Markus Saarländer Interview with Decoded Magazine
I recently had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Decoded Magazine head honcho Damion Pell to discuss all things Berlin and my DJ career to date. It was a lot of fun so here is the full transcript of the interview or read it on the Decoded Magazine Website.
Hi Markus, thank you for taking time to speak to us, how have you been?
Very well thanks, we’re halfway through the year and I have done more events and radio shows than previous years with loads more in the pipeline, so yes feeling rather excited. Plus the weather is amazing! 33 degrees yesterday!
Let’s get right into it, you are the founder of the highly successful Berlin Brighton club series, recently at the Brighton Music Conference teaming up with us with Dave Seaman and Steve Parry with Selador Records. Brighton has always been known as a forward thinking music city but has always leaned towards the house scene, how does one go about each month bringing the sound of underground techno from Germany to the seaside?
The concept for Berlin was always a personal one, having moved over from Germany in the 90s and always wanting to create a slice of Germanness in the UK. I felt Brighton was the right place to start my own night after years of DJing in all sorts of clubs across the UK and after becoming very disillusioned with promoters that didn’t care about the music but more about how many bottles of Champagne they sold. I also didn’t see another night like it, that went back to the roots of clubbing, which was great music, a cool venue and attracting like minded people. When I first moved to Brighton, I stumbled into the Green Door Store and fell in love with it for it’s quirky character, random decor (There’s a proper McDonald’s ‘M’ sign/light in the bar) and just it’s all round happy non pretentious vibe. Aesthetically it also looked very underground and industrial plus it’s tucked away deep under Brighton’s Main Train station. The GDS also often gets voted as one of Brighton’s most popular music venues, not only that it’s one of the few independently owned venues left in Brighton, so a marriage between Berlin and the GDS is perfect.
So coming back to what we do to keep things fresh, I think people from the start loved the concept as it was different, plus being German is now quite a cool thing. The nights from the onset have always been a very busy night, but we also try and inject the fun factor back into clubbing as the Techno scene is often seen as quite serious, so we have stickers, carefully selected artists mixed in with local talent, a few confetti canons here and there, cool visuals with lots of shots of Berlin, freebies such as glowstick glasses (which we often give out at the beach parties), fans (as it used to get hot in the GDS before they got the aircon in), glowing balloons with faces on, inflatable bananas and other bits, which just makes people laugh and enjoy partying with us.
Equally, I have always outlined the importance of cost. Many venues charge a lot for club nights and I always wanted our nights to be fun but affordable so that everyone can enjoy top talent without needing to get a loan out. This does affect our ability at times to recruit some of the top tier names but people love us for it.
Finally, it’s the type of music we play. One stereotype I wanted to break was that Berlin is all about Berghain and industrial Techno – Berlin has so many amazing artists and labels across the genres that I almost wanted to re-educate people to say ”Hey this is Berlin: Fun, affordable and not all about being bashed around the head with a cowbell for 8 hrs”. So musically we play everything from Nu Disco, House, Progressive House, Tech House, Techno and a sprinkling of Trance if we can get away with it but this formula works a treat.
Labels wise that opens us up to playing music from house/tech house labels such as Mother Recordings, Dessous, Arms & Legs, Exploited, Get Physical, Bunny Tiger, Ritter Butzke Studio, Katermukke, Leena to more progressive labels such as Steyoyoke, Keller, Moodmusic, KDB, Einmusika, Crossfrontier Audio to Techno with Terminal M, Poker Flat, Mobilee, Stil vor Talent, BPitch Control and labels not just from Berlin but from across Germany such as 8Bit, Kittball, Kompakt, Kling Klong, Systematic, Moon Harbour, Great Stuff, Break New Soil, Cocoon, Connaisseur, SOSO, Diynamic and Tächno. And if we can get away with something lovely and fuzzy at the end of the night, there might be a sprinkling of Trance from labels such as Vandit. To be fair there are so many labels out there we play music from, there’s just too many to mention but you get the picture.
We all know in the underground realm there are a lot of strange requests on DJ riders. Can you tell us, what is the strangest thing you have seen on a DJ rider for one of your Berlin parties?
Overall, most artists have been pretty down to earth and chilled. For drinks, generally happy with beers, shots and mixers with few silly requests. This year however, I think the strangest single drinks list so far has been a bottle of Patron Tequila, Organic Coconut Water, Fresh Orange Juice, Sparkling Water (plus 8 Bottles of beer). Not sure if this is all going into a a new type of cocktail but I guess we’ll find out…
In terms of the technical requests, again nothing bizarre to report although we did have a live electronic music band on stage once with live singer, bassist, DJ (using Ableton) and digital drum kit. Lots of kit on a small stage and hilarious sorting equipment and DJs before and after their performance. I think I must have tripped over cables a couple of times nearly crashing through the drum kit. Go check them out they are called Über-Tone.
