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Interview: DJ T.

Thomas Koch, known to the record buying public as DJ T., drew many pats on the back in 2009 with The Inner Jukebox, an album which showed tech house pretenders how things should be done. This year he’s followed that up with the 51st instalment of the Fabric mix series. It’s a big task, not just becasue of his own superlative mixes in the past (most notably the 2006 Body Language compilation), but also because the previous Fabric mix, curated by Dutch producer Martyn, was widely hailed as the most groundbreaking Fabric CD in years. Flora Wong spoke to the Get Physical boss about his disparate musical influences, the pitfalls of running a label and how touring the world inspired his new mix.

How did you feel about doing the next Fabric mix?

I am very happy to be part of this prestigious series. Some of the previous editions are among the best DJ mixes ever released on CD. For me, it was a matter of perfect timing; I had never felt more prepared – in the preceding months, during my global tour, I had collected a lot of music I wouldn’t necessarily play in a club, but stuff better suited for listening-oriented mixes and podcasts. It’s a great way to show people where I am heading musically right now, including the work on my upcoming album, because when I am in the studio I want to express something that is new and different from what I have been known for over the last two years.

Did you approach this differently than you would when preparing tracks for a big gig?

Yes, for the first time ever it was less about representing my DJ sets and a lot more about expressing my preferences and emotions in a listening-oriented mix. During my global tour I played many gigs in South America, Mexico and Australia and when I compiled the Fabric mix, the vibe of those weeks was still resonating with me. In addition, I wanted to convey a specific and very deep musical vibe – somebody at Fabric actually called it “cinematic” and I really liked that characterisation. Style-wise, I am rediscovering my early disco, soul and funk roots and it is very exciting to see the brand new shapes I can give those elements today.

Do you feel more like a DJ or a producer?

I have been DJing for 23 years now and only producing for 10 years, so DJing has always been the “mother” of my other musical activities and remains the most important thing for me. Also, I don’t feel like a producer 100% because I always involve engineers in the process despite being very musical, knowing a lot about musical theory and knowing my way around the studio. But – step by step and with every release – I take a stronger part in the production process, so I should be able to take my own template and rough mix to others for finalisation and maybe even go one step further in the near future.

Do you think that they inherently overlap or can still exist as separate jobs?

Of course they can. But over the past 15 years or so it has been getting progressively harder for DJs to establish an international profile if that’s all they do. Right now, there are very few DJs left who don’t have studio ambitions. Still, the opposite set-up – producers without any DJ skills – is still quite common.

“Style-wise, I am rediscovering my early disco, soul and funk roots and it is very exciting to see the brand new shapes I can give those elements today”

What is your production process with Thomas Schumacher like?

Our workflow on the The Inner Jukebox album wasn’t so different from my collaborations with other producers. Generally speaking, I am very clear and determined when it comes to the basic aesthetics of my music: I spend a lot of effort on the right preparations before a day in the studio, select a lot of samples and other sounds, and this allows us to bash out the basic grooves and lines really fast. I also contribute my own sequences, loops, riffs etc. On the other hand, my producers help a lot with the arrangement, which isn’t exactly my strong point.

Your last album was really enjoyable and had a lot of themes that seemed to run through – anything in particular inspired the sounds in it?

Not really, it was just my definition of how proper house and tech house should’ve sounded at that particular moment in time.

Who have you found to be influential to you as a producer?

Too many to mention them all! I take bits and pieces of inspiration from producers of many different genres, even from some who are not into electronic music. At the moment, there is a lot of soulful, fresh sounding slow motion house and nu-disco around.

How do you think your sound has changed over the years?

People always tell me that they recognise the way I programme my grooves and beats, although the latest stuff sounds quite different from my earlier releases on Get Physical 4-6 years ago. When the label started out, I really had to work on my own definition of my style and influences. Once this chapter had been closed, the 70s and 80s retro elements more or less vanished and made room for a more contemporary and stripped down sound. Currently, I am reverting to my very early roots, but in a way that is very different from previous endeavours.

“Over the past few years, I listened to almost no electronic music in private situations. And then, during recent months, the club-related stuff started to grow on me again because there is a lot more song-oriented music around that I really appreciate”

How is Get Physical going? Are you working a lot on the label or more on your own stuff?

Just like everybody else we are struggling a bit and had to trim the fat, but we are still doing well. After putting more energy into the company than into DJing and productions for many years, I recently withdrew from the business side of things to focus more on my work as an artist. At the moment, I mainly contribute a few bits and pieces to the label’s A&R.

What do you listen to in your own time? Dance music? Or do you find it becomes too much?

Over the past few years, I listened to almost no electronic music in private situations. And then, during recent months, the club-related stuff started to grow on me again because there is a lot of more musical and song-oriented stuff around that I really appreciate.

Interview: Flora Wong