Interview with Markus Schulz

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Markus Schulz is a German trance music DJ, musician and producer. He is best known for his weekly radio show titled Global DJ Broadcast. He is also the founder of the label Coldharbour Recordings and Schulz Music Group (SMG), an artist management company which manages rising stars in the industry such as KhoMha, Mr. Pit, Grube & Hovsepian and Adina Butar. Schulz is all set to perform at season 7 of The Sunburn Festival as part of the big one!

WTS: You moved to America when you were 13. Which would you say has influenced your interest in making music – your German roots or your new home in the States?

Schulz: Both. I became fascinated with radio at a young age. Because I didn’t have that many friends when growing up, radio acted as a companion for me; a way to escape. I didn’t get to forge long friendships because my step-father was in the army, and we’d therefore be moving home a lot. I was one of the so-called “army brats”. But the radio was always there. I loved getting lost in the music.

I emigrated to the US when I was 13, and this was the point where the breakdance scene was massive. I’d make breakdance tapes and trade them with other people, much like people do nowadays downloading liveset and radioshow rips. The breakdance movement eventually led to us throwing parties, and in my case, gave me my first footsteps in DJing for a crowd. Moving on to production after that was a natural step.

WTS: Is it true that your first gigs in America were mostly at gay clubs? Why was that and how do you think your audience has expanded since?

Schulz: That is indeed true. When I started becoming booked as a DJ around the Boston area, I would be playing in the Top 40 clubs. It was ok to an extent, but not particularly gratifying on a personal level, because playing solely the Top 40 music can burn you out creatively. It was only when I started attending and DJing at the gay clubs where my passion for DJing really ignited, because now you were playing for people who knew their stuff. It presented that challenge of pushing boundaries musically.

One of the biggest moments of my career was my seven year residency at The Works in Phoenix. That was the point where I began to feel that I could create my own identity – where people would be coming to see me DJ rather than just going for a night out generally. It was during those years where I began concentrating more on production and originals.

WTS: What is the entire process behind creating your albums? How many songs do you have to sift through before you find the perfect ones?

Schulz: Artist albums are completely different from everything else you do. The art of songwriting brings a lot of self-exploration and assessment. Sometimes you could be working with as many as three other people on one song – a fellow DJ collaborator, a singer and a songwriter. These tracks tend to take so much longer to create, but because of the amount of effort, the rewards feel greater.

When all is said and done, I’ll usually have around 25-30 tracks created, and roughly 65% of them will make the cut. Sometimes after the album is released, I’ll revisit the projects of some that didn’t quite feel right at the time and work on them again for the future.

WTS: Scream received amazing reviews worldwide; is there another album in the works?

Schulz: There sure is. The whole Scream project has felt like a career journey – encompassing the album, the big singles and the first attempt at a Bus Tour last spring. I had so many ideas while on the road and being inspired by the fans that I felt I should continue the ethos with a second chapter.

Scream 2 will continue much in the same vein as the first offering – nice melodic vocal tracks featuring new singers, a couple of collaborations and plenty of big anthemic instrumentals. Some of the tracks were showcased on the Buenos Aires ’13 compilation – Remember This, Mardi Gras and Towards the Sun (my collab with Rex Mundi). I’ve just managed to complete the album in time for Christmas, so it’s set for release in February with a host of parties to celebrate.               

WTS: You’ve been for DJing a long time now. If not a DJ, what else would you like to be?

Schulz: I get asked this a lot, and the honest answer is that I cannot imagine myself doing anything else for a living. It sounds very corny but I genuinely think I was put on this earth to do what I have been so lucky to do all these years – entertain and connect.

If I had to pick something, I’d love to have a go at running a radio station. As I mentioned earlier, the radio medium has played a very important role in my life, so I’d love the challenge of programming a station under my vision.

WTS: What is the idea behind your sometimes alias Dakota?

Schulz: The main ethos of Dakota is the instrumental, clubby side of my sound.  The biggest difference between it and theMarkus Schulz tracks / albums is that with Dakota it’s just entirely me from start to finish, making conventional club tracks that fuel my DJ sets. The tracks tend to be a little deeper and slower.

