Welcome to The Pulpit, a new blog which aims to provide a deeper look at the interests, opinions and tastes of those who produce and play much of the music sound-tracking parties and our broader lives. It’s currently just myself, Jack, writing so features might present themselves on here somewhat sporadically, but keep an eye out.
To launch I was lucky enough to speak with Vera, a DJ for whom I have a huge amount of respect. There have been many inches online and in hard copy devoted to listing her achievements, but for those who aren’t familiar with her work she is a DJ who is widely admired for delivering sets dripping with emotion from an extensive collection of carefully selected records, procured through many years of involvement in music. As a producer she has released on labels such as Cargo Edition, Hello? Repeat and Perlon amongst others, either alone or in collaboration with the likes of Maayan Nidam and Ricardo Villalobos, whilst as a DJ she regularly plays at many of the world’s foremost parties, including frequent appearances at Robert Johnson and Berlin’s iconic Club Der Visionaere.
Hello Vera, thanks for agreeing to speak to me. What have you been up to recently?
Hi! Thank you too for choosing me as your interview partner. Nice meet you and chat a bit.
I’ve been occupied my DJ gigs and with my upcoming label “Melliflow”, that Alexandra and I are launching together hopefully be the end of the year.
We’ve been scouting artists and selecting music and right now we are taking care of all the legal matters and the art work.
You’ve been involved in music and DJing for a while now and have probably seen things change somewhat. It seems that in recent years, house and techno has enjoyed a big surge in popularity. As a DJ have you noticed a change as a result of this and do you think it’s been entirely positive?
With the growing popularity of this music also big money got involved, fee’s of popular DJs have been exploding. They are treated like pop stars now and play in huge festivals. And of course money changes the game. It’s pretty far from what it’s been 20-25 years ago, but it would be weird if everything stayed the same. I’m trying not to judge and think about it too much but instead keep an open mind. Time doesn’t stand still, we need to go with the flow. I observe the changes and try to keep true to myself and do what feels right to me. Some changes have been positive for me, new markets have been growing everywhere in the world, there are opportunities to play in countries that before didn’t have a scene.
I’ve certainly noticed, in the time that I’ve been buying records and listening to music, that the Internet has played a big role in changing things, with YouTube, Shazam and Boiler Room all making music more accessible and things like Facebook and Twitter making DJs more easily available. I think maybe that’s part of the reason it seems to have a bigger appeal now. Do you think the Internet is a good tool for you as an artist? I know that many of your contemporaries (Zip and Ricardo Villalobos spring to mind) tend to shy away from this side of things.
The internet itself is neutral. It can in deed be a very good tool, but that tool can also turn against you, if you don’t use it the right way. Whatever we decide to do with it, it’s good to be careful and stay aware of what we are doing and saying publicly on social media platforms. How artist deals with the internet and how they promote their work and get “visible” in this huge sea of information is a personal choice. Fact is, the internet has helped many artists to get popular. But on the other hand, if you do something truly good and you do it with passion and put effort into your work it will get attention, with or without internet. Good music speaks for itself and if there is a good track out it will make it’s way to the surface. With the internet it just happens faster.
Another issue I wanted to talk about with you, is very intricately linked with the internet. Track IDs have always been ferociously hunted but it seems that recently it has become so much easier for people to track down music very rapidly, where previously it would’ve taken a lot of effort. As a DJ with a reputation for playing rare or unknown records, has this made you dig deeper or change the records you play?
I wouldn’t say that my way changed much, I still play a lot of music that I have already been playing when I started DJing, but of course I keep evolving and looking for new impulses and inspiration.
Honestly, sometimes I feel a bit under pressure with all this “digging”, especially because it’s not really my thing to search for music on the internet, I much rather dig in real record stores, than clicking on youtube links. The new generation grew up with this way of searching and listening to files, it comes more natural and brings a big advantage when it comes to systematically scanning the net for music. Platforms like discogs make it very easy for everyone and allows you to discover much more music than before.
The musical development in “the underground” is so fast nowadays. Somehow it turned in some kind of trend to “dig”, a race, almost like a competition or even consumerism, a never ending hunt for musical satisfaction. This week a track is really hip and rare, next week “everyone” knows it already and is “unplayable”. It has quickly been consumed and now it’s spit out and the next track is already on our plate. The satisfaction seems to be linked to having something unique and rare that no one has, not so much to the music itself. Like “I have something that you don’t have and it makes me special”.
But I can see also an attempt of finding your identity and differ from others in this vast amount of DJs hoping to get “visible” by showing a unique DJ personality.
