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Claptone: "I would hope it’s possible to still be underground but have chart hits"

Claptone has undoubtedly become one of the biggest names in house music over the past few years, even claiming the Highest House title in last year’s Top 100 DJs poll. With his explorative new album ‘Fantast’ now taking his sound even further afield, and a busy summer season ahead, we take a trip into the masked magician’s mystical world for the cover of our 2018 Croatia issue...

"I'm a loner. I’m happy alone,” says Claptone. When he speaks — always in earnest, mostly with a sombre tone — you’re never sure whether this mysterious German artist is talking about the character he’s created, or the man himself. Truth is, there is probably very little difference between the two.

In an interview with DJ Mag earlier in the year, Claptone revealed that one of his motivations for wearing the mask is so he can have a private life that is very separate from his life as Claptone. It’s proving an ever-wiser move given that he is now one of the most visible house artists in the world, with an adoring army of fans to boot.

He’s done two BBC Radio 1 Essential Mixes, plays near constant round-the-world tours, and even made tabloid newspapers with the stunts he pulled around the time he announced a second album, ‘Fantast’, was on the way (unearthing a Claptone skeleton, hundreds of people in bird masks, etc). On top of this, he was also the highest- placed house DJ in our own Top 100 DJs poll last year and curates his own huge The Masquerade events everywhere from Ibiza to Amsterdam to Melbourne.

“I’ve exceeded my expectations on where music might take me,” he says from an unknown location. “But at the same time, I have lots of plans and places I want to take it.” Claptone is more than just a DJ and producer alias. It is more like a performance art project; a fully realised world with mythical biography, a forthcoming album that soundtracks this parallel universe and, as mentioned, various PR stunts that add to the conceptual mystery of the whole thing.

“I have so many creative ideas I want to see through and now have the money to see through,” he explains. “I can use my energy for good and I feel that’s my job — to come up with new ideas.” He’s also making a video for every track off his forthcoming album. They’ll be suggestive visual mood pieces — where singles will come with their own storytelling mini-films — and came about simply because the artist says he gets bored of watching YouTube videos that just have artwork on them. “We’ve also got a stop-motion video we are financing for one of the tracks off the album. That’s just a lover’s project because I’m in love with stop-motion videos, so there are a lot of things I want to explore that are not about status.”

He even suggests he would happily pause his music career for three years to make a Claptone film too, but as yet hasn’t been approached by the right person. “Claptone is made for a movie, but I’ve made music as long as I can think so everything will always come to that. The whole realm of Claptone is born from music.”

Despite all this talk of cross-discipline art projects, Claptone admits he has no formal arts background. “I have never been a painter or whatever — I’m a little bit of a cook maybe, if you can call that art — but I always read about art, social studies, communication, society. Everything that people do and anything that brings people together I studied thoroughly.”

These days it is ever harder to do that when so many hours are spent on the road. Though you would imagine there is plenty of spare time on planes, trains and automobiles, truth is artists are often too tired, or their concentration is too short, to do anything other than read the odd magazine, catch up on emails or work on layouts for new tracks. This often feeds into a narrative about difficult second albums: debuts come driven by 20-odd years of life experiences, whereas the follow-up a year or two later has a lot less to draw on. Claptone disagrees.

“I think it’s a myth,” he states, matter-of-factly. “My first album [‘Charmer’, from 2015] is not as good as my second. The second is more colourful musically, more thought-through, it’s better in creating its own picture. It’s more conclusive, for me. The first one isn’t bad in any way, but this one makes more sense. It’s more varied in musical styles, and open, daring at times.”

It also features lots of vocalists from indie backgrounds and deals in proper songwriting and structure. It was written over a couple years, with each track being pored over meticulously. In Claptone’s mind, ‘Fantast’ is about leaving the city, driving out to the forest or the sea, getting elemental and getting in touch with nature more. “I want it to get you in a mental state somewhere between dreams and reality, where things blur and you don’t know if they’re real or not,” he says. “Are you making it up? Are you fantasising? Also, you could say it goes back to naive, romantic ideas of nature. It’s escapist to some extent.”

All this adds up to an album that has crossover potential. The lush, melancholic house that runs through the album comes with plenty of hummable top-lines and memorable hooks. It was written with the distinct aim of being a complete body of work, designed to be listened to in one sitting. There are no extended beat intros or outros, just three- or four-minute songs stuffed with interest.

“I would hope it’s possible to still be underground but have chart hits,” muses Claptone. “Actually I had this debate with Beatport: they filed some of my songs under dance, rather than house where my productions have been before, because from their perspective it’s more vocal-based and pop. But I’m not one for drawing lines between genres, I just like the music or not.”

Claptone lets slip that, in a rare night off between gigs, he is going to see American pop and rock band Sparks in concert the night after we speak. “Since the late ‘60s they have always adapted their musical style. You could say they are pop or rock or a weird, Queen-like and classically- influenced band. I like music with character, basically, and, in fact, I chose my album vocalists based on the character of their voices, so some of them aren’t even from the dance music world.”

Something else he reveals about himself is that he loves to dance. “As long as I can remember I drove on my own to the club every weekend. I was the only one amongst my friends who was keen to go. I loved to dance. I needed to dance. I always stood in the middle and danced. I kind of miss dancing now,” he laments.

He goes on to explain that listening to music in a public setting is difficult now because of how judgemental he has become. “I cannot just listen to the radio without listening. A lot of people listen as if there is nothing in the background. But if I listen I’m either happy the song is on, or I’m deeply annoyed by the song.”

It’s lucky, then, that he enjoys his own company. He’s happy to do things on his own, whether that’s watch a movie or write music. “I’m surrounded by the greatest people on earth lots of the time. I have dedicated fans and their reactions are amazing and I love to play for them,” he says. “But the advantage that I have is that after the set is over, our communication is over. After I take their energy and try to make them excited, my interaction is over. I don’t have to go to after-parties, don’t have to talk to every single fan about the name of my dog — if I had one — or what my favourite food is, or all the other irrelevant things in life.”

•Claptone plays Defected In The House at EDEN on 9th of September.


Want more? Read our UK July cover feature with the one and only Sasha

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