There’s a few veterans of the scene who I really truly respect, Oliver Huntemann is one of them. From humble beginnings in Germany, he has forged an international career as a DJ and producer. Starting with Humate (with studio partner Gerret Frerichs) he created some of the best progressive trance tracks of all time, as Rekorder (with Stephan Bodzin) he showed us another side to his skills with some quality minimal techno. These days, in between gigs the world over and the occasional solo single, Oliver runs his new label – Senso Sounds.
A&R Simon Huxtable caught up with Oliver to chat about his life, his music and his thoughts on the current dance scene.
Oliver, Thanks for taking some time out to chat with us at Decoded Magazine. How’s your day been so far?
It’s a nice and sunny day, I like it!
Can you tell us about growing up in Northern Germany. We understand music played an important part of your formative years, particularly electro and break dance. Who were your influences, and how easy was it to buy American music at that time?
I was fourteen when Break Dance hit Germany and it immediately infected me. We were a small group of boys who were dancing in the streets every day, trying to be like the Rock Steady Crew or the New York City Breakers. I loved this new music and been inspired by Afrika Bambaataa, Shannon, Hashim, Egyptian Lover and Arthur Baker. You had to wait weeks for records, imports been special and rare. I really like to remember this exciting feeling of going to the record store with the hope that new imports has arrived. When I would pull the vinyl out of the sleeve, my fingers would be itching as I couldn’t wait to get the needle on the record and my headphones on. Once I bought a selection of records, I went home and listened to them up and down until I knew every beat by heart!
Talk us through your time in the German Navy. Was this National Service or your own choice of career?
After finishing school I went to the Navy for my qualification as an electronics engineer. It was my choice of career and my parents wanted me to learn something ‘serious’. Being a DJ wasn’t a profession back in the days and was hard for parents to understand what “DJing” actually is.
In the late 80s you met Gerret Frerichs, became Humate and went on to dominate the deep trance sound of the 90s. What was Gerret like to work with, and did you fall into the common duo trick of ‘ideas man’ and ‘engineer’?
Gerret used to work already in his own studio when we met for the first time in 1990. He invited me to join him in the studio because he liked the music I played as a DJ . He is responsible for my producer career and showed me how to work with synths and to arrange tracks.
What were your standout moments for that project, and would you ever consider getting the band back together?
I will never forget the magic moment when we got this call from MFS label head Mark Reader asking if the tracks of our first single were free to be released. We were so excited and nervous. MFS was one of the hottest labels in the beginning of the 90s, and we are about to be part of it. The next level was reached when our second single ‘Love Stimulation’ incl. a Paul van Dyk remix went through the roof and became one of the most successful tracks of 1992. I don’t hear much from Gerret nowadays. However, he is very busy in doing music for commercials and not interested in doing electronic club music any more.
You’ve also had success working with Stephan Bodzin (as Rekorder) and in various guises as a solo artist. Can you explain your creative process when working on new material, and how it differs from a remix project?
When creating a new track it almost always starts with a bass drum and a bassline. Everything has to be created from scratch. Beginning to work on a remix is totally different as there is always a basic idea taken over from the original track.
Can you tell us about some of your bigger profile remixes. You’ve worked on tracks for Underworld, Chemical Brothers and Depeche Mode. Does the stature of the band influence the amount of work you put into the remix itself?
It’s an accolade getting asked to do a remix for Chemical Brothers and Depeche Mode. Since I’m a big fan of both bands, I can’t hide that I’ve been more critical and excited while working on these remixes. I was given the opportunity to chose a classic Depeche Mode track by myself. This was one of the hardest decisions in my musical life but I guess it was a good idea grabbing Everything Counts.
What’s happening musically for you now? It’s been awhile since you put an album out…
I’ve been focussing on producing only singles for the past four years. I’ve had many other things in mind, which have taken a lot of time and energy. I launched a new label called Senso Sounds and my own booking agency Kontrast Artists two years ago. Beside I was travelling the world a lot. I simply didn’t feel the emotional need of a new album but this changes now. I have many ideas and will get back to the studio for another long-player after summer.
