After a decade spent pushing creative new sounds through the European underground, Solomun celebrates Diynamic Music's 10th birthday with a party concept that's as unique as the artist himself. In a candid interview, he reveals the method behind the madness and how his long journey began.
Words: ERIN SHARONI | Portraits: NIELS FREIDEL Live Shots: TASYA MENAKER
"We talked for one hour, amazing. It’s a record,” Solomun raises his eyebrows and smiles. He has been on a Skype call with DJ Mag USA for an hour – 59 minutes and six seconds, to be precise. It’s the longest amount of time he’s ever spent doing an interview.
We jokingly chalk it up to the fact that he’s just finished a lunch with his Diynamic label team, wherein he consumed too much cake.
Having recently returned to Hamburg, Germany from his annual Ibiza post-season detox, a weeklong retreat in the coastal Spanish city of Alicante, Solomun is ready to indulge again: “I was suffering a little bit. Now I’m back, I can eat what I want, and we had a huge dessert here in our office.”
He looks refreshed in a plain white t-shirt, with his rumpled long, dark hair falling across his eyes. He tucks a strand behind his ear as he recounts the past few weeks of Ibiza’s closing parties and describes the madness of the day Space Ibiza took its last breath – a massive gasp of house, techno and nostalgia – before turning off its lights forever.
Solomun played his own residency at Pacha that night, and then dashed from Talamanca to Playa d’en Bossa to take the stage on the Space terrace at 8am.
“After this, Tale of Us and me decided to do a spontaneous after-party in a villa, which ended at midnight… and then I was like okay, this was not necessary,” Solomun says dryly, shaking his head at the memory with a chuckle.
Of course, that’s how life flows in Ibiza, spontaneity spilling across nights into days and back again. And it seems to be how life flows for Solomun, a DJ/producer credited with being a major influence in evolving the underground European house music scene, who doesn’t take himself all too seriously.
His easygoing manner and penchant for jokes – as we discover early on in our conversation – fits well with the fluid, unpredictable life of a globetrotting artist. He is mature enough to have had his feet firmly planted on the ground for a decade of running the Diynamic Music label with co-founder Adriano Trolio, but he is evolved enough to harbor a perspective that would serve any artist; he lets things go.
Like a Taoist addressing the perils of attachment, Solomun assures us that he is the kind of person who can detach. Speaking about Space closing, he likens it to a relationship ending:
“I can let people go. I never suffered about an ex-girlfriend. It was like okay, it didn’t work, we had a good time; of course I suffer a little bit, like everybody, but I’m kind of like, what you love, you can also let go.”
Solomun’s Diynamic label motto is a resounding “Do it yourself!” – the imprint’s intentional misspelling a nod to the DIY acronym – and it reflects that spirit of moving along one’s own path, keeping the best of what works and gracefully eliminating what doesn’t. 2016 marks Diynamic’s 10-year anniversary and in celebration, the label has released the ‘10 Years Diynamic Compilation’, featuring 13 new tracks from its own artist roster.
The LP includes an elegant vocal cut from Solomun himself, ‘Let It Out’ featuring Liu Bei, along with offerings from Adriatique, Stimming, Karmon and H.O.S.H. A stunning track titled ‘Jupiter Sunrise’ by Kollektiv Turmstrasse opens the album with a collection of glittering synth plucks, warm strings and downtempo breaks that make it sound like our monitors are breathing as waveforms flow through them, setting the tone for a collection of tracks that pick up the pace yet retain a distinct individuality.
Much like the label boss.
Solomun, the master of soul-stirring, melancholic remixes even has a rework of a Leonard Cohen track – yes, that Leonard Cohen – coming out soon; an honor to be celebrated in and of itself, made even more poignant by the passing of the icon as this story is written.
The Diynamic 10-year celebration continues with takeovers of multiple clubs on a single night, hosted in cities like Berlin, Zurich, Paris, London, and concludes with a North American tour to close out the year.
Solomun laughs wryly when explaining the weight of undertaking such a production, but we get the sense that he wouldn’t have it any other way…
DJ MAG USA: The Diynamic 10-year party concept – multiple shows at different clubs in one night in the same city – sounds intense.
SOLOMUN: “Yeah, it was. Congratulations. After this season, I was like, ‘Fuck, who had this fucking idea?’”
Wasn’t it you?
“Yeah. It was me. Very good. ‘Quit your job, Solomun!’ [laughing]. Of course, for the people, they were super happy, the city was like, ‘woah’... We have to plan the timetable to have [our artists] play in all the clubs, and everybody has to play two times in two different clubs on the same night. I would do the warm-up in one club and then two hours later have to drive to another club and play there for another two hours. So it’s intense but also a new experience.”
We saw an old quote from you where you said, “Music is moments.”
“It’s genius, huh?”
Total genius. Now we know why you are where you are! But where does the Diynamic story really begin?
“We started the label 10 years ago and I met Adriano [Trolio] – my partner, we run the label together – about 15 years ago in Hamburg and he was already a well-known guy in the party business. We became friends, we both became a little bit bored about Hamburg… I don’t know, we always had a feeling we had to do something on our own where we could invite all of our friends.
“And this was the birth of DIY after-parties. We did it once a month in a club where everything from bass, hip-hop, and I think reggae, was running – so no electronic music, no house or techno. I started DJing more in Hamburg, the interest to make my own music grew more and more, and then we had our own club in Hamburg for one year.
"Then I met H.O.S.H. and Stimming. We became friends because we started to make music together, and in this period of course we started to think about where we can send our music. I was always not a fan of asking people for a favor or to send my music to people… so it was our plan to make our own label. This was the birth of Diynamic, with H.O.S.H. and Stimming as the first artists.”
