Myths abound in the north when it comes to techno ground zero, and they refuse to go away. Oliver Huntemann is one of a handful of children of the north who, for what seems like an eternity, add an element of credence to the mythology. He does not, of course, live in a snowy forest or at the edge of the polar oceans. The sun does, on occasion, shine down on Hamburg. Nevertheless, there is a tendency towards hypothermic reduction in the rigorous efficiency of the Huntemann oeuvre. Images of cold storage warehouses, desolate heavy plant sites and bluish flesh are not entirely misplaced.
His epicenter is, and will remain, the north. Hamburg, to be exact. This is where he produces his music and it is from here that he sets out into the world, thrilling the populous with his DJ sets.
Oliver Huntemann’s concrete roots can be traced back to early techno. Had he been any younger, he would undoubtedly have sucked electronica like mother’s milk from a C64 chip. Like so many of his colleagues, his route to techno took a tour through electro and rave. He could tell the usual vet- eran tales when it comes to influences, his first record purchases, or on the subject of the good old days. Been there, done that! It was more difficult maintaining a low profile.
Oliver, you were born in 1968, and your youth was mainly filled with hip-hop, rap and break-dance music. Techno music did not really exist at that time. Your biography explains that you started organising acid house events during the 80’s. How did your interest shift to electronic music such as techno and (acid) house?
I’ve been very deep into the electro funk and break-dance scene in the early 80s, not so much into hip-hop and rap. I have always loved the electronic beats more than the vocals. First, electro funk emerged, with tracks and artists such as Hashim’s ‘Al Naafiysh’ and the American producer Egyptian Lover. Shortly after that, disco influences developed quickly, for example ‘High Energy’ by Evelyn Thomas and Shannon’s ‘Let The Music Play’. The road from these styles to the early acid house wasn’t as far as it seems nowadays.
How did the scene in Hamburg develop during those years? And how did that influence you?
I grew up in the small city of Oldenburg in the north of Germany, and moved to Hamburg only ten years ago. I know the old Hamburg techno scene just from the many times I visited the city. Besides Frankfurt and Berlin, Hamburg was the most important city for house music in the 90’s. Some of Germany’s most influential clubs such as the legendary Front and Unit were based in Hamburg.
The city has a long history of music culture. Especially in the red light district, ‘The Reeperbahn’, there are countless small clubs for everyone’s taste. For example, The Beatles have also been discovered here and I saw The Gossips rocking the club Hafenklang in front of 150 people approximately one year before they became superstars. Hamburg definitely influenced me a lot during the early years of techno, much more than any other city, with its open-minded mentality and understatement at the same time.
Nowadays techno is a well-known genre with many big events and festivals. Back in the day, things were relatively small and uncontrolled. Can you still find the vibe that you used to experience during the first years of techno/house?
Yes, I do! Believe it or not, but I still feel this excitement almost every weekend, especially when I have a gig anywhere in the world where I haven’t been before. It still gives me a kick, and I always ask myself the same question: what’s going on tonight?
I love the young ‘decksharks’, staying in front of the DJ-booth the entire night just to check the DJ and the music. After all, I used to be one too. When I see them, I see myself back then. The same counts for the music. After all these years I’m always able to find something new, like tracks that touch me immediately or tracks which surprise me with its vibe during a DJ-set.
I was surprised to read you were in the navy for six years, in your early twenties. Were you originally planning it as a serious career?
I wanted to do it because of the expectations of my parents and everybody else, I wanted to get a regular education and that was possible in the navy. I didn’t think about it very much when I signed up. I never thought that I’d become a professional producer or DJ. I started DJing at school, but it was always a hobby. Then I had to do something for my normal education. At the navy I became a journalist and got some job experience.
Did you make a decision of “I’m going to live my life making music”? Or did it just happen like this?
It just happened. Sometimes it’s like a hand is doing that for me and that happened. I started with breakdancing, then I became a DJ then I met Garret and we started Humate. That was the time when techno music just started and everything just happened. It was not my plan.
You are appreciated by many big names out there, as you are a self-professed expert in techno music. This is mainly the result of your excellent producing skills. How did you start producing, and at what age?
I started DJ-ing when I was about fourteen years old, and started producing a few years later. I think I was around nineteen then, equipped with nothing more than a horrible Yamaha D5 synthesizer. Later on I met Gerret Frerichs at one of my first self-organised techno parties, who already owned a recording studio. We were immediately on the same wave and started working together.
Additionally, Jazz musician H.G. Schmidt joined us and together we created our first demo CD, which we sent to MFS in Berlin. That’s how the story of Humate has started. Our second single, ‘Love Stimulation’, released on MFS in 1992 included a remix by a young – at that time unknown – DJ from Berlin, called Paul van Dyk. At that moment, we didn’t anticipate that it would become a worldwide crossover hit.
Tell us about your DJing. I imagine your style has developed from early Trance and into Techno. As most DJs now use a sequencing based software, has the performance elements; the Art of DJing, changed in your opinion?
Sure it has changed but I don’t mind. For me it’s absolutely not about the technical gadgets, it’s about the music you play. Get a connection with the crowd, send them on a journey, create a good dramaturgy. You can have magic equipment but beat sync doesn’t make you a good DJ at all. In the end every artist has to find out which working material works best for them.
I know it’s a tough question and you have to remain impartial, but do you have any favourite party destinations? Places where you know your sound will absolutely blow the roof off.
Haha!! There are so many great places. At the moment I’d say La Fabrica in Cordoba, Argentina, is one of the most magical spots
How do you view the new generation of producers and DJs?
There are some guys who are inspired with our sound and I hear it when I get some demos, when they’ve sampled a loop off one of my tracks or used a similar sound, but that’s OK. The next step is to do their own thing and there’s some outstanding young producers like John Dahlback out there doing their own thing.
Did you set out planning to make it a dancefloor killer?
Yes, I did it almost functionally and this version is very straight. We actually did another less straightforward remix but it will never come out because we gave it up too late. I think the mix you know is a prime time track. We also have a full vocal version, but I think it will be only released as a dub version.