Obviously, the underground of Berlin is world renowned as being one of the best. How does the nightlife in Brighton compare?
Brighton is definitely a city of music lovers but it’s also quite diverse and probably weighted more towards the live music and band scene. I also think despite Brighton being a city, it is a smaller city so events can be tricky, especially for the Underground music scene here. For quite some time there has been this perception that Brighton no longer had a strong Underground scene with a lot of the seafront clubs and London consortiums taking over and replacing good nights with more commercial driven events, almost pandering to the VIP, Geordie Shore crowd.
In terms of our scene, there was really a lack of something different and Brighton I would say is also divided into two groups, resident Brightonians and the Tourist/VIP Crowd. The difference being Brightonians don’t often like to venture to the commercial seafront events as the vibe can be a bit pretentious, rowdy and fake but prefer something that is a bit more raw without attitude, phone wielding revellers and the Gucci parade. Hope I’m not being to harsh here but there really is a big difference and I think most cities in the UK have this musical divide, in simple terms it’s the people that know music and the people that don’t.
Since the launch of Berlin nearly 3 years ago, I have seen many new nights and brands emerge over the last 18 months in particular which is amazing, especially Techno nights. What I love about it is that between us there really isn’t any animosity and we all help each other out at our events, be it from design work, videos, equipment, gig swaps and promo.
Personally, I think this is a very unique thing and so refreshing that so many of the new underground brands band together to create a punchy and edgy new scene. I also think two electronic music stations in the city have played a massive part in bringing artists together in particular Codesouth.FM and Trickstar Radio. Between them they have a huge roster of some of Brighton’s best talent form artists to label owners. I myself had a show with Codesouth for 1 year hosting the Berlin Radio Show before moving to Trickstar in January of this year. I wouldn’t have met half the people I know in the scene had it not been for the radio stations plus that sense of family that is created when you are all part of a movement.
There has also been a great rise in growing local record labels all of which are sounding incredibly good such as KONNEQT, Nightshift Records, Swerve Digital, Wired, Constant Circles, Horizon Recordings and Tru Thoughts.
Therefore nightlife in Brighton isn’t on a scale of that of Berlin’s but pick the right nights and you are in for a good time with great music especially when the weather’s nice and you’re by the beach. But obviously come to Berlin first ha! And if you can’t pop along, make sure to listen in to the Berlin Radio Show every Saturday 8-10pm.
You have been quite active over the last 10+ years yet the music industry at times can be quite brutal and some artists can doubt themselves at times. Is there any tips or advice you would like to share that has kept yourself motivated?
I think you’re right, it can be very brutal and the closest ones to you can be the most critical. Made me laugh the other day some of my wife’s friends asked, “So is Markus still going to be DJing in his late 30s and 40s?” I was like ‘ Hell yes, have you seen Fatboy, Sasha, Paul Van Dyk, Armin, Sven Väth?’ Whilst I might not be anywhere near their level (yet) I think music is simply my love and to give it up is never an option although I have come very close.
I remember having a residency in the North West of England in a place called Macclesfield. It was the town’s biggest club so everyone used to go there but all they ever wanted to hear was commercial music, pop, David Guetta, The Black Eyed Peas, golden oldies, The Killers etc so whenever I tried to push the boundaries a little I would have a queue of disgruntled drunk people hanging off the booth shouting abuse at me. It was tough at times but I used to find it frustrating that people we’re just not open minded enough sometimes to try something different. We have all seen those memes online of someone chewing the DJs ear off at the booth, and yes that was me.
One particular time I got my hands on an early release of ‘Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP – We No Speak Americano’ and played it in the club and I had a torrent of abuse from people saying how rubbish it was. The following week I played it a festival and the place erupted. A few days later it was released into the charts and the following weekend I was back in the club and must have got asked for it 15 times in one night. “Have you got that Americano song?”. Crazy isn’t it?
Despite that time, I do look at it with fondness, whilst it took the fun out of DJing for me it enabled me to read dance floors very well and understand the reaction and movement of a crowd and determine what the mood is and where I need to go musically. Also it gave me a very tough skin and helped me deal with rejection very quickly, which is something you need in this industry. It also made me chase people constantly especially if they are busy to remind them that I’m still here and want to move forward.