Having only special record in your crate doesn’t automatically make you a good DJ though. DJing is the art of seduction, of story telling, just playing one special record after another doesn’t necessarily work.
Also there is no harm in playing known records, cause records can sound so differently, depending on the context (the situation in the club, the surrounding musical context in which you present them etc..), I heard records, that I had excluded from my collection cause I found them “boring”, sounding really fresh cause the DJ managed to make give them a new identity by the way they were played. It really depends so much on the context and situation.
I’d also like to ask you about another angle of the track ID debate. On the one hand, DJs spend hours finding music and the prospect of hearing these unknown tracks can often be intrinsic to their appeal so it makes sense for them to closely guard them. But equally I’ve heard people who argue that since a DJ is (usually) playing other people’s music, that the original artist deserves credit for their work. Personally I can see merits to both arguments, what are your thoughts on the issue?
There’s always two sides of a coin. I personally never hide records from people. I don’t think my success and neither my creativity are linked exclusively to the tracks I play, but as well to the way I play them. Being a good selector of course is part of it, but the records are my tools to express myself. They are not my art or my ability itself. Of course the selection is important and you want to surprise people, but hiding records feels wrong to me. I’m happy to inspire people and I’m happy if they come and ask for a track from time to time. No one comes and writes down every track I play. In that case I guess I would tell the person to stop, as it would obviously some kind of attempt to copy something I do. I prefer to believe that people that are coming to ask for tracks are motivated by passion and are probably just loving the music as much as I do. I rather choose believing in the good in people than thinking I’m surrounded by deck sharks that want to steal something from me.
Alongside the increased interest in this music, there has been a recent surge in demand for vinyl, which has had some very positive effects but has also driven prices up. I’ve noticed you have spoken out about this once or twice on social media and it seems to be the bane of any record collector that ‘Discogs sharks’ quote outrageous prices for records that well respected Djs, such as yourself, play. Does this ever cross your mind when considering letting people know what records you are playing?
No. It doesn’t. I’m not thinking about that at all. I’m not even sure that I’m really in the focus of those deck sharks. As I mentioned before, I rather choose to believe that people that come to ask for tracks are as passionate about music as myself and that they appreciate the information and inspiration I give them. I also don’t think that they are people that are pushing the prices up on discogs (or discstocks how I called it since a while).
As well as the demand for second hand records, it seems that many old and previously inaccessible records are being repressed. Personally I’m glad in many cases because I wasn’t in a position to pick them up the first time around but I understand those who claim that it is devaluing music. I can remember seeing you post on Facebook a while ago in a thread about Chiwax’s run of reissues, in defence of them. How do you feel about this tendency to reissue old records from labels in general (not just Chiwax)?
It’s a bit like with the internet. The repress itself is not bad. It can rot though in the “wrong hands”. The devaluation starts when people are just playing the repress randomly without a feeling or sensibility for the right moment or situation. I remember some favorite records of mine being “killed” like that. Many buy the record cause a famous DJ has played it and it was recorded and uploaded on youtube and therefor got popular hence the repress. You hear it everywhere all of a sudden and it looses it’s appeal if it’s played out so randomly anywhere. Some records are holy to me and even though they are my favorite records I play them maybe once a year cause I’m saving them for the right moment when they can unfold their full beauty. Unfortunately there are people that don’t understand that DJing is something that is very closely linked to the situation in the club, DJs translates energy of the night into music and pick the records according to the moment. You can not play any record in any moment. The art is to find the right record for a specific moment. To make a long story short. The repress is not the problem. It’s the people that lack sensitivity to play music or that have the wrong motivation for DJing, influence by the ego, like become famous for example or showing off.
Talking about motivation: I also find the motivation for a repress important. Are people using the repress to make money themselves? Or maybe to upgrade their own DJ identity? Or maybe just to preserve the good music and support the artist? To offer it to the people that demand it or to the new generations that don’t know it yet? Either way I’m sure every artist is happy to see that his music is selling and that there is a demand. Some were not much appreciated at that time or didn’t get the exposure that they could have gotten and now we have more tools to spread the information/ music. I bet non of the artists likes the idea that a few people are trying to bogart their music and treat it like it was theirs neither would they prefer their tracks to stay secret.
Although a lot of these questions seem to suggest that it is getting harder to play people music that they haven’t heard, many Djs have recently achieved popularity almost entirely on their skills as Djs and the depth of their record collections. Personal favourites like Nicolas Lutz, Andrew James Gustav and Ben UFO spring to mind. As someone who both DJs and produces music, do you see the two worlds of producing and djing as entirely different or does one influence the other?
