Bremen producer Stephan Bodzin is standing in the middle of Club Moog in Barcelona surrounded by people – label people, hangers on, fans even. People wait their turn to chat. “Look at him,” says Oliver Huntemann, Bodzin's DJ collaborator. “It’s always the same. Everywhere we go, everybody wants to talk to Stephan.”
And it seems Bodzin wants to talk to everyone right back. A bit of background might explain it. This is a man who has spent the best part of his life cloistered away in the studio making records, hundreds of them, although you wouldn't know it because until 2005 none of them had his name stamped on them. But then he decided to do a Buttrich, stepping out from the shadows to make records on his own terms, this time under his own name. The response was immediate and overwhelming: here was a producer who had seemingly come out of nowhere (which actually wasn’t quite true: he’d come out of trance) that possessed that rare thing in dance music: a fully-formed sound of his own. If you hear a Bodzin track, you'll immediately know who is behind it: the melodies, the Moog bass and the hissing hats are instant giveaways. People dubbed it - unfortunately for other producers in his hometown - ‘The Bremen Sound’. Bodzin also seemed able to churn out a record a week, most of them good. What resulted was pretty much instant fame.
All’s well that ends well, you’d think, but nowadays Bodzin has moved onto the second part of his grand plan. Last year, at the age of 36, he learned to DJ for the first time, and he's also just put together a live show – not such a bad move in a world where even successful producers find it hard to subsist on mere royalties. But one look at Bodzin, beer in hand, happily chatting to the people in the club, and you sense another, more benign motive to new career move: This is a man who needed to bust out. If you'd been tinkering in studios since you were five, you'd want to get out of the house, too.
Finally it’s our turn to meet Bodzin, and his first move is to immediately buy us beers (Bravo. He's obviously getting this new partying thing down pat). He’s very willing to chat, but I manage just a couple of questions: “Did you choose this club because it was called Moog?” “Yeah, kind of,” he whispers before being dragged away by another well wisher. Soon he’s up on stage preparing his gear, and when his set cranks up it becomes obvious just how much he’s enjoying this second life as a performer. And it's very much a performance: Behind his space-age controllers, Bodzin seems determined to make the party jump around through sheer willpower alone - white-gloved (?) fists pumping, he dances as hard as anyone in the room - and while the result is still a work in progress in terms of flow, what Bodzin lacks in club experience he makes up for in enthusiasm. Later Huntemann takes over and the room finds a more even groove (“He’s been a DJ for twenty years now” Bodzin explains), with Bodzin in the box egging his labelmate on as the night settles in for a party. Chances of getting an interview tonight: slim to none.
So we make our appointments, and call Bodzin on press day.
How are you feeling, Stephan?
[gravelly voice] Uhhh, I'm really hungover. And I’ve got four interviews today…
You’re sounding a bit more, er, subdued than when we saw you at Moog…
Yeah, I'm not this kind of cool, minimal, relaxed DJ. No, that's not me. I'm into the music. I love the music. I don't need drugs to jump around. I have a few beers always but that's it. I have to move to it. That's what I'm producing for, to make people dance and have fun.
I was surprised in Barcelona because that night drew quite an electro crowd. But your sound doesn’t necessarily fit into that. It’s not quite techno, but not quite electro either…
So how did you manage to come up with it? It's so recognizable...
What happened was that I’d decided to take a break from producing. I didn’t touch music for a whole two years after around 2002 or so. I needed to regroup. Me and Oliver Huntemann had been doing Kaycee and other stuff in the nineties and I’d kind of come to the end of the line with it. So I just stopped doing music completely and tried to figure out what I really wanted to do. And then after two years, I just started producing again, but this time very intuitively and free of all the stuff that's on the market and what other people play. And it just happened that the music I was making had a signature to it that somehow I’d created over the years. I didn't have a plan or anything.
So it’s true that you were making trance through the nineties?
Everybody wants to talk about that!
It’s a very interesting history though. Maybe it explains something about your present sound.
Well, me and Oliver Huntemann were involved in a lot of projects. I don’t like to talk about it too much. I'm really ashamed of it actually. No, it's part of my life and you have to get where you are somehow so finally I think I reached something that I'm quite satisfied with right now.
What do you think about that kind of music now?
There's a big market for it. There are some big guys working on that but it's definitely not what I want to do anymore. I did that for a long time and was quite successful, but I broke with that and I'm pretty sure I will never go back to that again. But the love of melodies and synths has stayed with me I think.
Someone else who came from trance but broke with it is James Holden, and he doesn’t like to talk about it either. Do you like his music?
I love his music. I can't actually play any of his tracks when I DJ, but I love James Holden as an artist. He's a real freak. He's really into his stuff. He's eating music - I love that - and he's spitting it out just like it comes. It's cool really, somehow.
- Stephan Bodzin.
[Thinks for a long time] Fifty? I’m not quite sure. A lot. After that two years off, I went through a really manic period in the studio. I would get up at seven in the morning and then make music until twelve o’clock at night. It just felt really liberating to make exactly the kind of music that I wanted. I’d have an idea and get it down, then another idea…
What kind of music were you listening to when you were growing up?
I was definitely listening to early electronic stuff between five and ten years old. My father was a big fan of Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze and all that stuff in the seventies. He had a big studio with all these original synths and analogue stuff, all the Moogs and the Arp modular systems. So that’s what I grew up with. I was turning knobs when my friends were playing football. My father showed me everything about those synths. In a way I feel that I’ve come full circle back to that situation, you know?
