Mladen Solomun is a big chap. A big, bearded Balkan bombshell with a penchant for mashing up epic strings and sprawling synth-scapes with the odd hip-hop classic.
In the past five years, he's risen from underground mainstay to something a bit more pivotal than that in the worldwide dance music scene, through his labels Diynamic and 2Diy4, some savvy, profile-heavy remix work — Lana Del Rey, anyone? — and gathering a crew of like-minded and talented artists around him.
Born in Bosnia — his Balkan father wanted his first-born son to be delivered in his home country — he was raised in Hamburg, immersing himself first in filmmaking, and then in music. These days he's touring the globe with his extended crew — the likes of H.O.S.H.,
Stimming, Kollektiv Turmstrasse and Daniel August. Why it's happened, he can't say. But he's doing something right. DJ Mag speaks to him about pimps, parties, meeting Robert Plant and his desire to one day play in his home country...
The past few years have seen a huge upsurge in your profile. Why do you think that has been?
“Maybe this is a question that others can answer better than myself. It wasn’t planned, that’s what I can say. Because I don’t think that you can really plan such things. So it must have been kind of the momentum, I guess. I've been DJing for almost 15 years, then 10 years ago we founded Diynamic, and you are right, around three, four years ago it started to become bigger and bigger with every year. I think it’s a combination of a few things. I can’t reduce it to one thing, but I think that Ibiza played an important role in this.”
But were there maybe gigs or releases that helped gather pace?
“My remixes got some awareness at an early stage, or also the track 'Kackvogel' that I produced more or less just for fun for the Watergate compilation. With the help of the video, it really got a big push and became No.1 of the overall Beatport charts. Then the awards from Mixmag and DJ, or of course my 'Around' remix (for Noir & Haze) which
gained a lot of attention. Our Diynamic parties became bigger and bigger, we started to do our first festivals, then Ibiza happened. Honestly, sometimes I ask myself how this all could happen. Because I just do my thing and am looking forward to the next projects, gigs or studio sessions.”
I remember interviewing you a few years ago, when things around Diynamic, you, H.O.S.H. and Stimming were first getting heat. How are things with your core crew? I guess you're all doing pretty well now?
“I feel really blessed because I always wanted to work and have fun with friends and family. All members of the Diynamic family are successful, everybody is doing their thing — under the wings of the mothership Diynamic. When we started our first DIY parties in Hamburg it was already a family business and today it still is.
And yes, all members of Diynamic family are doing really well. H.O.S.H. and Stimming, but also artists like Adriatique, Karmon, David August or Kollektiv Turmstrasse are really having a good time. Or Thyladomid who just released his first album on Diynamic. We were just with half of
the crew on tour in Brazil and Argentina, where we enjoyed Buenos Aires together for a few days and took our time to discuss future plans and how every artist feels at the moment. I try to get such updates from every artist every two or three months and, of course, I am the happiest person if everybody feels good, enjoys the ride we all are having together, and wants to do more things together in the future.”
What about the label? Were there key moments in the growth of Diynamic? How did they change your trajectory?
“I think one of the key moments was maybe our Diynamic showcase four or five years ago during the Amsterdam Dance Event. It was a size of about 1800 or a bit more on two floors, and we did two shows in a row, and both sold out. This got us a lot of attention from the people and the industry, and it was the first time that a brand or label did two shows
during ADE. It was unusual because there are so many parties, and lots of competition. And I think besides that, there is no label or brand which is doing showcases just with his own in-house artists.”
What was the best moment of 2014, professionally, for you?
“If a guy like Sven Väth visits you at your Sunday parties at Pacha a few times during the summer, then that makes me proud and happy. This meant a lot to me, because it had something to do with respect and appreciation. And also other colleagues like Marco Carola, Richie Hawtin or Luciano visited me there — and I guess it’s not a big secret
that Pacha doesn’t necessarily stand for 'underground' music. At first I felt big pressure, last year I was a little more relaxed already. But we created a special atmosphere for our Sunday nights, where it’s all about the music, the dancing, the rave.”
Can we go back to the beginning... growing up, you had some of your first experiences DJing at the local youth club, can you tell me about that? What music was playing, what was it about DJing that first got you excited?
“It was a mix of hip-hop, funk and disco. I filled in one day for somebody and that’s why I was allowed to practise with the Technics Mark IIs they had there during the week. Some time later, there was a weekly budget for records, and so I could also buy music that I liked.”
What have been your most memorable gigs, do you think?
“I can tell you about the scariest gig I ever had: a gig like 12 years ago in the middle of the Hamburg red light district, when I put my records in the trunk of my car. Or at least, I thought it was my car. I was already wondering why the trunk was open and then it turned out that it was the car of a pimp who came out with 10 'friends' to ask me what I was doing to his car.
“My car was parked behind his. It was the same model too. But I will never forget my first gig 16 years ago, on the birthday of a friend at a place also located in the middle of the red light district in Hamburg, St. Pauli. The windows were open and so the sound went out to the streets.
