No. I used to be starstruck by people. But not anymore.
What people would do that to you?
The first person that was really 100% was Fatboy Slim. That was 2000 or early 2001, and right then he was everywhere. I was totally nervous. I didn't know what to expect, was just slightly drunk, thank God. Then we went into a room, closed the door and it was just him and me. I said, "Hi, I am Timo." And he said, "Let's have a vodka." Then we just got drunk together. [laughs]
Since then, he took it away from me. There's no reason to be star struck anymore. Lenny Kravitz also did that to me once. I had the opportunity to meet him, and I was just thinking "This man is a cool motherfucker." It's just the aura, and he's also one of my heroes musically for what I like to listen to when I'm not DJing or producing. The music of my rebellious youth.
What were you listening to when you were growing up in the '80s? You were DJing in top 40 clubs, right?
My older brother was a lot into Pink Floyd and Jean Michel Jarre, so I picked up a lot from him. I remember listening to Jarre's early albums like Oxygene, Equinoxe, Magnetic Fields on headphones. Those were absolutely highlights of my youth. Andreas Vollenweider, Joe Jackson, even Dire Straits. I've seen Dire Straits five times in concert.
I've read that when you first starting DJing, you were playing in top 40 clubs and you were sneaking in a techno record every once in a while. What were some of the records that you were sneaking in?
Well, they once kicked me out of a club because I played M.A.R.R.S. "Pump up the Volume." It was far too modern for the club where I was playing. I got kicked out of several clubs actually, because I was saying that music wasn't just pop and rock. It shouldn't be the only thing. I thought they should know the whole variety. This was a new thing, so why not play it?
When you started playing more underground clubs, did it feel quite a bit more free?
Sure. I grew up between Hannover and Bielefeld in Germany, pure countryside. I remember playing in this club in Bielefeld in 1992, and they paid me 50 Marks. But every time I played there I was buying 200 to 400 Marks worth of records after. [laughs] In the beginning there were no people, it was on a Wednesday. So it was fine, we had a lot of enthusiasm. It was a subculture. It wasn't just that you were listening to different music, you belonged to a different subculture with different rules and everything.
What was your first big break in that scene would you say? Was it the residency at Tunnel in Hamburg?
I would say so. That was the first recognisable thing; everything else was really local. I started pretty early in the '90s. I got a residency in the Hannover club Men Factory, a gay club. On Fridays, they had their mixed days and they had the coolest music. At that time to be gay was a subculture that was not really common, especially compared to now.
But then I got the residency at Tunnel, which at that time was voted the number two club in Germany after Omen. That spread my name, and I also produced "Die Herdplatte" together with Gary D. He was the resident on Saturdays. I was the resident on Fridays. After that, I got more and more rave gigs, gigs from Switzerland. With that record, I was able to go out of Germany. That was my biggest dream. I was always looking to the UK, hoping to play there.
Why was that the dream for you?
The music. The music from there kicked my ass the most. I was still not a professional DJ. (I became one at the end of 1994.) So I was just collecting addresses from promoters, calling people, doing research from friends that had been there, reading magazines. So when "Die Herdplatte" came out, we packed up 25 packages with the 10-inch and a tape and sent them to all of these promoters in the UK. Two of them came back to me.
I was only working with him,
I didn't work with anybody else.
I didn't even try to work with anybody else."
Do you remember your first UK gig?
Yeah, of course. It was at this warehouse in Doncaster, and I was playing with Jon the Dentist and DJ Edge, the guy who performs with a trumpet. His Edge Records was one of the best selling labels at the time. From today's viewpoint, it was just a shithole, but the punters were really enthusiastic. It was a completely different thing to Germany. The punter with no shirt on, a lager in his hand, would come up to me after the set, and say, "Mate, that was fucking brilliant!" That kind of direct feedback was one of the most exciting things about playing there.