Even though most of my focus this year has been on Scream 2, I have still kept the Dakota alias active. Baraccas was actually the last thing I worked on before putting the Buenos Aires ’13 compilation together, and of course there was Doors Open – a 22 minute long track that has acted as my opener when I play my open to close solo sets. I have a couple more projects ongoing that will help me get ready for the long sets in 2014.

WTS: Who would you say is the biggest influence on your music?

Schulz: If we are talking about one single piece of music, I would say Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. Even today I could put it on and still develop new ideas just by listening through from start to finish.

Nowadays however, and as silly as it sounds, it’s the fans who inspire me. When I am on stage performing, I get so many ideas inside my head when looking out and seeing the reactions from the fans. A lot of the Scream 2 album was influenced by the experience of the Bus Tour that took place throughout the spring. 

WTS: In your opinion, what have been the best tracks of ?

Schulz: In no particular order, Fisherman & Hawkins – Apache, Markus Schulz - Remember This, KhoMha – Hydra, School of Seven Bells – Reappear (Thomas Datt Remix), Rex Mundi – Backpain, Grube & Hovsepian – Trickster, Wellenrausch & Basil O’Glue – Wickaninnish, Beat Service – Arcade, Danilo Ercole – Player One (Gai Barone Remix), Max Graham – The Evil ID.

WTS: Who’s your favourite upcoming artist these days?

Schulz: He’s been around for a couple of years, but I think this year marked the moment where people really started taking notice of Beat Service. His remix of ‘Nothing Without Me‘ is still so essential in my livesets almost a year on from when it was first made, and he’s gone on to make really booming originals like ‘Arcade‘, ‘Reach the Sun‘ and ‘Undercover‘.

And there’s no way we could call him a newcomer, but I’ve loved how M.I.K.E. has reinvented his sound this year. From his album that came out in February to the new stuff he’s done for me at Coldharbour, they are all so addictive.

WTS: Are there any artists that you haven’t collaborated with yet but would like to?

Schulz: I’ve always admired Eric Prydz’s work through the years.  His productions always have that special catchy melody and I’m immediately drawn to his name if I see any new content from him popping up through the promos or on Beatport.

In terms of outside the box choices, having the opportunity to work with a band like Coldplay or U2 would be a dream. I’ve really admired Lana Del Rey’s work over the past 18 months too; her whole Born to Die album is great, but the ‘Summertime Sadness‘ track is a real guilty pleasure of mine.

WTS: Name one track that you wish you had produced.

Schulz: That would have to be the original Cass & Slide version of ‘Perception‘. It first surfaced when I was moved to London at the turn of the millennium, where I was trying to rediscover the magic in the music after being badly burnt out after the Phoenix years.  It reminds me a lot of going to clubs like Ministry of Sound and Turnmills just as a clubber, seeing the big international DJs pass through at the time. When Naimee Coleman’s vocal got added, it just escalated the track even further to become my all time favorite.

Fortunately, as many of you know, I was given the privilege of remaking the track a few years ago, as part of my Do You Dream album. And to be able to get Justine Suissa on board for the vocals was just incredible. She did such an unbelievable job on the lyrics. It’s such a powerful line that we can all take inspiration from – “Rise up together”.

WTS: Tell us a little bit about KhoMha, the Colombian DJ you manage.

Schulz: My boy KhoMha! I’m so proud of how he continues to develop. I had known him for quite a while due to playing in Medellin so often. But the one distinct point I remember about him was the night I was playing a solo set at Amnesia in Ibiza, and he sent me the demo version of ‘Rainy in the Night‘ about an hour before I was due to leave for the club. I loved the track so much that I burned it and played it in the first hour, and his name started to spread.

Then when I came up with the concept of Schulz Music Group – taking people under my wing and managing them while acting as their booking agent, he was one of the first on my wishlist. We had a lot of trouble getting him a US Visa; so much so that he couldn’t make it for the Los Angeles ’12 release party, but now that it’s thankfully all sorted his tour schedule has just exploded. And he continues to fuel my livesets with some of the most outrageous melodies I have heard in tracks. He’s just going to get better and better.

WTS: What do you think of the new generation of producers and DJs? Do you think they’ve contributed to the sudden upsurge in dance music’s popularity?

