Thomas Koch, better known as DJ.T has played a hugely important role in dance music for nearly 30 years. Growing up in Frankfurt, he absorbed his parents insatiable appetite for music and during his crucial formative years, experienced the rise and fall of disco, and the emergence of exciting new styles like hip-hop, electro, house and techno. Since founding Groove Magazine, one of Germany’s foremost dance publications, in 1989, he has gone on to establish Get Physical with M.A.N.D.Y. and Booka Shade, and is renowned for his keen ear for future dance floor hits, and for his no-frills, contemplative and technically watertight DJing.
Kindly taking time out from his busy touring timetable, DJ T. spoke with Mark Casey for Decoded Magazine about the past, present, and future.
You’re currently touring the Americas and there is a real hunger for upfront, edgy house and techno there. It really does seem as though dance music in general has become far less Euro-centric than it has ever been, almost like house and techno have finally ‘come home’ to real acceptance after all these years abroad, growing up and developing, and having seen EDM come and go. Is this something that you have picked up on?
How refreshing, finally an interview with no standard questions. Best questions in an interview since a long time!
If we would retrace these current tectonic movements of club music, we would have to go back in history 5-7 years, the time when the domination of minimal slowly came to and end North American artists were working on a renaissance of Deep and Vocal House and Disco elements and injected proper Soul into House Music again. This bunch of new charismatic figures and their labels was mainly responsible for what was dominating in underground club music since then. For one of the most beautiful and musical moments since the existence of this music they also slowed down club music again. I will never forget this time when you could play peak time sets in front of a couple of hundred people and staying below 120bpm all the time.
There seems to be a feel for raw, retrospective sounds in the clubs just now, and I know that you are very much a champion of raising awareness of what has gone before – naming your third album “The Pleasure Principle”, for one example – and the timeless classics that helped spread the popularity of house and techno. How important do you think it is to encourage younger DJs and producers to have a sense of history?
For me personally is an natural urge to always show where I am coming from and also talk about it. To honour the artists, labels etc. I grew up with, the ones that for me personally have the status, that – without them – I couldn’t do what I am doing because what they did will always be a part of me and the essence of my own work. That’s just how I role. Not everybody is like that and you don’t necessarily have to be like that to create beautiful music and DJ art. But for me its a thing of respect and awareness and I can feel – especially in these times again – that young people feel a lack of depth, meaning and soul in the current circuit of club music and wanna understand where everything is coming from because that would help them also to understand the presence in a better way. That’s why they start to look back to the past and separate from fashion and trend oriented music and start getting involved with more timeless music.
Nowadays the lines between house, tech house, techno and acid are often blurred. Do you think that that might pose a difficulty for up-and-coming DJs in terms of trying to establish themselves, or is the ability to juggle genres how true talent shines through?
I don’t think that the line ups are much more blurred in terms of the variety of styles than they used to be in the past. For me juggling with the genres, tempos and eras is still the supreme discipline of DJIng. But there are simply many different concepts of DJing nowadays and i also totally respect the concept of abiding by own particular style. There are also kings of that discipline that are untouchable in it, its just not my type of DJing. I think the more variety is offered, the more people out there have a choice of finding there true own expression in music.
Do you think your journalistic background has been of benefit to you when it comes to selecting music, in the sense that you perhaps listen with a more critical ear?
Yes, I do. Everything what I did in the music business in the past 25 years has sharpened my senses for that. But in the end the most important thing is to be able to tell a story with the music you play and sometimes one even has to throw over board his musical correctness for a moment to tell the better story.
You’ve recently released a few tunes on Moon Harbour. Has it been refreshing having your work showcased on a wider range of labels, and do you foresee an album debuting on that label, having released your last 3 long-players on Get Physical?
It was a conscious decision to release on other labels because the sound I wanted to produce music that fits more to the style I am playing right now. I am very happy about my connection with Moon Harbour, in my eyes its one of the most consistent labels right now and a label that presents the variety and spectrum of the genre Tech House in the best possible way. Nevertheless I also wanna keep on releasing on my old home base Get Physical and on 1-2 other labels I released on in the past 1-2 years. In the moment I can’t say if will ever do an album again, the last one almost killed me, haha.
Do you feel a sense of pride that your tracks and sets still occupy a place at the cutting edge of house music, with you having been around since the early days, or is it more to do with your being immersed in it and simply having an intrinsic feel for what works?
I wouldn’t say about my own production that they have been always cutting edge. But I feel pride for being able to contribute in the way I did with my productions even if I would never compare myself with all these full blooded producers and geniuses out there, because I simply was never my own master in the studio. I am also kind of proud on the fact, that – despite the fact I was always producing with very different Co producers in terms of their own styles and technical ways of producing – I was always able to achieve an an own, recognisable fingerprint in my productions.
You had spoken before about wanting to get back to spending more time in the one city DJing and developing camaraderie with the local crowds. Was that aspect something that you missed as your career expanded?
Yes, I definitely miss that. To be a resident of one venue over a longer time in your own city has a total different quality than travelling around the world and playing to new crowds every single night. The last time I had that was between 1999 and 2003 when I was running my own club Monza with partners and friends in my old home base Frankfurt. Lets see what 2017 brings, it might see me getting involved with a Berlin event project again, but there is nothing confirmed yet.
Despite club closures and more being threatened, it does feel as though it’s a very exciting time to be a part of club culture. In this post-superclub era, can you see parallels with the late 80s and early 90s, where rave culture had to forage its own path and stand up to mainstream discourse that didn’t quite ‘get it’- the pre-superclub era – and do you think the predominance of the underground ethos has had a positive effect on the integrity of the music and the scene in general?
Compared to which times you would say we are in the ‘post-superclub-era’ now? Yes, the predominance the underground ethos always will always have an effect of the integrity of the music. Or, the other way around, the fact that we are witnessing a moment right now when its less about the music itself and more about branding, packing, marketing, big names and – overall – money, has a negative effect on that integrity.
As someone who is famed for amassing a huge collection of records, the current vinyl revival must be pleasing to you. Has it come as a surprise to you on any level?
No, it doesn’t really surprise me and of course I welcome it. Still it doesn’t go that far that anybody in our scene could make a living out of vinyl sales again. It makes me sad to see that even the best selling vinyl only labels are only a hobby and – in many cases – only serve the purpose of being a marketing tool for the bookings of the artist. That’s a sad truth we have to face and live with for the moment. For the most people out there nowadays music HAS to be released with the pressure in the background to promote themselves with it and not for the sake of the music in the first place. That also belongs to the topic ‘integrity of music’ that you just mentioned before.
What does 2017 have in store for you, and are there any labels or artists that the rest of us should keep an eye out for?
The next weeks will see EP releases on Get Physical – my first EP for my old home base since 4 years – and Moon Harbour. Also a remix on Yoshitoshi will be out soon. And I have at least 3 more remixes for A class labels in the pipeline already for the first half of the year. Towards the 2nd half I would like to release on of these genre compilations on Get Physical again, like the one I did some years ago. Wanted to do a follow up since a long time but didn’t really find the time so far to pull it through.
DJ.T’s ‘Werk It’ is out on the 18th January on Moon Harbour