IN THE STU­DIO WITH: Steve Bug & Lan­gen­burg

A meet­ing of minds, as the techno supremo tells us more about his long­time-com­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ger­man house don Lan­gen­burg

Future Music - - CONTENTS - | Steve Bug & Langenberg

Co-founder of Essen-based la­bel Mild Pitch, Langenberg (Max Heesen) be­gan his pro­duc­tion ca­reer in 2007 with nu­mer­ous self-penned re­leases, in­clud­ing the de­but al­bum Cen­tral Heated

House on Steve Bug’s Dessous la­bel. Col­lab­o­ra­tions with Manuel Tur un­der the name Ribn also at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Bug, re­sult­ing in his remix of the track This Feel­ing in 2009.

Bug and Langenberg con­tin­ued to cross paths over the next decade, al­though it wasn’t un­til last year that the duo de­cided to ac­tively work on mu­sic to­gether. The re­sult was the two-track EP Chord

Clus­ter, re­leased last year on Bug’s Poker Flat Record­ings. How­ever, with fur­ther un­re­leased record­ings also penned, they de­cided to ex­tend their part­ner­ship and cre­ate the full-length house al­bum, Par­adise Sold.

How do you think your re­spec­tive gen­res have changed from the eras you grew up in?

Steve Bug: “I got into dance mu­sic in the late ’80s with Chicago house, New York house and Detroit techno. Ev­ery­thing was a part of the whole move­ment. I’ve never seen it as a sin­gle genre but a big tree of elec­tronic dance mu­sic all be­long­ing to­gether. I think it’s quite stupid for DJs to sim­ply play one style and move to the next hip thing that comes up. Of course, things are pop­ping up and dis­ap­pear­ing all the time, but the ba­sic rules of house and techno are still there, es­pe­cially th­ese days with young pro­duc­ers go­ing back to their roots and lots of vinyl-only stuff be­ing re­leased.”

Max Heesen: “I’m a bit younger, so maybe it was dif­fer­ent for me. Back in 2000, I used to live in the Ruhr dis­trict, so my re­al­i­sa­tion of techno and house mu­sic started by go­ing to the Kom­pakt store in Cologne. When I dived into th­ese elec­tronic mu­sic worlds, I mostly lis­tened to harder techno. It took a while for me to de­tect the soul of elec­tronic mu­sic and those older Chicago and Detroit sounds. I grew up in an al­ter­na­tive scene where there were no clear bor­ders, so found it more nat­u­ral to cross­over and make the mu­sic I like.”

If pro­duc­ers are look­ing back­wards, is that be­cause the old tech­nol­ogy has been recre­ated or they’ve re­dis­cov­ered the orig­i­nal ethos?

SB: “To be hon­est, I think the move­ment started be­fore and then com­pa­nies started to re­build or reis­sue all the ma­chines. A lot of early house was ba­si­cally just sam­pling stuff from records and put­ting disco loops to­gether. That part’s al­ways been around and peo­ple are still try­ing to find disco sam­ples that haven’t been done a thou­sand times al­ready. When the tree grows too big and there are too many arms and leaves, peo­ple strug­gle to find their own sound and start look­ing back to the roots to build some­thing up from the be­gin­ning again. In rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop, the roots are strong so they stay pop­u­lar, but when you move too far from the source you miss that orig­i­nal feel­ing or the edge that was there at the start.”

Tech­nol­ogy, like Roland groove­boxes helped cre­ate the house and techno move­ment, but that doesn’t hap­pen to­day does it?

SB: “No, I to­tally agree. House mu­sic wouldn’t ex­ist with­out the 909 or the 303 and all th­ese kinds of in­stru­ments. The prob­lem for all mu­si­cians th­ese days is that there is no new tech­nol­ogy that cre­ates some­thing that hasn’t been heard of be­fore. Maybe that’s an­other rea­son to look back.”

MH: “I still think peo­ple need to ex­er­cise their imag­i­na­tion and ex­per­i­ment more. If you look back at the typ­i­cal 303 sound, the ma­chine was not de­signed for that. In fact, it was not ac­tu­ally a very good-sound­ing bass syn­the­siser but peo­ple used it to cre­ate some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent to shape those mu­sic styles.”

