Hallelujah, our favorite techno-baldy is back! Well, it took him long enough. About ten years ago, you needed some kind of subscription to keep track of all his releases. EP's and albums, either done solo or in collaborations with Oliver Huntemann, Marc Romboy or Thomas Schumacher, had hit the shelves almost on a weekly basis. Back then, his music, with the skillful symbiosis of precision, soulful arrangements and straightforward 4/4 rhythm, made its way into countless record cases. After years of absence from the studio, it's all happening so fast again: An EP on Life and Death had been announced and now his second solo album, Powers of Ten, will soon be released as well. Bodzin is back in the studio and only interrupts his workflow for the barest necessities. Luckily, he also had some spare time for a interview with THUMP, which we would like to present on the occasion of our exclusive premiere of his recent track "Singularity":
THUMP: Hi Stephan, I hope I'm not interrupting you right now…
Stephan Bodzin: Not anymore, I just stopped working on something like four minutes ago.
On what exactly?
I just finished a remix for Pan Pot. Like literally just finished it right now.
You really seem to be on a roll right now. Why is it, that in the last few years there was almost no creative output by you? How did the plans for a new album develop?
It feels like the last album was released 20 years ago. Or, more precisely, eight years ago. For the first time in my life I had toured the world after "Liebe ist" and this was a whole different kind of life for me. Before that, I spent my days in the studio tinkering around. Then someday I felt like this urge to make music and to be creative had faded to some extent. I wanted to do something new and exciting, enjoyed life and devoted myself to the tour and my family. And it was great! But last year I realized that doing nothing is just the overkill for me. Since the beginning of last year I remodeled my whole studio, exchanging hardware and instantly noticed that this is just my kind of thing. Then in the summer all of these ideas exploded from my head. Over the years I did collect many ideas on my computer but I never finished anything. As soon as I realized that this would turn into a full-length album, I started to cut down on gigs so I could focus on studio work.
Did the constant touring and playing in clubs also get old?
Not at all, but I did want to change the state of only being booked for peak time at clubs. My sets had automatically gotten less creative and that really got on my nerves in the end. So it was kind of a radical change. A well-planned change – and I'm going through with it. Doing what I can do best and what I really want to do. Genuinely working on my stuff in depth. By November I thought that I had finished my album, when I was actually just halfway done. I scratched half of my tracks and then finished another five in December. In order to finish things, I really need deadlines. Half of my album was finished at the very last minute.
You said that peak time sets were exhausting in the long run. Did you deliberately try to make your new record not so suitable for peak time?
Definitely. People started to associate me with hard and "functional" techno music, and I am to blame for that. But I also had a lot of fun partying, building controllers to go around wireless, just enjoying myself. But now I want to focus more on my content and not just hit out wildly anymore.
What can you tell us about your current setup?
I work manually with CDJs and SD cards and use some classic, external Delay and Echo effects by Boss. Making it simple, playing some good music. My new live set will be a lot more fun though! It's supposed to be finished until my album tour in June. The guy who also put together the famous Abbey Road mixing console at the Riverside Studio will build a completely crazy controller for me. Custom-made, full of LEDs. It almost seems like its glowing when it lights up thanks to the Perspex case. I'll use it to control VSTs in real time and as a step sequencer. A neat little device!
Aside from being more creative and more musical, did you have any other ideas and thoughts before you started working on your new album?
Not really. But the title is based on a book called "Powers of Ten".
Some people will surely remember the short film from the Seventies.
Right, and this film is about everything that influenced me when I was in my 20s and are still with me today. During the process of finding myself in my music, I was looking for an authentic title for my album and it came across my mind. This book has been with me for my whole life and has given me my "foundation" in the world of science.
So, that's why the album had to have exactly ten tracks?
Ha, well it didn't really, but I somehow regarded it as an incentive to produce ten tracks.
I think the title fits the album so well, because "Powers of Ten" visualizes distances in both macrocosm and microcosm. This also applies to your music, as it seems to be very wide and expanded and at the same time detail-oriented.
It's nice that you noticed this. On the other hand, these tracks were not made because of the book or the film. But I understand what you're trying to say. When I was finished with this piece of music I imposed this title on my new album and it just fit so well. For me, shapes and colors are an important part of sound. You could go ahead and build a tiny universe with it. Maybe stars and galaxies right here in my studio wouldn't be such a bad idea, haha.
The tracks on your album are not cut down to usual album length. Was this a deliberate decision or do they just need their time to fully bloom?
These tracks really need their time. I'm having a hard time producing 4-minute-tracks. In the broadest sense they are all danceable and will therefore work well for DJs. It just seems pointless to me to cut and reduce my music just because it'll end up on an album. It needs time to build up and beat just needs a certain time to unfold.
Is your new music the result of a new kind of hardware-based producing?
Before, I exclusively did computer-based work. I did work on a lot of percussion-stuff with the system 100 by Roland. But I'm rather building my own samples to work with. I'm not running a chain of MIDIs on my Sub 37, I recorded a lot of my own stuff on there too. Internally, it's all based on Ableton, Steffen Müller did the mastering.
There is a second name popping up in the credits of your new record, Nicolas Masseyeff…
He is an incredible sound engineer. We didn't really change that much while we were working together but he has a sharp ear and a great studio in the south of France. He's also a good friend of mine. I came over to him with all of my Stems and we divided and changed a couple of things. My studio is pretty good, but not ideal considering the Sub-areas. And as I lacked studio practice I wasn't sure if it would sound like I wanted it to. In the end, three or four tracks were left unedited and we applied minor changes to the rest of them.