Both. I think they both work perfectly independent but if you do both of course one can influence each other. If you are a DJ and you start producing music, you create and build your track in a way that you imagine it will have a positive effect on the dance floor. I think all DJs that produces music have the dance floor always in mind. A producer that never has been DJing or hasn’t experienced many nights on the dance floor probably goes to the studio with a different mind set. Generally DJing and producing should be treated as two different disciplines. I mean- some producers get booked as DJs because they made some cool tracks, but have no clue about the dance floor and how to build a night and create an atmosphere. DJing is more than just playing records. It’s an art for itself with it’s own secrets and philosophy.
Referring the power of internet again: The DJs you mentioned might have stayed undiscovered for a much longer time, due to the lack of exposure. Before the internet the impact stayed mostly local but if you were lucky there was a person from another city or country present and would invite you to another place. Only if the DJ had production or a label he could get more attention, as the records have been provided all over the world in the records stores. Thanks to the internet it is much easier be successful with only dedicating yourself to spinning and collecting records.
Some of what we’ve talked about regarding secret tracks, rare records and elusive DJs has hinted at the ‘exclusivity’ that many people associate with house and techno, in particular the more underground sound that you are renowned for. In particular many people see this as being personified by the strict door policy at many clubs in your homeland of Germany. How do you feel about this issue and the broader inference that the scene is unfriendly to outsiders?
I don’t know what to say about this. I personally don’t feel that the scene is unfriendly. At least not in my surrounding. You might be right though. I guess it really depends on which scene you are looking at. Within “the scene” there are many sub scenes and some groups might be less open than others.
And about the door policy: some of the clubs might be forced to be a bit more selective in order to avoid being over crowded or to keep a good balance and a nice mix of people in the club. It can also be a “marketing tool”. A strict door policy was always appealing. The thrill of getting in or not enhanced the excitement once you were allowed to enter a club, it made you feel special. And of course the club itself creates it’s own hype this way.
The other side to this is that music and DJing has a reputation for providing escapism and a break from day to day life. As someone whose job involves being present at these times but not always there for the same reasons do you feel that you see a different side to people’s character? Do you think that working in such a hedonistic atmosphere has given you an alternative insight into human nature?
When people go out to party they drop their everyday masks. And even though there are big differences in education, cultural or social background etc. at the end we have a lot more in common than we are aware of. The nice thing about my job is that we unite people from any back ground and connect via the music. We offer people a place where they can let themselves go and feel free, enjoy and express themselves. All nature strives for joy and personal expression. And music is so universal, you don’t need to speak the same language or have the same background, education whatsoever to understand it, it touches you on a more fundamental level of your soul and that’s the beauty of it. So the insight might be that we should let go of our prejudice and our limiting views and open our hearts and minds and let people in and try to understand and accept them for who they are, cause even though they seem different they are just like us.
I’d like to finish off with a question that always intrigues me. DJing is (for the most part) very much a solo endeavour and it provides so much scope to shape the mood and atmosphere of a room. Do you find that your sets often reflect the way that you’re feeling and where you’re at with your own life, or do you try to play what you think will appeal to the crowd? Do you think that the general tone of your sets has changed with time?
The general tone of my sets didn’t really change. It varies from time to time, for example summer and winter mood are different, open air party differs to small clubs etc. It reflects of course my musical preferences and moods of the moment but I always think about the place I go to and select music that I imagine will fit the place and the situation. I make a individuals selection every weekend, I don’t always bring the same records with me. But what happens at the club then is again very much influenced by the situation there, by the sound, by the crowd and the mood of the people. A DJ uses his antennas and reacts on the situation. The vibe on the dance floor influences his set but at the same time the DJ can alter it with the music he/ she chooses to play.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. What can we expect from you in the near future?
As I mentioned at the beginning of our interview, I’m starting my label Melliflow together with my friend and colleague, Alexandra from Romania, hopefully by the end of this year. And once that baby is born, I will be able to go back to the studio myself and focus a bit on that.
Thank you too for the nice interview, I’m glad you went a bit deeper with your questions. I really appreciate that.
Many thanks to Vera for taking the time to speak with us and coming back with such insightful answers. Make sure to check her out on Resident Advisor and Facebook .and find out more about her though her booking agency, Solid AM.
If you’d like to stay up to date with The Pulpit then you can check our Facebook page for further updates.
Interviewer – Jack Stanley
Interviewee – Vera Heindel
Photographs provided courtesy of Dasha Redkina (1st and 3rd from top) and Yonathan Baraki (2nd from top)