We all want to be ‘deep’ these days. Profundity, resonance and meaning are all in short supply. As in the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, ‘Deep Thought’ was a supercomputer programmed to calculate the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
Google’s ‘Deep Mind’ is a trailblazing new artificial intelligence program that promises to revolutionize medicine and ’make the world a better place’, when in fact its probably a cynical ploy to mine all our data. We have deep space, deep seas and are probably in deep shit. There there’s the navel gazing excesses of ego that culminated in Deep Purple, an English rock band that pioneered a particular brand of questionable heavy metal and modern hard rock. Fortunately, Tiefschwarz, (‘deep black’) might provide some deep salvation.
With a DJ and production career spanning over twenty years, the Grammy nominated German deep house / techno duo, brothers Ali and Basti Schwarz have achieved something of a cult status, holding residencies at Space and Robert Johnson as well as Watergate and Weekend Club in their hometown, Berlin. Tiefschwarz’s ever evolving sound is as eclectic as it is dynamic with a late 90’s old school deep house vibe slowly displaced with gritty, come-hither electro and tech house.
2016 sees their label Souvenir hit ten years, success they have marked with the release of the ’10 Years Souvenir Compilation Mix’ and an extended club tour. The compilation features collaboration from long term partners and industry stalwarts such as Watergate’s Ruede Hagelstein, and Audiofly. Daniel Maher and Re.You feature, alongside input from lesser known artists such Mathame and new and upcoming talent in the form of Dixie Yure.
In an industry as fickle as it is competitive, where mediocrity comes and goes and even the most committed techno-nerds can struggle to keep abreast of an endless tidal wave of new artists, releases and labels, ten years is a very long time.
With its beginnings as a vinyl only label, Souvenir has old-school values and palpable integrity. It has at times struggled to compete with the aggressive marketing and rapid digitalization of its competitors. But then neither has it stagnated: ‘I hate the idea of staying in one place… we never like to limit our output’ Ali Schwarz tells me. He is a humble, engaging and passionate man and seems happy for Souvenir to sit modestly just below the radar, not quite in the limelight, which frankly makes for an arse searingly refreshing, audio kick in the party-pants.
‘We like the idea of seeing music as a souvenir’ says ‘Basti unashamedly: ‘an impression you take from somewhere, something intimate you remember’. In the interests of journalistic integrity then, I should probably tell you how I remember Tiefschwarz: The last time I heard them play it was so chronically a good night, that regurgitation was as lively as the beats – plant pots in the middle of the dance floor at London’s Studio 338 were sat in, convulsed by powerful; ‘deep’ vibes. So good was the output from Ali and ‘Basti that night that even violent vomit wouldn’t send me home.
I caught up with Ali last week to discuss the label’s ten-year anniversary and to get a bit of insight into the label’s current plans, history and future trajectory.
Electronic Groove: Souvenir Records is turning 10 years. Congratulations on this important Milestone! How did the Berlin boat party celebration go?
Tiefschwarz: It was pretty nice. We were actually lucky to be able to do it at all, so many parties have been cancelled due to weather. It’s a ****ked up summer but let’s see. It can only get better.
Electronic Groove: Did you guys play any new special tunes recently released or stick to the golden oldies?
Tiefschwarz: We’re working on a lot of new club material at the moment so at all our gigs I try out new unreleased stuff: it’s the perfect way to test it out. Right now we’re concentrating on creating and promoting the music. A couple of years ago we were heading in a kind of Leftfield direction but it became clear after the album that we need to concentrate on the main trade mark, which is the club scene. We’ve done quite a bit of work in the studio lately and we’re really happy with the results. There’s a new Souvenir single coming out in August and three more scheduled one after another before the end of the year.
Electronic Groove: How has the experience been of running the label for so many years? Any tough decisions along the way or has it been a smooth ride?
Tiefschwarz: I have to say, I’m really excited that we’re still alive! So many labels disappear after a while –it’s a tough thing to do, especially with all the changes in the music industry and in the digitalised world of the internet. It’s been a big transition from when we were a ‘Vinyl only’ label. Of course it’s always about the music and if people love it, a track will find its way but now days you have to consider so much more than that: you really have to make a lot of tough decisions, financially, structurally. It’s a rollercoaster.