There are a lot of young DJs out there and whilst this isn’t the nicest and easiest route to go down by playing in pubs or commercial bars or clubs, it will definitely make you stronger, more flexible and better prepared. When you then reach the point of being able to play the music you love in the right club, then it will mean everything to you.
Also my advice is put yourself out there. Get onto Facebook, Twitter, Soundcoud, Mixcloud etc. Never before have artists had so much opportunity to create a following and an image or a brand – Yes, it’s time consuming and can sometimes cost a bit but do it – In most cases it’s free promo. Work hard and put enough out there and the universe will deliver.
Finally, I think having a young family makes this line of work extremely tough with the long nights and early mornings, day job, running the nights, DJ bookings/sets and a weekly radio show definitely wipe me out from time to time but the love for music and where I want to be keeps me going. I have finished a gig before and walked in at 6am, passing out in bed and an hour later waking up to my 3 year pouncing on me and whacking me in the head with her teddy thinking she’s hilarious and my 5 year old trying to give me a wedgy. That’s where you seriously need a lot of strength and an understanding partner who will let you grab at least 3-4 hours the next day. Luckily I have that.
I have met many DJs and ex-DJs that have simply given up or stopped playing out or producing music because family life took over. I get that now it can be one of the hardest thing not only mentally but also physically. The key to family life is compromise and grab some sleep anywhere and everywhere when you can!
When did you first start paying serious attention to electronic music, and can you remember what track first sticks in your mind as being pivotal to you wanting to know more?
The first track that jumps to mind is when I was still living in Germany in 1992 where Techno really started to take off in a big way with compilations coming out consistently and Techno entering the charts. I also remember Techno being played in the final hour of our school discos, how cool is that? One of the biggest tracks at the time was by U96 – Das Boot, which was a techno version of the theme song of the German Submarine War Movie of the same name. I just remember the sounds and the beat being like nothing I had heard before! At the same school disco there was this other Techno track with the chorus of a man repeatedly talking about ‘Mayday’ and I think he was talking about an emergency in the voice of a pilot always ending in ‘Mayday’ ‘Mayday’ – To this day I have never found this track so maybe some of your readers may know it, if so please get in touch and I will be forever in your debt! (ED: Perhaps it was – Members of Mayday – Mayday Anthem?)
Coming back to the point though, this Techno, Industrial sound just blew me away and it almost sounded like it came from out of space. I went and bought the U96 album right away. Over the years there have been various remixes of it but I think the 1992 original is still the best. I found the Vinyl LP in charity shop in Brighton the other day for £1 and I was over the moon. Brighton is good like that, you can still go to record shops or browse the shelves of charity shops and find some rare House, Techno and Trance gems for as little as 50p.
Musically, who would you say has been a driving source of inspiration?
Wow there are so many, sorry for the cliché, but in the early days it would have to be Paul Van Dyk. You see, growing up in Germany in the early 90s and having this new Techno sound springing up around you was exciting. Then moving to England to a northern mill town, where there just wasn’t anything like that meant, there was a break in the electronic music scene for me. This was also before phones and the internet so no streaming or googling, which meant I couldn’t get hold of anything German musically be it from German Hip Hop to Techno (yes German Hip Hop, go find some it’s great).
The only real next step back into electronic music was when the Happy Hardcore, Drum N’ Bass and Techno scene erupted and hit our English school massively with us all suddenly buying tape packs from Vibealite, Helter Skelter, Dreamscape and Club Kinetic, nodding our heads plugged into Sony Walkmans. Whilst there was some good music, for me I was always looking for something German, something from home and that’s when I finally stumbled across Herr Van Dyk with his album ‘Seven Ways’ back in around 1996. It just blew me away and I would often have ‘Home’, ‘Forbidden Fruit’, ‘The Greatness of Britain’ and ‘Words’ on repeat often to the disgust of my friends who were more into Oasis or Blur…
From then on I was constantly hitting the town’s only record shop for ‘Imports’ from Germany mainly focused on this particular sound. Shorty after we started seeing the rise of Trance in the UK and I was massively into that scene with great compilations hitting the shops from Euphoria, Global Underground, Renaissance, Gatecrasher, Cream and others and often being first in line to grab a copy.
