“I don't want to play with a laptop, that's against my principles. Firstly the whole setting up procedure in a club is a pain in the ass, and whenever I see other DJs using laptops it just doesn't look right. Many guys don't even wear headphones anymore, they don't do any physical work and just look at the screen. I find this . . . strange.”
28 years after he started DJing and 22 years after he switched to techno, Timo Maas remains of Germany most popular and critically rated DJs, and though softly spoken and friendly, is as single-minded as his sets.
“I don't want to use the word 'boring' for laptop DJs because some of them are rocking it, but I'm old school,” he explains, “And I think having to look at a computer screen is taking the DJ’s attention away from where it should be: on the crowd.”
Sipping a gin and ice in the ground floor bar of Berlin’s plushest 5 star hotel the Roma, he’s relaxed and clearly comfortable, reflecting a career that’s seem him routinely touring the world as an A list ‘superstar’ big room headline attraction.
Today his primary focus is to promote his new compilation for Balance (Timo Maas: 017: http://www.balanceseries.com ), a skillfully crafted double CD selection of 13 of his own productions spliced with gems from the likes of Hardfloor (Acperience), Carl Craig and Placebo.
Though it’s his first in nine years, he insists he has no qualms about the fact that podcasts have largely decimated the compilation business in recent times.
"Sales of compilations in general are collapsing,” he concedes, “but I was totally convinced to do this one.
“I didn't really feel inclined to do one earlier, was having a few offers but they were always for just single CDs or sometimes with other restrictions, such as 'you have to use three or four tracks of out label', for example, and I just didn't want to do that. The Balance guys approached me and said 'would you like to do a double CD, doing everything you want' and it was a wonderful opportunity. They said 'give us a list of the tracks you want and we'll license them'. I said 'OK'."
:I'm an artist and to have a platform where I'm able to do exactly what I want to do is great,” he points out.
“The market has cleaned itself to some extent, years ago there were millions of DJ compilations out there whereas nowadays it's definitely not a business that pays back when you do something that's average."
Balance 017, like many of the Australian series’ earlier offerings (from the likes of James Holden and Joris Voorn) is anything but average, and Timo admits he’s confident it will stand up on its own merits.
“Sure there are thousands of podcasts out there but I think DJ compilations today are different: I certainly wouldn't put so much effort into mixing a podcast,” he points out.
“I'm trying to express myself through this compilation which is quite different from doing an hour long mix for a radio station, which I regularly also do, no problem. But for this compilation, working together with Santos, we spent over four months, on track-listing, recording special edits and sourcing special tracks.”
Alongside working in the compilation (and a new artist album) he remains busy DJing and admits that despite his disapproval of laptops, is a firm supporter of Pioneer’s new CD and USB stick friendly CDJ2000s.
“I love the new CDJ2000s, they're super.” he smiles, “I use effects units of course, I think everybody does, but I don't do complete re-edits of tracks when I'm playing in front of a crowd, I don't want to concentrate on studio skills, I want to concentrate on the crowd. I already know that the music in my box is exciting so I don't need to create exciting music."
Giving up his ‘crazy vinyl addiction’12 months ago because ‘it was becoming impossible to find the vinyl records I wanted’ he remains passionate about the art of DJing and in particular about being a DJ.
“I come from techno,” he declares, ”I didn't start DJing after becoming successful with productions, rather I started DJing 28 years ago. My love for DJing and vinyl was always there. Musically when I plan my DJ sets I go for a dark energetic sound, which was the same approach I pursued ten years ago and fifteen years ago just with different kinds of music.”
Though he played his first official ‘all-techno’ set in 1988, it wasn’t until the Millennium when his career truly took off, courtesy of a remix he made with fellow engineer of the time Martin Buttrich. Taking just three hours to toss together, the remix, of Azzido Da Bass' Doom's Night, became one of dance culture’s few truly timeless anthems, crossing genres and catapulting Timo to superstar DJ level fame and success: and complications. Doom’s Night aside (though more later) we begin with the Balance mix.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): It's your first serious DJ mix compilation for nine years, a remarkably long gap, why did you take such a long break?
Timo Maas: "It wasn't the case that I wasn't working, I was travelling the whole time, I released my second artist album in 2005, but coming back to doing a compilation in this old school presentation of a DJ- ie a proper one, was a long time ago sure. When I say 'proper' I mean when I have a free hand to select whichever tracks I want, and the last time I did that was for Perfecto in 2001. If course, Idid Music For the Masses, which was mixed, but that was really a 'best of' compilation of my own tracks, which is a totally different character to how the Balance one is.”
Skrufff: There are 40 or so tracks included, how big was the initial list of tracks you asked them to license?
