At six years old, Cord Labuhn had his first real career aspiration: becoming an inventor or space traveller. At least working in some kind of laboratory. Hence he became a producer of beats, tunes, records, imagery & merch – and toured the whole planet to play music for the most spaced out. Earlier, when the ghost of Jimi Hendrix jumped out of his parents record collection and passionately promoted the guitar as the weapon of choice for a leftist punk, folk, if not Eurodance infected teenager of the 90s, the piano and his sister’s drum-set would have to step back for a while.
To date, his longest running project is Robosonic, which was originally formed as a DJ-producer duo together with Sacha Robotti more than 10 years ago. Over the course of time it became Cord’s solo moniker in the dance music game, since his former partner had emigrated to the US for a fresh personal start.
A while after the unconventional, free-spirited debut album ‘Sturm und Drang in 2007 Robosonic took the world by storm with a string of popular tunes and remixes that went into the crates of tens of thousands of DJs worldwide and made it to top spots in the infamous Beatport charts (“Worst Love”, “The Edge” 2012, “La Fique” 2013, “House Music” 2015, “Rise” 2016). Robosonic became an authentic figurehead for something dubbed “Golden Era House” by Juice Magazine. Not only because Cord was convincing real rap icons like Masta Ace, Jeru the Damaja and KRS-One to collaborae on house tracks, but also because Robosonic remixed true legends like Todd Terry, Arthur Baker, Kerri Chandler and Eddie Amador.
Cord’s artful hybrids and organic blends, zone effortlessly between subversive underground culture, the high-heel house and hippie hoppie heaven. Must be the constant creative struggle, the universal love and a cartoonish crack up behind all his work, which resonates.
Hello Cord, it’s great to have you join us at Decoded. I hope you’re well and getting in the mood for Christmas?
Thank you guys, I’m fine, for the fact that it’s end of the year I’m pretty laid-back. Not much of a Christmas fanatic but I love the family affairs around it. I’ve had some annoying construction work going in my studio the last months, so I’m really enjoying some peace there now.
Shall we start with your latest EP released on Mother Recordings 8th Dec? It’s a two track EP of warm & groovy chords and feel good house vibes which sits perfectly with the label. I believe you already had a good relationship with Nhan Solo prior to this release on his label?
I’ve known Nhan forever in fact. We met in 2003, both arriving in Berlin looking for an apartment. We randomly bumped into each other at a house viewing. I’ve had some copies of my first vinyl record with me and I gave him one as a present, since he mentioned being a DJ, and he is such a character anyway that I would follow up on his dinner invitation for sure. We both were new to the city and eager to make moves, not only apartment-wise. Soon after we were throwing regular nights in a dirty little basement, spent hours in the copy shop cutting black & white flyers. We went different ways at some point and focused on other teams to work with, but never completely departed. We also ended up in the same booking agencies and after seeing him to grow that label so well it feels like a family affair to release the “Peach“– which also features my close friend Jan Weigel – through Mother Recordings. So basically “House“ kept us close from day 1 until now.
And of course, the Kittball 925 EP with Ferreck Dawn is still gathering momentum. It’s actually the official video I’d like to touch on. Could you talk us through the storyboard to this cleverly edited video mashup?
After the quick 500k+ views on the “Old Dollars“ track I made with Ferreck Dawn right before, we wanted to find a visual for the 925 as well. This one was produced and edited by Rob Lange and Sasha Sherdin. The lyrical theme “working nine to five“ was translated into some sort of comic, hectic, real life work imagery. With a similar historic, black & white feel as the cartoon-cuts from Old Dollars. It shows all kinds of work, and some different cultural contexts. The other theme “house can heal me“ represents the important cure and joy you might find in dancing and music in general when you have a crazy work schedule. The whole title is also a reference that Ferreck Dawn and me we both hustle this game as full time work to get by, while it doesn’t have much of a nine to five rhythm for us.
By the way, my favourite little cut in the video is the “Tape Delay“ display at the stock market, which complemented the heavy use of my old 1970s Dynacord Echocord tape delay in the track.
Broken Bootlegs was a series of vinyl records I produced and pressed with my DJ friend and some kind of entrepreneurial mentor Andy Szankay as “Schall & Gaucho“. Then we invited Shir Khan – the king of the ‘Bastard Pop‘ genre at that time and founder of Exploited I think more or less the same time – to join the bootleg imprint. The three of us collected a few more tunes from friends and in the end we produced a whole mix CD called “High Heels and Fat Laces“. It was fun, not entirely legal, but a legit way to press records. There was still demand, it was before digital took over. And for me as a music producer there was no such thing as making records.
