We caught up with the German DJ, producer, analogue master, and Circle label boss Alex Flatner to talk touring, new music, synthesisers and studio set-ups.
Hey Alex, how are you doing?
Good, good. I’m actually quite busy in the studio producing a lot of new music, and DJing quite a lot, doing a lot of Europe gigs, and then the middle of the year I’m doing a big Asia tour, Australia tour, which I do every year. Last year I was playing in South Korea, China, Japan, then I was in Thailand, then I went to Indonesia, to Bali, and then I played three gigs in Australia.
Cool! It’s a different place isn’t it? Like the vibe? All around the world, you can present the same music but it’s received with different vibes.
Well when I started to play in China, it’s actually a guy from Spain who opened the club, and I remember he called me up many years ago and said, “hey Alex, I’m going to China to open a club”, and I said, “yes, right, you do that”, and I couldn’t believe it, but indeed he did, and I started to play for him five years ago. At the beginning it was more a European crowd in Shanghai, because Shanghai is also quite international, I would say even more European than Chinese. At the beginning you felt this more European crowd but last year you felt it really was a 50% Chinese crowd, 50% European. But in Chengdu you only see minor Europeans, but a lot of Chinese people. Yeah the Chinese people party a little bit different than we do, of course we are more experienced in that, but in Japan it’s totally different, and in South Korea.
It’s crazy isn’t it? It’s so different wherever you go, people still loving the music, but it’s a different energy and a different celebration.
Absolutely. It was absolutely, totally different when I played in Miami. I played for Treehouse, it was a packed place but people were not really dancing, and I asked the promoter, “hey man, is everything cool here?” And he said, “yeah it’s excellent, we love it, it’s great man, you made the place packed”, but it was quite strange for me. But when I played in New York, also totally different, it’s pumping, and in Europe we’re used to making parties, yeah it’s totally different. Australia is also quite similar I would say, especially Sydney, it’s the same like here.
How’s your label Circle going? It’s putting out some really good music. What have you got going on for this year?
I’m doing my second mixtape compilation, you know the best of the best of all my main artists that I have on the label, like Lopazz, George Morel, of course myself, and a few new acts I would like to establish where the music is excellent. I have established a lot of artists, like Gui Boratto was started on my label, Daniel Bortz started on my label, Sebastian Leger started with my label and then went to Ministry, Gui went to Kompakt and Daniel went into Suol. If somebody asks me why they don’t keep the artists, I say “well I had a big problem, I did not have a booking agency”, but 2013 I started my own booking agency, and when I make a signing today, I make sure I sign the guys for the booking agency too.
What other projects have you got going on besides Circle that you can tell our readers about?
Well I’ve done a lot of new music with Lopazz, records on Get Physical, Poker Flat, Cocoon. I also started a new project with Lee Softley aka Blue Amazon, we just finished two tracks. I restarted an old project I did in the late 90s with Roberto Q Ingram, I produced more techno stuff with him in the late 90s for Black Nation and Sector 616, it’s all the underground resistance. We also just got a license recently on K7, on a mix CD from Nina Kraviz, she licensed a track from us from ‘99, a really old track. I also just signed a record on 16B’s label, so a lot of new stuff is coming, and I’ve actually produced a lot of new music. The new guys I’m signing, two guys from Austria who are doing excellent music, will release a single on my label. Actually every release I’m doing on Circle I love and support 100% of course. The new faces I’m signing, this is actually my concept, to help excellent music, which hasn’t had a big name, to get known. Of course there is so much good music but I feel these days, people are just looking for names, not looking like many years ago, searching for what is the next cool stuff, what is the next unknown stuff I can get. This is somehow lost in the digital world we have today. I just talked yesterday to somebody who told me Beatport is having 30,000 releases every week, can you imagine? This is crazy, how can people find something? People should take more time to find good music and not only go for names. Don’t believe the hype you know. Also I see DJs before me or after me, they’re playing just hit music, but don’t really go deeper and see what else is out there. The quality should come back, and when I see the Beatport charts, I just can’t get it.
So where did you actually start? Let’s go back a bit, what made you wanna be a producer or a DJ? Which one came first?
