Mark Dale caught up with Robert Dietz to talk about his plans for his label and his links to Detroit.
Last updated: 20th Apr 2016. Originally published: 19th Apr 2016
Robert Dietz is a serious and determined guy. Having been inspired to enter DJing and electronic music by the club scene in Frankfurt, where the likes of Sven Vath, Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano were already operating, he's had to be driven in order to make a mark.
Thankfully, through his skilful DJ sets and varied releases on the likes of Desolat, Cadenza and Running Back he has managed to make a significant mark. Over the last half decade Robert has become an internationally renowned DJ. He travels most weekends in order to fulfill dates on a DJ calendar that regularly takes in clubs and festivals in the Americas, all over Europe and at significant spots such as Ibiza or near the city that first inspired him, at Offenbach's Robert Johnson.
He started his own label Truth Be Told in early 2015 and the imprint, which is run from Berlin, is about to have its third release. Over the course of his recording career Robert has presented a variety of styles including minimal house earlier in his career, techno more recently and some retro sounding house of Chicago and Detroit inspiration, with a focus on percussion. His extensive DJ sets similarly traverse a spectrum of electronic dance sounds.
We caught up with Robert Dietz to discuss his hometown of Frankfurt, some of the key record labels he's worked with and how boring DJ selfies are.
Where did you grow up and how was it there?
I grew up in the Rhein-Main area of Germany, I was born in Wiesbaden, then I lived in Mainz and eventually I moved to Frankfurt and that's where I really connected to electronic music, the nightlife and everything that comes with it.
You used to be a fan of metal music. What bands did you like and what metal gigs have you been to?
Actually I was way too young to attend any gigs at the time I was into metal, I was maybe 13. I listened to a lot of different genres as I was growing up. I got hooked on metal through one of my maths teachers who used to give us tapes of Iron Maiden, Slayer, Metallica, this kind of thing.
The first concert I attended was a German hip hop band at a daytime festival here when I was 14 or 15. Nothing really special. We didn't really go so much to concerts. I think the first real band that you would have heard of that I saw was Air in about 1998.
You said last year that you were trying to license some old music to do some reissues. What happened with that?
We're still in the process of trying to do that. It's way more difficult than I thought it would be, but we're still hoping to get some old tracks on board. You remember our first release was with Eddie Fowlkes? He has a lot of great, old music on DATs and we've been planning for the last half year to sit down and listen to them to see if we can reissue some of his old music. There are some real gems in there.
Tell me why Robert Johnson is such a special place.
It's a pretty simple place. First of all, it has a really great soundsystem. The audience is really good, people are very openminded there. There's nothing in there to distract you from enjoying the music, there's really just a few lights and some old TVs on the wall with some video animation. But it's really just about enjoying the music with the best sound.
It's been there 16 years so I kind of got educated in this club. I first went in 2003 and I've never had a bad time there, either as a raver or as a DJ.
In a poem or song about yourself in the English language you have to find two more words that rhyme with Dietz, except beats. What words would you choose and how would you use them?
Oh, man, that's a difficult question. I can't answer that straight away. I'm not really good at finding rhymes otherwise I think I would have become a rapper. I'll have to think about it.
You buy vinyl but you say you don't take it on tour with you. Why?
It's not just a question of comfort although of course it's easier to travel with just USB sticks. Not all clubs take great care of their turntables anymore and the soundsystems in general in combination with those turntables. Most of the time when you bring records you can't play them because they sound terrible.
Everything is focussed on playing CDJs, playing digitally. I was just getting tired of carrying them around then not being able to play them. 90% of the music for my sets comes from vinyl but I have to make the effort of first digitalizing them at home. It's a bonus that you don't have to check in with any luggage, you can travel just with hand luggage and you can be sure that everything stays with you, nothing's going to get lost.
One of the first techno DJs I ever saw was Sven Vath in the mid 1990s, around the time of that Harlequin album. He came on stage with two beautiful long haired women on each side of him, like they were the assistants of a magician and they were presenting him to the audience. Have you ever seen Sven Vath do anything visually spectacular like this? If you could be presented to an audience as a DJ who would you choose to present you?
Ha! I haven't seen Sven being presented like this even though I know he's quite extraordinary. I've followed him since the late eighties when he had his pop band called Off and he was always presenting himself in a weird and colourful way. The first time I saw him DJ was at a club in Frankfurt in 1999 but that was pretty normal, just a DJ gig.
I don't know if I would want to be presented to the audience in a special way. I don't want to say I'm shy, but I like to have it easy, you know?
You've released on Cadenza and Running Back, two labels with distinctly different sounds. How did you manage that? Do you style the productions you make to the sound of the label you will release it on?
Actually I've always just made very different kinds of music, especially Cadenza and Running Back, they're completely opposite labels. It's more like that I do what I'm feeling right now and then it goes to a label where I think it could fit.
Back in the days with Cadenza and still with Running Back it's based on a friendship so you just show people what you did recently and they might want to release it, but I've never set out to produce a specific sound for a certain label because I don't think that's natural.
Please name something that is more boring than DJs moaning about airports, flights, airlines and hotels?
DJs taking selfies in front of their crowds. The whole social media thing is in general pretty boring.
You made a name for yourself in the same city that Sven Vath, Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano made names for themselves. Compare yourself to those three DJs and tell me how you are different from each of them in a way my mum would understand.
In a way your mum would understand? Ahahaha. Not that successful! Not earning nearly as much money.
Tell us something that you enjoy doing outside music that not many people may know about?
I'm really into sports. I go running, I do crossfit, I do yoga. I try to live pretty healthy actually, especially during the week in order to balance what can be a pretty exhausting existence in nightclubs at the weekend. Other than that just hanging out with friends and trying to enjoy life as much as possible.
You've worked with Eddie Fowlkes and Stacey Pullen. Where and how did you meet them? Did they tell you any funny or interesting stories about the old days in Detroit? Do you have any plans to work with either of them again? Does the music of Detroit hold some kind of special significance for you? What other Detroit luminaries would you like to work with?
Eddie and me are in touch very often. I met him when we played together one time in London and he invited me to his place in Detroit while I was on tour in the United States. I stayed there for a couple of days, we hung out and he showed me the city and told me a lot about the history.
That was really interesting, to hear it from someone who's always lived it and who was one of the innovators of this sound. Even though we started much later and mainly through getting into German artists, the music from Detroit is where everything started and it was interesting to see how everything evolved and has since gone on to infect the whole world.
Maybe I'd like to work with Kevin Saunderson? Maybe Amp Fiddler also. I went to his studio once, he's a really nice and crazy guy. Really cool.
Your label is called Truth Be Told. Tell us one lie that you've told about yourself.
That I live a healthy lifestyle. Ha!
What's next for Robert Dietz?
We have the next release on Truth Be Told coming out in a couple of weeks. That's our third. It's a collaboration again with a friend of mine from Berlin, Egon Elliut. A very talented and positive guy. He's not a new producer, he already did a lot of things but not really in our microcosm.
He's mainly been producing soundtracks for things like catwalk shows and art presentations, but he's also making some really interesting electronic music. Then I'm about to finish my album for the summer. It's almost done, I just need to tweak the last bits. Other than that I'm touring. I'm going to the United States next week.
Tell us a good German joke...
Pffft. I'm so bad at telling jokes. I can't come up with one now, sorry. Maybe I can send you one later.