About instincts and momentum: in conversation with dance music titan Solomun on the occasion of his newly launched album Nobody Is Not Loved, released on his own NINL label together with a selection of personal highlights for our latest Soundscapes series.
The album is a huge comeback on your own NINL label, after more than a decade from your first album, we can tell from the glorious names on the featuring list, many legends among: Jamie Foxx, Planningtorock, Zoot Woman and Anne Clark. How have you chosen the collaborations?
Generally, with all tracks that I make, I start out with developing the instrumental. Once that has reached a certain stage and I have a pretty clear view on the sonic idea of where it could go, I start thinking about the vocalist that could fit with it. Of course, the track then continues to develop, together with the contribution of the vocalist. For some tracks on the album, we started out with someone in mind first, only to come to the realization later that a different person might fit much better – and so we went with the latter option. One such example is “Tuk Tuk”, where we first had another singer that we met with, but while Inez from ÄTNA was recording the vocals for “Prospect” in the studio in Berlin, she freestyled over the instrumental of “Tuk Tuk”, and we fell in love with it so much that we went with her instead. So, I’d say I have a pretty clear vision of what kind of vocal I like, but sometimes you have to adjust and go with what feels best, even if it means changing your initial plans. But that’s what makes this whole thing so exciting, and I am incredibly happy with the final result.
“Nobody is not loved“, your latest album title, sounds quite spiritual. The cover is also very evocative, it’s a picture of a crowd at one of your parties covered in red, the color of love. If “music loves all of us” as you state, and your fans love your music, was the the album cover a way to celebrate your audience?
A little background: The cover was shot by star photographer Andreas Gursky. We have become friends in recent years, and back when it was time to think about an album cover, I talked to him and told him that I really loved the picture he shot at Mayday a few years back. He smiled and told me he had a few similar ones, coincidentally shot at my gig during Connect Festival in Düsseldorf. I particularly loved one of them, and he gifted it to me. But all of this was pre-Corona, so it was not an intentional move. I’m not a big fan of talking about music. This whole analysis and bringing a meta level into something feels very unfamiliar to me. Too much talk about music is not good for it, I prefer to let it speak for itself. But now that we were going deeper into the album process philosophically and what it means to bring people together. I have never seen my profession as particularly heroic – I grew up with music, it was everywhere, and we took it for granted – but the world has changed and so the cover gained in importance. I like the way you look at it, and while it is surely also a way of celebrating audiences in general, my main intention was to celebrate music itself. Music is the heroine of this project. The people on the cover gather precisely because of music, to celebrate it together, in a community, in a place designed for celebrating music. Because music needs people just as much as people need music – we all painfully felt that during the time of closed clubs and music venues.
For the opening track of the album “Ocean” ft Grammy winner Jaime Foxx, you also released an intense video: where we can see the ocean as a vibe that follows you even in the city. Is this the definition of music for you? Could we say music is the non-place of feelings?
Almost. What water is for the body, music is for the soul, and this is why the water follows our protagonist, even into the grey urban jungle – it can literally happen anywhere. If you have seen the Pixar film “Soul”, you will know about the separate space within the non-living sphere where people go that are completely immersed in their passion, be it cooking, sport, or listening to or making music. They are still alive, but they dip into this eternal stream that is outside of our everyday life. So, I wouldn’t call just ‘music’ a non-place of feelings, but I would definitely compare ‘being completely immersed in music’ (or as I like to call it: ‘momentum’) to that idea.
Getting lost in the crowd and dancing often allows you not to be seen and to be truly yourself. Now in the pandemic we feel constantly observed, webcams and icons are present in our place at all times. In a post pandemic world, what kind of new value and meaning do you think will DJ sets have?
I am always trying to be optimistic, but I’m afraid this will not pass without leaving a mark on us. Something essential has been taken from us. Plus, as you say, there has never been more surveillance than now. I have been travelling the world in the service of music now for a long time, and I hope that being this ambassador of music that I was allowed to be until now, will continue to bring people together under the umbrella of music, because I feel it has never been more important than today. To unite them, to overcome boundaries and preconceptions and to get the chance to once again be able to melt together and create momentum. That’s what I hope DJs all over the world will be able to do – because we really need to be close again.
You won the best international DJ award and several other substantial nominations for your career even though you only released two albums. Moreover, you are not just a stage persona but an honest entertainer in the truest sense of the word. Do you consider yourself very reflective or hyper critical in your work and towards yourself?
My life philosophy hasn’t changed: you have to stay true to yourself and follow your own vision. You can’t appeal to everyone, that’s just a fact of life. Generally I am always open to critique, but we have to make a distinction between two types: when I am receiving feedback regarding my music, my style of leadership, my projects or just as a person from someone on a level playing field, I definitely listen to it, think about it, and then draw my own personal conclusions from it (which can range from full acceptance to full negation and everything in between – I have to follow my gut feeling here). Journalists not connecting with my music is absolutely fine, because taste is subjective, it always has been and always will. It is the rarest phenomenon to meet someone without any sort of bias. I learned to deal with this and I show good sportsmanship with this type of feedback. However, if we are talking about comments online, trolls, pranksters, memes, I have stopped caring about those years ago. There isn’t even any sort of quality filter to at least ban hateful messages. This kind of feedback, obviously, no artist should take seriously. I know I don’t.