Actually I started producing in ‘92. I was 16, as a hobby. I met an old friend of mine and asked him “what’ve you been up to?” and he said “yeah I starting producing music”, and I said “what do you mean producing music”, and I was at his home, he had a drum computer and a bassline synthesiser, and it really inspired me a lot. I said, “hey man I want to do this as well”, and I was at a flea market buying for 50-100 deutschmarks back in the day, an Atari Falcon and a clone 303 synthesiser. This is how I started in ‘92. And in ‘95 I did my first record, it was on an old Frankfurt label, which is no longer existing, probably they released my record then they went down [laughs]. And DJing actually happened by accident, I must admit. I was in a club in Munich, my hometown, and I know the guys, we became friends, and in ‘96 those guys opened a new venue. Of course I was to see this new venue, and one day the DJ didn’t show up, the club opened at 11 and at 12.30 he still was not there, and I said to the guy, “hey I have a few records in the trunk of my car, what do you think if I go and just play some records?” and he said, “it’s a good idea, why not, lets do it”. And I was DJing and one hour later the DJ came but they liked it so much they said to me “come next week again and do the warm-up for us”, and I said, “yeah man, good idea”. I did this a few times and became resident, but this venue became one of the most popular venues in Munich, and with the producing and everything, it got more international and this is how I became a DJ. But I must also admit my musical roots come actually from my family, I play piano, and I still take piano lessons, my uncle is actually a professional singer and guitar player in Italy, and this is how I grew up, with a lot of music around me. I saw the whole life of producing from him but the last kick I needed came from a friend. And I’m doing this for 18, 19 years.
And there’s no sign of slowing down for you then?
No, no, 2013 and 2014 were excellent years for me. I had a lot of gigs, but the problem is when you’re around all the time you don’t have time to make music.
Do you try and work on the road, like a little tiny set-up you can at least scratch some ideas on and then come back to?
No, not really. I’m only using hardware, no software except the Apple software I use as a mainframe. I started like this in ‘95, with only outboard equipment, in ‘99, 2000 hard disk came slowly, and everybody was doing it, and I sold almost all my hardware because I thought “I don’t need this anymore, I can do everything with software”.
Yeah I did that, mistake!
Yeah it was a big mistake, and then in 2004, 2005 I recognised something was missing, I’m really missing sitting in front of the gear and creating the sound by myself, not just a tap on the mouse and keyboard. Then I restarted again, buying all the stuff back, and today I have only analogue gear.
What are your favourite pieces of gear that you’ve got? Or if you had to keep only five things in your studio what would they be?
It’s the Roland Jupiter-8 synthesiser, for sure the number one. Then the second one is Moog Voyager synthesiser, then third place I would say Massive Passive equalizer hardware. Number four the API compressor I use a lot, the 2500 compressor, and in fifth place I would say the Roland Juno-60.
At least with all that stuff you could rebuild your studio, you’d still keep your sound.
For sure, I mean in the last four years, I was really trying to work on the sound, on the recording, and what can I do better, so the sound in the studio is almost room and room. I calibrated my speakers from a professional company in Germany and it’s wicked. When you sit down you have a crystal clear super sound, you hear everything, believe me! [laughs]
Listening to your music you can tell that you haven’t been making music a short, but do you think you’ve come to a turning point, your studio being exactly how you want it, and you’ve got all your gear? You’re at your best right now would you say?
I would say today I’m really happy with my set-up, and I can do anything I want to do, every gear I wished to have. Like the last piece of gear was a Jupiter-8, it was super, super expensive to get it, but it was my wish since I was 18, and I didn’t have the cash back in the day, and I bought it two years ago. I refurbished the synthesiser to make it extra clear, went to another company, spent a lot of money, and now it’s in perfect condition, so this was the last gear I wished to have for the studio. I might buy one or two more compressors or equalizers, just minor things.
Ok so this is a different question for you. If you were banished to a desert island, and you had to take three famous people, dead or alive, who would you take and why?
I will take my girl, of course, because I love her, because we’ve been through hard times, so I would want to spend this hard time with her. Second, I will probably take a best friend of mine, we know each for many years, and the third, maybe somebody who could really help us out of the shit [laughs], a politician who has so much influence he can boost us in five minutes out of this desert!