Words With Gerd Janson: The German DJ On His “DJ Brain,” The State of Vinyl, American Dance Music and More

Gerd Janson is a German DJ, label owner, and self-described music nerd who will be making a rare appearance stateside this Saturday, Oct. 25 at Monarch alongside Optimo and Suzanne Kraft — ahead of which, we had the opportunity to catch up by email. For more information, see the write-up here.

Could you give the San Francisco audience a little bit of background on your DJ career? When did you get started DJing?

That must have been around 1998 or '99. I had just finished civil services in Germany. I was about to go to university and had enough money on the side to buy a bedroom DJ booth. Playing for gas money followed shortly.

[jump] What were some of the first tracks (or DJs, or albums, or mixes — whatever that put the fire inside you) that inspired you to make electronic music your career?

I cannot put my finger on one single moment, DJ, incident, or record. It all came more out of a vocation as a club kid, record collector and music nerd than anything else. Also, inspiration and career don't go together in my case, as it was all a very long process until people decided that they were happy to subsidize my lifestyle.

You're a European fellow with a real love and respect for American dance music. Although house and techno have their roots in the United States, there's no question that for most of the past 25 years or so, dance music really flourished in Europe. Could you tell me a bit about what you might say the differences between European and American dance music are (if any)? Do you think the culture is different? Is there anything in particular about American dance music that really draws you and attracts you?

Although there always has been some cross-pollination going on (Kraftwerk, Italo-Disco, New Wave), there is no doubt that what became rave or dance culture is indebted to what happened in cities like New York, Chicago or Detroit beforehand. Whether it was the Loft stylings of David Mancusco or Larry Levan's Paradise Garage, kids with drum machines in Chicago or Detroit techno, all of that laid the foundation for what happened in Europe from 1988 on. I'd say whatever seeds were sown in North America, ended up being reaped in Europe. It just became deeply engraved in youth culture over here and there is a healthy and flourishing club scene in almost every bigger European city. Having said that, producers, DJs, and club kids of course came up with their own interpretations, genres, micro-genres — ranging from mimicry to innovation.

The first and only time I had the pleasure of experiencing your DJ set was a year or two ago, last time you were in San Francisco for an Icee Hot party. You played one of the heaviest, most raucous house music sets I've ever heard, which made me sweat through three or four layers of clothes. I wonder, is there any feeling or mood or vibe you hope to transmit to the crowd other than “dance hard and have a good time”? Do you tailor your sets to certain crowds or gigs or just play what you like and see how the audience responds?

Oh, I take that as a compliment. Thanks. To answer your question: it depends. As I don't consider myself to be an artist or producer, I'm not guided by the belief that people turn up because they expect a certain style or sound exclusively. So, I try and judge each situation by what it is — the DJ before or after you, the sound system or the weather on that day. If know the people or the club, it will be a little bit different than if I had to try to find the common denominator. Sometimes, I do take a risk and lose, though. But as trivial as it may sound and as your colleague Shawn Reynaldo from XLR8R recently and rightly wrote: I just want everyone to have a good time.

Although you have a few production credits under your belt, it seems the majority of your time is spent DJing, and surely running record label affairs for Running Back. Could you talk a bit about the art of DJing vs. the art of production and what you appreciate about focusing on DJing?

That's easy. I'm not a musician and never will be. At best, I have a DJ brain. Being in a band and being put up on stage never used to be a wish of mine. I thought DJing might be possible for me because when I started — the exception proves the rule — the DJ had just moved past the “bartender-without-a-beer-tap” level. You didn't have to have stupid dance moves or party outfits, a record collection was enough. There also used to be more of a divide between DJs and record producers. Nowadays it seems (see exception) that you have to do the latter to be able to go on with your DJ duties. Personally, my trying to do stuff in studios stems from being asked for remixes (a classic DJ occupation), spending time with friends and, of course, the vanity of proving to myself that my self-doubt is justified.

Speaking of Running Back, it is now in its 12th year of operation. Things have changed an awful lost since its inception. Can you, from the perspective of a record label owner, comment on how the business of electronic music has changed? Vinyl seems to be more popular than ever these days, but a lot of that is driven by non-electronic genres (indie rock, for example, in the United States). Do you think vinyl will continue to be the medium of choice for electronic music, especially techno and house club tracks? How has the Internet changed things?

As I still feel like a rookie, you should probably direct those questions to Warp Records or Daniel Miller from Mute. But judging from a record collector's point of view and with a dance music perspective, I'd argue that there is almost a stylistic divide between people who buy electronic music on vinyl and those who live in the digital realm. Some throw-away tracks are of course better kept as MP3s than contributing to environmental pollution by being pressed on vinyl. There also seems to be this pride: If something is vinyl-only, that goes hand-in-hand with pop culture differentiation, and the feeling of exclusivity in times where anything and everything seems to be available with a single click of a mouse. Then, there are of course still others who just like records as tangible objects and works of art and others who just see the work of a DJ as very pragmatic, and as such welcome the easiest format to play out in clubs. I think that even in electronic music, there will always be a loyal group of buyers and music fans who appreciate vinyl, even if sales will never go back to those of the heyday when it was the exclusive format for electronic music.

What artists, records, or labels are you really feeling right now?

The truism of too many too mention may actually, finally be true. I don't want anyone to feel left out, and I think one positive sign of the times is that you can pick and choose from what seems an unlimited supply of old and new styles, re-issues, and interesting edits like you've never had before. There seems to be new labels and producers popping up weekly, and most of them have something to say — even if it's not re-inventing the wheel, it's quite often very well done.

Is there any music you particularly like to listen to while traveling?

That would have to be silence, I'm afraid.



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