Tell us about your DJing. I imagine your style has developed from early Trance and into Techno. As most DJs now use a sequencing based software, has the performance elements; the Art of DJing, changed in your opinion?
Sure it has changed but I don’t mind. For me it’s absolutely not about the technical gadgets, it’s about the music you play. Get a connection with the crowd, send them on a journey, create a good dramaturgy. You can have magic equipment but beat sync doesn’t make you a good DJ at all. In the end every artist has to find out which working material works best for them.
I know it’s a tough question and you have to remain impartial, but do you have any favourite party destinations? Places where you know your sound will absolutely blow the roof off.
Haha!! There are so many great places. At the moment I’d say La Fabrica in Cordoba, Argentina, is one of the most magical spots.
Tell us about your life as a record label owner…
My current project is Senso Sounds. Ideal Audio stopped almost two years ago. Before Ideal Audio I had Confused Recordings and Dance Electric. Actually I’ve always had my own labels, since I like being my own boss. It gives me the freedom to do what I want, to work on my vision of music.
What lessons have you learned from bitter experience that you can now apply to you new label to make things run a little smoother?
Ideal was managed by me from Hamburg and administrated by my business partner Jan Langer from Bremen. On a certain point I felt the need to have everything in my hands and direct environment. I always thought about having a team working only on my ideas and that happens now. Even if we have phones and internet, you can’t replace face to face contact every day. Things simply run better that way.
Tell us about some of the artists signed to the new label. Any talented up and comers to watch out for?
Main artists on Senso Sounds, beside me, are dubspeeka and André Winter. Dubspeeka became one of the hottest producers over the past twelve months. He’ s the newcomer of the year and only few people know he already has a long musical history as band member of Kosheen. André Winter is my studio and production partner and has been for more than ten years. In my opinion , he’s one of the most underrated artists in general.
Talking of talent, we believe you’ve recently finished another collaboration with Dubfire. Can you fill us in on the details?
Dubfire and I have been collaborating for more than eight years. After the Elements series we are now going back to ‘Diablo’ and ‘Dios’ with the release of our new track ‘Humano’ . We are only waiting on the remixes to be completed to release this single. In addition, we are planning a retrospective of our works including new tracks and remixes.
With the need to release product very quickly to keep the attention of the music buying public, where do you now source your talent? Is Soundcloud, for instance, the resource it was?
Oh, I’m not a talent scout, I don’t source or force much to find talent. Somehow I meet the right people without thinking. It can be an introduction at a party or a demo sent to the office. A bit like love, it finds you when you don’t think about it.
Staying on that thread, with streaming becoming ever more important in terms of marketing and PR for your brands, what plans do you have in place to capitalise on the way in which the new generation of dance fans consume their music?
The most important thing is, you need to get on stage. It is and always was the main income source for electronic producers. I also have my own label, publishing and booking agency. There will be a point where I can’t make ten or twelve gigs a month, and I will slow it down and maybe move into artist management later on. That’s the sort of thing I have in mind. Everything else PR, marketing, selling strategies… I must say, it’s not my cup of tea. Sure, I want get my income with my music and all the products must be well placed, so therefore I prefer to work with people who know about it better than me.
Do you see a time in the near future where sales drop off, and pretty much all revenue is achieved through paid streaming services?
Yes, in medium-term that will be, or maybe already is, the way.
I recently wrote an article – Stealing Fame – where I open with a message from a fan to a DJ buddy where they ask if they know why his track doesn’t download properly from Zippyshare! haha, Have you had any crazy fan messages or experiences you’d like to share?
Oh sure, a bunch of… Always kind of funny when so called fans come with a burned CD of downloaded tracks and ask me to sign it – a classic one!!
As a DJ who’s toured the world, what kept you sane on those long hours in airports where you are away from family and friends?
My iPad with some series such as Lillyhammer or The Returned.
It’s been a huge honour to chat with you today Oliver, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us. One final question if I may, what does the rest of 2015 have in store for you?
Well, my touring schedule is full and will take me to Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, Australia, USA, Mexico plus many more countries are on the agenda . I also want to start with an new album after summer. It certainly won’t be boring for me within the next months !