Not a bad crew to launch a label with...
“And of course, from release to release, from showcase to showcase, we grow, we become a little bit more successful in our own small world – but our own small world becomes a little bit bigger and bigger. What was always our special goal was that nobody else had it, that everything we did, especially in showcases, we always had our own artists for our own label. So we never had help from any other colleagues. So everything we did… we did with our own artists. It was different from other labels.”
How do you keep that spirit alive today?
“Diynamic still is and will be a platform for my artists, definitely. And we have a second label, 2DIY4, where we do a lot of indie remix stuff and some other things, that’s more a playground for us. Also, we want to concentrate on our artists, help them to grow their profile. Give them the best platform and to see what they want. So we want to manage them – it’s not like we’re just doing the label. We also try and help our artists to go the way they want to go and what’s good for them also. And they have to feel comfortable with themselves.
“That’s the point. And as every artist wants to show the world his concept of music and surroundings, it’s also super important for us – where they want to be, where they want to be seen. We try to make our artists happy and of course we always have democratic discussions with our main artists and we plan together what we want to do next – for example, this summer we decided to skip ADE.”
Everyone missed you at ADE this year. Why skip it?
“Yeah, yeah I know… last year we had a sold out show with 4,000 people and it was fantastic, but ADE has become so successful at the moment that almost every show sells out. It doesn’t matter how big the venue is, because there’s so many people coming – it’s good of course, it’s an amazing party. But it’s also because this year we did a lot of 10-year Diynamic shows we thought it was okay to skip this year. It’s sometimes good just to step back.”
So let’s step back to your roots for a moment. Tell us what brought you to music…
“Well, I was 10 years old. I was at home and my parents went out visiting some friends and I was a little bit scared; I was alone, it was raining, stormy. And then I heard something tapping on the window. There was a white bird. I opened the window and this white bird started to talk to me and-- ”
[Solomun’s manager, Daniel, interjects from his seat across the room: “I really have to apologize. Seriously. Absolutely sorry.”]
You’re making that up!
“[Laughing] Sorry, sorry. I’m imagining you have to have a crazy story where you come to the music. But really, I was 12 – this is true – and my cousin, he was then 21 and was already going to clubs. He visited my family and brought me a recorded tape from the club because he knew the DJ. And this was club music, disco stuff.
"He gave it to me as a present: ‘Here, it’s for you, my small cousin.’ I was just 12, I had no clue, no idea. The only music I knew was commercial music on the radio. This was interesting, for a kid to listen to music he never heard before. It was kind of a wow, there is more in the world than what you hear on the radio.
“So this was the first aha moment I got: ‘Aha, there is so much more outside’! And then I was 14 or 15 and there was a youth house for young kids where you could go hang out and play table tennis, whatever. It was kind of a German concept so you wouldn’t hang out on the street and do bullshit [or get any] crime ideas. And there was a discotheque there every Wednesday from 6pm till 10pm. It was funny – for my generation there, it was the place to be.
“I would go there to this club and use their vinyls and practice because they had their own turntables. One of the adults who worked there asked me if I would like to buy music for the club, because they saw that I was interested in the music. They asked me for a budget – it was 100 euro. Every weekend, 100 euro to buy new music for the youth house.”
Wow, that’s a good gig for a kid.
“Yeah, and then of course my music collection was growing more and more – and sometimes I had some jobs as a kid, or whatever or money I’d get from birthdays or from Christmas, I would spend on my vinyls. I was really starting to DJ at 16 or 17, for the first time. And then I took a long big break from it. But my interest began again in music when I was at a party and it was mind-blowing… it was like melodic techno; fantastic, super amazing. So I started again to buy vinyl, to buy some CDs, to listen; I was going every week, spending my time in the record stores. So my collection was growing and growing just because of my interest in the music. I never had a plan to be a DJ. I was interested in music and buying vinyls. Then somebody invited me to play on a birthday of a friend? And I was like, why not? It was my first comeback after 10 years…”
Your 10-year comeback. There’s a theme here…
“A big comeback. And so there was this birthday party, it was in Reeperbahn – the red light district in St. Pauli [in Hamburg] – and the apartment was on the main corner. I had to open the windows and this corner has all these prostitutes standing in the streets. The street is very famous for this. So the window is open and when I started to play, it was so loud that even the prostitutes standing outside, next door, were dancing on the street! [laughs]
"And so the people outside walking on the street were watching and started to dance too, all having fun... I became a little bit addicted again to DJing and I got good feedback from them... one thing led to another.”
If you can make hookers dance outside a window, then you know you’re a real DJ. But in all seriousness, you’re credited with redefining the underground house music scene in Europe. Do you see yourself that way?
“I think it’s too many flowers for me. Too many flowers. I think I just do my part; I’m part of it. Maybe yes, maybe no; I don’t know. And it’s a big ocean, we are all swimming in this big ocean. Some fish are bigger than the others, but we are all fish and we are swimming in the same ocean, and we all like swimming in this ocean. And we meet a lot of other fish that also like swimming in the ocean. So this is the connection.
“Of course I always like to stay grounded, and like to come down, and of course I also realize that every year I get more attention – the Ibiza season was also very successful and I reached more people, and I see it every time we play across the world, as we are received. Of course I see it; but I’m not alone. There are also other artists, they are doing amazing jobs, maybe at the same level as me or more, or whatever. I don’t know. But we’re all part of it. We’re all part of it. And of course, we always have to choose one or two artists to talk and write about and so I’m very [pauses] –– thank you.”
You’re quite welcome.
“But truly, I see myself always as a part of the whole.”