SB: “Mu­sic is sound­waves and we’ve been lis­ten­ing to the same sound­waves since the ’70s when syn­the­sis­ers were pop­u­larised. When peo­ple started to use com­put­ers and soft­ware, there were a few ex­per­i­men­tal tech­niques, like bitcrush­ing, but noth­ing we haven’t heard be­fore. I read this ar­ti­cle many years ago sug­gest­ing that we’re go­ing to run out of har­monies at some point. I think we’re pretty much at that point now, where ev­ery­thing has been pro­duced al­ready. Ev­ery bassline and chord pro­gres­sion has been laid down, so it’s def­i­nitely dif­fi­cult to cre­ate some­thing un­heard of. In the end, it’s about the story you have to tell and that’s how I’m buy­ing mu­sic – based on whether some­thing is able to take me on a jour­ney.”

You both pre­fer us­ing hard­ware. Does hav­ing that phys­i­cal con­tact with a ma­chine al­low you to bring that per­son­al­ity through?

MH: “It depends on the stu­dio en­vi­ron­ment I’m work­ing in. I’m used to work­ing with a se­quencer, but also hard­ware syn­the­sis­ers. When I’m in the stu­dio with Steve, we play our synths at the same time, cul­ti­vate ideas and try to dis­cover where we can take the track. As Steve says, we’re lit­er­ally build­ing up a story. So I know both worlds, and the mu­sic we do is con­nected to both of th­ese worlds, which in­cludes click­ing the mouse, mix­ing and all that tech­ni­cal stuff, but also jam­ming like a band.”

When did you both de­cide to team up and start work­ing on a record­ing?

MH: “We met at a party called So­cial­ism in Essen. It was a fes­ti­val for elec­tronic mu­sic, and Steve was DJing. I was work­ing with Manuel Tur on the Ribn project and Steve was a big fan of the records we re­leased. I also did a remix of Steve’s track Tun­nelof Light in 2009.” SB: “When Max moved back to Ber­lin and started work­ing more on his own stuff, we re­leased a lot of it on my la­bel Dessous Record­ings. In 2016, I hadn’t been work­ing on a lot of mu­sic and thought it would be a good idea to work with peo­ple in the

stu­dio, be­cause that some­times helps to get over writer’s block. Since I loved his mu­sic, I asked Max if he wanted to work to­gether and we de­cided to do a ses­sion to see what we could come up with.”

MH: “We hadn’t worked to­gether in a pri­vate space be­fore, so had to find out if it could work, but we found a way to com­mu­ni­cate mu­si­cally quite quickly. Steve came up with the idea to do an al­bum af­ter we’d fin­ished two or three tracks.”

SB: “Be­fore long, we had four tracks and thought they were too good to put out as an EP. So in­stead of split­ting the tracks up, why not just make an al­bum? We had a great work­flow and the re­sults were amaz­ing from the be­gin­ning. It was so much fun to work to­gether that it to­tally made sense to con­tinue, and I’m sure the al­bum is not go­ing to be the end of our col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

Com­ing from dif­fer­ent, but re­lated, gen­res, did you feel a need to dis­cuss the di­rec­tion you wanted th­ese record­ings to take?

MH: “I’ve fol­lowed Steve for quite a long time, so I al­ready had knowl­edge of what his idea of elec­tronic mu­sic is. When we were in the stu­dio space, we re­mem­bered cer­tainly melodies or drum sounds from records we’d re­leased ten years ago and let each other know that a pic­ture was slowly com­ing to­gether. It was this process that brought us closer to­gether mu­si­cally.”

SB: “We def­i­nitely did not sit down and de­cide what di­rec­tion we wanted to go. I’ve never writ­ten mu­sic that way, al­though I know some peo­ple can do that. For me, it has to hap­pen in the mo­ment. I need to sit in the stu­dio with a synth and play melodies, har­monies and basslines un­til sud­denly it clicks and I get a feel­ing that it’s worth work­ing with. With Max, one of us would play a synth line and the other would say whoa, hold on, this is great, let’s record it – and then the track starts to build.”

Was there ever any fric­tion?

