But we’ve come to talk to Efdemin, aka Phillip Sollmann, producer and DJ who has released a string of rated singles (‘Lohn & Brot’, ‘Acid Bells’, ‘Just a Track’) and a debut artist album on Dial over the last twelve months. Efdemin was in London for the Sud Electronic night alongside Lawrence, and we hooked up for the interview in Hoxton Park on Saturday afternoon, a lazy sunny location which matched both Efdemin’s music – which happily straddles the border between techno, New York house and German minimal – and his relaxed character. Beforehand, I was worried that my questions might seem out of sync with where Phillip was at, but the tone soon warmed to match the weather and we enthusiastically chatted about deep house, bleepy minimal and Efdemin’s journey back to dance music.
How did you hook up with Dial Records and where does the name Efdemin come from?
The name comes from a radio play I heard when I was young. There was a character called Mikhail Efdemin. He was a kind of bad character from Romania, the guy who everybody was afraid of. So I liked the name and just picked it up. I have all these strange names now like Pigon, Efdemin…
Does the name represent the music you make?
No. It’s just so you know what the record is. I try to keep it diverse all the time. That’s why it fits so well on the Dial label, because I think it's very eclectic. Dial has a big, broad range from guitar music to experimental music to house and techno. I hooked up with them in 1998 in Hamburg. We were all playing in the Pudel club, which is still very important to us. Everyone is still playing there every month. It’s a very small club and we kind of established this kind of music in there. Because beforehand it was more like a rock'n'roll, punk rock club. So we were the first to do this kind of music there. Now every weekend it's techno [laughs].
How long have you been making records?
I released my first record ‘Tobin 01’ in '98 with my friend Alexander Polzin. We had a track on the first Kompakt sampler ‘Total 1’. That is really years ago now, nine years ago. But that was the first independent techno record to come out of Hamburg. Kompakt liked it and they were like, “Let's do more like that.” But we were so lazy we didn’t want to do it. Then Peter Kersten asked me, “If you want to do tracks, then we can just release them on Dial.” So it just developed. Nobody knew which direction it would take. We never know what’s going to happen because it's up to the people who contribute.
Do you feel pressure to sell a lot of records?
No. It's just a fun project. We have these big resources with Kompakt backing. They pay for everything and if we earn money it's okay, but if we don’t sell any records it's no problem so we can just put out everything we want. It's got nothing to do with work and we want to keep it like that. That's the most important thing. It’s not about a career, you know, like being a big label and having distribution and a sub-label and all that. But having said that, we’re going to have a sub label. It starts in autumn. It’s going to be a deep house label called Laid, which is Dial backwards. So we want to get laid with you guys. It's going to be really deep and different.
I'm going to give you some dates and if you can remember what kind of music you were into: 1985, 1990 and 2000. What did you like?
Sure. I was eleven in 1985. Maybe Depeche Mode 'Everything Counts' came out in '86 or something. That was the most important record to me for years. It’s still very important to me. Then in 1990 I think I was into Psychic TV because I was a bit late. In '99, what could it be? I don’t know. Maybe like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and things. That was the time when I was playing in a band and singing.
You're not thinking of maybe getting on the mic with some of your productions?
I started a new project with Nick Hoppner from My My and we are going to do a live only project. We don’t want to put out records, and we have a singer and I'm singing there too. I can't say now, but I think in Autumn we’ll play our first gig. We only have drum machines and samplers and effects and no computers involved. Very simple loops and beats, deep beats and one chord.
You studied at the Institute for Computer Music in Vienna. Could you tell us a little bit more about this school and your studies?
The Institute was founded in the late sixties. It comes from a tape music/Musique concrète background. It’s a very old, very small institute in Vienna. It’s part of the music university but they hate it because it takes all the money and there's nothing coming out of it. They want to shut it down. What I did was a programme in MAX/MSP. I did work on sound installations in rooms, which is like on the Phillip Sollmann CD 'Something is Missing'. The compositions on there are from installations. The tracks were cut out on the CD but they’re all supposed to be eternal music, like forever, you know? No start or ending. That was about eliminating the timeline, the opposite of dance and rhythmic music. I also worked on a contemporary opera in Vienna for two years with my professor. We did some live electro acoustic things where a soprano is singing and it turns into a wolf voice, and things like that.
Sounds very experimental.
Yeah. I think after the summer I will stop playing every weekend and go back to this idea of drone music, which is very important to me. I’m working on it all the time. There’s going to be another LP that but it’s not going to be tracks. Nothing will be happening. Very good for ketamine after hours! [laughs]
Well, I had an installation last week in France. It was a very nice exhibition in the countryside in a tunnel. I had this Yoko Ono acapella where she is singing about the wind and I put it through a special speaker which directs the sound to one spot. So when you entered the tunnel it was completely silent, but then you suddenly heard the voice of her singing when you hit that spot. That’s the kind of thing I did in Vienna. Actually, that was where I met Oliver Kargl who I do Pigon with now. We recorded tons of material with MAX/MSP and we're going to put out some of that. He brought me back into the techno thing. He’s such a good DJ. We played some parties and we played live together. He’s got all these very very good records from way back then because he’s been doing it for so long. He was playing all these tracks and I was like, "That’s my music. I have to come back" because I was a bit away from that during my studies. I didn’t buy records for one and a half years or something. I didn’t know really what was going on but he was like, "Okay. Let's do it". So now we are working on our own music.
