Timo Maas – Interview

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Timo Maas

Who: DJ Timo Maas, age thirty-two, born in Germany. International king of the underground dance scene.

What: Read this and you’ll find out.

Where: It’s funny you ask because he’s been everywhere. And now he’s here!

When: Timo started collecting records at the age of ten, by the age of thirteen he mastered his first set. He’s learned a lot in the nineteen years since.

Why: You should read this because you’ve probably heard one of his remixes and don’t even know it. This guy knows what’s hip.

{interview}Wie geht’s? (That means what’s up in German)

I’m still relaxing and retiring from my North American tour. I just came back two days ago. My last gigs were out on the West Coast and I had another fantastic time in America.

Where did you play out?

I started off in Miami, did New York, Houston, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles in nine days.

Are you just hanging and chilling today?

It’s the first time I’m not spending the weekend in the USA. Just a couple of friends are here relaxing today and the weather is quite nice. I’m just chilling out and taking it easy. I’m playing Sunday afternoon for the big Open Air party that a couple of friends are doing, I think it’s going to be good. Open Air is seven to nine pm on the lakeside.

Is it a big outdoor festival?

No, probably two or three thousand people or so. We got a great club here, well, it’s my favorite club in Germany called Tri-Powers near Duessueldorf, and in the summer when the weather is nice they hold a party, normally on Sunday afternoons. It’s great because a lot of people come down to the lakeside to party.

Do you recall the first time you were exposed to techno?

I grew up in the ’80’s and all the basics for actual dance music come from the ’80’s, and then some in the ’70’s, but I was there when this thing called techno started back in ’84 or ’85. Techno came from America. The first techno track came from Detroit. I grew up with techno and I was more involved with the sound, the more music that came out, the more I got into the techno. I used to DJ in many of the commercial clubs but I stopped that back in ’91 so I could concentrate on techno, now what we call dance music.

Techno may have started in America, but it was Europe that embraced it, more importantly Germany, before the United States ever did.

I give the guys who were making the music in the mid ’80’s a lot of credit. They are the innovators, but there was not a big scene or demand for techno then. The English guys seemed to be more open-minded and picked up on a trend. They worked it out and more and more people from Germany, Belgium, Holland started to get into it by the late ’80’s. The ideas from America we have picked up and we are bringing the old revolution back to America. I would like the music to be there in America.

What’s interesting to me is that when most people think of techno born in the USA, they think of the beats meshing with industrial crunching guitars, and people here think it’s techno. It seems like America needs some clarification on the genre? Or maybe I do?

Have you heard of Rammstein?

Yeah, they have caught on fairly big here.

Rammstein is a German band and they are doing exactly what you’re saying that America wants. They are very popular, but I personally do not like that style of music because is seems too political. They say they’re not [a political band], but as a German I’m quite sensitive toward political issues. They do combine techno elements with heavy guitars, and then they sing in the German way. They are very big and popular here in Germany and in America, but they’re not for me.

When I read articles on techno and dance, I need someone like you to help define what is techno. Where does techno stand in 2001 in your eyes?

Dance has now evolved as a music specialization or genre, just like rock-n-roll or hip-hop. It’s becoming huge and the variety of dance genres that have sprung out of the evolution range from dark drum and bass to trance. All together you can say it’s dance, until two or three years ago we called it techno music because the music is based and created on various computer programs. DJs are creating the music now and holding the genre together. DJs are using computers to create soulful music. Some rock artists disagree and say there is no soul in making dance music, and that’s just rubbish. I think dance music can be more soulful than rock music.

With the stale rock and pop format in America, people are starting to buy more and more techno/dance records for something new and fresh. Each time you come to America, do you see a difference in your audience?

Every time I come to America the scene is getting surprisingly bigger and bigger. I love how everything is starting to click in America and how responsive the crowds are with each visit. I get emails from people all the time commenting on how they love my sound and they want to hear more. That’s why I love what I’m doing, and that’s why I’m playing the game, to hear that type of response from new people who never heard of Timo Maas.

I think DJs are the best self-promoters in the music business. Every event I go to nowadays, there is always a local DJ or promoter handing out flyers for one of their upcoming events. My question is why rock bands are not doing this. How did you promote yourself when you first started? Was it difficult?

