Henrik Schwarz was born and raised in Germany where he also took his first musical steps as a DJ in local Clubs playing Rap, Hip Hop, Rare Groove and Jazz and Detroit Techno. Soon after Henrik began to DJ he developed an interest in computer-based music production and started to experiment with his own sounds using drum machines and synths.
In the late 90s Henrik completed his studies in Graphic Design and moved to Berlin to work as a Graphic Designer. Whilst working in Berlin Henrik’s music started to gain attention from the right people and he founded his own record label, Sunday Music alongside Sasse Lindblad who had just released Henrik’s first ever records called ‘Supravision EP’ on his Moodmusic Records in 2002.
Over the next few years Henrik improved his Henrik Schwarz Live show and to this day is still one of the most requested live acts in the dance music scene. Since those early years, Henrik has produced a number of successful originals and remixes including ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’ by Coldcut, ‘Leave My Head Alone Brain’, as well as remixes for artists including Mari Boine (Universal), Kuniyuki (Mule Musiq), DJ Hell, Tosca (G-Stone), Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (Deeper Soul), James Brown, Dark Globe feat. Boy George, Omar feat. Stevie Wonder, Jazzanova, Jesse Rose, Detroit Experiment, Michael Jackson, and many more…
In 2006 Henrik got the opportunity to mix a DJ Kicks compilation and even now is regarded as one of the best in the series. If you have not heard this yet I suggest you add this to your list of must listen to mixes.
Along with Âme and Dixon, Henrik released ‘Where We At’ with Derrick Carter on vocal which became an instant classic and marked the beginning of a very fruitful and close collaboration between Henrik and Innervisions with successful releases and remixes like Amampondo and Henrik Schwarz ‘I Exist Because Of You, Ane Brun ‘Headphone Silence’ (Henrik Schwarz Remix, Dixon Edit), Crocodile IV-RMX for Underworld ‘Hold My Hand’ (IV-RMX) for Uncle, and many others culminating in the first unforgetable Laptop Supergroup Live show of the dreamteam together “A Critical Mass’ in Amsterdam and more gigs around 2009 at Melt!, Dissonanze in Rome, Detroit Electronic Music Festival, NY, Japan and many others to come.
Henrik is an artist with many strings to his bow as can be easily seen (and heard) and with the release of his ‘Scripted Orkestra’ LP having just been a few weeks back, Henrik looks set to continue with his impressive output.
I managed to grab a few moments to sit and chat with Henrik about his musical background, new LP, and everything around orchestral music whilst he was relaxing in his studio with a coffee. Henrik has been involved in the electronic music scene for a number of years now. I asked him what was it that first made him want to pursue a career in this industry?
“I didn’t expect to be a pro musician when I started playing around with synths and drum machines in around 1990. It started as a hobby but I took everything pretty serious. It was difficult as there was only hardware, and computers were crazy expensive so I had to spend a lot of time working as a waiter to earn enough to buy a few pieces of gear. I was a local DJ in clubs when I met Sasse from Moodmusic and he released one of my tracks on his label. From there I got more and more requests and at some point, I decided I would give it a try and stopped working in my normal job as an Art Director.”
I think today we all take it for granted how easy it is these days to set up a quick home studio with software! Whilst discussing hardware and studios I went on to ask Henrik about his LP, ‘Scripted Orkestra’ on 7K. I was keen to know the idea behind the concept and what fans of Henrik might expect? “It might be difficult for the fans as it is pretty far away from club music. I wanted to write new orchestra music and use concepts of computer programming to generate notes and arrangements with the very open perspective and experience I have from techno music.” Henrik went on to add… ” I didn’t want to write electronic music and then turn it into music for orchestra. I wanted to write for the orchestra directly. To be able to do this I had to learn a lot first, so I felt a bit like in music school. But I enjoyed this part a lot as I always wanted to learn music theory and now I have. So I believe there is still a lot from my perspective on music in there but the sound is very different from what I usually do. I wanted to explore something new. I like to be insecure and explore new territories, so this journey was the most frightening thing I have ever done. But I believe it is important to be open and try new things.”
Whilst on the discussion of Henrik’s work with classical music I asked him about working alongside Jules Buckley and the Metropole Orkest. Many of you may be familiar with Jules, as he worked alongside Pete Tong on the Ibiza Classical nights. I wanted to know how Henrik came to work with Jules and the Metropole Orkest… “they asked me to write an hour of new orchestra music for them. I was thrilled by the idea and Jules has been very encouraging to explore my perspective.”
“The Metropole Orkest is a wonderful orchestra, they want to explore themselves and push the boundaries. And they can play it! This is very unique in the world of orchestras. So even when they received the scores and things got difficult they were so into it and really wanted to play it. A wonderful experience to work with them.”