Your music references both house and techno. Do you look to the past for inspiration?
People always relate me to the Detroit thing but I can’t - I'm not a guy who copies a sound. Some people have really decided that I love this sound so much...
That you wanted to emulate it?
Exactly. But I can't do that because there are too many influences. For this album, I went into the studio for four months every day and just worked on music and in the end what came out was what came out. I didn’t decide before that I wanted to do a minimal album or I wanted to do a house thing. It just flows through me and comes out.
Do you have a favourite track from the ‘Efdemin’ album?
Maybe 'Le Ratafia'. It reminds me of a party in 2000 in Barcelona. We were at the beach playing house records. Now everybody is doing it. We had a very big party there and that was very nice. I also like 'Lohn & Brot' very much. I think it’s the only track I always try to play. It's really a problem for me to play my own music, but that one I can really play well.
Don’t you like playing your own records?
It's like Theo Parrish said in an interview a few months ago. He said sometimes he comes to a club and the DJ is playing his track and he says, "Oh. This is a way you can play it’. Because you never know. You are so in the track, you are the track, so you cant really get away from it and look at it objectively. And I think 'Acid Bells' is a special track.
It’s quite serious. It makes me think of a Hitchcock soundtrack.
Yes, I love Bernard Herrmann. He’s a very important guy. But this is a special one because it doesn’t really fit into the thing but then it does, kind of. It was very cool that it came out on another label because the guy sent it out to so many DJs. We never do things like that. We just put out a record and then see what happens. But he did professional press work, like with Troy Pierce saying "It’s the bomb". That’s not usually the Dial style. We can't do that – it’s too much work. And so there was a lot of anticipation for it. A lot of people play it now. And I think it takes me somewhere else. People know me now who would never listen to the album otherwise. That's interesting because then they listen to the album and sometimes they are like, "Huh?" They’re expecting something completely different, like minimal.
Ten minimal tracks.
‘Bleep bloop, bleep bloop’. (laughs). I don’t know. I'm not that guy. Sorry.
Are there any instruments or software that you cant live without? I mean you said some people love a record so much that they try to emulate it. Are you using the old Roland TRs or Moog synths? You mentioned Ableton...
I don’t use Ableton. I think it’s destroying music at the moment. It's a very good program. I respect it deeply, but it’s too easy with everything there. You can make a track in two minutes without even listening to it. You just go "brrrrrr" and stretch everything. No, I just use the old Cubase and some soft synths and some samples. Right now I’ve started using machines. But that was after the album came out. I bought some drum machines.
Do you play classical instruments?
Yes. I play the cello. I started when I was five. I can't live without my microphone and I can't live without my cello.
Which other producers and DJ inspire you?
Ricardo. I think he's the most contemporary producer at the moment. I completely respect him. I saw him playing, and Luciano too, and I was like “Okay. I have to come back to this.” It's so good, so contemporary. And Troy Pierce too. When he moved to Berlin that was so powerful and I think it changed things a bit. The Louderbach thing is completely different but what he did in the beginning was (does Troy Pierce voice) “Shhh. I'm here. There’s house and here’s techno and let's go. C'mon. Fuck it all’. He did some amazing tracks that never came out.
So onto deep house. A lot of people now are thinking Larry Heard is a new name, or Ron Trent, MAW, Moodymann, Theo Parrish. What’s your sort of take on that kind of sound? What were your early inspirations?
You mentioned them all. House was the first thing I was listening to in electronic music before I got into techno.
So is ‘Just A Track’ a homage to all that?
Yeah. That was just a joke. For me it was always a fun track. And some people took it very earnestly and said like, "You can't do that" or "You can't put out such a track on Dial Records.” So then I was like, “I have to do it.” It was a bit like a comment on developments in Berlin, because everything was going so minimal. I kind of like that because it’s very contemporary and searches for new sounds and textures, but sometimes it's just boring. I felt like, "Where is the house?" It was missing something. So I came up with this sample and put it on a track that was already finished and that was it. It was a comment, like, house is where we come from, and don’t forget about this!
A lot of people can’t get a handle on house. They dance to ‘The Sun Can’t Compare’ but then they say “No, no, I don’t like deep house".
I think house was labeled badly, like handbag house and things like that. And bad people were listening to house. House was like porn music. But now it has come back. It's very good what Dixon does. Some people in Berlin and other places have really kept at it. I mean Dixon has been playing this kind of music for fifteen years and now people are like, ‘"Ah, he’s a new DJ. He's so great."