When I looked out of the window, I saw not only a little flashmob on the streets but also a dozen prostitutes dancing while waiting for customers. This was a great picture. And one day like 10 years ago I was playing together with two friends in a small town in the middle of Germany, where they used to have one of the most famous German techno clubs during that time.
We played in a smaller venue, but the people there, they really wanted to have it hard. And after I played my three hardest records I had with me, one guy came to me and said 'Can you play some harder tunes?' Then I knew I was fucked.”
So, what were the first proper 'dance music' records that blew your mind?
“I was always interested in music as a kid, but the first time that I realized there is other music outside of commercial radio, I think I was 11 or 12 at the time. My older cousin was 22, and he was going out to clubs and bringing me tapes when he came to visit.
As a kid who had only heard commercial radio, it was life-changing. After that, all the money I got for my birthday or Christmas or side jobs I was working went towards buying vinyl. So I had a small collection of 50-60 records, and then like you already know, I started to play at House of Youth, for other teens.”
When did you think that it could be possible to make a living out of what you were doing?
“There was not a single moment, it all came step by step, little by little. I know how proud we were when our first DIY parties I did with my partner Adriano Trolio on a monthly basis in Hamburg became successful. Or when our first releases on Diynamic came out and got
some recognition. Or when I was first headliner of a party. Or my first gigs in Brazil. There are so many amazing moments in my life, that I can’t reduce it to this one special moment. I used to work in lots of different jobs before, but it took a few years before I realised that I can make my living with DJing.
And, of course, it was a very good feeling to know that you have bookings for the next months, so you can feel a little safer then. But before that I worked in film for like five years and then restarted with music at 27, so: it’s never too late to start something new.”
You were born in Bosnia, but raised in Hamburg. What was it like growing up in Germany but with Balkan roots?
“I had to learn to do things on my own quite early on. I worked as construction worker for my father, which got me away from the streets back in the days. He was freelance with around 10 people working for him. Then the war in Bosnia came and lots of our family came to us in Hamburg, and also worked with us. Because none of them knew how to
speak German, I became like the foreman quite early and had to deal with the architects and construction managers, always in the name of my father, of course. Later, I was looking for a way to get into film. I founded a small production company with two friends and we produced and shot some short films. I had always one thing in my mind: If
others can do things, it can’t be too hard. Haha! This energy and drive has always been my motor until today.”
What was your first experience with deciding to make your own music?
“A friend of mine who had a hip-hop label back in the day showed me some of his production skills, so I was sitting next to him for one year, looking over his shoulder. I learned from him. Then I bought an old computer with a cracked copy of Logic for 200 Euros and started to do my own stuff. The first attempts were really, really bad, of
course, but I had the strong feeling that I had got some music in me that wanted to come out. And besides the beats, I was always interested in melodies, My start as a producer was very humble.”
When you launched Diynamic, was it a scary time? Or were you confident you could make it work?
“What I can say about us is that we’ve never been afraid to try something new. I think when we started our label it was super minimal, mostly because minimal was everywhere, especially in Germany at the time. Our first tracks and releases had more melodies though, some harmonies, trying to bring emotions to the dancefloor, in our own way.
We were also one of the first to really try to mix this old school Detroit sound in a modern European way. And I was never afraid of doing something on my own. I was always willing to take risks, but not every risk of course.”
You've found some amazing new artists for Diynamic — David August for example — who have gone on to do amazing things... what makes good A&R? How do you spot talent early on?
“I am in the lucky position that lots of talented artists send us their demos. That’s the first thing. And if we find some talent there then we always take our time with our artists — we spend one to two years with them, inviting them to label showcases or to our club,
introducing them to Stimming, Adriatique, Kollektiv Turmstrasse, H.O.S.H. and DJ Phono and getting their opinions, because besides the talent what is so important to the Diynamic family is the energy of our members, how well they fit and contribute to our community.
We never make contracts between our artists — I say to them, 'You know, if you think it's time you want to stand on your own feet, we will still support you and be friends, there’s no bad blood there'. But so far no one has left, so I’m pretty happy about how that turned out!”
What was your plan when you launched your other imprint, 2DIY4?
“I always say Diynamic is the mothership and 2DIY4 is the playground for anything that doesn’t necessarily fit to Diynamic but has to be released, in our opinion. We have a little more freedom with 2DIY4, and we will work more with indie bands in the future.”
What's your plan for this year in Ibiza?
“Besides my Pacha residency I will do six shows at Destino under the label Solomun + Live. The idea is pretty much the same like at Pacha, but with live acts. We already have amazing artists like Who Made Who, Isolée and Brandt Brauer Frick. And I will do a swap with Sven Väth, so I can play for him at Cocoon and he can be my 'plus 1' artist at
Pacha. Besides that I will play at ENTER and maybe one or two more gigs outside Pacha, but this is not confirmed yet. Then the Destino opening party, the Destino closing party and one time with Diynamic Outdoor at Beach House. And I will do a free party again at the port of Ibiza. We did this last year for the first time and it was an amazing experience.”