So, sampling-culture in general: I appreciate it, I dig it, it’s an art form. Whole music genres are based on it. But you can fail and fall, you can do it right and wrong. It’s risk management, it’s sometimes expensive clearance or replay involved to really be able to spread a track with maximum reach. So, it’s not for everybody, neither on the artists side, nor on label’s side. But I cannot stand the elitist ignorance of people when they devalue sample-driven music, especially DJs, who are not capable of writing ANY track of relevance and function for their sets. For me personally it’s not stealing at all, it’s inspiration and setting respectful reference to the music or just a sound I love! Often that means I don’t even get paid for my work in the end. And I really hope that algorithm-based detection like Shazam’s technology leads to more legal sampling and sharing of benefits instead of making songs and tracks illegal, impossible, extinguished. No regress!
‘Outtakes‘ is another personal project of yours to give listeners an intimate insight into your mindset and creative processes or “human states of mind in musical form” and includes photographs and video footage in its bid to tackle real life matters. Could you talk us through this series in a little more detail?
Outtakes has the structural backbone of a label, and for now it’s basically a channel where I put out music, imagery, merch under my very own creative direction. The first season I aired out this year was made of 12 episodes, mostly down-tempo, ambient-ish and hypnotic, hip hop driven tracks. You find that under my actual name www.cordlabuhn.com and in stores and streaming. That stuff so far was not really made with the DJ-friendly formula, like I make the Robosonic music. A little breakout from the norms and forms that heavily affected the last years of my creative life.
A catalyst which helped drive the decision of the Outtakes project was the relocation to the U.S of former Robosonic partner Sacha Robotti. When this happened what were the factors you had to consider when choosing to continue Robosonic as a solo project?
True that. There was a vacuum left behind. For a long time, I didn’t know if I could continue Robosonic as a solo thing at all. I didn’t know if Sacha wanted come back or find motivation and energy to keep up our high-maintenance Robosonic relationship, once he left the building for a fresh personal start. A building that was the same house we used to live in and a band, a company we had formed so far. Then me playing 95% of the gigs solo, being in charge of the whole communication, and have people asking me all the time what’s happening was tedious. That called for inner peace and balance, doing something that is not following the strange rules of that dance music game.
Obviously, Sacha is a very talented artist and producer. What were some of the positives and negatives which impacted you the most?
I have to say over all the years working together, I’m pretty sure I was his biggest fan, professionally spoken and from the best-friend’s perspective. I saw his gift from the very beginning and so I also believe I was one of its biggest promoters, and a bit of a pathfinder how to turn this passion into profession. Say we were boy scouts in the jungle of music and we managed to survive back to back. I was a beneficiary of his social skills, his knack for social media, his strength of purpose finishing off tracks, his understanding of dance music and its simplicity and structure.
Also, modesty that it’s not game-changing art we’ll ever produce, if we aim for a DJ career that pays our bills. We make people dance, bring them joy and happiness. So, merging our two brains, skills and histories into a solid team work was empowerment for a long time, but it was also an exhausting relationship, travelling the world on a crazy schedule, while you grow up, have your dreams, issues and ambitions. I have no need to name any negative here, for most of the time I’m thankful, I learned a lot and as one of my closest for a long long time, I took his criticism serious and still reflect on it. He reproached me that I always want to do too many things at the same time, that I always come up with overly ambitious ideas and too complicated concepts, so will never get something done properly in the end. That if you want to succeed, you have to focus on ONE thing, do it properly and become a master in it. So I guess I’m still trying to become the grandmaster of “Verzettelung“.
Speaking of which. Your creative flair doesn’t only sit within music but also, fashion. You are the designer of the “Punchi” towelscarf. Has this area of creativity and design always been of interest to you and is this somehow linked to your outtakes concept?
I love physical, haptic, touchable products, good and functional design, meaningful artwork and information. Vinyl is still happening, but to me it’s also “been-there-done-that“ 20-30 times, so I’m looking for alternatives since the music and lots of the communication went all digital. The towelscarf www.punchi.de was an invention, that actually became a game-changer for my personal life. Invaluable connections that I made with it, gained entrepreneurial experience, network, outreach, love. probably the most useful and emotive product I’ve ever made.
