Ahead of his appearance at Awakenings next weekend, John Thorp spoke to Rødhåd about the crossover between producing and DJing, playing a rare warm-up set and remixing Daniel Avery.
Unlike many producers who made Berlin their home, it has been yours since childhood. Therefore, techno and dance music must have been closer growing up than it is for many. Was it always something that appealed to you, or did you rebel against it at all?
Going to techno parties was of course a way of rebellion, even in my youth, but it was more about staying in the clubs for the whole night, listening to uncompromising music and getting more and more into this subculture than to form an alternative way of life. Well, at least I thought that at the time and now I am making a living from being a DJ, so it somehow worked out.
Despite having DJed for much longer and having been an integral part of the Berlin scene, your own music only first arrived four years ago. You’ve said that you didn’t want to release anything until it was ready, which is an admirable stance. But at what point did you know you had the correct material?
To be honest, I never really reach the final level of being 100% convinced and satisfied with my music, but I guess that’s quite normal. Sometimes, I need to relax and just say “okay, it’s finished now”. Music is always a process and it’s also part of the process to try out and having some imperfect tracks released to great the best perfection.
You are known, perhaps due to your associations with Berlin’s techno scene as a relatively ‘hard’ DJ, although personally I hear a lot of melancholy and melody when you play on a Sunday at Berghain, for example. Do you think that’s a fair perspective on your style? Are you keen to subvert expectations?
I know where I come from and what I listened to when I went out to techno parties, but as you noticed, I am not a techno guy overall – I like to play with expectations, I like to surprise myself and yes, I also like melancholic melodies, dub techno track and a classy house tune from time to time.
That’s what a DJ should be: selecting music and not be limited to one genre, right?
But, of course, when I put the records together in the mix, in the end you will always hear a ‘Rodhad techno’ coming out of the speakers.
Given the Berlin mindset of longer sets and the effort you take to build a mood, has it been difficult to play larger, less specialist events and festivals as you have become more in-demand on lineups? If so, how have you adjusted so not to simply present a kind of ‘diet’ version of Rodhad?
Sometimes you arrive at a festival where dancers and visitors don’t want any education in electronic music or don’t expect something. They are just there to ‘enjoy’ and I respect that, as this is also a big positive aspect of music: to be free and not to judge others’ opinions. But yes, sometimes it’s not always that easy to transport the feeling of a club into a festival or vis a vis. What I can say is that you will never get the diet version of a Rodhad set, when I am booked and staying behind the mixer. I am there for the dancers.
You have a wonderful ear for what I can broadly describe as ‘atmosphere’, which I think dance music often lacks. Your remixes for Daniel Avery and Howling, most recently, take those records in unexpected directions. How easy is it for you to reconstruct somebody else’s music with the Rodhad touch?
To be honest, it’s not as easy as you may think. 🙂
My taste, my view on music is really personal, so I need time to get into the original music before I can remix it. Same as a DJ, as a producer I want to be 100% feelings and respect the tracks I am producing, remixing and working on, which needs a lot of energy from myself every day.
You’ve said in the past, with little irony, that “happy music just sounds boring to you” and described yourself as a “melancholy guy.” To outsiders, that attitude and personality might not be one associated with clubs and partying, but with you, and with Berlin, it makes sense. Does DJing help you express that melancholy feeling? Might it become overwhelming otherwise?
Good that you heard the irony out of it, but yes, to be honest, this vibe and feeling I tried to express in that interview back in the day is my little bubble – I always can return into the bubble, thats where I feel comfortable and safe.
And yes, somehow this bubble is similar to the Berlin vibe of the last 20 years, or even more. so it fits to me and keeps me on the right path of what I am doing.
You’re playing Awakenings first ever event in Manchester, on before Dave Clarke, Chris Liebing and Speedy J, which isn’t a bad lineup… So for you, that’s a warm up set, rather than the closing sets you’re best known for. How’re you feeling ahead of that opportunity?
Well, you know, I am happy to open for these artists and setting up the room for them and so I have the chance to stay after my gig and listen to them. I’m sure that in 2016 there will be some more opportunities where I will play after these guys again. So, Manchester: come early and stay late!