Sam Geiser has had quite a year. After a decade-and-a-half slowly building from the ground up, now everyone wants a piece. Luckily, he's the kind of chap who appears to take such things in his stride. Geiser has been in the game long enough to appreciate what's come his way. He's slogged through more than 15 years of production and even longer as a DJ, from starting off in his local youth club in Bern, Switzerland, as a teenage hip-hop nut (these days you'll rarely read anything about him that doesn't refer to him as a 'Detroit obsessive'). His is a well-trodden path indeed, and now he plays only the gigs he wants to, remixes only the music he wants to, and makes the tracks that feel right to him. For the record, they feel right to us too.
With such a weight of momentum behind him — this year alone he's appeared on labels as disparate as Jamie Jones' Hot Creations, Will Saul's Aus Music and Bristol's blossoming Hypercolour — he's now completed his second album, 'Music Over Matter'. When electronic artists finish a long-form project, they will often talk of it as 'a journey'. This is not a journey. They will also often— or more accurately, always — express an intense, perhaps humourless desire for the album not to be 'just a load of club tracks'. This is not an indulgent concept thing with needless, masturbatory 'interludes' thrown together to make something seamless and flowing. In fact, it is, by Geiser's own admission, that aforementioned 'collection of club tracks'. And it's precisely this fact that makes it so entirely thrilling to listen to. It's like dance albums used to be before the joie de vivre of raves and acid house was replaced with, at best, introspection and at worst, over-reaching pretension.
“I didn't think of this album as a whole, as a build-up throughout the tracklist,” he says. “I just wanted the tracks to be able to stand on their own. They could be in any order, I didn't really mind about that that much. We just put them in an order one afternoon and it seemed to fit as much as it possibly could.
“To some it might appear a little, random. Incongruent. It's just a compilation of tracks, rather than any concept album. You don't even have to listen to it as a whole. You can skip to any track. That's how it was meant to be.
“I thought about doing an intro, some transitions, getting a bit arty, but it's dance music. It's going to be played in a club. Why would you want to do that? If I'm going to make an album like that, I'm going to move away from dance music completely and do something entirely different. That might be the next step for me, I guess.”
Yep, that's right. It's just an album of straight bangers. And for the most part, they are indeed bangers. Take 'Rhythm', the first towering single featuring Ben 'Breach' Westbeech on vocals. It's unashamedly huge. An anthem. A million miles from the loopy, driving techno he used to devise for labels like Carl Cox's Intec. Geiser defers some of the praise, nearly all, in fact, to Westbeech, who returned his vocal favours after getting a Deetron mix of his own single 'Falling' on Strictly Rhythm. “It's a big sound, but it's also due to Ben's singing,” he says. “He came up with the vocals so fast, it just all seemed to have clicked. He did it in a day or two. I just thought 'this track is just made for your vocals'.”
With Westbeech a fine producer in his own right, he was keen to give advice on how to treat his vocals on the final product, but not to influence the track beyond that. “He didn't request any other changes. I didn't actually write the track for him. I first asked (Hot Chip's) Joe Goddard. But [with Westbeech] everything fitted together so perfectly. It was like it was made for him, though not consciously.”
The album features a host of impressive collaborators. His countryman Ripperton and Hyperdub star Cooly G open up proceedings on 'Thinking'. Hercules & Love Affair main man Andy Butler graces 'Crave' (another called-in favour after he remixed 'And I'm (So In Love With You)' for free way back in 2010). There's Suol's Fritz Kalkbrenner too, Simbad, Justin Chapman, Delvis and George Maple. Maple appears on the track 'Rescue', another potential single, a yearning electronic love song that feels like a classic already.
Geiser and Seth Troxler reacquainted themselves once again for the album, after their 2009 track together 'Each Step' on eclectic Parisian imprint Circus Company. He arrived at Geiser's studio in Bern more the shrinking violet than the renowned wildman persona. “I couldn't be in the studio,” he says. “I couldn't be in there. He recorded the vocals by himself, and I was waiting outside. I think he thought he could maybe be more free that way. But then it is kind of weird when someone just sits next to you when you record your vocals.”
Geiser has always looked to Detroit for inspiration since day one, whether it's grabbing second generation star Troxler for 'Love Song', or being transfixed by Mills at early raves in Switzerland or hearing 'Pump the Move' by E-Dancer for the first time. 'Come Away Further' from the new album brings to mind the legendary Underground Resistance, embracing those melodic, hands-in-the-air moments in techno. He still looks there now for inspiration. But is the 'Detroit-obsessed' tag fair?
“I am a little bit Detroit obsessed, I guess,” he laughs. “There's just still so much great music coming from there. Not quite as much in terms of quantity, but everything that seems to come from there will be good. Every Omar S I'm gonna buy. Every Sound Signature. Patrice Scott, so great. I don't even listen to them, I just order them straight off.”
