How was your xmas and new year? Where and how did you spend it?
I spent my Christmas and New Year between Venice (Italy) where my family is, and Barcelona where I have been living and making music for the last two years.
I’ve kind of moved back to Italy for a while now even though I left most of my equipment in Barcelona, where I also had two gigs to play on new years eve so on the 31st after my Christmas family break I flew back to Spain, had an amazing NYE dinner at my agent’s house together with the team and other friends and Dj’s from the agency (i.e. Raxon, Shall Ocin and Odd Oswald), took a nap and went to play a 7AM set in a warehouse, followed by an afternoon set later at 2PM in an amazing country house on top of Barcelona’s hills.
Do you have big hopes and dreams for this year, any targets and goals you set yourself?
Last year I’ve spent it mostly closed in the studio making music, finishing up and mixing a lot of tracks and my album, trying to prepare a new live show and preparing/organizing for my new label “Encants” that I finally launched in December.
I’d say that due to a lot of pressure, work and not many tangible results, 2018 was psychologically a tough year for me and I’m happy I’ve got through.
2019 is set to be a whole different story, and judging by how it has started, the work I did in 2018 is beginning to pay off.
The goals of this year are of course growing Encants with many releases on the way not only from myself but also by new names in the scene such as the new techno artist “AN5” and the more eclectic, mysterious and anonymous (yet) “Futuristant”. There will also be some known and legendary names that are going to take part of the label with singles, EP’s and remixes.
Of course I will release on other labels too. I cannot announce everything yet but as far as I can say in the first part of the year I release on a new Barcelona based label which is an extension of a really nice party where I’ve been playing called homonymously “This Side Up”. It will be an EP with some new original tracks of mine including amazing remixes from Zombies in Miami and Undo.
In the next months I will also release some remixes that I’ve made, one of which on the label “Lauter Unfug”. Another of the main goals for 2019 is getting back to touring, which, as physically tiring as it might get, it has always proved an amazing way for me to recharge my bank account, my soul with positive energy, and also inspirations.
Tell us about your musical journey to this point, how did you get involved in the scene?
I started off as most of the dj’s by being a teenage clubber. I went to dance in clubs every time I had the opportunity. In the beginning for me the DJ was a mysterious character doing mysterious stuff from a stage and I felt so attracted by it that I would spend entire nights just looking at the Dj, forgetting about the friend’s birthday that was going on at the table, or I would spend entire nights in the middle of the dance floor completely silent, not talking to anyone and just tripping (no drugs involved) to the music being played for hours. Then I slowly got to make connections with other Dj’s and started realizing and learning what was going on behind those spinning black things until I finally got to actually spin records myself. Because I’m very curious, at that point the next “mysterious” thing that I wanted to figure out was how the tracks on those records were made and thanks to a mixture of patience, help by more experienced producers/friends that I was introduced to, Johnny being the one that helped me the most in the very beginning, and several years that I had spent studying music, I managed to make something that I wouldn’t be really proud of if I listened back to today but could still be called a “track”.
From there it was only a matter of trial and error as it still is today. And I kept making tracks for years, improving and learning every day, getting to know different softwares like Reason, Fruity Loops, Logic and Ableton the most..
Then came the time when my tracks have started being played by my heroes, Richie Hawtin being one of the first ever to support me, maybe because I was still on the basic learning process I kept everything more minimalistic and simple, and that was exactly what Richie was after.
I remember there was a period that he would play a track of mine almost in every set and his personal assistant reached out to me on Facebook, we got in contact and I finally got to meet with him, it was really emotional.
Years went by, more contacts were made and I got to release on other labels of my childhood heroes such as Dubfire’s Sci+Tec, and finally Maceo Plex’s Ellum to name the biggest, the latest being the one that influenced me the most in these last years. Ellum’s boss first as Maetrik and later on as Maceo Plex got me in love with his dark, mysterious and emotional beats and I consider him all-around one of the best electronic music producers of this time.
Tell us about your new album entitled ’Stephan Barnem’ – why is now the right time for you to do a full length?
I had the idea of releasing an LP for many years, indeed some of the tracks featured on this album are as old as 6 years and I think it is time to release to the public some of what I’ve kept inside my hard disks until now. I make music because I love making music, it relaxes me and makes me feel good. I have opened my label Encants for giving myself the opportunity to go in the studio with a fresh and open mind. I want to produce without any compromises nor I wanna feel the guilt of keep making new stuff without having released what I’ve made before.
