At what point does sampling become plagiarism? It's a common question in dance music, but with few occasions has the debate become as contentious as with the release of ‘Doin’ Ya Thang’ by Oliver Dollar in 2011.
A raw, groovy bootleg involving a played-out sample of Moodymann live on the mic at a gig in Manchester, it had DJs and dancefloors alike going nuts, but not without raising a few eyebrows, including that of the Detroit DJ whose voice was unknowingly borrowed — some say pilfered. As a result, he ended up scoring 50% of royalties.
Up until that point, Oliver Siebert (Dollar) had been living in Berlin and slogging away for years as a DJ, releasing on labels like Man Recordings, Jessie Rose’s Made To Play and its ‘real house’ spin-off Play It Down.
He grew up in Barth, two hours from Berlin, where Jan Driver, his cousin and producer for Boys Noize Records and Grand Petrol, introduced him to big-room progressive house at the age of 11 and eventually sold him his first synthesizer. For the best part of the ‘00s immersed in the fidget house scene, Dollar quickly became known as a master of the sample.
However, around the time of ‘Doin Ya Thang’ he was considering giving up music altogether, until its unexpected success encouraged him to continue. Just as well he did. Last year, after teaming up with Swiss DJ Jimi Jules to put out ‘Pushing On’, an infectious house beat with a sample of Alice Russell for Defected, he found himself once again at the top of the Beatport charts, placing at No.15 in the UK singles chart.
Hammered on the radio and even at weddings, now Dollar is getting picked to play house on the main stages of EDM festivals, all while playing “cooler” gigs of his choosing, including regular sets at Panorama Bar. Essentially, Dollar is still doing what he's always done, but his life has changed dramatically we find out while chatting over coffee in a trendy downtown spot during Miami Music Week…
Do you still feel Miami is a relevant place for us all to come?
“It’s not the most relevant, I would say, but it’s still important. It’s not like super-important like back in the day…”
How important is it now because of the American scene these days?
“The EDM kids finally look left and right. I was surprised by the line-up at Ultra. They actually have some cool acts down there. Not all about trance and trap and all this other stuff I have nothing to do with, so it’s good to see that.”
You don’t have a problem playing on a line-up with EDM DJs?
“I went to play at Wonderland last Friday and it’s kind of a bit weird for me because I played on the same main stage as all these commercial guys but, at the same time, it’s really changing right now. I think it’s a good thing that these guys are up for a new sound, a different sound than they were into before with the EDM stuff…”
There are definitely crossover sounds emerging (future house/tropical house). EDM-led house, basically. Is that something that appeals to you as an artist?
“It’s a new version of house. Yeah, I think it’s cool that young kids are coming up with new stuff that’s not trance or trap anymore. I think it’s refreshing. These days you can play house music on main stages, which is incredible.”
Have you found that your bookings have been changing because of that?
“Definitely. This [Wonderland] was my first festival in the States and I’ve been touring the states for six years, but always done club shows. At the last minute, they changed it so I went from the ‘cool’ stage to the main stage with people like Kygo, Tchami…”
Have you found more interest in Miami this year than ever before?
“Absolutely. This year is literally crazy. I’ve played seven or eight shows. I’ve never played that many before. Also really good parties, like Cajual Relief, Circus and Under the Radar, better vibes than before…”
Obviously the last year, things went nuts. ‘Pushing On’ was such a big moment for you…
“Yeah, we did it together with Defected, they licensed the sample too.
Alice Russell has been sampled by a few people before…same as 'Doin' Ya Thing', a million people had sampled Moodymann before, but nobody made it quite like this.
“Actually, I wanted to stop making music with that record, that was supposed to be my last record.”
Why was that?
“It didn’t really work out money-wise, I thought, 'I’ve been doing this for 10 years and nothing crazy is happening'. The quality was there but it wasn’t like nicely paid enough to make a living, so that was the last hustle basically…
“It was so crazy. Barclay (Claude VonStroke) called me up, so did Heidi asking for that record and I was, like, 'Woah, one minute, it’s actually a cool tune'. People like it, you know. There is nothing better. Then I thought 'OK, let’s give it one more try'.”
So it wasn't a concerted effort to make something that might get picked up?
“No, absolutely not. I did this track as a cheeky bootleg for me and my mates. That is the idea behind it. I never go into the studio and think I’m going to make a hit record that never happens.”
How difficult was it to get that sample cleared?
“It was a tricky one. But we got in contact with Moodymann…I paid him 50% of my income. That was the deal. I met him at BPM festival, he was really cool. It was good to hang with this man, he is a legend. He is one of the reasons I’m doing this in the first place. It was a cheeky bootleg for me and my mates and nobody had any idea it would blow up like that.”