SB: “There was a fun part when Max said that I al­ways say no to his ideas [laughs], which I didn’t think I did, but maybe he was right. It’s not in our makeup to fight over things, and I don’t think it would be help­ful. The very first track was an idea I had ly­ing around that I couldn’t get my head around. It was a very hyp­notic line with a kick drum, but not much more, so Max brought in some chord lines and we built the track around that. The more we worked to­gether, the more we started cre­at­ing tracks from scratch and ev­ery­thing melted to­gether much more eas­ily. Our mu­si­cal minds are quite sim­i­lar. We don’t have su­per big egos where we’re not able to open up to each other’s ideas, and it’s not about gen­res – it’s about a feel­ing.”

MH: “We were not fight­ing each other but some­times fight­ing for the sounds. We know ex­actly how far we can go to con­vince the other per­son to use this or that sound or di­rec­tion. Sub­tle ma­nip­u­la­tion would be the right de­scrip­tion.”

You have your own stu­dios, so why not work re­motely and com­bine at a later stage?

SB: “A few ideas were laid down be­fore we even started to­gether, but that was very rare. Even on those tracks where the ideas were con­ceived be­fore­hand, we sat to­gether and worked on them to­gether. I’ve never liked work­ing by send­ing tracks back and forth; for me it’s bet­ter to be with the per­son in the stu­dio. I also have quite a nice workspace for two peo­ple. I’ve been here 12 years and have built the room up. I have big loud speak­ers, so it’s en­joy­able to be able to jam and not have to think about dis­turb­ing the neigh­bours.”

Was it eas­ier to sep­a­rate your roles? For ex­am­ple, one works on beats, the other bass lines or melodies?

SB: “When it comes to writ­ing melodies, Max is more ed­u­cated. I’m good at bass ines, beats and har­monies, but Max is bet­ter at key­board­ing. He can play re­ally good synth lines on-the-fly, whereas I’ll tend to play more sim­ple basslines. I sup­pose if we were both play­ing com­plex key­board parts, it wouldn’t be very good for jam­ming.”

MH: “Some­times when you’re jam­ming it’s re­ally nec­es­sary for one per­son to tell the other to re­lax and not over­com­pli­cated things. This is where Steve’s knowl­edge of DJing for so many years comes into play, be­cause he’s able to in­vent time and in­ter­vene to cre­ate a more… not func­tional, but a much more sim­ple work­flow.”

SB: “What’s im­por­tant when writ­ing elec­tronic mu­sic is to keep it as sim­ple as pos­si­ble and get the most out of that rather than put­ting too many things on top of each other. That way you can keep that hyp­notic feel­ing. If the sound is too com­pli­cated, you can lose the repet­i­tive el­e­ment that you need in a club track.”

What tips would you give as­pir­ing pro­duc­ers on how to write a house or techno track? You men­tioned sim­plic­ity, is that the key?

SB: “If you look at the his­tory of house and techno, the tracks that stand out the most are the old ones and they’re pretty sim­ple. I don’t want to say this is right or that is wrong, what’s re­ally im­por­tant when writ­ing mu­sic is to come up with your own style and char­ac­ter in­stead of try­ing to make a copy of some­thing else. When you look at some pro­duc­ers th­ese days, it’s just a copy of a copy of a copy be­cause a sound is pop­u­lar at the mo­ment.”

MH: “If you feel you’ve started work­ing on a track and are get­ting to a point where it’s maybe 30% com­plete, the tracks starts float­ing and it’s work­ing for you, that’s when you’ll be able to write your story, be­cause it turns into a feel­ing-driven pro­duc­tion rather than your mind act­ing as the driv­ing force.”

SB: “It’s like when a DJ is play­ing a great set and doesn’t have to think about the next track be­cause it hap­pens nat­u­rally in the mo­ment. That’s the same kind of en­ergy you’re look­ing for in the stu­dio. You sud­denly have a clear pic­ture and it be­comes quite easy to add what’s nec­es­sary. I don’t want to use the word ‘magic’, but you have a sud­den con­nec­tion with the track and it takes over.”

MH: “What I’d also rec­om­mend is to be able to kill your dar­ling. If it doesn’t sound right or you can’t catch the feel­ing quickly then start some­thing else

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