In a world of ever recycled trends, Tiefschwarz (deep black) is that most classic of shades. Its timeless style is testament to its staying power, and with a DJ and production career spanning over 14 years, this German deep house duo have proven just how apt a moniker can be. Born and bred in Stuttgart, brothers Ali and Basti Schwarz’s passion for techno and deep house flourished their initial experience as DJs in the early 90’s at the now legendary clubs that Ali ran in their home town, ON –U and Red Dog. This led to the formation of Tiefschwarz in 1997, from which they found rapid success with their debut single ‘Music’ (on Francois K’s Wave Music label) and album Ral 9005. By 2001, this had been licensed to the London label Classic Recordings from where they springboarded to international recognition. They decided to make the move to Berlin, at the time fast becoming the epicentre of a true electronic music renaissance, from where they pursued a hectic touring schedule and remixing the likes of Cassius, The Rapture, Missy Elliott, Kelis and their personal heroes Masters At Work. They then scored a double whammy with their all-conquering crossover hit remix of Spektrum’s ‘Kinda New’ and the single ‘Isst’ off their 2005 long-player, ‘Eat Books’. This was also the year that electrohouse dominated the charts and minimal the clubs, but Tiefschwarz have never allowed themselves to be tied down to a certain sound, staying true to their love of melody as demonstrated on their contribution to the Fabric mix series that year.
We had a look at your bio and apparently Tiefschwarz means “deep black” is that correct?
Yeah that’s correct.
So it comes from your family name and deep house. Ali you started a club in 1990 in Stuttgart that was one of the biggest deep house clubs in Germany.
Not in the beginning. In the beginning it was only about quality music. Like from jazz to techno to breakbeat or hip hop from house to whatever. It was all about quality music. After that we decided to have a real deep house, house club. Strict rhythm, new groove whatever and we invited a lot of the American heroes at the time. We ended it in ’97 and after that we started traveling.
So what would you say is your major influence? Is it deep house?
I think our major influence is our love for nightlife and music in general. It’s not like… Well of course he’s (Basti) a drummer and we both love music and we have so many influences. He (Basti) was listening to punk a lot and I was listening to new wave blah blah blah and we both love David Bowie. So I mean every kid has the same. It’s nothing special what we have to tell about that. I mean we are into music and into nightlife but finally we decided to go into the more professional side and then we started DJing.
How long have you been producing music?
We started in the mid 90s. I was running two clubs back in the day in Stuttgart. We were our own resident DJs. We started to tag team and play together. We got more and more comfortable, so that’s when we founded Tiefschwarz [in 1996] as our project. That’s also about when we started producing with friends who were already a bit more experienced.
Some artists are very open with giving their music away on the Internet, and other artists are very protective of that. Should a new DJ just put music out there and get exposure first, and then collect money through performances second, and not worry too much about protecting it?
I would say don’t worry too much, because at the end of the day, it’s gonna be on the Internet anyway. Somebody rips it; you have no control over that. I think it’s important that you concentrate on your own signature and push your own taste. Make yourself special through your music, but don’t worry too much about the release of it, because it’s everywhere.
It’s also part of promotion. You can really push it if you send it to certain DJs you like, and ask them to play it out or chart it. And if it does well, you’re also going to find people who want to buy it. I’m not one of these younger kids who want everything for free. I go to Beatport, and I even go to CD stores and buy CDs still. It’s a mixture and a balance, but I’m aware that all the young kids just get everything for free. They don’t give a shit.
For years, DJs would have killed to get records out on Wave or Classic like you did. But for your third album, you’re doing a self-release. There’s definitely a trend to go the self-release direction.
Yeah, ’cause you don’t do anything else differently that way. You need a good a team, the knowledge of how to use the Internet and a good distributor. If you have that, it doesn’t make sense to give it to another label, because you give away your rights, almost half the money, and they just press the same buttons. With a self-release, you make your own platform stronger. You attract other artists to join your network. You know, we have the label, we have the tools. If we don’t release our album on our own label, that gives the wrong signal to friends, colleagues and new talents we want to build up. If you’re not even confident to release your own stuff on your own platform, why should anyone? I know some friends who had their own little labels and they gave their albums to bigger labels. But they were really disappointed because these bigger labels were not able to sell any more records. Now it doesn’t really make a big difference if you’re a small or big label unless somebody puts some money on the table, but nobody really does that anymore. We invest a little bit in our own project, but at least then the payback shows.
Could you name 3 timeless tracks that you always reintegrate into your sets and are staples for you?
That’s very, very hard to say. I don’t particularly have those tracks because there’s too much good music out there, but a few great tracks that are pretty old already are “God Made Me Funky” from Mike Dunn, “Easy Lee” from Ricardo Villalobos, and some old Carl Craig stuff. It’s really hard to say.
Do you have any recommendations for DJs who are opening for you and trying to impress you?
I always tell them to feel totally free. Don’t play for me; play for yourself. I don’t even mind if you play your biggest hits. I really appreciate when a DJ is really into his game, into his music and doing a great job. It doesn’t happen that often, but sometimes I’m like ‘wow, well done.’ When people are aware of what they’re doing, they really know how to balance the music, and not make it too pushy to impress the main act. That’s also a question of experience. Some DJs ask me when I show up like a half hour before my set ‘Should I bring it down, or…?’ And I say ‘man, feel free,’ because I’m not going to play the same music. Of course if he knows what I’m doing, then you can kind of follow the vibe, but sometimes the set is just cut off and you start from zero again. So it’s hard, but most of the time the DJs coming before you know where your’e coming from and it fits. But sometimes when you’re in Asia where the culture’s not so defined as in parts of Europe, they don’t have a clue anyway, but that doesn’t happen too often.
How did digitalisation affect club culture?
It’s definitely an amazing thing that everybody can produce their own music and it’s beyond all questions that there is a lot of good music out there. However, this oversupply in combination with access from everywhere at any time actually killed the term of club hits as we used to have in the past. I remember how people stormed record stores to get a copy of a limited white label and the few lucky ones played it in excess for six months until a new pressing came in and that eventually resulted in real club hits. In my opinion it’s such a pity that music as a medium that actually evokes emotions and having artists who invest with much blood, sweat and tears into creating it, are not able to receive one cent in return for their hard work. After more than 25 years on stage, I would prefer to produce more albums, make a living out of my royalties and tour from time to time instead of travelling all over the world every weekend just to make a living as a musician. It’s not a discussion about making a lot of money but rather about the appreciation of the hard work of someone who wants to provoke emotions, be it melancholy or happiness, via music. The current consumer society is determined by an incredibly, fast moving trend that doesn’t allow artists to have a creative breathing space.