What's been your experience in Ibiza over the years? Do you think it's changed? Have you changed your sound to cater for that?
“I can’t really say because I am still quite new on the island.
But talking about the last four years I can say that there is more and more quality underground music on the island. Back in the day, you only had Cocoon and DC10, more or less, and today you can go and listen to amazing music almost every day of the week.
This is a cool thing. And with this I can also answer the second part of the question: no, I didn’t change my sound for Ibiza, the people come here to listen to underground music. I only play what I feel like at that moment. No matter if I play in Ibiza or somewhere else.”
Why has your sound always resonated in Ibiza do you think?
“That’s a good question, honestly: I don’t know. If I knew I would tell you but I really don’t have a clue. I can only say: I was really surprised too. What I can say for sure is that I fell in love with this island and the people of the island.”
You're playing SW4 festival in London this summer too, have you had good experiences there?
“Of course. It's a very good, well-organized festival with a good crowd. I am happy to come back this year.”
You used to make films — is that something you are still able to do? Might it be something you revisit in the future?
“I would love to, actually. But there’s so little time for such things, so I cannot do it. But I have always ideas in my mind, and maybe we're gonna do a music video this year again, because the last one was for 'Kackvogel', already a few years ago.
So maybe we will shoot something this summer, but I can’t say if this is really happening. But I love movies and TV shows and if I had more time I would definitely try something again.”
You've an album in the pipeline, I hear... can you tell me the plans for it?
“What you are hearing is almost correct. I will release a few tracks during the next months and I will release my first remix compilation. I selected those remixes I did over the last few years that I like most, and will release them on Diynamic.”
Who's the artist who has always provided inspiration for you?
“In another interview I answered that question, and it is Sven Väth for being Sven Väth. And it’s still exactly like this because there is nobody who has done so much for our scene. He gets the most respect. His sets last year in Ibiza were just amazing! Personally and
musically I am still a big fan and admirer of Âme.”
Now you're a seasoned globe trotter — what are the best spots to play around the world? You've been in South America recently, can you tell us about that?
“We just had a Diynamic festival in Warung Beach Club in Brazil, one of the most amazing clubs I know. Then State in Buenos Aires, also really, really good. I love playing BPM Festival in Mexico, playing Ibiza, Italy is always fun and madness. Amsterdam is always a supercool place for me, and I could go on. The good news is there are plenty of great
places for our music, with amazing parties.”
Have you managed to play in Bosnia yet?
“It is really, really sad, but I have not played in Bosnia yet. We tried to make it happen over the last years, but it always was kinda problematic and in the end it didn’t work out. I will try again this year of course. I just talked with my friend Sergej Barbarez, who is a
kind of national hero in Bosnia, and we know each other very well from Hamburg and he was also like, 'Come on man, you have to play in the home country of your father'. So, I’m on it!”
Your philosophy has always been 'do it yourself' — do you still stand by this?
“Yes of course, there may be more intellectual philosophies than DIY, but in my life it always worked. I am sure that it’s always way better to do something on your own rather then waiting for others to help you.
And this has nothing to do with being ignorant. I always try to solve a problem or do the task on my own before I ask for help. Because at the end it feels way better if you managed something on your own.”
Does working in this business still have the power to surprise you?
“Of course! I get surprises almost every day. Sometimes I am not sure if this is a good thing or not! But yes, the truth is, no matter how long you do things you can always get surprised.”
What was your last 'pinch yourself' moment?
“When we had our pre-season party for Solomun +1 at the end of April at Pacha Ibiza and the club was so packed that I had to pinch myself because it was just April, not high season. I had the feeling almost all Ibiza residents and season-workers were there, and this really felt good.
And when the singer of Led Zeppelin [Robert Plant] asked for a remix and I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have the time. My friends said 'Come on! It’s fuckin' Led Zeppelin', but it was the wrong time. This was really crazy for me.”
Catch Solomun at SW4 on London's Clapham Common on Saturday 29th August...
“I’ve known Solomun for 20 years and followed his career for all this time, and to see him grow and follow his own musical path and enjoy the success he’s had, I’m just so proud of him. Of course, I loved playing for him at Solomun +1 last year, and to see how people reacted to his music. He always plays from his heart and followed his instinct and
this has never changed. We were also really happy to have him release on our sub-label of Mobilee, Leena Music in 2010.”
MOBILEE'S ANJA SCHNEIDER
"Solomun is a guy who has a million ideas and is not afraid to share them with all of us at the label. If only some of those ideas really work, it's already more creative output than many other people have. So the Diynamic crew is very close knit.
Especially when we're doing a tour together like our recent one in South America. It really feels like a close group of friends. But it also sometimes feels like a kingdom, but one led by a generous king. The future is bright for us. We are many good producers and DJs, and each one of us has our own style and standing. This diversity makes us strong."