Timo Maas: "Only maybe ten more. But before I gave Balance the list of the tracks i wanted, I was also looking into their availability beforehand, for example with the Danny Tenaglia and Carl Craig tracks I was already contacting them directly to ask permission. To speed up the process. I understand Joris Voorn had a list of 300 tracks that they tried to license for his compilation. For me it was more important to give them a list close to the final selection I wanted. It was easier this way. With the Placebo track for example, I also arranged that with the band directly, in advance."
Skrufff: Four or five years ago I'd be receiving anything between 20 and 30 compilation CDs in the post every week, whereas yours now is the first one I've had in literally months, did you have any reservations at doing one at all, given that nowadays podcasts have pretty much taken over and sales of compilations?
Timo Maas: “In the 90s there was a time when you'd just throw together a few tracks and release them as a compilation, it was an experimental period and I did that, sure. I was asked to do one and what it involved was literally just compiling a bunch of tracks, I wasn't even on the cover. They sold a few thousand copies. But those times are over. I've not idea how many they'll sell though I'm hoping my name will be spread around the world again, in a good context. I've been a long time in this business and my plan for next year is to follow up this compilation with an artist album."
Skrufff: I was at the Amsterdam Dance Event in October and one of the big themes of the conference was 360º deals, what kind of deal do you have with Balance for this CD?
Timo Maas: "It's a classic compilation deal, they pay me a fee then there's an override on the album as well. I've also written or co-written thirteen or so tracks on the album which also provides a percentage so at the end of the day, if we sell a few thousand I'll still make a little money, I'm sure. But most importantly, it's my business card out there. It's great promo and when I typed into Google the other day 'Timo Maas balance' I already found hundreds of pages linking to it.”
Skrufff: How much of an issue are people's expectations?
Timo Maas: "Urggh. Expectations have always been a problem because I don't look to fulfill expectations. When some people expect something from me I have to rebel, I have to do it differently. For example, with Azzido Da Bass it was a rebellious thing. We did a remix for them, they didn't like it so we were like 'fuck it, now we do something crazy that they'd never understand.' And it ended up becoming a worldwide hit."
Skrufff: I wanted to ask about Doom’s Night . . .
Timo Maas: "It's the spot on the ass of my career: it's always coming back." (laughing)
Skrufff: How did the actual creation of the track come about, and how long did it take you?
Timo Maas: "It came about via the genius of having Martin Buttrich in the studio, I have to say. It took three hours. Because the track itself is quite simple with just a few elements which speed up in the breakdown etc. The problem of it initially was that it didn't fit to our label or our other stuff, it didn't sound like anything else, but from 1999 on when Azzido Da Bass put it out it became the best thing for us to happen. That we did sound different from anybody else and it sounded unique."
Skrufff: So you were commissioned to do a remix, they didn't like your first attempt, so you tossed together this version in three hours with a 'fuck you' mindset . . .
Timo Maas: "Exactly, we did a second remix and decided it shouldn't need more than a day in the studio and in one afternoon it was done. We said 'yeah, that's quite rocking, that's cool'."
Skrufff: So you weren’t thinking 'oh my God, we've created a monster worldwide hit?
Timo Maas: "How can you? How can you? I often have that feeling since then of 'wow, god this is a super-bomb' but it doesn't always happen. With that one it was sounding so different that I didn't have too much confidence in it. I was playing it out when I was DJing and I was one of the few DJs playing it then after six months the UK garage scene started picking it up. Then one year later It became a massive anthem at the Notting Hill Carnival, blah blah blah (Norman Jay played it six times each day at Good Times).
It was actually released three times in one year, initially it went to somewhere in the 70s in the UK charts, then it made the 60s and then it was number 7. It was cooking and cooking and cooking in the clubs but the first couple of times it didn't work in the overground. Then eventually it blew up. Which was good for the artist: and good for me. It meant I was receiving recognition worldwide. The business side though was more complicated; I still have lawyers involved after 11 years."
Skrufff: Did you make any money out of it?
Timo Maas: "Barely, virtually nothing. I know for the record company it was their best selling record for years. I'm not talking about who I'm suing beyond saying there are lawyers involved. On the one hand it provided my worldwide breakthrough, there's no doubt about that, this track opened countless doors for me, but on the other hand, I would have loved to have made this track under my own name; then I would have made a lot of money out of it. So now other people and labels made a lot of money out of it but I was getting the fame and of course, indirectly I was benefitting from that financially. But you can hear in my voice still, I hope not too strongly, a slight taste of bitterness. I'm not the only artist to have been through this experience though."
Balance: Timo Maas: 017: is out now.
Article by Jonty Skrufff: http://listn.to/JontySkrufff