Schulz: There’s no doubt about that. I think it was needed for the scene in a way. For many years the scene felt a little tired. It was the same lineups on the same stages at the same festivals. But now the newer generation have come in and brought new production ideas to the table, and therefore brings an element of excitement along with it.

However, there has been a side effect to it, namely that the producers who have come in and scored a massive hit are thrust into this enormous tour schedule, with little to no experience of DJing. So that’s where you see the routine 1 hour pre-programmed set, which never changes for a year or whatever city they are playing. That is hurting the art of DJing, and that’s why for me the most important thing we have to ensure while we are going through this explosion is that the art of DJing is preserved and appreciated. I think that the people who have the ability to read a room and react accordingly should be celebrated more.

WTS: You’re performing at POPNYE in Oakland for New Year’s Eve. If you weren’t, what would you be doing on a typical New Year’s Eve?

Schulz: Haha, that’s a good question. I think I’ve only had one New Year’s Eve in the past 10 years where I didn’t have a gig, and if I remember right, all I did that night was just have a quiet dinner with my family. It will be a fun experience this year, because I get to share the stage with Ferry for the New World Punx show. We’ve never done a New Year’s Eve together before.

WTS: At the Winter Music Conference, you play a drinking game where you take a shot every time someone messes up. Who’s got you the most drunk in this game?

Schulz: Haha. Well, because WMC takes place in Miami, I have to act as the host. It’s always a crazy week, because you have to divide your time between preparing for some of the most important shows of the year, whilst attending BBQ parties put on by agencies and promoters where things can sometimes get a little messy. Needless to say, if I am playing the game, I make sure it’s on a night where I have nothing to do and don’t have to get up early the next morning.

WTS: You’ve been to India before, how much do you feel the EDM scene has changed over the years?

Schulz: I can easily measure it by the amount of people from India tweeting me during Global DJ Broadcast every week. The volume has spiralled, especially in the past year. There were so many people asking when I was coming back to the country. So to be able to do it on such a grand scale of the Sunburn Festival is great for me. I’m hoping to see more and more producers come out of India in the future. I remember playing one of Praveen Achary’s tracks on Global DJ Broadcast earlier in the year, and my twitter timeline blew up because I was supporting an Indian producer. So hopefully more and more talents like him can come to the fore.

WTS: You’re going to be in Goa during the best time of the year! What do you think of the city, one of the origins of electronic music?

Schulz: It’s such a beautiful place. One of these days I’ll have to plan a vacation there. And although I haven’t gotten to see much of it, I have read enough stories online about how much it blossoms throughout Christmas. And you’re right in saying that electronic music owes a lot to the roots of Goa. All the dreamy melodic trance can point to influences of the vibe there. You never know, I might get inspired for a new track idea from this year’s visit.

WTS: Sunburn as a festival has been hailed as Asia’s #1 Dance Music Festival. How do you think it compares to those in Europe and America?

Schulz: Sunburn is one of those festivals where the mood of the crowd will be dictated not just by the music being played, but also by the ambience of the scenery around them. Because of Goa’s location and the position in the calendar of the Sunburn festival, there will most likely be a very diverse international audience, arguably more so than any other festival worldwide. 

WTS: Anything in particular you’re looking forward to at Planet Sunburn this time?

Schulz: It’s going to be a special show because it means that for the first time, a Global DJ Broadcast World Tour episode will come from India. Headlining one of the day is a huge honor for me too, so hopefully I can deliver a set people will enjoy long beyond the event. Having wrapped up things on Scream 2, I can probably take the shackles off and slip some of the material into my set now. So keep an eye out for that.

WTS: Now that you’re in India and the music scene has exploded here, any advice to budding DJs?

Schulz: Simplest advice is to try to develop your own style. I think the best way to approach it is to take little bits of influences from different sources, and make them a hybrid of you own. For example, I get inspired by a lot of melodies in classic and modern rock. Bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, to the modern day melodies of Coldplay. At the same time, I love listening to drum n bass because of the basslines present in that genre.

Nowadays for DJs, productions act almost exclusively as your calling card. So getting that big unique production out in the ether is incredibly important; because if there is something appealing, that will attract the attention of the more established names and help give you a shot of momentum.

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