To be honest, I prefer Dixon as Wahoo. What's the track with Vikter Duplaix? ’Only That Night'?
For me it's Kerri Chandler and Rick Wade. That kind of New York/Detroit house. For me there was never this border, but a friend told me that when he went to Chicago he asked for a Rick Wade record and they said, "No that’s Detroit house. We don’t have it here. We don’t even know it. We’ve heard that there's a guy called Rick Wade, but no, we can’t sell that here."
”It's not allowed. You need to go to the record shop next door.”
Do you know the track ‘Gabriele’?
Who did that?
Roy Davis Jr.
Yeah exactly. That is one of those tracks. Or Robert Owens 'I'll Be Your Friend’. I can never get tired of this.
So sometimes your mixes seem almost key sequenced. Do you work out your sets beforehand?
No. It's all about time. I was playing with Mathias Kaden from Vakant. He’s was playing before me and he was so modern and sexy and sporty. And I was like "Shit. I'm so old. I can't play after you. You will have to continue." And then I started playing and the whole atmosphere changed completely. But people got it. If you keep it long and listen, and get into that, then it's not about the moment, it's about time. I'm not very interested in the specific moment. A lot of contemporary house music focuses completely on the moment, what happens in the next breakdown or the next effect.
So do think of DJing as an art form? Like if you go to a gallery and see pictures, then you’ll think about it afterwards. Do you want people to think about your set afterwards?
No, no. I just want people to get into the music and forget about everything and keep it flowing. Like yesterday, sometimes it worked, but sometimes it was really boring I think.
How long did you play for?
Two and a half hours. It was exactly how I like it – long and slightly changing. It’s a bit like if you have a really good Luciano set - he is my favorite DJ I think, sometimes - then you have four hours of nothing happening. It’s like a long line, which is the best thing that can happen. I always try to play like that. I can't really because he's so amazing, but that is the best thing. It's like the old way of playing. There's nothing really spectacular happening. It’s about feeling like "Okay. We are here. There is no time and I'm just dancing."
I think I read a Troy Pierce interview where he said he doesn’t really work with peaks and troughs. He kind of gets on this constant and pushes the intensity. So it’s not like A to B, it's more like A to A.
Yeah, but I think it’s a very different way of mixing if you compare Troy Pierce and what I do. Because he's really like on one level and it's only changing the textures. I think it's very well done. But for me, maybe I need some more chords or something in there, or more music. Because its only beats for four hours. "Wow, this is a really cool beat, but can you give me a break, man?"
You can’t dance no more.
Yeah, man. And this is drug-related music too I think. That is another development which is really interesting. This whole minimal thing is completely based on heavy drug abuse. You can't really listen to a six hours of nothing happening in a minimal set. Maybe, that’s because I don’t do drugs so much. Maybe that’s why I'm a bit old school. It's just about music. Harmonies and chords and rhythms. It's not about being completely high and fucked.
So what do you do in Berlin to relax?
I help my girlfriend a lot. She is an artist, a conceptual painter, you could say. She's opening an exhibition on Tuesday. It’s a solo show. She has this big opening now and everybody is like, "Ooooh". I hope it's going to be big. I hang around with a lot of art people.
It’s probably good to hang out with people who do something totally different.
It's funny. I try to get some of the artists I hang around with into the clubs. And they are like, "How long are you playing? Oh four hours? That’s a bit late. We've gotten so drunk from the opening…"
”Can we sit down there?”
I always say "Get some ecstasy".
What’s the most embarrassing mistake you ever made behind the decks?
I took off a record.
I've done that before. You just forget, don't you?
I took the record off and I put it in a bag. I was so stoned. And then everybody was like "Where is the music?" And I was like, "I don’t know. It's off somehow. I don’t know what happened." And they just said, "You took away the record, man. " Oh, okay, right. I'll put it on again."
You’re often wearing a shirt and tie when you perform. Aside from yourself, who do you think is well dressed in the house and techno scene?
Today I’m not dressed up. My guys are always well dressed, like Lawrence. Carsten Jost is the best dressed man in techno I think. He only wears Prada, MS and Gucci and YSL. He's really into that. He spends all his money on fashion.
"I need to make another record. Quick."
No, we are not making money with these records, but Carsten is an artist too. He's living on art. And there's Carsten Klemann. Do you know him? From My My. He's another best dressed guy. The gay guys are always better dressed than the heterosexuals. They take care.
Last question. If house really was a nation, who would be your president?
Oh, Kerri Chandler would be my president, or Theo Parrish. Hmm. I don’t know. If house was a nation everybody would really go out and listen to the music, and dance, and not go somewhere to be seen, and be there. That's a problem. And everybody would go to the Panorama Bar every week. It's the best club, I think.