For over 2 decades, Oliver Huntemann has been at the forefront of the global techno movement. Rave Reviewz caught up with the prolific DJ/producer before his trip Down Under to discuss his career, the touring lifestyle and the future of techno...
RR: Oliver - we're looking forward to your set in Sydney. What memories do you have of the city from your last trip? And how would you say it compares to your hometown of Hamburg?
Oliver: Thanks, I’m happy to be coming back! The last time I was there was for a heavy club tour, which was outstanding - but I was also able to stay a few days and actually enjoy the scenery and great vibe of Sydney, which is really rare whilst being on tour.
It’s hard to compare Hamburg with Sydney, especially with Hamburg having a lot of rainy days. But there are a few similarities with both cities being built around harbours, which gives them both very, very nice scenery... even the cruise ships are the same. Sydney is almost like home, just without rain haha.
RR: Your 5th album, Propaganda was released last year. What is the story behind its title? Is there a theme running through the tracks?
Oliver: Has it been a year already? Time flies! ‘Propaganda’ came to my mind very quickly - over the last few years I started to dig deeper into street art and discovered artists like Pose, Kaws, Shepherd Fairy, D*face and many others. A few of these artists were playing with the strong expression of classic propaganda, which is a stronger type of marketing. When I saw the first sketch of the cover art I knew I had to name it ‘Propaganda’.
I always try to make my albums a journey. Single EPs can always stand out on their own, but an album has to catch you. Propaganda has a lot of experimental tracks which kind of stretch the album to give it a few breaks. It's very refreshing for me and my studio mate André Winter to let the creativity flow, but of course all the tracks have a dark and dirty touch.
RR: Techno was reported to be the top selling electronic music genres this year, and some say it is overexposed. Would you agree with that? What direction do you think the genre is heading in?
Oliver: We do see that people actually buy, or at least legally stream our music more than in previous years. I wouldn’t say it’s overexposed... it seems there is always someone who finds something to complain about. In the end it’s just good for everyone in the business, especially for the young ones that have just started their career.
Techno itself, at least at the moment, is tending to get harder again. The strong stomping “Berghain” tracks get more and more attention. Our electronic music culture is, and always was, about changes and finding something different - that's why it still attracts young people after decades. At the peak of the new 'Deep House' a few years ago, it was already clear that a countermovement would take over... the contrast couldn’t have been stronger.
RR: You've been running your current label, Senso Sounds for some time now. Tell us what that has been like, especially any challenges you’ve faced and any major highlights. How does it compare to your previous experience of running a label?
Oliver: Senso Sounds is basically a part of me. The biggest challenge was of course to get attention, to get the label into the market. With new artists and labels coming up everyday it's not a very easy task and took some time, although we had great artists from the beginning. I needed to really figure out how I can represent the label in unique way.
With the cover art and rare showcases in great venues - like our terrace party in Barcelona (below) or our upcoming event at Kafes, Istanbul - I try to strengthen the profile constantly. The most important part is the great artists who provide us with 'the Senso Sound'.
Compared to other projects or labels, Senso Sounds feels like a family. We have young artists with fresh ideas - Distale from Berlin, for example - and we also have experienced producers like Olivier Giacomotto. It’s just a great mix, with easy communication and a great team behind it.
RR: You mentioned the cover art for Senso releases, which are very striking and minimalist. How involved are you with the design?
Oliver: I’m not too involved actually... I trust my illustrator and graphic designer Anne-Marie Pappas blindly and just let her be the artist. Every once in while we have a coffee and talk about the label and how it is developing, but she is the mastermind behind the great cover art.
RR: Your classic 'Rotlicht' is a monster of a track. Tell us how you created it, from the conception of the idea to the finished product.
Oliver: Should I be honest? At first, when the track was almost finished I thought “yeah ok, album track but that’s it”. When I started to test the track in the clubs and festivals I just knew... a few tweaks and this one will be a killer.
It’s hard to explain how to create a track, I always have an idea in my head which I try to somehow recreate in the studio. Road testing the tracks really helps to get the final touch.
RR: You’ve collaborated with fellow heavyweights like Dubfire in the past and we’re particularly fond of your Rekorder work with Stephan Bodzin. Are there any plans to work with either of them again in the future?
Oliver: I just thought about Rekorder over the last few days, such a long time ago but a really great project in my history. Dubfire and I finished the Elements series a while ago. It took us quite a while, but it’s always complicated to work on music with such busy touring schedules. Anyway, we both think the '5th Element' is not done yet.
RR: Sounds promising! Looking back over your extensive career, is there anything you would do differently?
Oliver: After so many years there are for sure some things I’d rather hide in a big dark closet, but in the end it all brought me to where I am now.
RR: Have you had times when you felt as though the hectic lifestyle of touring, performing and promoting is taking its toll on your wellbeing? Are there any steps you take to look after your mental health?
Oliver: Touring is not as easy at it seems, even with the benefits of business class flights and good hotels. Just for these three days in Australia and New Zealand I have to travel 63 hours! But when I look at my old friends from school and compare, being on tour or travelling in general keeps your mind fresh. Getting to know so many people and cultures also gives you an open mind. I’d rather say it keeps me healthy.
RR: Of the many gigs you’ve played, is there a particular one that stands out in your memory?
Oliver: Hard to say... I play around 120 shows a year. Most of them are unique and great, but I think my gigs in Cordoba, Argentina and at Hardpop in Cd. Juarez, Mexico are some of the most memorable ones. Juarez is still one of the most dangerous cities in the world but the vibe is incredible.
You Aussie guys actually stand out as well! I play usually once, sometimes even twice a year here. If it’s an intimate club tour like this time or festival shows, I’m always stoked to come back.
RR: And finally, what else do you have on the horizon?
Oliver: Always lots! At home the family keeps me busy - my youngest son just started walking and the older one is already doing his own thing ...and my incredible wife holds everything together. In terms of business, I’m working on the Propaganda remix album with a lot of great artists doing interpretations of the tracks. Of course, Senso Sounds needs some attention as well so I guess I'll use the 30 hours of flying home to listen to demos!
RR: Well, big thanks to your wife for holding it all together so you can visit us haha. Thanks for the chat Oliver.
Oliver: It was a pleasure!