Ballroom talk with Thomas Schumacher
Already in the game since more than two decades, Bremen-native Thomas Schumacher organised local rave parties in the early ’90s and established his first label Spiel-Zeug Schalplatten in 1998. Under the moniker Elektrochemie LK, he demonstrated with ‘Schall’ how an explosive blend of a Adonis’ ‘Acid Pokin’ sample and a TB-909 drum programming could demolish dance floors worldwide and enter the charts at the same time. After a series of releases on Berlin’s Get Physical, he concentrates currently on his very own Electric Ballroom imprint and hosts an eponymous monthly podcast. Thomas Schumacher had a gig at Rote Luzi Istanbul recently, the after-hour spot of the Kasette crew, so we caught him for an interview. Enjoy!
Hi Thomas! Do you think that the music industry’s loss of pre-filtering processes facilitates discovering new music nowadays?
That is an interesting question. There is obviously so much more music to be discovered in these days and ages. However, unless you really know where to look, you might end up with very little. So in that sense, I don’t think it has become easier to find new music for the majority of people. It is kind of weird to see that the so-called ‘democratisation’ of the music industry through the Internet has brought us so much more music and yet made it at the same much more complicated to find what we are looking for.
Therefore I enjoy going to a specialised record stores with only a limited stock of releases to find exactly the music that I like.
Will current in vogue sounds with trance-esque melodies and slowed drum programming become obsolete soon?
I don’t think so. The use of melodies has made this style of music even more accessible, which will make it more popular and as a result more and more producers and DJs will jump on the band wagon. Nevertheless, I enjoy a lot of these productions, there is so much fresh music and great talent out there. And it connects to my music, because I always loved good, sophisticated melodies. As long as they are melancholic and not cheesy, that is.
You recorded the original version of Elektrochemie LK’s ‘Schall’ in 1995. How important is imposing yourself constraints for your creative process and do you miss the rawness of sound back then?
My creative approach is based focus and freedom — I see my studio as the perfect playground where I can experiment, let go, discover. Basically doing whatever pleases me. Yet you have to be focused, otherwise you end up with a gazillion of ideas that lead to nothing. I do not miss the rawness of the sound back then as it has always been around, you just have to look in the right places. Many producers enjoy an unpolished, raw sound and I very much relate to that. It is good though that you don’t need tons of analogue gear anymore to achieve this sound.
Setting up a label is quite easy nowadays. How important is promotion, i.e. achieving sufficient coverage of the respective media and their polls?
One can not underestimate the importance of promotion, whether it is for a label or the artist him or herself. But before you can even start to promote you need to be very well connected — networking is a key factor in all aspects of the music industry. When it comes to polls, some labels/artists take it too far in my opinion, I’d rather prefer a realistic result of my popularity than something generic.
The video of ‘Schall’ was quite successful in 2000. How important is video nowadays?
I am of the generation MTV, therefore I very much appreciate a good video accompanying great music. But it is quite challenging to produce such videos with the limited budgets that independent labels have. Nevertheless, I am always looking for like-minded creative people that share a vision when it comes to visuals and it does make it a difference, especially for those people that use for example YouTube to listen to music.
You are hosting your own online radio show My Electric Ballroom. Do you think that the time of FM Band radio is over?
I am wondering if FM band radio will face the same challenges like pre-programmed television and I would not be surprised if this is the case. People are getting more and more used to consume content online on the spot and once they are used to it, there is no going back to anything pre-programmed. I myself enjoy listening to specific FM band radio shows every now and then because of the selection of interesting music in combination with insightful information about the music. This is also the inspiration for my own radio show.
You have the opportunity to experience club culture worldwide since 20 years. How important is enthusiasm of the people behind to overcome limitations of local bureaucracy?
When enthusiasm is the driving force behind any project everything is possible! I have seen and experienced it over and over again and I truly believe in it. If you genuinely want to achieve something positive, sooner or later there will be a point at which all sorts of limitations will be overcome, like for example bureaucratic obstacles.
Japanese clubs are renowned for their high quality sound systems. Having lived almost one year in Japan, do you think club owners put enough emphasis on sound quality elsewhere?
I am very pleased about the increase of awareness of great sound in clubs. Nowadays, club owners and the audience seem to have a much better mind-set when it comes to this important issue. The global success of a company like Function One is testament to the progress in sound systems. Not to forget my work space, the DJ booth. I painfully remember the ’90s and many dreadful sounding monitor speakers. Now I really enjoy the high quality set-ups and environments I get to perform with and in.
What’s next for Thomas Schumacher?
2015 will see me celebrating 25 years of producing and DJing. I still can’t believe I have been doing this for over two decades! So to do justice to this very special anniversary, I have quite some plans ready to be put into action. Starting with a special vinyl sets DJ tour this summer. I am very excited to play vinyl sets again! On top of that, I will release a Best Of Thomas Schumacher remix album on my label Electric Ballroom in the second half of this year. Not to forget new releases, remixes and collaborations. It is going to be a wild and exciting year for me!
Thomas Schumacher on Soundcloud