Filed under: Interview
Becoming an undisputed authority of minimal house, the modest Michael Mayer along with his tight knit crew has turned the Cologne based record shop ‘Kompakt’ into one of the most respected labels on the planet. Indeed the label’s insistence on quality and its own ‘stay true to yourself’ ideal have garnered a great deal of respect from all corners of the dance music scene, so much so that through its releases its style has become identified simply as ‘the Kompakt sound’.
Although no overnight success Mayer himself admits that struggling to put the time in over the last ten years has been one of the reasons that surprisingly only last year saw the release of his first solo album ‘Touch’. However hard work is rarely in vain and Kompakt releases by the likes of Superpitcher, DJ Koze and Justus Kohncke to name but a few, have become big favorites amongst the worlds top DJ’s making the rounds on the decks of John Digweed and James Holden etc etc. Although not one to have courted the more glamourous progressive scenes Mayer still admits that
“one of the reasons progressive house people pick up our music now is that there is a lot of maturity in our production, and that is for this reason it works on their floors”
Indeed the pure embrace of sticking to it’s indie-undergound roots, the no panic – no fuss, ‘slowly but surely’ approach under which Kompakt operates has put them at the center of the worlds music scene, and thus they are now finding their profile rising more rapidly than ever.
We got together for a chat with Michael Mayer before the KOMPAKT night at Tokyo’s UNIT.
Interview by Laura Brown (ArcTokyo) _ Introduction by Mark Oxley (HigherFrequency)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : So it has been over a year since you played in Japan, what was the most immpressive thing that you experienced the last time you were here ?
Michael Mayer : Last time, besides the general hospitality, and the amazing food, and those things; the most amazing thing last time was, party wise, was for sure Nagoya, it is a beautiful club, it was the second time I had played there, the first time was mind blowing the second time was even better, they were the best ‘remembrances’ from last time. Oh and Club Loop at Tokyo was fantastic as well.
HRFQ : Talking about your ‘Touch’ album that was released last year that was you‚’ debut album as a solo artist, and the question is, why did it take a while for you to release it ? You have been producing for over ten years or so.
Michael : Well it’s not like I have been producing for ten years to make this album, I was too busy with my other obligations like Kompakt distribution, spending 8 to 10 hours a day at the office, on the weekends I was DJing, and traveling a lot so the only time I had left to spend in the studio was on weekdays at night. It took three attempts to produce an album like this, trying to fit it in to my time, but at a certain point, I was like ‘this is impossible’, sometimes you have to sleep and have a bit of leisure time, you know it’s not wrong, so I decided not to produce an album until I could afford to be absent from the office and really focus. But then it went really quickly I produced the album in 3 weeks, because i was really happy to have nothing to do except making music, I really enjoyed this process.
HRFQ : Kompakt was originally a Cologne Record shop, is that right ?
Michael : Still is.
HRFQ : Ok, so Wolfgang was the owner and you were the customer, originally, is that it ?
Michael : Actually I was the first customer when the shop opened, first day, first minute I was there, because i was really expecting I was going to be more happy with the selection than any of the other shops in Cologn, I thought this new shop would fill a gap and would satisfy my needs; Which was not the case ! So I started complaining, that, ‘hey guys, you can’t do this, here is your chance etc, either you run this shop properly or you won’t last very long, blah blah blah ‘ I ended up ‘jobbing’ there a few days a week doing the orders for the shop and half a year later I became partner and since then we are together.
HRFQ :And then how did you decide to make a label together ?
Michael : Well at that point in 1993, there were already label activities, but it was quite difficult to open to you because at the highest level I think we had seven labels at the same time, all under different names, Profan , New Transatlantic, things like this, it was fun at that time, but we felt it was more and more difficult for us to follow what we do, we already had an enormous output it gets really difficult to say if this is them or this is us, so we decided to cut all the names and start working under one roof, which is Kompakt, and consolidate our activities and name the label after the shop, to make it more compact !
HRFQ : So how would you describe the Kompakt sound, I mean what is the criteria for releasing on it ?
Michael : The first thing when we sign artists is that we are looking for some personality in the music, it is very crucial for us to feel the artist behind the machines. It is not a big deal to produce music these days but it seems a very big deal to make music which means more than just some technical thing. So we are looking for a special character in the music, we are not limited to one style you know, it could be ambient, hard techno, whatever, but we always need to feel that it is somebody who has invested a little bit more than just buying a computer for his music, someone who adds some very personal notes, then it becomes interesting for us.
HRFQ :And so the Kompakt sound has been quoted not only by Techno artists, but also by progressive house artists and so has your label progressed in any way that you can attribute to this crossover?
Michael : This is quite a new phenomenon, it all started more or less when John Digweed licensed Kompakt or Kompakt tracks for his Fabric mix CD, everybody was quite surprised, we never had a relationship with this guy, or this scene at all, we just weren’t interested in this kind of music and we just didn’t expect that they would be interested in our music or that our music would function in this environment. Some people have a critical opinion about it, that Kompakt is becoming more commercial, but in our eyes we didn’t change and it is something that you can’t avoid, if these people like our music and they want to play it, then great. It doesn’t mean that Kompakt is getting more into progressive house now, one of the reasons progressive house people pick up our music now is that there is a lot of maturity in our production, and that is for this reason it works on their floors, I’m not sure, I’m not very familiar with the progressive house scene.
HRFQ : You released several records of Kaito, a Japanese prodecer Hiroshi Watanabe, and how did you find out about his sound and how did you feel when you first heard it ?