My second gig was with Leon Alexander, the promoter of Lakota in Bristol. He became my manager later on. I was a resident there for three-and-a-half years, and it was possibly the most important time in my career. I got to play with all of these big guys, Billy Nasty, Carl Cox. It was an amazing club.
How did your sound differ from the stuff they were playing?
What I was playing, at that time, didn't really exist in the UK. It was a bit trancier. Tunnel was a trance club. We didn't know it would become a bad word. But I had problems at Tunnel too. I would play too underground, playing everything from Josh Wink to 250 BPM gabba. In the UK, though, I would playing a lot of Harthouse records, and all of the fresh trance labels. Before it became cheesy.
When did you first meet your longtime production partner Martin Buttrich?
We met in the mid-'90s at Peppermint Jam, the label and distributor. I was already there, and that's where I learned a lot about the record business. I was working for the distribution, selling the vinyl to the record stores. One day they brought Martin to my desk and told me that I needed to teach him how to sell records on the phone.
We got along really well, laughing, smoking. Every break we went to the storage room and smoked a joint, laughing our asses off. He was working at the time with Andy Bolleshon, a very good producer from Hannover. At a certain point, I came to them and said, "Hey guys, I have an idea, could we work together on it?" I came with a bunch of vinyl under my arm, played some of the tracks and we wrote our first tracks together under the name Kinetic A.T.O.M.
What was it about those two guys that appealed to you? Was it simply because they knew how to produce music?
I heard some of the stuff they were doing, of course. But I also didn't know many people in Hannover at the time with whom I was able to produce ideas. I always had good ideas. But I was never good on the computer. So I just asked them, "Can we do a record that sounds a little bit like that, with a little bit of that and then we could do it like this..." We produced a lot of stuff together in those early days. We had like seven or eight names. At a certain point, though, we finally decided, "OK, we've got to give this baby a name." Because I was travelling, we decided that we should do it as Timo Maas. Just from the perspective that I was the best to spread the word of what we were all doing together. That was the mix of Orinoko's "Mama Konda," and that was the first real big international underground hit. A lot of people from Deep Dish to Carl Cox played that record.
Timo Maas - Pictures - "An amazing album...but it was the breaking point."
Timo Maas - Loud - "I still play 'Shifter' in nearly every set."
Orinoko - Mama Konda (Timo Maas "Low Budget" Remix) - "We have to give this baby a name."
It seems like the other really, really big track was the "Dooms Night" mix.
The spot on the ass of my career. [laughs] It was the breakthrough undoubtedly for me as Timo Maas. I still have lawyers involved after eleven years... But, to make a long story short, it's an amazing record still today.
Were you surprised at how many different scenes took to it?
Oh yeah. Obviously. Everyone jumped to it. Drum & bass people, garage, techno, everybody was playing the track. Just this summer, four or five big compilations licensed it. Somebody told me that it's on over 500 compilations worldwide, this track. I think the record company sold half a million or something?
Do you feel that this was the reason that you got the residency in New York at Twilo?
I think that has a lot to do with Azzido da Bass, yes. But it was the package of things that came out around the same time. Andy, Martin and I had been in Miami together, and we partied so much in 1999. And when we got back into the studio, in the three weeks after that, we did Azzido Da Bass, we did "Ubik," we did the Bush releases, "Der Schieber." That opened so many doors over the next 12 to 18 months. And it was all just from the influence of going out having a good time together, and changing that vibe into music.
How long did you work with those guys?
We separated with Andy in the middle of 1999, and then I stopped working with Martin two-and-a-half years ago. 2008 was the last thing we did. Club music-wise, what I wanted was not really kicking Martin's ass. Which is fair. He has his own very personal taste, and he wanted to develop himself also.
And then you took a break for a couple of years it seems like from the production side of things.
My relationship with Martin was very close, I was only working with him, I didn't work with anybody else. I didn't even try to work with anybody else. So when we stopped working together, it was quite a gap. He is a genius, and to fulfil what I had in my head—my expression of music—isn't easy. As I said, I'm not as good as the other guys on the computer. I have good ideas, but I cannot put that into music as quick as everybody else. So I was thinking, you know, "Do I now learn everything from the beginning?" "No, I would waste too much time."