Whilst PVD’s sound is very different today, those early years really inspired me and opened up the gates into electronic music massively with lots of amazing artists becoming accessible such as Armin Van Buuren, Tiësto, DJ Taucher, Oliver Lieb, Timo Maas, ATB. Following the trance years I massively got into the progressive sounds of Global Underground and Renaissance having albums by Dave Seaman, Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, John Digweed, Sander Kleinenberg, Hernan Cattaneo on repeat in my modded VW Polo with the windows down. Great years, great music and such an inspiration, that’s why I’m happy this sort of progressive melodic sound is making a big comeback.
For me these guys focused on journey setting during their performances and compilations and this mantra has been at the fore for me personally when putting a set together, to really deliver a journey with ups and down, melodic beauty and something that makes you punch the air and bounce off the balls, all expertly planned and woven together. I think a set needs that. I often hear a lot of Tech House sets and Minimal Techno sets that don’t seem to go anywhere and often just sound like one continuous loop. I’m a lover of big build ups and drops, maybe that’s the old Trance kid in me but there simply isn’t anything better because the crowd loves that too, it’s a great way to interact and party together.
Industrial cities like Belfast, Glasgow, Rotterdam or Berlin seem to naturally find Techno and Progressive House soundtracks their experience. What is it about the genres that piqued your interest and how do you think you’ll mature your sound?
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Hard Techno or Industrial Techno, as mentioned earlier I’m more of a melody driven artist that progresses and goes somewhere, so I guess the progressive sound is where I sit more. I also love a good vocal. When I’m buying music, I like looking at the sound wave of a track where I can see lots of drops and breaks, this excites me. I never feel so inspired when I see a sound wave that is just one continuous wave. The Techno purists out there may disagree but for me it’s just not quite my sound.
From the late 90s and early noughties that Progressive sound is still with me and there are a number of labels out there right now that I just keep coming back to time and time again such as Moodmusic, Steyoyoke, Crossfrontier Audio, Einmusika, Ein2, Heinz Music, KDB Records but there are also some superb labels like that outside of Germany which I can’t get enough of such as Proton, Anjunadeep, Submarine Vibes, Dear Deer, Last Night On Earth, Selador, Global Underground Music, Sudbeat. For me these labels invoke emotion and make you feel something, which I think is so important.
However, as I am a journey builder, if I stuck to the progressive melodic tracks it can get quite samey, so my live sound really is an amalgamation not just of Progressive House and Techno, but a mixture as I love to throw in curveballs from House, Tech House and Nu Disco. I guess what I am trying to say is whilst I love the Progressive House and Techno sound, you need to mix it up with some silliness, and funkiness otherwise you are in danger of it all sounding the same. That’s the partygoer in me, and I love partying and interacting with the crowd.
Just to add, in the late noughties through to about 2012 I was also very much a House DJ, so that House flava still pops into my sets but more importantly, even though my sets are laid out, I don’t follow a strict rule. In the end it’s the crowd that decides the direction and also means we have a lot of fun together. When I’m doing a Mix or radio show I will however pursue a more melodic progressive sound as this platform means I can be more experimental and tap into some deep emotion.
If you were to do a ‘back to mine’ style mix, what tracks or songs have musically had an impact on your life would definitely have to be included in your selection and why?
I’ve put together a list of tracks that really have some meaning to me so, many of them are a few years but so they are so good and it’s a nice trip down memory lane.
For Chilling Out:
Groove Armada – Inside My Mind and Duska and Me & You – Album: Vertigo – Jive Records [New York] Nightmares on Wax – Stars – Album: Carboot Soul – Warp Records [London] Air – La Femme D’Argent – Album: Moon Safari – Source [London] Air – All I Need – Album: Moon Safari – Source [London]
Why? – These 4 tracks were on a compilation my wife put together and we used to play this after getting back from the clubs early in the morning chilling out. Lots of happy memories watching the sun come up.
Mirco de Govia – Voller Sterne – Euphonic [Löbau]
Why? – Just beautiful, again linked with my wife. Emotive piece of music, we often listened to this in the car on the way back from long weekends after festivals or club nights across the country. We liked it that much we played it for our first dance at our wedding.
Cafe Mambo Ibiza 2010 Mixed by Alex Wolfenden – Cr2 Records [London] Why? If you want a compilation that is chilled and groovy this is the one. I had a bad case of Ibiza Blues when we came back from the closing parties in Ibiza in 2010. This compilation helped – A lot!
Robert Babicz – Darkflower (Fever Mix) – Systematic Recordings [Mönchengadbach] Why? – Special memory this. It was our last night in Ibiza and we were hanging out at Savannahs on the sunset strip all a bit sad. Robert Babicz was doing a pre-party for his set at Priviledge that night and played some lovely tunes including this one. Left us with a happy smile and to this day still reminds me of that last night in Ibiza.