Big shout outs to Kim, my partner in crime on this. We made a bunch of record artworks together before, but a project like this is such a strong bond between us. Plus, there are so many others, collaborators and users. It’s a beautiful thing and keeps being a love mark over years. This is why I feel a kinship with Outtakes. It’s the P, there is the O, I’m the C, you already know the R°°…We’re seeing brands, companies, labels all the time, but for me that’s also creating a home, an address, a channel for a particular desire, a need or expression. It’s bringing a little order in my creative chaos and for people from outside it’s easier to identify Cord Labuhn makes rather slow music, Robosonic is House and Techno, Punchi is a towelscarf and Outtakes…well. Let’s see.
Could we see you branching out further into the fashion world?
I’ve never had any ambition to be part of what’s called the fashion world. I’m into function, I’m into different forms of elegance, extravagance, identity, class, rebellion, youth culture or whatever. But I generally dislike the waste of resources, the short product cycles in clothing, technology as well as in music. So, I’ll try to live and produce under sustainable conditions, the best possible enduring product, which serves best in the situations of life that I face. Which includes travel, dance, hangout, sleep, sex, sports, among others. If that resonates with people organically, I’m grateful but I don’t depend on that feedback to be happy or shape my style.
What I’m aiming for at the moment when it comes to clothing and merch – and that’s more of a life goal – is to define a collection of personal pieces, that I could live with for the next I don’t know how many years. If it were the last clothes I could ever buy. Make them durable, timeless, identifiable. As discussed before I already have my scarf and my towel ready, for years already I’m wearing my own tailor-made Cord-corduroy pants that are as comfy as a track suit, but no one will notice because it has other great features. This will be available in the Outtakes-shop at some point. There will be some rather classic street wear stuff, fair and organic, with minimalist designs, also ‘sampling‘ my own clothes which I’ve been wearing years ago.
Right at the moment there is a handmade neck pouch in the making that will hold my passport, cell phone and all that stuff together travelling. That’s my state of mind. I don’t enjoy shopping very much, I prefer making things. I don’t want to waste resources and I want quality stuff that I can grow a connection with the longer I own it. I might spice up the Outtakes Shop with some funny stupid ideas I have – I keep it real, but I’m not that serious.
Your music is coined as Golden Era House and Hip Hop influenced with samples of records from the past. There any many house and techno artists with a strong hip hop background. For example, Mat.Joe who term their sound as ‘CrispyUrbanHouse’. For you personally what translates so well from Hip Hop to house music?
Hip Hop is where I learned making beats, cut up samples and all of that. And house music pretty much has the same set of roots, similar equipment being used and a lively DJ culture. Both genres have had some golden Nineties, Hip Hop is a whole youth culture that grew crazy. House music is a club culture
Cord, it’s been very interesting chatting with you. Before we bring the interview to an end could you let us know what is happening with you and your projects in 2018?
I’ll be releasing more Outtakes, I definitely have more music coming up on Defected/DFTD and Mother Recordings as Robosonic. There is a project that goes under the title ‘Black Out‘ at the moment, which is very much rap inspired and will contain new hybrids between house and hip hop. Including features of EPMD, The Beatnuts and B-Real of Cypress Hill.
All the best. Is there anything you would like to add?
I think I’ve been talking enough, check the music, invite me over. Big thanks to the people, partners, colleagues, promoters that kept believing in me and that show their support. Robosonic is one. One love.
Robosonic’s ‘Peach’ Ep is out now on Mother Recordings
Grab it here
01. Robosonic & Jan Weigel – Peach (MOTHER RECORDINGS – OUT NOW)
02. David Keno & Dalson – We Got Our Own
03. Artwork – Acid Lines
04. Audiojack – Reverie
05. Rodriguez Jr. – An Evidence Of Time [Claude VonStroke Remix]
06. Kellerkind – Cosmic Dance
07. Maya Jane Coles – Darkside
08. Subb-an & Isis Salam – Self Control
09. Gheist – Final Chords
10. Ryan Murgatroyd – Something Said
11. Zombie Nation – Something Else
12. Magit Cacoon – Nonsense
13. Gerd Janson & Shan – Surrender
14. Robosonic – Icke und Sie (MOTHER RECORDINGS – OUT NOW)
15. Siriusmo – Comic
16. Cord Labuhn – Durch (OUTTAKES – OUT NOW)