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Steve Bug on 15 Years of Poker Flat and How to Stand the Test of Time

"We’d rather release music that has a timeless feel to it, rather than whatever is hip right now."

It's easy to take Poker Flat Recordings for granted. After all, the German label run by DJ/producer Steve Bug and his partner Tobias Lampe has been releasing dancefloor-efficient house and techno for longer than most of today's partiers have hitting clubs. But just because the label is dependable doesn't mean that it's dull. Poker Flat's discography, beginning in 1999 with Bug's own Double Action EP (featuring the still-awesome "Loverboy"), is brimming with beauties that split the difference between tough jackability and headspace idiosyncrasy.


This year, Poker Flat celebrates its 15th anniversary. The label is marking the occasion with Four Jacks: 15 Years of Poker Flat—a flurry of new tracks and reworked favorites from Josh Wink, John Tejada, Ejeca, Sebo K, Trentemøller and Bug himself, among many others. THUMP spoke to Bug from Chicago, where he was kicking off a short North American tour in conjunction with the release.

THUMP: When you started Poker Flat, did you know you were in it for the long haul?
Steve Bug: No, not at all. We just wanted to release some great music, from friends and whoever would send us great demos, not even thinking about the market. It's just [about] picking the music that we liked, getting it to the people and seeing what happened. Luckily, it worked out pretty well—and we're still here.

Other than simply releasing what you define as good music that's a bit techy, is there any kind of guiding principle behind the music that you put out on Poker Flat?
The music has to remember the roots of house and techno, but in an up-to-date way. It has to have a certain groove and atmosphere; it has to transport emotion. For instance, there are drum tracks that I really like, but you will never see them as an A-side on Poker Flat. There needs to be some harmonic stuff going on, something that lets you just close your eyes and enjoy the music. At the same time, you need to have the great groove that makes your body move.

Fifteen years is a lifetime in dance music. Trends come and go, new generations of clubbers enter the scene, and older people fall off. Is it ever a challenge to stay relevant? 
We never want to go with the next big thing. We don't want to try to impress people with the newest artists who are super-hyped. We'd rather release music that has a timeless feel to it, rather than whatever is hip right now.

How can you tell when a track will stand the test of time?
I don't really know. I think that it's just luck, sometimes! When I go back and listen to the back catalog, I realize how many of the tracks I still play. But you can never be 100 percent certain that this will be the case; you can make a guess and hope for the best. After ten years, maybe you know.

When you put out an anniversary compilation like Four Jacks: 15 Years of Poker Flat, how do go about choosing what to include?
We knew we wanted to do something special. But we knew we didn't want to just release stuff from the back catalog. I think that's kind of boring, so we wanted new material and new faces, as well as the old ones. We did want to have some of the old stuff in there, but present it in a new way, with remixes from artists who we appreciate. And we wanted to include music from artists who have been supporting us over the years, but maybe haven't been releasing on the label before.

Do you foresee doing this for another 15 years?
That's a good question. In my mid-20s, I thought I might stop when I was 30. When I was 30, I was like, okay, 35; then it was 40. And now I'm 45! I see people live Sven [Väth], who just turned 50. Some of the American DJs are older than that. I see that as long as you still have the passion, you can keep going. Of course, it's important that people still enjoy what you are doing. I want to make people happy with the music that I like. I'd rather drown in my own sound than survive by doing something I don't really feel. I'm still having fun, so as long as people are still enjoying it… yeah, I can see another 15 years.