Club residencies seem like they’re becoming a little less popular around the world. Do you still think that a residency has the power to ignite a career the same way it did for yourself?
It depends on what your main focus is as an artist. If you have a big club bid, you don’t need a residency. I think it teaches you a lot if you have a residency—I always think I can go deeper and more intense because of those longer sets, and you read the crowd better and learn things you couldn’t if you just play quick two-hour sets all over the world. You maybe learn something different [with shorter sets], but [don’t have] that intensity. You also learn to present something new every month for people who always come to see you. If you just travel all the time, you can kind of play the same sets everywhere because there are new people everywhere. Residencies challenge you, definitely.
Ten years ago this idea of celebrity DJs on billboards taking in $50-60 million a year was a pretty alien thought. Do you think the culture of celebrity DJs is good for the dance music scene?
It’s interesting that just a couple of years ago when I’d talk to random people who don’t know about electronic music and they’d asked me what I do for a living, I’d say I’m a DJ, and the next question would be something like, ‘Can you make a living from that?… Do people pay money to let you come to their cities and clubs?” I had to explain that I could live off [DJing]. Now, it’s the opposite. It happens to me all the time; when a taxi driver asks me what I do for a living, I say, “DJ,” and the next thing’s like, “Oh, you must be rich.” So that perception really changed a lot. Before, I was more tolerant with that distinction between EDM and the underground. Now, I think there really isn’t a big connection between those two things.
You don’t play a ton of festivals in America. Is it something you want to do be doing more?
I played Coachella this year and it was nice. There was a lot of feedback like, “Wow, that was the first time I’ve heard something like that and it was amazing.” It’s great to get new followers into that type of music, but it’s a bizarre because we’re spoiled in Europe with scenes in Italy and France where huge crowds of people are coming to hear techno.
Do you have an interest in being someone to help expand techno in America?
Yes, that’s why I did something like Coachella. Of course, there are people who say, “Why are you doing this? This is a sellout.” I mean, come on, it can really help getting new people into [the sound].
How would you define selling out exactly?
I think it’s when you change your sound for certain career steps. I was always thought that it’s fine if I grow big as long as I play my sound and don’t change. The underground can be very harsh with their perception of someone as soon as they get bigger, even though you think, ‘they’re playing the same music as before,’ so don’t be so rude. Just because they’re playing in front of a bigger crowd or becoming more successful, doesn’t mean they’re changing their style.
Your set productions seem to revolve around a lot of tension, where do you pull that inspiration from? You seem like a pretty relaxed dude in real life.
Well, that relaxed side is definitely only one side of me [laughs]. I don’t know, for me it’s not so much about the style. I’m not really such a techno purist. What’s more important for me is music, life, feelings, and what you transport with that music, and techno is just my tool of transporting these emotions. It’s really about the human touch behind it. I sometimes see it more as a shamanism thing to put people in a trance or change directions. The music is just a tool. I draw a lot from my moods, I think.
Do you ever have a desire to play a brighter, house-influenced set, if you’re feeling a bit in that mood?
The last time I played at Berghain for my Klockworks night, I played 11 hours, and they closed Panorama Bar upstairs, so everyone’s just down in the main room. Many people came from a different vibe upstairs—slower, houseier—so that influences me as well. Maybe the light guy brings in warmer colors, and I get into a different phase where I play groovier, house tunes. I always come from a techno perspective even when I’m playing house tunes with vocals. I would play them as a techno DJ, but again I’m not a techno purist. There are a lot of DJs in the techno genre who only play dark, techno and that’s it. I wouldn’t agree that I’m this prototype of a German, dark, techno DJ.
Was there someone who mentored you a little bit?
Not really. You have to learn on your own in a way.
Does the community of techno DJs in Berlin and elsewhere still feel tight to you?
I think there are a lot of different scenes or crowds that stick together. For me, people like Marcel Dettmann are closer to me than others. But [Marcel and I] always see each other everywhere at airports or festivals. Even if you haven’t seen each other for a year or so, you feel connected because you know each other and what it’s like to live this crazy life. I think there are times when the bond is stronger and times when it was more of a lonely life on the road. It depends—this year, Marcel and I played a lot together so it felt more supportive because you see each other and communicate more.
You still don’t have a manager. So many DJs, especially in EDM, have huge teams behind them—how important is independence to the success you’ve had?
I feel like maybe I’m too much of a control freak. I work with people, but in the end it’s me making decisions and stuff. When you have a manager and they’re deciding for you—I never really got that. I have an assistant who does some of a manager’s job, but I want to be in charge of my profile or artistic direction. I’m not the kind of person who can give that away to someone else. As the label boss, I have a vision of what I want and I don’t need someone else to tell me what I should do. I come from a club DJ background, which starts in the underground, and like I said, this EDM thing is not related to where I come from. It’s just a different thing.