Deep house has been dominating electronic dance music after its recent resurgence in the prolific German scene, from which most of the world takes its stylistic cues in the new millennium. Artists like Henrik Schwarz, however, have been fostering this style for close to a decade, earning a sudden new relevance in today's scene -- which is not to say that Schwarz was an unsung hero until now, considering the veteran DJ/producer's accolades since the early 2000s.
Born and bred in southern Germany but based in Berlin, Schwarz started out as a hip hop and rare groove DJ, absorbing the sounds of American black music with which he would later infuse his own melting pot of soul, jazz, and house by way of Detroit techno. Early releases on Sasse's Moodmusic and his own Sunday Music imprints piqued the interest of influential DJs like the BBC's Gilles Peterson who played them on his radio show to immediate effect.
A string of well-received remixes for the likes of Jazzanova, James Brown, and Omar featuring Stevie Wonder would further establish him as one of the most original new German EDM exports in the mid-2000s, while his remix for "Walk A Mile" by Coldcut on the Ninja Tune label garnered exceptional praise, becoming one of the biggest club hits of 2006. Schwarz's major breakthrough, however, was mixing !K7's prestigious DJ-Kicks compilation series in 2006 which would launch him into the international elite. Fast-forward to the new decade and Schwarz is hotter than ever, enjoying renowned creative association with the pivotal German deep house labels Sonar Kollektiv and Innervisions and ongoing collaborations with some of their most acclaimed artists, like Dixon and Âme.
Henrik Schwarz will be making a long-awaited stop by our neck of the woods and we caught up with the acclaimed producer on the cusp of his Friday night performance at Electric Pickle.
Read the full Q&A after the jump.
Henrik Schwarz. Friday, May 7. Friday, April 2, 10 p.m.-5 a.m. Electric Pickle. 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami.
New Times: How did you first get into music?
Henrik Schwarz: Music has always been there. I have always been interested in music already when I was a kid. I asked my parents to put the radio louder when I recognized a song that I liked. Of course I had never thought that this will turn into a profession one day. I started buying records quite early and played at school parties. However I never learned an instrument. But I always wanted to make my own music. So many years later when computers came up I was immediately interested in getting tones out of them. It took me 9 months to get the first tone out of my first own computer - but when I heard that tone - that was a magic moment in my life and from there I went on.
What was the music scene in Berlin like when you first started out? How has the city shaped your musical development?
I started to develop my own music many years before I came to Berlin. I was living in this little town in south Germany where I was a resident DJ in the local club. I did my own productions for 10 years but never gave the music to anyone because I thought it's not good enough. I was working as a graphic designer and moved to Berlin in 1999. Music had been a hobby until then. When I arrived here things changed quite drastically for me. I met some people, Sasse from Moodmusic took a CD with my music out of my hands and said, 'You need to release this!' So he did my first record on his label Moodmusic and from there things happened very fast. My record got played by Gilles Peterson and as the Berlin scene was so open and vivid, I was offered to do my own label Sunday-Music Records there. So Berlin was very helpful with all the enthusiasm that it had and that it also gave me. It made me believe in my work and still does.
How do you approach your production work? What's your typical process in the studio?
It all starts with an idea. Sometimes this idea is very clear and I sit down and turn it into music -- this can be a very quick process. But it also can be very difficult to turn the idea into music when the first attempt doesn't work out. Sometimes the idea or what you want to say is very vague and it is very difficult to not loose it and capture it instead. I try to be effective and not sit in front of the computer too much -- whether I catch the idea or don't. If I have found something and captured it I let it lay there on my hard drive for a few days or even weeks. It has to grow and ripen like a good wine. So I might work on after a few days and when it grows I work on -- if not, I look for something else.
Jazz has been very influential in your sound. How did you first get into it? Are there any contemporary jazz artists that you look to for inspiration these days?
Yes. For me Jazz means freedom -- freedom not only in music, also freedom for you as a person. Jazz has always been a great inspiration for everything I do. I believe that's how I got into it -- I heard it and it seemed to be the right path for me. So I went in this direction and today I have the feeling this was and is right. During the last couple of years I was very inspired by the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. Of course also Mr. Bugge Wesseltoft is a genius! I am lucky I played a few concerts with him. I just got a CD from a group called Chicago Underground Trio -- fantastic! And many more.
You have and continue to enjoy fruitful relationships with the Sonar Kollektiv and Innervisions labels, which are synonymous with quality German deep house. How did these relationships come about and what impact have they had on your career?
Innervisions had been a sub-label from Sonar Kollektiv when they started. Now Innervisions is independent for a few years. I met Dixon when I played in London and on the bus back to the airport we had a chat and found out that we share many ideas, and so we decided to give it a try in the studio together. We were working together really well and since the two guys from Âme were also partners at Innervisions, they got involved very soon too. Our first collaboration was titled "Where We At" and turned into a quite successful record. So we kept on working together and became friends. Now we know each other for many years. We have done many projects and releases together -- we are a super production team. We are just about to open a studio together in Berlin. Earlier this year we have done our first film score for "Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari" and found out that this is something we love to do.
You've been quoted as saying that when most Germans play jazz, they play more with their head than their heart. Do you think the German psyche is opening up to more soulful musical vibes with the current deep house revival right, than the colder mechanical techno sounds prevalent a couple years back?
Germany is in motion that's true. Culture is very head-driven here sometimes -- and don't get me wrong, I don't believe this is a bad thing! Not at all. I just find it important to bring both worlds together, head and heart -- not only head, not only heart! It is important to find the right balance to create something very strong. So hopefully Germany is opening up a bit and lets the sunshine in.
What do you have going on professionally in 2010?
Many, many things. I just finished a film score with Dixon and Âme. We will perform this live in cinemas in several cities. I am working on my solo album which will be finished in autumn. I am also playing many concerts with jazz piano virtuoso Bugge Wesseltoft with him on grand piano and myself on laptop. We are also preparing an album together. Also I have just finished a remix for Motown and some more remixes are in the works. I am preparing a performance with a string orchestra at the Jazz-Open in Stuttgart. And last but not least I am playing many solo live shows at clubs and festivals during the summer -- all very exciting !
Miami has been waiting a long time to hear you play and we're very excited to see you at Electric Pickle. What can we expect during this performance?
I'll play with fragments and samples of my own productions from the last couple of years. It is something like a real-time live remix of my own material. Come over and dance!