I’m not sure whether I should define this as an album, a selection, or a collection of some of my past works, but to me it was just a pity and a bit selfish to keep all these works for myself, and even though I’ve always been a bit jealous of my music I wanted to let it out. I just felt it was the right thing to do in order to move forward.
It is named after you – does that mean it is a personal reflection of you as a character, your moods and feelings?
Exactly. It’s like a showcase of different moods and styles that represent me, made during different periods of my life and I’ve really got attached to the tracks on this album; they’ve been around in my head and in my studio for quite some time now. Also because I’m very indecisive as a person, I find myself more often than not overthinking things; so when the moment of finding a title for this album came, I panicked, but I tried to repeat to myself that it’s a music album, it’s about the music, not about the title, therefore I tried to stick with the simplest thing that came to my mind, which was titling it with my artist name.
Was there a concept for it from the start, did you know how you wanted the whole thing to sound and what you wanted to say?
Kind of. As I said some tracks are as old as 6 years, some are more recent. I wasn’t thinking that I would be using all these tracks for an album when I first made them, but it kind of came together by itself with time. And the more tracks that I put together the more it started making sense and taking form which leaded me to a specific direction until I got the final picture under my eyes.
In the future for my next album I’d like to do it more conceptually, I’d like to close myself in a studio without internet or phone, maybe a cabin in the woods with snow all around and a fire warming up the room for a month and come out of it only when all the tracks are finished. But in this case as I said, it’s more a collection of tracks that I’ve kept for myself for too long and wanted to get out, some of them made in Berlin, some made in Italy and some in Barcelona. This album is still a story, but it is more like a real life story, one that first you live it, then you realize it and then you tell it.
What gear did you use on writing the album? Hardware or software, and does that matter?
I think reading how a producer made his music is like having a movie spoiled so don’t read further unless you’re really curious.
I used a little bit of everything either software and hardware, I actually don’t have a “standard” way to produce, and this “non-standardization” is even more accentuated on an album that took several years to put together. At the very end the brain of my studio is always my Mac, but it all might start from an accidentally pressed note on one of my keyboards, for example I really overused the Nord Lead A1 or it might be a field recording from my Tascam or even my iPhone like I did on “Terrazz”. I like to include some natural and organic sound in a track especially the “chiller” and more “electronica” ones, I think it gives it a more emotional feeling.
In some tracks I used samples from old recordings that I found inside of my Tascam SD card and I played “live” on top of it with some synthesizers like in “Sunset Organica”, in other tracks I used some samples from old vinyls and put them together in Ableton. There are tracks like Emek Stories that I’ve written almost entirely in a car with the laptop connected via Bluetooth to the sound system during a time when my studio speakers were broken.
One of the latest additions to my studio setup were the Roland replicas so some of the sounds like pads and leads might come from those digital-analog devices while other like basses could be from the Moog but yes I did use some VST’s aswel.
At the very end of the production process I mixed it all down in Logic Pro with the help of Universal Audio plugins to give it a certain touch, but to be honest I’d like to admit that this is something that just makes me feel happy and confident about it instead of being actually necessary, I really believe that for making music all might be useful but nothing is really necessary. So answering part of the question, whether it’s hardware or software it doesn’t matter that much, and I believe that analog at times might be nicer for the way it is used more than for the actual way it sounds.
It features some live acoustic stuff – did you play that yourself? Are you formally trained?
I recorded and played myself all of the sounds and notes that are in the album’s tracks, I used to study guitar and piano when I was younger but I wouldn’t say that I’m still properly trained as I haven’t followed my studies since a long time and what I do play now I do it mostly by ear or just by experimenting. I’m happy for this question because I actually tried to leave an acoustic feeling to these tracks and if you ask it means that at least in part I managed to do it!
What else have you got coming up this year/what are you excited about?
Apart from the new label, the album, the touring and the EP’s that I have coming up in the first part of 2019 I am really looking forward to live in the studio as I’ve always wanted to, which is in a more relaxed and open minded way. Being able to release this album will permit me to showcase my more eclectic side and so I feel more free to just concentrate on making proper club bangers for the rest of the year.
The first single ‘The Break’ from the LP is out on 23th January