Berlin based producer maestro Stefan Zlataritis, known in the underground realm as Stefan Z and owner of superb label Rhombus, recently returned with a 2 track EP on his own imprint after a 12 month original EP hiatus and we had the absolute pleasure of grabbing an interview a with a guy destined to reach the pinnacle.
Stefan has had major releases on world class labels like My Favourite Robot and has seen his music supported by legendary names such as Solomun and Sasha, and his fine blend of percussive, groove based Tech has caught the attention of House music fans all around the world. Today, we had the fine opportunity of learning a little about Stefan’s creative process, inspirations, thoughts of life in Berlin and more.
Hi Stefan, great to meet you! How are you?
Hey nice to meet as well and thanks for taking an interest. It’s 20 degrees and sunny today here in Berlin and it seems as though spring is officially underway so yeah, I am well!
So, it’s been 12 months since your last original EP release, what have you been up to in that time?
Actually its been more like 15 months, damn time flies. Well since then I have moved into a more permanent flat in Berlin which also entailed moving my little studio setup. Unfortunately I was right in the middle of a bunch of remix work which ended up taking even longer as I had to get used to the acoustics of the new space. After completing all the remixes (I think there was 7 of them in a 6 month period) I was quite drained and hit somewhat of a creative wall. I had good individual ideas and sounds coming out but they were all kind of half realised and disconnected but slowly things became more clear and closer to the end of 2016 I was more or less back on track (somewhat explains the lack of original output).
We absolutely loved your latest EP Not There/Maths here at Decoded Magazine. Was there a thought process behind the EP, or did you just go with the flow? You have since told us after our review of the EP where the sample for Maths was found ha.
Great to hear! When I’m putting an EP together I usually go through my hard drive narrowing down and revising until I’m left with 4-5 projects I’m super happy with and decide from there which ones I take to the mix stage. The original project start dates for these tracks were from July 2014 (Maths) and July 2015 (Not There) so they weren’t created together as a complete idea but I felt they both had a similar dingy vibe to them. ‘Maths’ was made in my Vancouver studio and ‘Not There’ was the last project I put together in my London studio right before coming to Berlin.
Who would you say has been the biggest inspiration on your musical career and what was it that inspired you most?
I really couldn’t tell you. I feel like I’m a bit of a sponge, kind of sucking up little bits and pieces of ideas and inspiration along the way. The first electronic influences were in my high school days in the late 90’s. Daft Punk’s ‘Homework’ and Prodigy’s ‘Fat of the Land’ come to mind. Then in the early 2000’s I got into the rave and breakbeat scene and was really into all those UK Nu Skool labels like TCR, Bochit & Scarper and Marine Parade….
Nowadays I really love artists who are able to nail that sort of intelligent imperfection whilst maintaining functionality for the dancefloor, artists like Koze, Shed, Levon Vincent, Oskar Offermann, Robag Wruhme, Leafar Legov, ATEQ. A lot of Germans (except you Levon)! haha. Also recently listening to more and more classic German techno like the Basic Channel and Rhythm & Sound stuff, never really explored it before. Very cool.
Can you remember the very first album you owned and adored?
Sure thing. I was maybe eight or nine years old and my cousin gave me his Led Zepplin II cassette tape. I think my parents had recently bought a Walkman which I basically took over and listened to the tape on repeat for months.
Do you still find elements of the inspiration that album gave you helps in your production process today?
Not really. Every time I hear a track from that album its like instant memories flashing through my brain though.
Can you name one piece of equipment, be it hardware or software, studio or DJing, that you couldn’t live without?
I just make the most of whatever tools I have available at my disposal. I’m all in the box so my laptop I guess. Also using the classic Logic synths a lot, the PSP and ES1. Maybe its time to pick up some new tools! Also plugin-wise I love the Kramer Tape, Slate VCC, H-Comp, API 2500 and the Logic Channel EQ. Also just getting into Ableton which is nice and refreshing. DJ wise I’d say the looping feature on the CDJ’s is really great, it opens up so many possibilities with regards to layering tracks and riding mixes in and out of each other to create new experiences for the listener.
We will talk a bit about your label Rhombus. Can you tell us what the label is all about?
I started it upon my return to Vancouver after living in Berlin for the better part 2010. I had been producing music for a few years and had a couple releases out but just wanted my own thing. One of my good friends Oliver (Nickels) joined me after the third release (2012 I believe) and we’ve been slowly building the catalogue since then. The label is not really about anything except putting out music we really like from ourselves, our friends and colleagues we’ve met along the way. As you can tell from our back catalogue the releases are quite eclectic, some techno, some nu disco, some house. It just has to strike a chord with us!
