The Odd Couple, or How Tuff City Kids Have Got the Magic Touch
We spoke to Gerd Janson and Phillip Lauer about their phenomenal debut album 'Adoldesscent.'
This article appeared originally on THUMP UK.
"Phillip, I can see you picking your nose!", observes faintly exasperated international DJ superstar and Running Back boss Gerd Janson, just a minute into a three-way Skype call between yours truly, Janson, and the exploratory producer Phillip Lauer. Together, the Frankfurt based pair are Tuff City Kids, a production duo and bonafide remix hit squad whose work rate is beginning to make Masters at Work seem sluggish. Since 2008, they've delivered over seventy five floor turning variations for artists as diverse as Scuba, Groove Armada, Sparky and Fort Romeau.
The occasional dose of original work has also seeped through to labels such as Delsin, Live at Robert Johnson and Permanent Vacation. The latter institution has just released Adoldesscent, their first full length record, an often thumping ode to Lauer and Janson's timeless club aesthetic. Beginning with the signal of chiming bells, it ventures through their shared, vivid taste in house, techno and pop, switching between vocal collaborations with alternative heroes such as Annie and Joe Goddard, and on-point club bangers designed and primed to pepper lively DJ sets.
Adoldesscent isn't necessarily innovative, but it's thoroughly sincere and authentic. It's that satisfying sort of longform dance record you can easily listen to at home, even if it might nudge you out the door and towards a last-minute trek to the local discoteque. There are choppy breakbeats, melodramatic spoken word interludes and hi-NRG violin samples. Reflecting Janson and Lauer's accomplished DJ work, it is both tasteful and playful.
The duo's origins stretch back to 2008, and while Janson had yet to evolve into the globetrotting B2B magnet he's known as today, his residency at Frankfurt's Robert Johnson has therefore found him fielding remix requests solely off the back of his reputation as a talented selector.
"Phillip invited me to come to his studio, is the true version", stresses Janson, faced with Lauer openly refuting accusations of such kindness. "Phillip, you have a brain like a nudelzig. And I had this remix request, and I don't think they really cared as long as there was a remix made and...Phillip, now you're picking your ear!"
At least in conversation, the affectionate dynamic between the Tuff City Kids is predicated on Lauer's laconic wit and Janson's good natured but bone dry observations. In the studio, their work balances instead on a potentially uneasy truce, the sort of arrangement that many DJs spend years trying to disguise. For while Lauer—a prolific studio technician—is some sort of musical, technical wunderkind, Janson is in his own, refreshing words, "just a DJ." The press release for the album even features the latter acknowledging that his contribution to the LP largely consisted of "checking his cellphone and making coffee."
Of course, anybody within earshot of Janson's recent, excellent solo work remixing Midland or Digitalism will know he's certainly exaggerating after nearly a decade surrounded by synths, but then, this is a man who introduced his recent Fabric mix by explaining his self-confidence as a DJ was at "gutter level". While anyone who's had the pleasure of a Sunday evening dancing in the company of Janson throughout his Panorama Bar residency (or elsewhere), will surely think he doth protest too much, in an industry awash in earnest, self-serious philosophy, the passionate but tongue-in-cheek approach established by TCK allows the music to speak for itself.
"I'm flattered that Phillip gives me arrangement credits", explains a humbled Janson. "And he's such a talented player, so it's the best of both worlds. But to be kind of serious about it, we almost always agree on what we're going to do with it."
"We share the work", Lauer acknowledges. "We create a loop together, and Gerd does the arrangement, because he is a DJ—the DJ's DJ!"
Despite the magical, musical meeting point of their ideas, it's previously been acknowledged that the only act the pair likely agree on are the Sheffield 1980s New Wave band, Heaven 17. Janson, ever the optimist, is suddenly reminded of another possible shared frame of reference, only to lead Lauer down another rabbit hole of bickering.
Gerd Janson: Philip, I just watched a documentary on the Pixies. Do you like the Pixies?
Phillip Lauer: I never liked the Pixies, I liked their hits, and I had one album of theirs, but they were never a cool band for me.
Gerd: See, that's how bad it sometimes gets.
Phillip: Dinosaur Jr. beats the Pixies for me, for example.
Gerd: Dinosaur Jr. would not have been possible without Pixies!
Phillip: Dinosaur Jr. have been around longer than Pixies!
Gerd: Philip has slowly gotten round to liking Depeche Mode too. I discovered, while we were DJing together, this folder on his USB called, I think, 'Pop and Dance Hits?' There's all this stuff in there that he makes fun of me for playing.
I ask them how often they actually listen to music together. "We listen to music together sometimes when eating. We play music clips to each other," Phillip says. Gerd expands on this. "Sometimes at your place, you play me records you have bought," he says. "And then I make fun of you, and buy the records. I'm a completist! Then, when we remix together, sometimes I'll go on Youtube and find something that reminds me of the direction I think we should go in. And then occasionally we are condemned to play together."
"I bring earplugs for that," Phillip says.
The artwork for Adoldesscent, a close up of one of the cryptically graffitied, otherwise stark residential towers that peer above Berlin's manic Kotbusser Tor junction, will ooze meaning for the thousands of ravers who's inevitably pass through the area on the way home from a club. The shot, courtesy of photographer Holger Wust, subtly evokes the timeless, utopian and it must be said, very German feeling of the record.
"He's a post-Communist artist from Frankfurt", explains Janson of Wust. "As rich people would say, he nailed it! To be honest, at first we weren't sure of the typography, but in the end, instead of debating with a post-Communist, we just went with it. And I just got the finished record yesterday, and I have to say that I'm happy with it. It's a big gatefold thing, and the inside is all pictures from a little town."
This contrast —the promise of escapism from the beautiful yet dull landscape of country life, the memories of driving miles to find a rave—are all Janson's. For Lauer, his more aggressively electronic awakening came much later. "I wasn't into techno for a long time", he admits. "I found out about it a little late. I liked punk and hip hop music."
Just as Janson has learned from his studio minded friend, has Lauer in turn learned from his friend's ever-expanding record collection? Even if he avoids the disco bits?
"I can't take credit for that, I think Daft Punk have to,"Janson suspects. "These kind of rock guys, they were attracted by Daft Punk. Old school ravers like me used to make fun of those type of people. I never thought I could befriend one of them."
"You didn't", adds Lauer, only widening Janson's grin. With an album under their belt, there are no softer times in sight for the Tuff City Kids. There's an occasional live show to expand, upcoming donations to various compilations, and even more requests from artists across big rooms and small, each seeking the TCK magic touch.
"The remix machine starts on again tomorrow", stresses Janson excitedly. "In the morning, when Philip goes down to his kitchen to fix himself a coffee, I'll already be standing there!"
Adoldesscent by Tuff City Kids is out now on Permanent Vacation.