With many classical nights now appearing on the gig calendar each year I wanted to know if Henrik believed that such nights help people to engage with classical music or are just some trend at present? “I don’t think this helps the classical world. I believe it is a way for many people to enjoy their electronic hits from another perspective. For us electronic musicians this is the way to dive into the orchestral world. I believe we should not stop by replaying our electronic hits. But we need to do it to learn how to do it. From there we need to go on and I believe that’s where it gets interesting.”
Henrik has spent many years now translating music into classical and every which way in-between. I was keen to find out what it was that draws Henrik to the classical sound over that of dance music? “First, I want to say that I avoid the word classical now. I use orchestral instead. Because what I do is not really connected to the classical world. It is connected to the classical infrastructure like concert halls and orchestras but the music itself is very different. Also, I don’t convert electronic music into orchestra music any more because it might not be the correct way to go from my experience. However, I had to go this way because it was my door opener into the world of the orchestra. I have a few reasons why this is interesting for me: First, I was very inspired by acoustic instruments as a sound source to create electronic music. From my perspective, there is a lack of innovation in electronic instruments and plugins. Tons of new things everywhere but actually not many new concepts. A lot of the new gear produce a similar sound. Or synthesizer companies rereleasing their old gear. That is fine but I want a new sound. I found that in acoustic instruments and the digital treatment of them. Very fresh from my perspective. Second, the way you produce sound in an orchestra setup is very different from making electronic music. Every little detail needs to be written down. So you need to be more creative but you have more control. I found that very inspiring. The third point is, for me orchestra music is even more abstract than electronic music. I am still not sure why I have this impression but I am working on it. Finally, for me, it feels like I have come full circle now. Everything I have learned now in these last few years I can use to create fresh electronic music again. And that feels very good too.
With much of the conversation being around orchestral music and production I thought I would speak with Henrik about the differences in working on the differing styles of music. When in his studio producing dance music he is very much a lone swordsman. I was intrigued to know how this compares with working alongside a full orchestra and a conductor? “Oh, it’s a huge difference. Of course on a technical level but even more on a human level. But I always enjoyed collaborating. And to work with an orchestra I find especially exciting because there are all those details, all those different people, a huge amount of data that needs to be processed together. It’s a collaborative swarm experience. If it works, it can be a very beautiful, human, experience. Many people coming together to share an idea and create an energy together for others. I like that.”
Talking with Henrik is fascinating and he is an artist that truly lives every moment of his creations. One of the tracks from his latest LP, ‘Gygylili’ was created using computer code. I was intrigued to know more about this…
“I don’t know how much space you have for this interview but it has been a pretty complex process. I wrote a little computer program that can alternate a sequence of notes through my input with controllers, fades and knobs. So in a way, I am trying to program an instrument that I can play. The instrument doesn’t create sounds but notes. It creates many notes, a complex cloud of notes that are connected. I listened to the output of the program with a piano sound. Then I wrote a second program that filtered certain parts of that cloud and sent it to different instruments of the orchestra. I think it is best to listen to it and maybe the ear can find the underlying concepts.”
Whilst on the subject of computers and code… in today’s world, many of us spend our lives hiding behind screens talking to friends via chats but very rarely in person. I wanted to know Henrik’s thoughts on this and if live music can actually help this lack of human interaction in some way? “For me, it is all about empathy. I love technology and all things digital. But if you stare at a screen to see life and people you see everything behind a glass. Everything looks similar through that screen and distant. You look at a party for a second and the next image is a refugee kid in the middle of nowhere.”
“I fear we are slowly losing our most important human nature: To care for others. So to be at a concert or electronic event might help you to stay in touch with that human nature, I hope.”
Moving back onto the subject of music I talking with Henrik about ‘Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari’ which is a new scoring of the black and white horror classic he worked on alongside Âme and Dixon. I asked Henrik if he planned to work on any more film scores in the future… “I did a few things into that direction and I find it very inspiring. I hope somebody asks me to do a full score soon.”
For fans of Henrik’s house and techno sounds, I asked him what we might expect from him over 2018? “I worked a lot and I felt really inspired to do new electronic music again. So there is a lot in the pipeline already. Next month I will finally be able to release my remix of Asembi Ara Amba after a 3 year period where I didn’t find the time to finish it. I played it a lot in my live sets and people were asking me what will happen and when. And there is much more electronic music to come. I also finished an album with a string quartet that will come out in autumn on my label Between Buttons and I am working on a new EP with Bugge Wesseltoft.”
I would like to thank Henrik for his time and some truly great answers during this interview.
You can buy Henrik Schwarz & Metropole Orkest ‘Scripted Orkestra’ here.