I started collecting records at the age of ten. I spun my first set at the age of thirteen and now it’s nearly nineteen years later. That’s basically two-thirds of my life and I’m still continuing to love music. When I started my career it was very hard. I started by sending out tapes in ’85 and it’s sixteen years later and I’m still doing it.

You’re thirty?

I’m thirty-two next month. For sixteen years, half my life, I have been making tapes every month and sending them out to friends and promoters, but now I’m sending them to friends before I send them out to promoters. For me it’s interesting to hear the brand new records. I’m getting them every week and working to make a set from those. I’m still learning from that as well. But I love it! Back to your question, I promoted myself hard here in Germany, and you have to do that anywhere you go. The whole thing for me started blowing up in ’94 when I started producing records. From ’96 on, things for me have been crazy.

What moment defines your big break?

In ’97 or ’98 when we released Orinoko’s “Mama Konda” and it was my first chart success in Europe. Success was a big change for me. I was playing pretty much low profile regional gigs in Germany, Switzerland, and a few here and there in England. I was in the middle of everything that was going on when the whole media picked up on the scene and then I started appearing on numerous television shows. It was a new, interesting experience to me. That has all prepared me to deal with the stress, the media, and crowds now.

Since Music For The Masses came out, things have really taken off for you. And especially this year with all the awards, the continuing recognition for your efforts and the countless number of gigs, any chance to reflect on your glory?

No, I don’t do that. Sure I take what I do very seriously, but I do not take myself too seriously. The glory comes when I’m spinning my sets and I’m connecting with the crowd that’s buying my records and paying money to go to my gigs, then it hits me. Last Saturday, I had one of those moments at Circus in LA. That was my best gig so far this year. It was absolutely crazy what happened over there! I’m just trying to keep my feet on the ground and realize that my dream is coming true. I’m getting great offers, producing great records, and I truly enjoy my job as a DJ.

Not too many people can boast that they are working their dream job.

Last year I was scared that I was freaking fucking out! No, seriously. Especially last year with all the hype, traveling the world to share my musical ideas with people, and doing two hundred and forty gigs plus well over one hundred this year, it’s very hard work. I started realizing that it’s not a job for a couple months. Now I’m in the game.

Do you ever wake up wondering where the hell you are?

(laughing) Especially when I’m traveling overseas. Sometimes I should sleep, but I like to party as well. About two weeks ago when I was traveling to Miami, I came straight from Ibiza with no sleep. I arrived in Miami and was out with the owner, Kenny, of Crowbar and a friend all night! We completely freaked out! And then the morning after when I woke up after five hours of sleep I’m just thinking, ‘Where the fuck am I?’ (laughs) With Ibiza still in my mind, I totally forgot I was in Miami until I looked out the window. It was kind of a dream, but not a bad dream. (laughs)

It’s always well worth it!

Yeah, it is! I love it, but the life can be very hard. The last two months I took it a bit easier on myself so I canceled a couple of gigs because I have had physical problems. My body did not want to do what my mind wanted and I tried to relax to finish producing my album that’s almost done.

How are you feeling now?

I feel quite well. With Ibiza in front of me in four or five days, I’m looking forward to that. That’s looking like a lot of fun!

One thing many people do not understand is that Ibiza is the mecca of dance music. Because you have experienced the craziness, can you describe this place?

All I can say is that for anyone who wants to party and are open-minded enough to meet a lot of different people, wild people from all over the world, you have to spend two weeks in Ibiza. I cannot say more. It’s the maximum paradise to enjoy partying. There are so many different types of parties every day on the island and DJs from all over the planet are coming to Ibiza to play parties. The weather is perfect, the people are great, and it does not matter if you’re in a club or bar, it’s a good time. I went to the Cream opening a couple of weeks ago and I met a couple of guys from Holland who booked the whole VIP area for the night and we completely freaked out with these American models. I get a lot of inspiration to play from just going to Ibiza. This year will be my second year with residency in Ibiza, last year I played for Gatecrasher, I’m now a two-time Cream resident, this year I’m the main Cream resident, and I’m playing Perfecto with Mr. Paul Oakenfold. Also, I’m playing a big Mtv festival with Basement Jaxx and the Chemical Brothers, I’m a big fan of both of those guys. This year it has just been great paying gigs, wonderful hotels, and meeting nice people. I’m looking really forward to going to Ibiza in a few days. Ibiza is an experience of a lifetime that people should have, and it’s just like going to Love Parade in Berlin, which is nearly the same feeling.