Are the Moog sounds in your music analogue?
No, they’re done with soft synths, which is better because they actually stay in tune. And you can program them. But I do really respect guys like Âme who get such a great sound with just analogue, but that’s not the way for me. I’m not a purist about gear.
Have you ever done anything else besides make music?
Actually, no. When I was a lot younger, I produced different styles of music such as theatre scores and some classical stuff. I had a piano education. But I've never known anything else other than music. I've been living with and from music for as long as I can remember. I just can't imagine another kind of life. Maybe when I'm older I'll get into some other stuff, but I just can't imagine that now.
You said that after Rekorder 10, you wanted to take a break from producing and concentrate on DJing and playing live for a while. Is that still the plan?
Yeah. You know, everything has gone so very fast the last six months. I started DJing last February so everything is really fresh. Sometimes it's strange for me to see that there are fans, you know? I'm happy with that, and it's a real adrenaline rush, but they are real fans. I meet a lot of people who say, "Cool to meet you. You're my man." I respect that. But I still need to get used to it.
Have you ever been a fan yourself?
I guess when I was really young, like ten or twelve, I was a fan of some heavy metal stuff like Motorhead. There’s always been amazing music out there, but no, I’m not the type to be a real fan.
Did you learn to mix just recently?
Yes! I’d always had some turntables in the studio but I never used them. They were Oliver Huntemann's. I mixed my first two records in 2006. In February, I stopped producing for two months and worked on my DJ skills for eight hours a day for two months. That was quite fast. But I had bookings a few months before I had even mixed my first record so I was really afraid of the first gigs. But for me, DJing was kind of a discovery of a new way of life. Now I can't imagine life without it. Playing live and DJing is big, big fun.
What were the first two records you mixed together?
I guess it was some Rekorder stuff because I know them very well (laughs). I think I started with them.
Do you remember your first DJ gig?
It was in Hamburg in a very small club to about four hundred people. I was shaking like crazy. I remember that. I played four hours and it was a crazy party – really fucked up! But I was afraid. It took me six minutes to beatmatch each record, and even then they were just short mixes. But then I really got into it last year. Now everything is working perfectly and I've had so many gigs as a DJ. It's cool.
Has DJing made you think more about how a DJ uses your music?
Yes, sure. Now I can hear if a DJ has been in the studio, if the track is easy to handle or if for example there's an ending or a spot that you just can't mix. When I’m making records, I won't do that anymore. DJing also definitely changed the way I produce because you get the response at the club, which track is running well and why and where. That's very good information for the week.
Which do you prefer? DJing, producing or playing out live?
I guess I prefer DJing, playing live and then producing. It's a tough question to answer as my answer always changes. I'm very into my live set now – I’m working on a big show for 2008, which is really exciting. I'm looking for new and strange equipment for a more futuristic show, like a body touch controller so I can touch my arms and have drums or something like that. And some infrared controllers around the stage so I can run around and have some sounds and lights or whatever. I think next year will be great fun. I also need a better stage dance!
But on the other hand, I haven't produced a track now for maybe four weeks now. I can't remember the last time I did that. So I'm really looking forward to my next studio session. And today I bought about twenty records so I'm also looking forward to my next DJ gig because I can play them. I have been listening to them all day. So I really love all of those three sides of my life.
Is one of them easier than the other?
DJing is easiest. That is really partying, too – not just hard work. When I play live I need to carry the equipment and do soundchecks, and deal with trouble with the stages. And also with airlines sometimes it's really hard work. The studio is definitely work too. You have to work on the DJ thing too, but it's quite a bit more fun.
Are you stopping some of your collaborations now?
Yes, we finished the production of Rekorder. We will close the project and the label forever so I feel very lucky and proud. Definitely proud.
Which is your favourite Rekorder? I like number six a lot.
Yes, I like it too. I’ve been playing it for a long time but actually my favourite is the zero. It's a secret somehow. It's really floor-smashing. We just produced it a few weeks ago and that's my favourite. But I haven't stopped producing with Marc Romboy – I only stopped producing with Thomas Schumacher and Elektrochemie, which I did for a few years. They want to be a full time project so I just decided to stop because I need more time for me to do my own stuff. I couldn't work day and night. But I'm still working from time to time with Marc Romboy and Oliver Huntemann.
Your collaborations with Oliver Huntemann and Thomas Schumacher are more electro, but the tracks with Marc Romboy seem a little housier.
Yes, somehow it's deeper and a bit housey. It all depends on the guy who you're in the studio with. Marc Romboy always brings a very deep influence to the music. I love the way he's hearing and working with music. But for me, I need to do different kinds of music. As long as it's electronic and I can play it.
Finally, many other DJs and producers namecheck your releases but which producers do you rate?
There are so many good producers out there. Where can I start? For the last year, one of the bigger producers is definitely Booka Shade, who made all this Get Physical stuff. Walter is actually the one and only producer there – he’s been producing so many artists. I also love Radio Slave. And I love the new, reborn Josh Wink – he’s such a great producer.
Radio Slave's a bit like yourself in that he’s a bit of a production machine.
Yeah, unfortunately I haven't met him yet. But I would really like to say hello and (giggles) be a bit of a fan.
”If you are searching for a track to slip into a mix for some subtler moments without losing your momentum or crowd, look no further than these two.”