Michael : It is a nice story of how we discovered Kaito Hiroshi’s music, it was the summer of ’99 or late spring, and the weather was very nice and suddenly we had this sentimental feeling of ‘hey, remember there was this time when trance was this beautiful good music and like very hearty, warm, music, and we started to listen to urban trance tracks, and came to this summer mood, and were thinking about we should re-launch trance music in a way, in a better way a more honest and a more heartfelt way, and we were just talking about this and we had a CD or a DAT on the table from Hiroshi and we listened to it and it fit perfectly and exactly what we were imagining, this trance music which isn’t cheesy, just very sophisticated and deep, and has a great fullness I think, and this was the greatest accident which happened for Kompakt and we were very happy and we are still happy with what he does.
HRFQ : Are there any new artists or any new releases from Kompakt which you would like to talk about here ?
Michael : Well there is people like Justus Kohncke, he has been with us a long time actually, he used to be a friend before he became an artist on Kompakt, but he is just an interesting character. I think he is the best example of the Kompakt sound, he
offers a wide range of influences from german 70’s pop music cheesy stuff our parents would listen to, to disco all kinds, also techno, very upfront electronic music , a kind of studio nerd he knows all the latest technologies, but he uses these technologies for a very…..how can I say….. disco sample, vintage sound in a way, he is a good example of how we can use new latest technologies for a music that is actually really pop music or soul music or whatever.
HRFQ : And so Kompakt has now started MP3 downloads we think, and can we ask you a few questions about it ? Firstly, are you planing to digitally distribute everything the Kompakt label distributes ?
Michael : Yes we would like to. There are some labels which have objections and do not want to be part of this, which I totally understand, we ourselves are not big fans of this medium but we still regard vinyl as being the kings of performance, sound wise and everything, but we felt that it was time to offer a new opportunity to buy our music as MP3, you can find our stuff on the internet anyway, it is not a problem to download Kompakt things even exclusive, for free! But I am pretty sure that at least some people still accept that making music is a long procedure and the artists invest a lot of blood in this music and they deserve to be paid for this. So that’s why we thought it was necessary to offer this legal option. We would like to offer our own distribution program as well as other labels that fit, like, Playhouse which is not distributed by Kompakt but is integrated with the download shop because it fits perfectly, and people who listen to Kompakt also listen to Monica Enterprises, this should still be suitable, so it is open for everybody.
HRFQ : Do you think that MP3’s could eliminate the 12inch market or could they co-exist ?
Michael : That’s the old discussion, from the time when the CD was introduced, I just don’t believe that it can replace vinyl, ok technology is getting better and better, you find CD players and MP3 players which have pitch etc but I don’t think it can replace vinyl, it is still like this sensation you get when you buy a record, you can see the grooves, you can touch it, something so particular, that’s why it has survived so long, and has survived so many new technologies, and I think that there will always be people that will need this, I need to carry my record cases, I wouldn’t feel fine just to plug in with my i-Pod. There is just something there, something different, something special, I wouldn’t expect anyone else to buy vinyl just for home listening, I would also listen to my i-Pod at home. But you know putting on a record, listening to it, turning it around, suddenly it gets scratched, but it is your own personal scratch, these things I think are really important, this is why we save vinyl, so i am not very concerned.
HRFQ : In terms of MP3 selling sites, would you have other sites, like Bleep.com, sell your labels tracks, or would you keep it exclusively for yourselves ?
Michael : This is starting to happen now, right now it is a new market which is starting to happen now and evolving, and everybody is pretty hysteric about it, especially the people who make these sites, and everybody is trying to push and get the claims and stuff and it will take about another year or so until things cool down and people start to work with each other rather than try to put the other one out of business. Beep.com is the first site we may work with, but you know maybe it is not wise to make every track available on every site, you know it is like going to the grocery shop or the supermarket, sure you can get the vegetables you want from the supermarket but it also interesting and more enjoyable to get some vegetables from the grocery shop. You can ensure that it is better quality and get good advice, so you should always take care where you put your music, put on somewhere worthy, if you offer it to every single market it loses something, and I also think people enjoy having an address which they know, where they find things they like and they don’t find all the other things they don’t like.
HRFQ : What is your policy on DRM, we asked Rienhard Voigt last September the same question ?
Michael : DRM ?
HRFQ : Like a copy protection system on MP3 downloading…
Michael : Oh my god, that’s terrible, you can’t punish people for buying music, Kompakt offers MP3s which you can copy as much as you want. I got so angry with i-Tunes recently I wanted to download some nice pop tunes which I liked recently, but I couldn’t transfer these tracks onto my i-Pod, because I downloaded these tracks on my office computer, I don’t get it really, I can’t even burn these tracks on to a CD and take them home, and put them on my i-Pod, it is impossible, this I don’t understand.
HRFQ : Ok, last question, so what will be the keyword when you describe the future of the techno scene?
Michael : The keyword ? I don’t want to use open-mindedness, because it is too commonplace, but I think it is crucial for techno to be able to adapt to things, when you look at the last 5 years lots of good things have happened to techno, Electroclash was one of these good things, I didn’t even like it that much but it revitalized the younger club crowd for the songs and the song structures on the dance floor, but now Electroclash has gone but this song thing- to experience a song on the dance floor, has stayed and now the kids don’t look at you like you are some crazy old man when you play a song in the middle of the night,so yeah I think it is very important that everybody keeps their ears open and tries to develop things further.
End of the interview
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