Do you feel is hard to stay true to yourself in the music industry?
I think it is the only way for any artist – to listen to the voice inside you, to your gut feeling. Because in the end, what the people want to see is your vision. You have to follow those instincts, and if you have done so, you can be content with your work. Doing something different than before is not the opposite of staying true to yourself – not following your instincts is. With this album, I did exactly what I intended to do, and I am absolutely pleased with the result. This is what “staying true to yourself” means to me. Of course there is always the temptation to feed the algorithm that generates your traffic, but everyone has to make up their own mind on this, whether or not you wanna play ball. Personally, I am not a fan of showing off my private life, posting pictures from the beach, of my food, or a nonsense selfie to feed the algorithm. I just couldn’t square it with my conscience, so I try to keep my socials strictly music related and connect to my people that way. But I see how it’s a powerful tool to increase your audience reach and to play the game.
How did you spend your past year in quarantine? The track “Home” has anything to do with this period? Also, you have Bosnian origins, have lived in Germany, Ibiza and traveled across the world. Which is the place you feel closer to your heart and call it home?
After the first repercussions of the lockdown hit, I tried to look around in my community and see how I could help. Followed every development closely and did my best to avoid any sort of panic. Tried to create a sense of hope again, and worked on a concept very early on in the pandemic (together with Steffen from Time Warp), like many others did as well. And like many others, our concept unfortunately was not supported by the German government. We were under the impression they had zero interest in ideas and concepts that could move something. Our entire scene was put on hold. Of course it gave me more time to focus on my album, finish the whole thing up, but if I had the choice, this complete breakdown would never have been a price I would have chosen to pay. Connecting with people is so important to me. Getting lost in music is so vitally important to the soul, too. For our whole community especially, which is a kind of chosen family, this was a tragedy, and I can feel the need for coming back together growing more and more strongly in myself and the people around me. It’s good to finally, very slowly, see the light at the end of the tunnel. This connection, the thing we crave so much, was what we wanted to transport with the video for “Home” – and the idea for it is much older than the pandemic, it is much rather about being in the moment, connecting with people, and not being distracted by mobile phones when in a community (like at parties or dinners).And regarding what I call home: I have Croatian blood in my veins, I was born in Bosnia, had a German education, I have also fallen in love with Ibiza and now have the privilege to travel and see the world, and take all those impressions in. So with all this in mind, it’s really difficult for me to define what home is. I guess I always carry home in my heart.
Do you remember what was the first piece of music you ever bought and what format did it come in? If yes, does it still resonate with your taste nowadays?
The first record that I actually purchased was the soundtrack to the breakdance movie “Breakin’” from 1984. Ten fantastic tracks, including Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” and “Street People” by Firefox, which is an incredible song until this day.
The ”Solomun + 1” party concept, that started in Ibiza was to spend a night choosing just with one friend. Trusting and dedicating oneself totally to a person while dancing is one of the most intense experiences that exist. Does this idea comes from a personal experience that you wanted to share with others? It has become a huge worldwide success; does it still manage to excite you every time?
The idea came to me after my first ever visit to Ibiza, when we already knew we would start with the residency next year. When I was on the White Isle, I noticed that the line-ups on all the posters and flyers were just completely packed with artist names. Knowing that the hours that these clubs had for a party were quite limited, I figured every artist just had 90 or sometimes 60 minute slots… Of course I understand that this might create a more intense setting, but that wasn’t what I wanted to create. I wanted to counteract this at my event and allow the individual artist more space to unfold. So I went back home and thought: one guest – that is all we need! It was a bit of a risky move though, because we were the only ones with such a small line up for a residency, but I really wanted to counteract this phenomenon that I saw. So, the guest starts playing alone, then I play alone, and in the end we play together. And playing with my guests has always been a lot of fun for me. Some of them I already knew and had played with, while with others it was the first time, hence a new challenge; trying to find a common groove, to fit together and complement each other, with such diverse DJs – of course I get excited, but I love that. And I would say that most of the time, it really worked out.
Can you pinpoint three of the most legendary gigs or moments in your career so far?
I have been asked this question many times in the course of my career, and every time it’s so difficult to highlight something. At the risk of coming across as diplomatic or boring, I’m really sorry, but I can’t give you actual events here – there have just been too many fantastic ones that I am too grateful for. So to answer your question: I can’t.
Will you share with us some thoughts on the playlist you have put together for us?
Yes, it is a selection of personal highlights from the last five months from my Spotify “Momentum” Playlist. In the beginning it was still kinda tough to get into the habit, but at some point I managed to continuously update it every Friday with 10 new tracks, and by now it’s something I really look forward to each week. And since I have been really engaged with the full spectrum of my personal music taste in the past months, I was happy to take 25 tracks from that for the NASTY MAG playlist now. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
Any exciting upcoming plans?
So of course, my first major focus is the release of Nobody Is Not Loved and everything that comes with it – in the context of the album we are currently planning a music-related experience, but we have to see what cards Corona deals us. Later in the year we will follow with the album remixes, which I am also very excited about. For that, I have invited some great artists I admire plus some familiar faces from my Solomun +1 series to do the remixes, and I cross all my fingers that by the time of the release we can at least have some events again where people can listen to them on proper sound systems.