PRINCE > JAZZ
Music Man, the pivotal Belgian label he's released tracks on since 2001, was key in bringing the Detroit — and indeed Chicago — sound to Europe. Deetron is now very much part of the extended label family.
“He was one of the very few people I approached to be on the label from sending a demo,” says Music Man boss Stefaan Vandenberghe. “Music Man was never about a sound, but building a family of artists that can share and be creative without being competitors or creating the same sounds. Sam and Petar Dundov are great examples of that.
“Listening to that demo, it was more than just the music, it's also who he was, the vision he had. When the demo came in, I was curious, and I made a call to him. We built a confidence between each other. I knew about his DJ skills, knew that he was a great DJ and motivated, and really on top of stuff. At the time he was making that loopy techno, but I knew that there was more than that, so knew that we could move on. Some people you work with, you'll just release two EPs. He was always looking further. He didn't want to make records to become a famous DJ. I knew he was capable of making an album like 'Music Over Matter'.”
Geiser's versatility, as cultivated by Vandenberghe, has manifested itself in many ways. As Procreation, he pushed his sound towards intricate jazz and broken beats for Munich's eminent Compost imprint. He seized the opportunity to work with his father, a jazz musician by passion but classical by profession, working for the Bern Symphony Orchestra playing double bass. He grew up around the standards, the likes of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. “I got to hear this music at a very early age. I wasn't really into it, it's not music that can be easily understood by children, but he tells me that when I was really young I would really listen intently to it,” he says. “But later when you become a teenager, there's nothing that's going to hold you with jazz.” He had studied classical piano, as you might expect from the son of a classical musician, up to the age of 16.But it soon took a back seat.
Rebellion came in the form of Prince. His father hated it. “'Prince is the biggest crap I've ever heard!' he'd say, 'how can you possibly listen to this shit?' Prince and Michael Jackson he didn't understand. Now he does, but back then he was this hardcore jazz fanatic. A purist. Over the years he allowed more things to happen around him musically.”
Did he see parallels between his grounding in jazz and the sounds he'd soon encounter from Detroit? “There were similarities, but I wouldn't compare the two,” he says. “Jazz is such a complex thing. It's a different world. I wouldn't want to judge each of them, but I had my ears prepared for Detroit techno, I guess.”
It was a friend of his — who later went on to become a DMC champion — that he saw playing at his local youth club who exposed him to house music for the first time. He'd scratch the Todd Terry edits of the Jungle Brothers into his hip-hop sets. “There was this straight bass drum which I hadn't really heard. At the time, I was really into hip-hop. He told me about this shop in Bern where he'd buy his records. I went there. They had E-Dancer's 'Pump the Move' playing. I was 17 or 18. It was one of these experiences. Something that you will never forget. I still have that copy that I bought back then.” Despite his father's disdain for anything that wasn't steeped in jazz, Geiser was gifted a single Technics deck and with another belt-drive turntable without a pitch control, he started to feel around the process of beat matching.
He did his first gigs at the youth club, before picking up local DJ work around Bern. He bought himself an Atari and a copy of Cubase, later adding a Juno-106 and a 909 to create his first home studio. Early '90s warehouse raves and clubs like the Stufenbau and the legendary Rohstofflager in Zurich catered for techno heads, booking major guests on a weekly basis. He would often be found doing the warm-ups for the likes of Jeff Mills and the UK's master of techno Surgeon, another hero of his. There his schooling continued, with those first 'loopy' techno tracks coming out on local label Axodya, and also Intec and Phont.
These days, he's much more considered with his DJing. He's not been to the US for over two years. The travel doesn't work as well with his family life as it used to (he now has a two-year-old son) but he reckons that the good parties, like at New York's Sullivan Room, are harder to come by and he isn't enamoured by the 'table service approach' in the States. “At the moment, I'm not missing out on much,” he says. Right now, he is almost entirely concentrating on Europe. A recent eight-hour set at Trouw in Amsterdam, and another solid six hours at Panorama Bar in Berlin (see his guide to playing those marathon sets) have seen him broaden his range, daring to drop beatless tracks, hard techno, dark dubstep and Todd Terje's disco edits — he's a major fan of the Norwegian.
As someone with a rather pithy turn of phrase once said, when it comes to music, 'there's the good shit and the other shit'. Deetron is very much of that school. Yes, 'Music Over Matter' is the house music album that he's been given complete free reign to make — he didn't even have a deadline to deliver it — but it's a product of everything he's done up to this point, and every style he's absorbed along the way. The difference between this and his first album, 2006's tracky, technoid 'Twisted', also released on Music Man, is stark. Certainly in places they could have been devised by different artists.
“Sometimes it's a surprise for me to hear too,” he says. “For me it's a natural progression, a constant change. I've worked towards this.” And all that work is about to start paying off...
'Music Over Matter' is out now. Catch Deetron at Last Night On Earth at London's Brixton Academy on New Year's Eve.
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