By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
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By Derek Opperman
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This time last year Timo Maas was priming for a six-week North American tour in support of Loud, the Hanover, Germany, DJ's debut album as a songwriter of electronic dance music. Holed up in a hotel in San Francisco, the tour's launch site, Maas surveyed dank clouds spraying rain outside his window. The outcome of his breakout move then seemed as murky as the weather.
Sure, Maas had already rocketed to the top tier of the global club circuit on the fuel of his two hit compilations, Music for the Maases and Connected, featuring tracks culled from his 30,000-plus record collection. But cutting up the music of others is worlds apart from producing one's very own. Many "superstar DJs" have tried to make the transition, and many have failed.
Maas was jovial under pressure.
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"When Martin [Buttrich, Loud's associate producer] and I sit in the studio, we just follow our balls," he said. "We're really not thinking all that much. If it works, great; if it doesn't, we scrap it and do something else. We smoke, we drink, we hang around and laugh a lot, and at the end of the day we get some really nice beats out of it."
With Loud, the nice beats Maas got spun the tables on all his peers. He delivered a recording so inclusive and accessible, yet so eclectic and exquisitely crafted, that critics and fans smartly elevated him from the DJ pile to higher ground.
"I never much cared for DJ albums, 'cause by the time it's released the songs are always three to four months old," Maas said. "What I like about Loud is that all the material is original and it gave me the chance to do whatever it is I wanted to do. I felt extremely more confident doing this album than my previous compilations."
Maas writes dance music with song structure, futuristic techno sliced with sexy, poppy trip-hop, and somber spoken-word vignettes, antitoxins for the producer's musical pet peeve, "the high-pitched female voice screaming about love. C'mon, nobody needs that."
Once Loud dropped, Maas had proof he could write "real" music that's good for more than feeding the heads on a rolling dance floor. "You know me from interviews and what you've heard when I spin, but you don't know who I really am," Maas said. "People have a picture of me and how I am, so I like to give them something they don't expect to kind of balance it out. My music can be dark, but it leaves you smiling." Shadowy cuts like "Help Me" and "Bad Days" are tempered with enough narcotic bass lines and sensual drum rolls to make the slide into the id feel filthy but fine. And when Maas buzz-saws electric guitars into disco funk on "O.C.B." and "To Get Down" (the latter now in heavy rotation on a car commercial, à la Dirty Vegas), he achieves basic beat perfection.
"I just try to make things dirty, funky, and sexy regardless of whether it's downbeat, clubby, or even rock," he said last month in Miami during the Winter Music Conference. "Do I feel I'll be held to a different standard now? Yes. When you do something so different from what is expected you can't help but be judged differently."
On the decks in a South Beach club, Maas beamed a mischievous schoolboy grin as he alternately mixed records, socialized, and posed for paparazzi. With the drinks flowing, a cigarette smoking, and the speakers blaring, he was fully in his element. Tight-outfitted women screamed, GQ party boys elbowed for a glance of Maas the icon, and the air was electric with anticipation of his every sonic salvo.
Before hitting this year's WMC, electronic dance culture's annual gathering of the tribes, Maas was across the Atlantic in the studio. He finished up work on his upcoming compilation Music for the Maases 2 (scheduled for a May release) as well as a few scattered tracks for his eventual follow-up to Loud.
"As far as original material [goes], I've just finished a track that's called 'UNITE,' and it's real dark and fucked up," he said with a demonic chuckle. "In my first few gigs this year that song was blowing floors apart."
Maas realizes his legions of fans and all the industry heads listening in have towering expectations for his second offering of original music. He's not sweating it.
"Will the next original release go to that next level? I don't know. I just do what I do. I get in the studio, get the vibes going, and see what happens. As long as I'm excited then that's what matters. And I am."