this year to talk about his massive 2009 campaign, his upcoming album for Cadenza and leaving the safety of a full-time job for music.
You had an amazing 2009.
Yeah, it was! It was super busy, super impressive, successful and exhausting.
Do you plan on doing the same sort of schedule this year? Touring-wise?
I think we're planning it a little bit different this year. It's better organized than last year. In 2009, I would do things like have one gig in New York, then fly back to Europe and go to Japan the next day for two gigs. Last August I played like 20 gigs in one month. I'm never, ever gonna do that again. This summer we're gonna take it easy, just pick out the really nice festivals that I really want to play and then do Ibiza. I'm gonna be on the island quite often. We'll be doing Ushuaïa again, which was a very special party. At the closing thing last year we had like seven or eight thousand people dancing on the beach.
By that time the album that you're working on will have come out on Cadenza, right?
I'm working on the album still, yes. I've got a few tracks finished. I'm taking a bit of time to work on a certain style of music, a certain idea and put it on like four or five, six tracks and not just make one track like this and then go somewhere completely else. I'm trying to take the time to focus on one direction. I've also got some new gear as well, which I'm totally into at the moment. It's a big modular system I started building up. With this equipment you get a very special sound which is kind of eclectic, trippy and different to anything you could produce with Logic or Ableton. You can do absolutely amazing things with this, they kind of have a life of their own, it's kind of random.
You've said that five or six years ago when you moved out of Frankfurt, you built up your studio. Is this the first time that you've made such a big change since then? Or has it been a gradual change?
Yeah, when I was a kid I was buying synthesizers and drum machines, but in the early '00s I sold most of the old equipment. Which, now, I really regret. And around five or six years ago I went to Lake Constance to live for a while and I just started building up the studio slowly again there. I got a new drum machine, and started realizing that working on hardware is actually irreplaceable. I mean, you can have as many controllers as you want. But it's nothing like pushing a knob on an old machine. They've got this unique and characteristic sound. Every instrument sounds a little bit different to the next one, and I just love the little mistakes they make.
When you moved to Lake Constance you were just getting back into techno after a long layoff.
Yes. I was super tired of the techno sound from Frankfurt and Berlin in '98. It started to get super hard, schranz came up and stuff like that. It was a pure nightmare, I couldn't stand it at all. So I was just listening to breaks, trip-hop, downbeat, jazz, a lot of world music. I was discovering the funk again. Songs with groove and percussive elements, the type of thing that came down in electronic music five years later.
Who were you listening to specifically that had an impact on you?
Mercedes Sosa, Avishai Cohen, Miles Davis, I loved the stuff that Thievery Corporation was making at that time. But then around 2002 or 2003 there was the first Merkwürdige Verhalten, a big open-air party in Frankfurt. I went there and I saw Ricardo [Villalobos] and Luciano playing, and I was absolutely flashed by that sound. It was like "OK, maybe I should go back into it." And so I slowly did, and when I moved to Lake Constance—and had loads of time—I started to build up the studio again and started producing and straight away came this Reboot sort of sound.
And you started to send things to the guys at Freebase.
Yeah. That first record was on Below, and they were really excited about it. Everbody was saying, "Man, the stuff you're doing is amazing." And another friend told me, "You have to send that to Luciano." I was like, "Right, like he's going to listen to my stuff?" But I did, and two weeks later he called me up on the phone.
all the hardware that I had
on stage was turned off."
There seems to be a lot of producers from this area that have come up in the past few years. The Rhein-Main-House scene.
Sure. The whole Frankfurt crew, the people from Oslo and Cécille, we're all friends. Sascha Dive, Markus Fix, etc. We built up this network. We're sharing tracks, it's a little community, a special sound.
You also seem to stand a little bit outside of it, though.
Well, when I play my DJ set, I love to play this like tool-house. Especially the stuff that comes out on Oslo, Deep Vibes and so on. But for my own productions, I never really saw myself representing this sound exactly.
Why do you think that is? Everyone must have been going to the same clubs growing up in the scene here, had the same sort of dance music influences. Was it the five-year break that you had where you were listening to jazz and all the stuff?
I guess so. If we're talking about this Rhein-Main-House thing, we're basically talking about a super-stripped-down house track, yeah? Without the filter-pianos or whatever, it's like just this basic rhythm. Like a deep bassline, but funky and groovy, and this is riding down for six or seven minutes without anything happening really. So it's up to the DJ to bring in some a cappellas or whatever, tools to make it interesting. I always saw most of the tracks I made as being more songs than tracks. Songs that start at a certain point, try to build something up, tell a story, draw a picture and arrive at a totally different point. They're not songs with a pop structure of course, but you know...
It's interesting that you make that distinction.