We’ve seen 18 top notch releases from Rhombus since its inception in 2011. Do you find a more minimal, but well thought through output gives you a better chance to give releases a real push?
I’m happy you think they’re all top notch! A well thought through output is good for sure but I also feel we do too much thinking! But seriously we’ve always just released stuff whenever we felt we had something good enough to put out. Now that we have a few more friends/artists working with us and have developed ourselves further as artists, we have enough material to put out a steady flow of releases every year which we are really happy about. But yes, I think that 6-8 releases per year leaves a good amount of room for everything to breathe.
Can you tell us, are there any releases coming on Rhombus that really excite you like never before?
All of our releases excite me :)
Next up we’ve got a great 3 track EP of deep trippy melodic house from the other half of Rhombus, Oliver Nickels. After that its Iain Howie’s lovely moody house follow up and then an EP of darker loopy house from another Berlin based (Vancouver original) artist Jesse Bru. After that another EP from me, a remix EP and a VA….I think that’ll be 2017. Stoked!
What are your thoughts on the current Tech House and Techno scene?
It’s a big nasty cesspool and we are just trying to carve out a little space to exist. All jokes aside, the music being made right now in my opinion is the best its ever been and simultaneously the worst its ever been. I actually try not to think about it too hard as its all a bit overwhelming.
Do you think, in the current digital era, that independent labels have become more competitive with the bigger labels and can compete on a more level playing field?
With regards to the fact that it is relatively easy to create a label, distribute music and have your releases displayed next to the more established ones, for sure. That being said I don’t think they are competing on the same level, they have their own niche market and are kind of coexisting in the shadows and cracks ;)
Let’s talk about life in Berlin. What are the major differences between life in Vancouver and Berlin?
Well the major difference with relevance to my situation is you can have a good quality of life in Berlin as a musician who deals mostly in house & techno. In Vancouver there are very few who can maintain a decent quality of life based purely on income generated from dance music. The cost of living is very high, the city is very regulated (with regards to venues, alcohol and operation times) and logistically it is also quite isolated (expensive and long travel times). That being said, I would like to say that the people involved in the scene in Vancouver really do make the most of what they have available to them. Nearly everything is done purely for the love of music as there is rarely any significant financial benefit, which I think is quite special. Did I mention it’s also one of the most beautiful places on earth? Aside from friends and family, I really miss the outdoor life there. To get anything close to that now means travelling south to the Alps. In Vancouver its a fifteen minute drive from downtown.
Was it hard to adapt when you first moved?
No it wasn’t so bad. My wife and I first moved to London in September of 2014 as she was attending design school. After outstaying my welcome in the UK (on a visitor visa) I was kindly asked to vacate the country in June of 2015 so I made my way to Germany and was granted a 2-Year freelancers visa. As I mentioned earlier we had both previously lived in Berlin for the better part of a year so had friends here and a good general knowledge of the city.
Berlin is always a place I have wanted to explore, but haven’t yet had the chance to do so. If you were a tourist, but you knew what you know now and spent just 1 day in Berlin, where would you go and what would you do?
1 day!? Well first I would say that to me Berlin isn’t the type of place you would enjoy in one day. Sure you could see all the typical historic sites and then head for a massive bender at Berghain/PBar but you wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the city. It has a very broken feel to it but it is also highly functional with little gems sprinkled throughout all the neighborhoods surrounding the centre of the city. The pace here is also super special and something you need at least a week or two to absorb and appreciate. As our friends from London always say when they visit “doesn’t anyone here have jobs!?”
Well, it was an absolute pleasure chatting with you Stefan, is there anything you would like to add?
Next Rhombus release from Oliver Nickels titled ‘Everything Is Already A Memory’ is out May 29th and also look for some more stuff coming from me under a new alias later this year :) Ciao!
01. Bruce – Sweat
02. Ploy – Footprints In Solid Rock
03. Walton – Zen
04. Radio Slave – Jus Werk (Accapella)
05. Taron-Trekka – Bug & Fred
06. Quince – Coitus
07. John Tejada & Tin Man – Railjet
08. Architectural – Elastic Matter
09. Demdike Stare – Hardnoise
10. Bjarki – Genat 8
11. Sam Paganini – The Beat (Vocal Tool)
12. MATRiXXMAN – Bad Acid
13. Stenny – P-Zone
14. SZ – Streets
15. Oleg Mass – Fizic
16. Edgar Peng – Granny (Stefan Z Remix)