It wasn’t always so. Schwarz first began dabbling in music just as a hobby between graphic design jobs, even naming his label Sunday Music in line with his plan to only write tunes on Sundays. Although his first tracks arrived on b-sides known to only the most dedicated house heads, it wasn't long before broader audiences took note, perhaps first when M.A.N.D.Y. capped off their 2005 mix 'Body Language' with his remix of Wei Chi's 'Faces and Places'. Schwarz followed it up with a handful of rated singles and remixes, including a bona fide smash in the form of ‘Where We At’, made together with Âme, Dixon and Derrick Carter, a track which practically defined the sound of summer clubbing in 2006.
But Schwarz's growing reputation for quality productions and live shows soon caught the eye of a bigger fish. In 2006, German giant !K7 selected him to mix a volume of the closely watched 'DJ-Kicks' series, which made waves both in the dance scene and also amongst a broader audience, largely thanks to his capability of making ass-shaking sense of non-electronic musicians such as Moondog, Cymande, D’Angelo and Arthur Russell in the context of a club mix.
But those hankering after a document of Schwarz' own live show would have to wait. Until now, that is. This month Schwarz and !K7 will release a definitive overview of Schwarz's late night activities in the form of ‘Live’, a disc made up largely of Schwarz productions and remixes tastefully ripped apart and sewn together again in a live setting.
These days, though, Schwarz’s late nights are not just spent sweating in front of club audiences. Instead, he’s rocking infant twins to sleep, maybe even singing little ditties to calm them down. Yes, it’s okay to let out a heartfelt “awww!”: Schwarz is a new techno daddy, joining the club alongside Claude VonStroke, Ricardo Villalobos and Tiger Stripes. And while fatherhood tends to chill out even the most rambunctious, Schwarz doesn't have any plans to retire to his den in his pipe and slippers quite yet, as I found out when I called him at his home in Bodensee.
So you have recently become a father. Congratulations! Are they boys, girls, one of each?
It’s mixed - a boy and a girl. They were born at the end of April.
You must have your hands quite full then.
Yes, that’s true. (laughs)
How has that impacted on your music career?
I’m not doing many gigs at the moment or doing much production or remixes. I’m taking it really, really easy at the moment in order to concentrate on them for a while. But it helps very much, because these last few years have been really, really packed with work. And now I have a chance to look back and see what’s happened and also think about what could happen in the future, or how the experience of the last few years could be integrated in the next few years, maybe. It helps very much to take a rest. The kids also change your views on a few things, but that happens to everybody, I think.
Was the track ‘Jazz Book #2 (Music For Little Hands)’ made with your babies in mind?
(Laughs) No, I’ve been playing that track for quite a while now, long before I knew I was going to be a daddy. It’s actually an original track by Moondog; in a way it’s a cover version. I liked the track so much I just knew I had to do something with it. I suppose Moondog wrote it for children.
You’ve also been working on an original artist album for some time now. Why did you choose to put out a live album first?
In a way, it’s a compromise. I always planned to do a live album too. But I did want to release an artist album this autumn, but it didn’t work because I became a daddy of twins. I could foresee that I would not be able to finish the album because I have the two little ones.
Yeah, definitely. One of the advantages of having the kids is that I’ve realized I really want to take that step now instead of just running from one thing to the next. I’d like to concentrate on this album which has been in my head for such a long time now, and I really want to bring it to tape, so to speak. That’s definitely a plan for the next few months.
The liner notes for 'Live' say that it was recorded around the world and then assembled in the studio. How exactly does that work?
When I travel and play in Rome, for example, I record what I’m playing, so that I have a huge pool of source material. And I jam around with these different sound sources and it’s all recorded, so that it’s not just an audio file, it’s a recording of what I do live – the movement of my hands on the controls. I record every show I play so that the improvisation comes through in the recording. And I think the reaction of the audience and the atmosphere of the club or city is integrated into the recording as well. For the live album I took a few of the best moments from the different cities and tried to bring them together in one thing in hopes that the listener can feel what happened in all these places.
Are you still collaborating with the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble?
Yes, we’re still working on the album.
How’s that going? Do you come to Chicago often?