Iz & Diz – Love it, Dub it (Fred Everything Remix) – Silver Network [Paris] Why? – Just love this track funky and deep, heard this on Sander Kleinenberg’s BBC Radio 1s Essential Mix – If you find the whole mix, I highly recommend listening in, it’s a cracker.
Klangkuenstler – We Need Love feat dAVOS – Toolroom [London] Why? – Lovely little house number that I played lots last year – Always went down a storm at our beach parties. Happy vibes.
Oliver Koletzki – Technica Salsa – Great Stuff [Munich] Why? – It’s a fun chirpy track. One summer I was working as a Postman and I used to have this on my iPod – It used to make me all skippy delivering letters with some real sass and fly moves straight into people’s letterboxes.
Loco Dice – El Gallo Negro – Ovum Recordings [Philadelphia] Why? – Just lush, progressive, melodic – Think sun, sea, a breeze, shades and the beach. This classic also got an outing at our beach parties last year – Looking to dig it out again this year.
Jean-Claude Ades – Shingaling (Rainer Weichhold Remix) – Great Stuff [Munich] Why? – Was one of my favourite tracks of 2008 – Just loved it and heard it loads across Ibiza that year. On the other hand my partner really dislikes it, so it’s definitely going in haha.
Schiller – Ruhe (Tom Middleton Remix) – Data Records [London] Why? – Coming back to what I was saying earlier about trying to find German music back in the day this ticked a massive box for me – German vocals are cool plus Schiller are amazing. This track appeared on the Renaissance Compilation called Desire, which was an incredible album and massively projected Dave Seaman onto a pedestal for me. Obviously big kudos to Tom Middleton for the remix too.
Micatone – Plastic Bags & Magazines (Tiefschwarz Remix) – Sonar Kollektiv [Berlin] Why? – It’s sleezy, it’s funky, it’s Tiefschwarz – What’s not to like?
Hernan Cattaneo – Deep Funk – Perfecto [London] Why? – I got massively into Hernan after seeing him at Creamfields in 2004 for the first time and had to find his tracks. I went and bought this on 12″ and had it on repeat – It’s so Deep it should have been the soundtrack for the Abyss…
Knight Keys – Never Felt This Way (Behrouz & Andy Caldwell Toronto Remix) – Shinichi [Washington] Why? – Just an incredible builder possibly in my top 10 of all time. Great haunting vocals, groovy and just darn right lush. I still dig this out from time to time on the terraces.
BT – Flaming June (BT & PVD Edit) – Perfecto [London] Why? – Incredible track and one of my favourite tracks of all time. Beautiful classic.
Motorcycle – As The Rush Comes (Armin Van Buuren’s Universal Religion Remix) – Positiva [London] Why? – Reminds me of the old clubbing days, Cream in Liverpool and Creamfields. Plus highly emotive and great to listen back to after hearing it in the club. Special track.
Paul Van Dyk – For An Angel (PvD E-Werk Club Mix) – Deviant [Norfolk] Why? – Indisputable classic – For me it was great seeing PVD hitting the big time with this track. At the time I was quite smug as I’d been following Paul for some time and had been saying to my English friends this guy is going to be big, to which they used to laugh. In your face!
Tillmann Uhrmacher – On The Run – Direction Records [London] Why? – Another one I used to have on repeat in the car with windows down at full blast. No better track on a sunny day, with shades on, whilst cruising. Epic.
Tilmann & Ries – Bassfly (Moogwai Remix) – Liquid Asset [Romford] Why? – Possibly in my all time top 10 – We used to throw a lot of house parties in the early 00s with DJs over three floors and often in fancy dress but that’s another story. This was always played towards the tail end of a night or at the start before we went out. I even played this at one of our Berlin parties to a great reception.
Pryda – Aftermath – Pryda Recordings [London] Why? – Absolute belter – I used to play this at our house parties and it’s such a simple but such an incredible builder. A 14 minute track that just gets better and better. I opened with this at our Berlin party back in March, I just thought – “I’ve had this track for so long it’s getting played” – The dancefloor got smashed to pieces – huge crowd response – incredible.
Oliver Lieb – Subraumstimulation – Orbit Records [Hamburg] Why? – Driving Techno at it’s best – I bought this in Berlin on 12″ and it blew my face off it was so good – Great melody in the middle too – Absolute classic – Get it and play it out loud!