What happened to your personal life after that record?
“I mean, at this point, I played more locally in Berlin, and it went crazy. I went all over the place, Australia, then America and Asia. That was so crazy. This time, I felt like with ‘Pushing On’ it was all a bit more planned.”
Was that because of Defected's approach to the release?
“I think they did a great job on it, promotion-wise, spreading it far and wide, but at the end of the day you need a quality record, the quality needs to be there…”
And then it reached Top 15 in the UK charts…
“I still can’t believe it. It’s so funny, the other day I jumped in a cab and they played it on the radio. And I was like, 'Really? Wow'.”
Things had quieted down for a while before that for you…
“Yes, they had a bit. But the thing was after 'Pushing On', I can now play the shows I really want to play and with all the people I want to play with, like my big heroes from back in the days. I mean, you can’t really ask for more.”
How has the adjustment been, of pretty much going from an established dance star to basically a pop star?
“The cool heads are like, 'Oh well, Oliver Dollar is commercial now'. It’s like, yeah, cool story man…it’s not at all. I’m still playing the coolest clubs. As long as I’m still playing Panorama Bar and good places in Berlin, nobody can really say anything…”
Is there more mobility these days when it comes to crossing over?
Does that reflect what's going on with house music and its popularity?
“Totally. On the other side, it’s not my fault that everybody likes it, right? It’s a great side effect to doing well on Beatport and at the end of the day I’m a club DJ…”
So your album, tell us a bit about what’s going on with that…
“Erm… it’s loads of collaborations, actually. I can’t reveal who yet, but it’s a lot of my favourite producers and friends, homies or whatever. That is the whole concept.”
Have you made many tunes?
“Yeah, I’m still on it. It's like the never-ending story. I’m putting everything together. It’s like you never have enough tunes and then you select the best 12 out of it. Basically I want to have every single track as a single in its own right. It has to be next level. Hopefully it'll be ready for the end of 2015.”
Maybe there’ll be a few more hits on there?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about (laughs)…to be honest, it’s not about hits for me, it’s, like I said, not my fault. I never went into the studio and said I have to do a hit. I just try to put up the quality as much as possible but actually I don’t care if any of these are a hit or not a hit. I’m not doing music to make hits.”
Tell us about the new label…
“It's called Industry Standard. I always wanted to do a label, but I think now is the right time to do it. We have a single ready. First release is myself and my friend Chuck Daniels. We made it in Detroit. It's got a good vibe. It’s a perfect opener. It’s kind of disco-y but dark at the same time.”
What else is planned for the label?
“The second release is a re-issue of an old track, professionally remixed. A few bits and bobs. My mates from Detroit, Chuck Daniels and Jason Hodges have remixed a Steve 'Silk' Hurley track. More good things to come.”
What’s the overall vision of the label?
“The vision is to have crazy quality control, I don’t want to put out a release every month. It’s not my intention to over-saturate the market. It’s over-saturated already, there are so many house labels, so much unbelievable bollocks out there…”
Music that is lasting and not disposable, then?
“It has to be 100%. Everything I release is going to be something I’d play in my sets.”
How would you describe the music policy of the label, if you had to?
“House music, but I’m also looking left and right, I might come out with a techno record, as long as I love it and a groove is there. I wouldn’t describe it as an only house label. I want to release basically everything that I like. That could be a techno record or a house record…”
Very much defined by your taste. Can we expect parties too?
“I definitely want to do some showcases, but that’s in the planning right now. You have to do that to build a fan-base. Not sure where yet. I definitely want to have a residency in Berlin, possibly do something at WMC, Sonar… the most important events.”
As the label grows, more demand will come, right?
“I hope. Knock on wood (laughs)…”
We talked about house going mainstream. Is there a temptation to go back to that more bass-y, fidget-y stuff?
“I am a big sample lover. That time it was so new to have so many samples in one record, nobody could tell anymore what the sample was, it was so all over the place. I was so inspired by this… it was really cool. But to a point people just copied it crazily and it went into this rave-y sound, and that was the point where I thought 'Quality has gone, I’m doing something else'. That's when we started Play it Down back then. I think it was the right decision, I guess…”
It was almost like stripping it back, going back to the beginning — going back to go forward — was a sign of maturity?
“Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ve been collecting records since I was 11. I’m 33 now so I worked on a record store before I started producing properly.
“I grew up collecting house records. I think I was just so inspired by that time and how things started and that was great, coming from being the biggest fan to an artist. That’s how it started basically, but, over the years, I’ve figured out I am a house head. Sometimes it’s cool to make a huge remix, but in general it’s house.”
Oliver Dollar is playing at London's South West Four festival on Sunday 29th August, get tickets here
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