Not at the moment because of the small ones. We definitely plan to do more recording and work on the stuff we’ve already recorded in Chicago. I was there quite a while ago now, but we spent a few days in the studio and recorded some really interesting stuff from my point of view. It feels like it has a lot of potential to be something good. The next time I’m in Chicago I’m sure we will perform together again.
Who are you planning on collaborating with in the future?
I’m collaborating again with Dixon and Âme from Innervisions. We’ve just finished a 12” remix we did for Underworld, as well as a remix for UNKLE. We are all also collaborating on a new project called the Innervisions Orchestra with Beige. Of course there’s still Sasse – Klas Lindblad – we do the label together and have a project still waiting to be finished, but we’ve not had too much time. Jesse Rose has been living in Berlin for a while now, so we might do something together at some point. There’s a lot on the table.
Who are some contemporary musicians whose music you both enjoy and respect? More than just your collaborators like Dixon and Âme.
Ah, the usual suspects. (Laughs) There is a group, the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (E.S.T.), they are a jazz trio from Sweden. What they do is really amazing because they’re always doing something new. Hmm… see, I’m really bad with names. I should write something down, because I never remember any names when I get asked this question.
I don’t suppose you’re near your record collection…
Well yeah, let me go in here. (Moves to a different room.) DeepChord, Mike Huckabee, LCD Soundsystem and Terre Thaemlitz.
You’ve said before that jazz has had perhaps the largest influence on your music, in particular the improvisational aspect. How have you integrated that into your own work?
Most of the tracks that I’ve done or am working on, even if it is remixes or my own productions, start out in a live setting. In a way I’m preparing a few things when I go out, but I’m trying not to prepare too much so I can really play instead of just playing the same thing every time. About one-third of what I’m playing and the rest is open for spontaneous improvisation.
Do you feel inspired in the same way by traditional African music?
No. Maybe the African part isn’t so much about inspiration. I think the African part is very close to the source of where music comes from – it brings us all together. I have a feeling that if you hit the drum in a certain rhythm, you touch a certain group of people in the same way; and I think these African roots bring people together, because it’s where we all come from in a way.
It’s an innate experience.
Yeah. I don’t know the proper word in English, but it’s something that comes from very deep inside.
Now are you more influenced by American or German/European jazz?
Definitely the American stuff. I have a feeling that when most of Germans play jazz, they play more with their head than their heart. I mean, it’s just a feeling I have, I don’t know if it’s true, but I think the German jazz musicians are very head-driven and also German improvisation is more head-driven than how Americans play it.
You also release multiple versions of your own songs, such as ‘Leave My Head Alone, Brain’, for example.
In a way that’s a result of that improvisational process. Because there might be a first, early version that I integrate into my live set, and then after several gigs playing here and there and I start to know the files better and better. I’m also learning how to play with and use them, so the result changes more and more. So after one or two years, the version I play with the same source material might be quite different from the version I played before.
Do you still do graphic design work?
Yes. I’m doing a little bit less graphic work than in the last few years; and in the next few months I’m going to do more music than graphic design for the first time in my life.
You’ve said in previous interviews that you truly need to do both graphic design and music. What about that combination is so essential to you?
I have a feeling that the two disciplines help each other in development. I wouldn’t say that making music or graphic design is a problem, but creating a track is like a solution, or creating visuals is a solution. If I want to create something acoustic and I cannot finish it, sometimes the graphic view of some abstract problem is the solution to something acoustic; sometimes I get stuck with my ears so I use my eyes. The working process is very similar. Let’s say you wanted to make something dramatic. If you were making it in graphics, you would use this or that element. You could translate the visual elements directly into tones or sounds to make it dramatic.
Have you considered making music that’s not specifically dance-oriented?
Well I was planning to do that, but it seems to be very hard for me to get rid of the straight bass drum. (Laughs) In a way I’m addicted to it. (Laughs) I’m trying hard to get rid of it, to make music that’s rooted in dance music but is not dance music. It might take a while because I haven’t found the solution acoustically. Maybe I’ll find it visually at some point.
"'Walk Music' may have flown under the radar after its March release, but that doesn't diminish its standing as one of 2007's best tracks and a high point for Henrik Schwarz himself."
"The multi-talented Berliner might just have single-handedly made his reputation, producing what will be regarded not only as one of the defining mix CDs of 2006, but also one of the later classics of the medium itself."