“We’ve had to really readjust our strategy”
Labels tend to be really well organized these days. Take Innervisions as example, they’ve run an outstanding events series, others even have their own booking departments. We don’t have that. Something like that covers all the costs of running a label. Music these days is tough. We’ve had to really readjust our strategy. But I don’t want to complain too much, it’s still so much fun and the group of friends we’ve built over the last decade make it all worthwhile.
Electronic Groove: What’s the process on the artist/tracks selection of an EP? Is it only based on Souvenir’s acquaintances or are you open to new talents that submit their tracks?
Tiefschwarz:: We are totally open to every possible type of genre of music. It’s kind of the same as it is with Tiefschwarz, we don’t like to be pigeonholed and don’t want to limit our output because music has so many varieties and qualities. For some people it makes sense to focus purely on a specific niche, be it techno or vocal deep house, but for us, we never liked to be reductive as artists so that’s really the mentality we’ve retained with Souvenir.
Electronic Groove: Are there any new hot shots that you’ve got your eye on?
Tiefschwarz:: There’s a guy from Barcelona called Dixie Yure who I really like. We are going to take his track and build a proper single around it. There’s so much new talent and its crazy today how strategic all these new guys coming through are. They really make use of social media well and don’t even leave their house without a manager. Music has such a big business aspect these days. Sometimes it’s as though the music isn’t even that important, it’s how clever you are with social media. Sorry, if I went off the point there!
I think it’s really important to give the younger guys a chance but that said, we also had a release last year from a friend from Brussels. He’s now 65 years old so we’re not limited on age either! As long as you’re authentic, can still hear properly and don’t make a fool out of yourself in front of a crowd that’s at least twenty years younger than you then there’s no limitation. It’s not like it’s all over now by thirty or forty as it once was. When you go out in Berlin for example, you see so many older guys in the clubs now and that’s amazing. There’s no limitation.
Electronic Groove: You are playing at fabric London next month as the anniversary celebrations continue. Is playing there something special and/or different from other clubs?
Tiefschwarz: It’s totally special because we have played fabric for so many years and we really love Judy Griffith (fabric’s Promotions Manager). There’s a deep, long term connection now, not only to the club but also to the people there that makes it really special and we are always grateful and happy to come back. Fabric has gone through some rough times over the years but for us, it feels like coming home when we’re there. I love the vibe the guys who work there create. Fabric is almost a department store for music and I’m always amazed by the quality of what’s played there.
Electronic Groove: Besides fabric, any particular gigs that you are looking forward this summer?
Tiefschwarz: So much but right now, really our focus is definitely in the studio. I walked out of there yesterday with such a big smile. We got so lucky, one song just came after another and we found a new momentum. Sometimes you can sit there for weeks, trapped and others it just comes in half an hour as it did yesterday. We’ve got Robert Johnson in August and I haven’t been there in almost a year so I’m really looking forward to that. In Autumn we go to Australia and Asia – that’s always amazing.
“What’s important is where to position yourself in this huge sea of content”
Electronic Groove: What advice would you give to those who are starting in the label business?
Tiefschwarz: You really need to do your homework in terms of basic business components: Good distribution, Marketing and Promotion are obviously important, as is having your own identity. Some people play Vinyl exclusively or go full swing on the digital Beatport thing and they’re successful with that. It’s a personal decision but on the other side, but what’s important is where to position yourself in this huge sea of content.
It’s so hard to get recognition from the right people so it’s really important to build your own identity and where you position your label and your ideas. Be authentic and people will come to trust you. You need stamina and money. Innervisions came at just the right moment, with the right sound. Or look at Solomun’s huge success with Dynamic- that’s the combination of charisma, integrity, timing and of course, if you’re really lucky, the right music at the right moment.
Electronic Groove: How are the next 10 years looking?
Tiefschwarz: Well I’m becoming a daddy in October! That’s probably the biggest thing ever so understandably I’m a bit distracted right now. Of course the other things don’t stop on the side but I think due to that I’m likely to want to delegate certain things but it’s great that I have the flexibility my job affords. I’ll be focusing on sleep for the next few months. I’ll of course be traveling a lot but I’ve seen it all, so for me it’s just another party.