Are there other situations where on of your tracks has to pass some kind of "test"? Maybe being played in a club?
Rarely. A lot of people do that. Maybe you should actually do that. I did play some tracks in clubs but didn't change anything afterwards anymore. Minor details like the Hi-Hat being a tiny bit too loud or too quiet are overrated. Your track is either alive or it just doesn't work out at all. The essence is not hidden in details.
Why are you releasing your album almost at the same time as your EP on Life and Death?
Bad timing I guess, haha. But it does look like it was planned all along, right? I offered my album to the guys from Tale of Us, I didn't necessarily wanted to release this on Herzblut.
Spreading my work, why not? Especially on a good label that I happen to like. Tale of Us had merged into a nice direction in the past two or three years and helped push-start a global movement. But they are not doing albums and offered to do the single. But I didn't feel like extracting it from my record so I ended up doing this EP. At first, the release date on Life and Death was scheduled a little earlier and now its like two weeks before the album. It could be worse.
Why do you almost never work with vocals?
I simply don't like it that much. I never did. Back in the Nineties, I produced a lot of bad, but successful, music using lots of vocals. But since 2001 or 2002 I didn't touch a single vocal, except for selected remixes. Sounds and rhythms are enough for me and some voice coming from nowhere would feel strange. I do have a sharp hear myself and proper intonation is not as easy as it seems.
Browsing the Internet, you sometimes find the question: "How can you make the real Bodzin-sound?" Would you give us three little hints for all of the aspiring producers out there?
I do have a golden rule: If you can't finish a piece of music in one day, it isn't good enough. If it's not done by the end of the day I throw it out the next day. It'll all seem different when listened to the day after. Try to evaluate it and change what seemed odd about it. There goes your first idea. The one-day-rule is pretty effective. It emerged back when I was doing the Rekorder-stuff with Oliver Huntemann. We were both annoyed by producing single tracks for ages. So we said: One day – one track. From now on, forever. The second rule: Focus on one thing only. Even when working on instrumental pieces of music, no matter how minimal or "full-on": One thing is in the foreground, the rest is in the background. A classic concept, kind of like recording a pop song. Which is not really how you make club music, but the idea behind it is valuable. And I don't just mix anything. I rarely mix, I simply look for the right sounds. I'm a terrible sound engineer. If something doesn't fit properly, I simply exchange it. I'm not tinkering around with it. No, you have to find the perfect sample.
Speaking of Rekorder – which one is your favorite?
7.1. That emotional thing. But I also like 8.1. and of course 10.1.
So, can we expect a new Rekorder anytime soon?
Haha. You're not the first one to ask. But you should finish on a high note and that's what we did back then, even though we were inconsistent and did a No. zero.
But hey, in the sense of the "Powers of Ten" you could take this opportunity and start working towards negative numbers…
You're actually right. It could be like Star Wars, expanding into all different directions of time. But more seriously I don't think it will happen. Oli and I get along well and we separated amicably. We each went our own ways… Maybe someday when we're old. Well, we're already old but I mean like, when we're really old we might do it.
Do you have other plans for collaborations in the near future?
I'll continue working with Marc Romboy, I've already released a couple of records with him. We have another session planned at the end of the year. So, not that many collaborations are planned. For the time being. I'm in a situation where I retreat into the studio and work on my music by myself. It's the best way for me to open up. I end up doing 90% humbug that no one wants to hear, but I like it this way.
You started out as music producer for many years and began DJing rather late. How important is it for you today?
Very important! As I said before, I'm working on a live-set at the moment and I'll hopefully be playing live for the next one or two years. But a good set, a good tour is almost as hard as a good production. Casting your spell on all of those people and "interpreting" the crowd. I learned all of this during the six years when I was only DJing. Ten to 15 hour sets in South America and so on. I think this is extremely important and it's a lot of fun. Especially as I'm working a lot more manually now. Maybe I'll take one of the records along too, all the sample copies are rolling in right now. Makes me remember the good old time.
Do you enjoy going to record stores?
No, I don't. But I'm not a collector. Between 2004 and 2006 I did play a lot of Vinyl, but most of these were my own music because I had about four releases per month. So I don't buy that much, but I do enjoy the medium. My album will be released in nice 180 gram Vinyl.
What was it like to start Djing when you were already an established producer and artist? The crowd came to the clubs with certain expectations. Your first gig must've been hell on earth.
You won't believe how bad it was. When you start at 18 you probably won't care that much, because you're happy for the opportunity to play live. But I was 35 and my heart was racing! Thomas Schumacher can tell you stories about how I was laying on the sofa of the studio and just couldn't handle the situation anymore. It was really spooky. My brother taught me how to DJ with Vinyl in just two months. Eight hours a day, four days a week and I jumped right into it. Because I was already an established artist I was thrown into all of these clubs. Playing sports halls with 400 milliseconds of feedback, making ten mistakes in a row and then crawling out of there on all fours. But that's how you really learn your skills, don't you?
When did you get rid of your nervousness?
I don't know, does that ever go away? I managed to prepare for my gigs extensively. My wife says that I'm a wuss for preparing that much, but I would rather describe it as being professional. I'm trying to figure out the best way for mixing in large halls where you can't even hear yourself properly. Thankfully I'm not as nervous anymore. Playing on festivals and main stages is simply awesome. Sometimes I can't realize my transformation on stage. It's kinda like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When I'm actually this quiet and laid-back family man and then turn into this entertainer going bananas.
Powers of Ten by Stephan Bodzin will be released on 06/05/2015.
"Singularity" is out now, get it here.
Translated by Daniel Marz.