Your new production partner now is Santos. When did you first meet him?
It was about four years ago. We played together, and I started to realize how much he had his hands in. It's not just the Santos stuff or Maskio or whatever. He's producing so many things under so many different names. He has over four hundred release now.
When we were playing together in Rome, I realized that I really liked the sound, the sound colour, and only later I found out that he was only playing his own records. I thought Santos was only breaks, which is the music that made him famous.
So, over time, we were getting more and more in contact, and, at a certain point, I asked him, "Don't you think we should try something together?" "Yeah, why not?" I went down to Italy a few weeks later, and the first track we made was "Subtellite." A few months later we started to come up with the idea for Mutant Clan. Something where we can do something that isn't Timo Maas, isn't Santos, isn't Maskio. Something new and trippier. A few months after that, he moved to Germany. He's been there for two years now, across the street in the other house.
Yeah. Our studios are in the barn of my farm, so we see each other every day. The working relationship and the private relationship is really intense. The opportunity to work from home, just the intensity of having ideas, vibing on the ideas, realizing the ideas. We always say only the extreme creates the extreme. And, I mean, who lives together with his producer? I mean, we are not living together, but digitally, and creating something that goes deeper than the usual stuff, a little bit more. It doesn't matter how much it sells. It's just about creating the extreme. We are working now on the new artist album, and I think it will be quite radical. I think that is a word that describes it.
I don't want to drop names or say music styles. I hate being categorized into music styles, so why should I categorize my own? Back in the day, I said that I love to surprise people. I don't want to continuously say this, but I do like it. Radical is the best way of putting it, hopefully somewhere between sophisticated pop and underground with the things we love. I am loving a lot of [different types of] music, and this will have an influence on the next album.
I think you have always been very interesting in that you've been between this pop and underground thing. You've popped up and done high-profile remixes for people like Depeche Mode and, at the same time, you can come back and do Mutant Clan. Do you find that hard sometimes?
No, it drives me. I can't just stand still and take things as they are. I always wanted to explore different worlds, I want to do strange things and see if they work. I want to do it my way and see if it works. Many times it has worked, many times it hasn't.
When has it not worked?
I would say Pictures is an amazing album. But it was probably too much in a certain direction in which I did not feel comfortable anymore. Loud was a bit more edgy. A bit more where I was coming from. Pictures is a lot more complex, darker maybe, more moody. It was a reflection of the time. It didn't work commercially, but I didn't care really at the end of the day. It was somehow healthy, because it brought me back to myself. For me, personally, it was the breaking point where I thought, "OK, I do not feel 100% comfortable and confident with parts of the songs." Especially the stuff I was doing with Brian Molko. Just in the context—everything together—I just did not feel confident.
That was also a time of my life where I did not feel very confident, it was one of the changing points in life. After that, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. That's possibly why I needed a few years to kind of reinvent myself and to think about myself as a person and not just as the artist Timo Maas. Because when you're not confident with yourself as a person, it doesn't matter what you do. You can't be successful, because you have to stand for yourself before you can stand for something else. At the time of my greatest success, I didn't know what was to happen the next day. For me, it was like a stand still...on a very high level. I was making a lot of money, I was travelling everywhere, everybody saying Timo, Timo, Timo, but I was feeling extremely uncomfortable.
And now you finally feel comfortable again?
I feel a lot more comfortable. I mean, I love music, so I will never stop doing music. I am driven by that, it was always my language; I was always shy, very much like a lonely guy in school.
You don't present yourself as a very lonely guy.
Yeah, but that was back in the day, music was my language. When I started playing music, I started to realize that the people were talking to me, and I was getting friends because I was playing music. For me, it was a confidence thing as a teenager. Finding my own language to talk to people. I think that's why I am still DJing after 28 years.