Of course there were some tracks which were not like this. Especially if you look at Markus Fix or Robert Dietz. They also have some absolutely amazing songs. But the whole hype was more about the tool tracks, the basic house tools. That's the main reason why music-wise, I don't really see myself so much representing this Rhein-Main-House.
I was really fascinated by the mix CD that you and Sascha did because despite the tool house thing, it sounded quite diverse. There are lots of different labels in this area doing very different things.
Sure, when the guys from Cécille came to us about it, we were unsure. Like, "Man, don't you think that's too limited? Is there enough stuff we could use?" And then when I finished, I felt like I hadn't event scratched the surface. Sasha and I—in the beginning—also had this fear that the mixes would sound the same as well. But I don't think they do at all. His way of DJing is totally different to mine. He's more into long fades and I'm more like in-out, bam. That's more the way I DJ.
The first big DJ I saw was Sven. Anybody who lived in this area saw Sven at Omen. At that time, the early and mid-'90s, there was this amazing energy. And Sven was the teacher.
The other Omen residents: Frank Lorber, Toni Rios. Mark Spoon. The whole Wild Pitch crew around Ata, Heiko MSO. The old Wild Pitch club nights were unbelievable. Ata was playing all this super old-school DJ Sneak stuff. "The Bomb," stuff like this. Nobody had really heard that music so much before. We were all into that like Frankfurt techno, techno trance, whatever you call it and they came up with that super funky shit. I loved that.
It seems like obviously the internet's a great leveler, nowadays. For the most part, you can't come up with a moment like the Wild Pitch club where people haven't ever heard something before. But, at the same time, Ricardo, Luciano and you have all these exclusive edits floating around. How important is that?
Very. I mean, just look at it from the point of view of a normal clubber. Why should you pay an entrance fee to see a big name DJ if he only plays all the tracks that you can get everywhere else? Sometimes you have DJs who have the ability to build up something completely new from those tracks. But I'm going to see a Ricardo set, I wanna hear special music.
Who do you think is underrated as a DJ?
There's a lot of people. But one that I'm friends with is Robert Dietz. He's still on an upcoming level, and he's going to get better and better, but I think he's absolutely amazing, he's an amazing musician even though he just started producing two or three years ago. He's one of the best DJs I know. He's got an absolutely amazing knowledge about house music, he's got all these like super old, rare records. I've been in the scene for 18 years, I'm a complete nerd and he always pulls out stuff out his record bag that I've never heard before.
Underrated is a strange word, though. It's like nobody is really underrated. People have to present themselves, and if they don't want to it's not like they're underrated. They're just not putting themselves in a position where they get more attention and everybody is talking about them. Sometimes that's a good thing. Because then you can slowly grow, a step-by-step process rather than going from an unknown to a superstar overnight.
Do you feel like you had a step-by-step journey or was it too quick? Like with Sven asking you to do this mix CD in 2008.
A bit of both. I mean it was a pretty short time, but of course it was step-by-step as well. It's really weird for me to have had somebody like Sven on the phone. It's this voice that you know from the radio station when you're a little kid. I'm super happy for everything they've done for me. But now that I'm older it's a bit easier to handle. If that would have happened to me when I was 22? Oh my God. I'd be completely out of my head.
You took a long time to leave your full-time job.
Yes. I was working at my job until March of last year. It was a hard decision when I said, "OK, am I gonna quit my safe environment, my paycheck at the end of the month?" Because, you know, I didn't want to stand there and just have to produce music because of the pressure that I have to pay my bills. I think that it's a dangerous place to be. This pressure to produce a new track, to make a hit to make your rent. It kills creativity. I was waiting so that I could say, "OK, there's absolutely no risk. I've got enough bookings for the rest of the year to be super sure that I will have no money trouble at all."
No, they all want me for live acts. [laughs] But I love to do both!
Any horror stories?
I've had two of the most amazing gigs I've ever played at fabric. But when I was doing my sound check for my live act there one of the multi-plugs that they gave me for the electricity was broken, so all of my gear was electrified. I was getting shocked every time that I touched it. So I said to the technician, "Man, there's a problem." So he was going around trying to fix it and I said to him, "Listen, don't touch anything right now, because I have a UAD-card inside the computer and if you drop the electricity, it breaks the whole system and the Ableton project you're working on is broken. You can't open it. Let me shut down the computer first."
And then [makes a noise like "bam"] in the next second, the blue screen comes up. When I turned the computer on again, it said: "Please type in your Ableton serial number," which of course I don't carry around with me, when I'm on tour. So I went back to the hotel, had a friend upload a version of Ableton, so I could get it again, including the serial number and then I had to create a complete new live-set within three hours. Nobody really realized it when I was playing, but all the hardware that I had on stage was turned off because I couldn't use it, because I had no MIDI device anymore. I was just pulling all the loops that I had together, just improvising. It was one of the best live shows I ever played in my life. It was unbelievable.