“It’s not a bad thing at all when underground music becomes popular – maybe it’s just finally the recognition it deserved” – Chopstick & Johnjon

A decade has passed since the masterminds behind the Suol label, Chi-Thien Nguyen and John B. Muder, set out as Chopstick & Johnjon with a clear mission: “to blaze a trail through the international House and Techno scene”. Those ten years seem to have passed in the twinkling of an eye. Decoded Magazine caught up with the pair to discuss their label, DJing, dance music culture, and what they have planned in the coming months.

Hi guys, great to meet you! How are things?
Things are great. Thanks for asking.

Let’s start by talking about your label, Suol. The vibe is unique all over. Can you describe to us the importance of being unique in a land of many record labels?
Nowadays it is technically pretty easy to start a record label and in many ways it is a good thing. A lot of people can get involved that might have been spooked by expensive vinyl production costs before, so we get a lot of new talent out there. The downside is that just in the electronic music scene we have thousands of new tracks coming out every month, so as a label you have to find other ways to stand out.

A lot of label owners I have spoken to have told me that the artwork is just as important as the music itself. Is this something you agree with?
Absolutely. The artwork is what people see before they even listen to the record so it already sends a message. We love working with artists on the visual side, cause they put on paper what they feel when they listen to the music. It’s super exciting!

You guys have an absolute tonne of experience now as producers and label managers. Has that experience changed your outlook on life?
Of course. Everybody who goes through life with an open mind will always use experience to influence your outlook on life. The challenge is to be an old dog in some areas but keep your childish approaches in others.

Do you think it’s important to have the ability to adapt and change your artistic style?
Adapting sounds like you change something about your music because it would be more successful and that is something that shouldn’t influence you if you are an artist. As an artist, you constantly evolve and no studio-day is like the other, but you need to keep the rational thoughts outside.

What was the defining moment for Suol? Was there a point where you just knew success was inevitable?
It’s not like in a race where you know you won when you crossed the finish line, It’s definitely more of a time period. At some point, you wake up and think, shit, this is actually going really well.

When you receive a demo from a new artist, what are the major points you look for in that artist, aside from the great music?
Personality. We come across people in the industry that are really disrespectful towards people they perceive as unimportant to them. That’s just a shit attitude and will reflect in any long-term collaboration. It also helps to be hungry and hard working, because talent is all nice but if you’re not focused, you won’t get anywhere.

Innovation makes the world go around. What do you think the next innovative step will be to take the musical underground forward?
A lot of ideas like, live streaming a DJ Set to many clubs simultaneously is something that makes us shiver, so we actually hope it’s beaming. Beaming people within minutes around the world would be great because if you can travel the world without airports and shuttles, a DJs life is complete.

And what about in the studio? If you could create one piece of studio equipment that would massively help your workflow, what would it be and why?
We are old school in the studio, so anything we use and would love to use was built centuries ago. The only thing that would be great would be a voice transformator because as you know we love vocals but cannot sing for shit. Not even demo stage – nothing. So something you sing into and it comes out Bon Iver would be sick.

Can you tell us a little more about your studio process? How does a track go from an idea to dance-floors around the globe?
At the moment we do a lot of live jamming. So we play around with drum machines and synths in the studio and once we have something we record some takes into Ableton Live. Basically, everything on our upcoming EP is live takes with a bit of polishing afterward.

You’ve recently been lightening the mood in Berlin with your Hello Monday parties. How has that venture been going?
Incredibly well. It definitely reminds you why Berlin is such a great city. After we came up with the idea of a daytime Monday party people thought we were crazy. But with the help of some great people and befriended artists who believed in us and the concept, something really unique was created.

What do you think it is about Berlin that makes it such an amazing city for dance music culture?
A capital where you can successfully start a weekly Mondays party is something special. Speaks for itself we’d say. In Berlin a lot of things come together… to name only a few, it’s the combination of creative people, affordable living and open minded government that builds the ground for successful underground club culture and in the end, the whole industry is based on that.

After some time as a DJ, you learn to read the crowd. First of all, some basics like: how patient are they? How much do they trust you and are they willing to go weird!?
Once you figured that out you can tell what gets the reaction. Sometimes it’s just the groove, other times crowds like breaks – then again crowds that hate standing around during breaks. So it’s always a challenge.

Can you tell us how you warm up for a gig? What do you do to get prepared in the hours leading up to it?
It really depends on where and when the gig is and with whom. Sometimes you just sleep before the gig and show up 10 min before playtime. Other times if you play with friends you are at the club from the beginning even tho your set time is at 5. After some time you have a pattern that makes you most comfortable for every occasion.

And what does it take to be a Techno Wizard? Do you need a beard, or is that optional?
Not at all. We played with kids that were 20 and they played the most amazing sets with classics and everything. I think you need to have and keep the passion for the music and keep digging. But we wouldn’t call ourselves wizards … there are only a few we ever met that we would consider for that title.

