It’s easier to create something from scratch then convince someone that you’ve reinvented the wheel.
German techno-house maestro Tobi Neumann contrasts his days of rock with his current dance-floor bangers. Reinvention is rife in the dance-techno scene but completely unheard of in the rock arena. Why can a dance producer can do a complete 360; adopt a new moniker and a new sound without an inch of uproar? he asks. Not that he’s complaining but history does tell us that only select rock musicians can lay claim to such a ‘transition’.
Jasmine Phull talks to Tobi Neumann as he reflects on the industry that consumes him before generously sharing the secret to becoming a good DJ.
You’re originally from Munich. How did the city influence your musical path? Was music a big part of your youth?
My earliest influences are more related to Vienna cause we were growing up there. In Vienna times it was classical music, especially the one from Mozart. At the end of my Munich time in 2001, I started to be a professional DJ but before I went through many periods in my musical taste. Pop, reggae, rock, and then later music like Eno, Talking Heads, Fripp... They all performed in Munich and I saw most of them live, even Bob Marley once!
Your music really started getting attention in the 90s. How did you go about promoting yourself back then? It must have been very different to they way it’s done today.
Well yes it was quite different. At this time you could promote yourself just with the amount of records you sold. Today its more the amount of clicks you got, or tunes on Youtube… or 'like' buttons on Facebook. In general, there was not the competition in the 90s as there is today. But I guess that’s the challenge for all of us in the 21st century.
As a self-confessed film freak, does cinema play a role in the music that you create?
Not really. I love to watch movies ‘cause I can just leave my own life for a while. Other people do yoga or meditation; I fly away into the fiction of the film.
Before moving to the techno scene you were heavily involved in the rock scene. Can you see any similarities between the two?
No actually, not so much. Somehow the techno heroes seem to outlive the rockstars from the past… Bon Scott, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and many others were not surviving their excessive life. But Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin, Sven Väth etc. are all still in the biz' and doing great. Quite different don‘t you think? Regarding the production of rock, it’s so much more difficult to stay on the top than with electronic music. In techno you just find a new name and then start from scratch again with a different style. There are not many examples in rock where somebody was doing such careers, except a few super-bands and gifted song-writers.
In three words describe the ‘you’ first starting out in 1996.
Excited, hungry and inspired (and quite wild as well!)
How important do you think the live gig is? Do you think listeners can gauge your real personality when simply listening to you via their speakers?
The live experience is everything today. The people wanna see you and they want to hear you mixing live. And I also believe that they can gauge a part of my personality through the way I play and how I communicate with the crowd through my selection of tracks.
Musically was there someone quite influential during your youth?
Yes, the music of Brian Eno. Classical music was very important for me, and so was jazz.
What is your opinion on collaboration vs competition? Is one healthier than the other in terms of musical output and inspiration?
It depends very much on the personality of the artist I guess. Some are better working on their own and others are just made for team-work. Actually I tried to work alone but the results were not convincing me so now I am collaborating again.
How important is the visual aesthetic of a performance to the overall product?
I think it depends on the party and the club. In a big place with huge sound-systems you might want to see a fancy dressed and sexy moving DJ beside VJs and dancers. In a place like the Robert Johnson or Berlin’s Club der Visionäre it’s all about the sound and the music.
An artist you’re keeping an eye on?
I am a big fan of this ‘&me’ guy at the moment. I can‘t stop playing his tunes, as well as the tunes of this young Romanian called Funk E. Wicked stuff those guys are making!
Today’s technology makes it very easy to call yourself a ‘DJ’, so what separates a good DJ from a mediocre one?
Maybe you should better ask some promoters or club owners what they think about it. Let me just say, you have to go a long way to become a real DJ, in terms of modesty and humility. You also have to understand the art-form in terms of developing your knowledge, your own tastes and the selections. And you should better have your ego under control.
Apart from the Zoo Project Festival in September, what’s coming up for you? Can we look forward to any surprises?
I am working on new tunes with my partner Thies, under our project Glove. There will be some (hopefully massive) releases soon. Also I am working on a new project called ‘More Chicken-Soups on the Dancefloor, the Tobinator Will Fix it in the Mix’!
Interview by: Jasmine Phull
Catch Tobi Neumann at Zoo Project Festival, Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, Kent, 14-16 September.
Tickets are no longer available for this event