Are you ready for Area One?

I’m definitely ready for Area One. I’m playing in the late afternoon time-slot between five and eight pm and I think my time-slot is perfect timing for people coming into the festival, being excited, and the sun will be going down, and I think I’ve got the right set in my box for that festival. I’m just going to play groovy, funky shit that will shake your ass.

Area One reminds me a lot of Lollapalooza. There are many great acts from different styles of music and it’s a chance to showcase some new talents. Is Area One the new Lollapalooza?

I see Moby as the real innovator of this whole event. He took this idea of taking hip-hip, alternative, and dance together in one festival from Europe. I do not know how ticket sales are doing at the moment but that does not matter. The important thing we have to remember is the new influences and party vibes are coming to America. Rock guys are just going to rock concerts but I’m absolutely sure that I’ll get a couple of guys head-banging to some breakbeat shit. I feel it and I’m looking out for it.

Can we talk about Connected? It’s such an amazing record. I cannot stop listening to side two. I have fallen in love with “OCB”. That is the future sound of dance music right there.

The version you have got on Connected is never coming out. I did another remix that is a little more breaky but with the same feeling that will put a smile on your face and it’s not cheesy at the same time. I did a slightly different mix so the song does not have that typical dance beat anymore. It’s a very relaxed tune, and I’m always quite relaxed as well.

I do not know if you can recall all the artists on the disc, but what artists makes side one and what artists make side two?

This is a good question (laughs). For me, if you have ever heard a set of mine, the whole vibe makes it what it is. It’s not a particular artist, it’s just the vibe those artists help me create. Sure, I got my highlight records on both CDs, but I think the whole thing works and you should not listen for a particular track on either side.

How did you prepare for the making of Connected?

At first it was quite difficult to do this compilation. Music For The Masses was a little bit easier because it was more of my own material. With Connected it was hard to start track listing in February that is going to be fresh when it’s finally released out in May or June. I think this album works well because it is not too trendy, so I tried to put songs such as “Sputnik” (done by Stylus Trouble), for example, or Placebo (“Special K” remixed by Timo Maas), a song that has that classic feeling to it.

Do you think a song like “Special K” could brake into the mainstream charts?

It depends on your personal opinion of that record. That Filmpalast track (“I Want”), I just picked up that record on an underground label in Germany and the first time I heard I completely freaked out. I cannot tell you why. I put that song on my last mix tape and everyone just kept asking me for that track. I get up to a hundred and fifty to two hundred records a week and I just have to trust my feeling about a particular record. With my live sets I’m a bit more experimental versus making a CD where I want to capture some of the club vibe with some of my style. When I did the track listing, I had to ask for those tracks as well, so I have the track listing and the feeling in my head before I mix the CDs.

Was it hard tracking down any of those records?

No, not really (laughs). I asked for Madonna’s permission for an unreleased dance mix of one of her songs but I think I’m going to waiting until Music For The Masses II.

About the remixes, are you approached by these artists or do you remix their tracks and send them a copy?

They come to me and ask. I’m going to do more interesting things this year. Is a remix taking the parts of a song and taking them another way or is it really remixing the whole song? I think the main thing about a remix is to reach another audience that you normally would not reach with the original track. When the track is too good, you should not remix it at all.

Who would you like to work with?

There are a couple of artists. I won’t tell you who but just be prepared for my new artist album. Some of those artists are going to appear on that upcoming release. Moby would be nice. I met him once at that press conference and I think we’ll meet up on the tour and hang out.

How come no one in techno/dance has worked with Bjork? She’s brilliant.

That woman is unbelievable. That would be nice as well, that is a really good idea. I will have to think about that one. Honestly, at the moment I need to stay focused on finishing my debut artist record. The material is surprising so far and for me it is the next step. Respect to my producer Martin [Bettinghaus]. He is the best.

Who is Martin? I heard he’s brilliant in the studio.

He’s the legendary secret man in the background. Martin does not like the media too much but I see him as one of the most talented producers I have met in my life. And I have met a lot of producers. The good thing about him is that he does not focus on one particular sound, he can do basically everything because he picks up ideas and influences so fast and intense that he is just amazing. He’s only twenty-five years old. We are a team.

What is the scheduled release for your debut record?

In America it will be out in January. Complete, original Timo Maas material. No remixes, just new material.

+larry sarzyniak

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