Do you think that politics is too involved in music?
Where there is money, there is politics. and there is big money in electronic music nowadays. it is something that we encounter a lot and it always causes complications. It’s more hindering than anything else but people want to protect what they build so they rather tell people what to do and not to do then share it. It is a shame but nothing we give too much thought … unfortunately, it comes with the territory.

What do you think is the worst thing about the music industry at the moment, and what can be done to change it?
The worst thing in the music industry is when decisions are made in a money-driven sense and not in a passionate sense!

Do you think underground music is now becoming mainstream music in the sense that its popularity has exploded?
That’s for sure! People sometimes don’t understand that “Pop” music stands for popular music. It’s not a bad thing at all when underground music becomes popular – maybe it’s just finally the recognition it deserved? Who knows! But when “underground” artists fly private or business class around the world residing in 5-star hotels etc.. that has definitely nothing to do with “underground” anymore.

What is your opinion on the ban on DJ’s at beach clubs in Ibiza? Do you think that could turn out to be a disastrous move by the authorities?
What ban? we didn’t know and frankly, we really don’t care either. There is no ban at Ipse in Berlin, so tell them to come here instead!

Darius Syrossian recently said Ibiza’s current obsession with VIP tourism is ruining the island. Is this something you agree with? If so, where’s next for the passionate fans of the underground?
Darius is a smart guy and he is definitely right. VIP tourism is a reaction or demand of what Ibiza has offered: Mainstream. Ibiza has been commercialized a long time ago and sure there are still some underground parties with passionate promoters but in the end, it’s a dog-eat-dog island. And every club or promoter wants more… more more more! And the kids who the clubs and promoters cater to just want to appear on their friends’ feeds, posing in the VIP section at some party. It’s just the way it has become money driven. We can’t blame them as it’s like that in any kind of business. Things will be discovered, then exploited until nothing is left. I guess the passionate fans of the underground are traveling more to Berlin than to Ibiza nowadays. In Berlin, you still have plenty of underground clubs and parties where there is no need of a big headlining DJ. Take Sisyphos for example, No real lineup is announced prior and people go there to enjoy themselves and it’s the exact opposite of VIP: They experience the vibes together, not behind some VIP barrier. The club scene in Berlin feels very healthy with lots of options to go out at any given day – every day we feel grateful to play a small part in Berlin’s subculture and House music community.

What have you got in the pipeline in terms of productions and what are the future plans for Suol?
John and I have been very very busy in the studio in the first half of 2017. Not only working on Chopstick & Johnjon material but also just jamming away with different artists and musicians.

It just feels great to be in a room with like minded friends and everybody just throws in their ideas – sure it can be challenging as there are many egos in the room but that’s the fun! And so far the outcome has always been greater than doing it by yourself. Hence, there will be an EP from us after the summer with a nice feature by CeCe Rogers.

There’s also plenty happening at Suol as we’re moving into freshly renovated offices in the heart of Kreuzberg. We’ve also expanded our core team in the offices with a few additions. To the public eye, one only sees the artists and their career, but in order to pave the artist’s way, the back-end of Suol has an immense impact. We cannot thank our team often enough – they are the true heart and soul of Suol.

In terms of releases, we have planned EP’s by our core artists but also are looking to take on new talents. We’ve tightened the leash a bit in terms of Suol’s musical output and are focusing more on where we came from – the club!

Long players are still important in our eyes but the timing of an album has never been more important and essential than now. Generally speaking, lots of albums don’t get the right attention and that is such a shame. Releasing EP’s make more sense at the beginning but once you’ve reached a certain recognition, it’s time to drop your pants and write an album. So we will still be releasing albums but are focusing more on EP’s at the moment.

And finally, can you name us your top future stars to look out for?
Kolja Gerstenberg is definitely an artist everyone should have an eye on in the future. He’s a professional drummer and a full fletched musician and has an amazing feel for the right sounds and arrangements. Snad is also a young bright and talented dude from of Chicago who is currently living in Berlin. He already has a release on Smallville under his belt and there will be much more coming from him as well.

Tracklist:
01. Demuja – Move – Freerange
02. Atjazz – Track 1 (Mix 1) – Atjazz Recordings
03. Cassius – Go Up (Kolja Gerstenberg Remix) – Ed Banger
04. Unknown Artist – Promo CD
05. Omar S – Heard Chew Single – FXHE Records
06. Schiggeria – Guggelhupf – Smile For A While
07. Chopstick & Johnjon feat. CeCe Rogers – What is House Music? – Suol
08. Snad & Ignatius Camilo – Banana Girl – Gandu
09. Studioheist – You – Large
10. Luhk – A Dieta Dos Elefantes – Scenario
11. Kolja Gerstenberg – If You Need Me – Suol
12. Pablo Bolivar feat. John Vermont – A Special Night (Ian Pooley Main Mix) – Peppermint Jam
13. Tuff City Kids – Beau-Tan – Suol

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About the author

Artist and Global A&R Manager, Ian French (Naif) is passionate about every genre of music from Breakbeat, to Drum & Bass, to Techno and Progressive House. If he was to describe his preferred style of music he would probably describe it simply as electronic music. Besides his love for music and DJing his other passions are fine cuisine, wine, and travel.

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