Today we would like to share with you our discussion with Dense, Hamburg based producer and DJ. Together with GMO, Dense released 3 albums and 1 EP. Recently, Dense has been pursuing his solo producer career and has released an EP and a new album on Cosmicleaf Records. Dense is also the man behind the chillout and ambient stream on Chromanova.fm.
We will talk about music, cookies and events in Germany, and will touch upon many other interesting subjects.
Interview taken by Gagarin Project in February 2015.
Hi Dense, glad to chat with you again! We met at Hadra festival in 2013 – how has your music life been since this?
Indeed, they booked me for a DJ set there and I am still DJing at some bigger events. Actually, my focus is on producing my own sounds since 2012, again after a probably too long break of almost 10 years. Since we met, two new solo albums have reached the light of day. I’m already working on a new one and at least one more EP will be out in spring, containing a collaboration with Mystic Crock and a remix by Maluns, for example. And “Mindcycles”, with Fourth Dimension, another artist at Cosmicleaf Records, is coming up.
You are a native German citizen. Which cities in Germany or elsewhere have influenced your musical taste?
One cannot deny the influence of spending 17 years in Hamburg. Most people who are into psytrance know Hamburg because of its massive progressive trance scene and the effect on modern sounds. Almost 2 million people are living in and around Hamburg, but nevertheless you meet other artists on an escalator when shopping or in the parks in summer. I grew up in the Ruhr area, in the middle of Western Germany, at the beginning of the 90’s, and some cities like Bochum or Dortmund definitely shaped my interests in electronic music. Of course, my trips to Berlin and my first experiences there in the old Planet, and later Tresor and E-Werk, changed the way I wanted to spend my weekends. By coincidence I just had a few minutes walkway to one of the most important clubs in those days. At first I was wondering why people came there from all over Germany, but I caught on to the reason fast.
How different are the music scenes in Hamburg and Berlin ?
For me, there are not that many differences. Indeed, they are very similar. But guests in Berlin would never queue at the entrance 30 minutes before the event opens at 10 p.m. Party people in Hamburg party harder. The scene in Germany maybe differs more from north to south. For promoters, it’s much easier in the permissive north.
You just released your second full length album, Cookies – congratulations! What would you like to tell us about it? What is the story behind it and how did you choose the name?
Actually, it’s already my third full length solo album after “Exhale” and “New Speak”. The last one concentrated strictly on danceable sounds, and this time I offer a classic mixture of chillin’ stuff up to 110 bpm. Like in “New Speak” (from Orwell’s “1984”), I’ve selected a term that was originally used for something different. “Cookies” have a negative meaning nowadays, caused by the computer industry. My cookies don’t sniff in your private life – they should simply taste. In the meantime, my label head, Side Liner, and I found out that we are both fans of Sesame Street – but honestly, the title has nothing to do with blue monsters addicted to cookies. Furthermore, my cookies are sugar and fat free, so people needn’t say no when they are offered.
Dense – Cookies – Cosmicleaf Records
:). How different is your sound design and arrangement, compared to your releases on Altar Records?
When producing or starting new tracks, I don’t think about releasing or a special label. I personally don’t think my style has changed – some people even say it’s become kind of tightened. Contact with Cosmicleaf Records happened because GMO and I made a track for a compilation, but then it developed into the two track EP “Shell & Seal”. The track has to work; it doesn’t depend on the label.
Do you consider yourself a part of the German psytrance scene?
Do you think that psy chillout / ambient music has its place in music festivals, or is it maybe more for home listening?
For me, ambient music is more for home listening, or at particular public places, e.g. at Hamburg Planetarium. Especially at festivals, music from other floors destroys the ambient trip. The kind of chillout music I’m listening to needs beats, and there should be space at music festivals for those different playgrounds of psychill music. Of course, you can listen at home also, like via Chromanova.fm, where we want to offer several chillout styles for different times of day.
Do you still go out to clubs or raves?
Sometimes, to meet acts or friends from other cities when they play in Hamburg. Festivals outside Germany are interesting, too. But you won’t find me on the main floor any more, since I prefer downbeat music.
Have you ever seen chill rooms in techno events or rave parties?
Actually my first chill room experience was at Mayday 1993 with about 15.000 guests in a huge location. Of course, music was far away from nowadays chillout music, more into experimental beatless techno and Rainald Goetz reading poems. When organizing events by my own I try to offer a second floor as a chillout floor – but especially in smaller locations it’s not always possible.
Is it easy to find chill rooms at German “indoor” events?
It depends on the size of an event. Luckily, here in Hamburg there are regularly parties with up to 2,000 guests in locations where you can offer a third floor as well. In parts of Germany you would be happy to find a location at all. When you don’t have to put the chillout floor in the cloakroom, or anywhere guests will ask the DJ where to put their jacket or get some drinks, it’s like a first prize. For some promoters, chillout floors aren’t that important, which you can see from the standard of decoration and sound system. Others have brains.
What about outdoors?
I don’t know any festival without a chillout floor or tent any more. The situation has changed a bit, and polls, like in Mushroom Magazine, show that people are expecting them. At smaller events, like we have here on Saturday afternoon and evening on summer days, they concentrate on just one floor. But that’s OK, those events are often outside the city at a river, the harbour, or in the woods, which allows for a natural chillout. Sometimes they ask me to start the event with chillout tunes, getting faster during the set up to 130 bpm. For me, this is the most fun way of playing DJ sets.
As a DJ, what are the styles you like to mix at events? How often do you mix?
I have been DJing a bit less in the last years due to more live performances at bigger events. Beside playing chill-ins, I prefer playing danceable chillout with progressive sounds. Since founding my label, ‘chillgressive tunes’, in 2008, I concentrate on these kinds of sounds. 100 bpm can be enough to make people dance; 108 bpm is my favourite speed. I prefer playing on an alternative stage instead of a classic ambient floor.
What music do you listen to at home?
Everything my girlfriend allows … of course, psychill music, and I’m always looking out for new sounds. Nevermore public radio or pop music. At Chromanova.fm, we have different mixes with a total duration of more than 4 weeks, so even for me it’s never boring when tuning in. I try to watch live concerts from several music styles on TV.
What sound system do you use at home to listen to music?
A 20 year old compact music center.
Do you have a home studio, and if so what is your setup?
I’m using Logic on my iMac for production. When playing a live set with Ableton Live, my MacBook Pro is connected with a Livid Ohm controller (which I really recommend) and the Akai MPK mini keyboard. You cannot have enough keys, knobs and pads. At the moment, I can choose between 5 virtual instruments and a percussion selection during the live set, combined with prepared loops and some effects. I don’t like to just push the play button and get bored by myself, so every gig differs. When playing a live gig together with GMO, it’s much more fun. We synchronize our Mac Books by ethernet cable and have a lot more options to play live sounds. Another controller, a keyboard and an effects section complement our set.
What sound monitors do you use now for your sound mixing, and what budget monitors would you recommend for beginners?
Adam A7X monitors, and I trust AKG K-702 headphones. For beginners, some Yamahas or KRKs may fit, but especially here it’s most important to test by yourself. Better save money in some other area.
Your last album, “Cookies”, released in 16 bit. What is your opinion about 24 bit sound?
24 bit on quality home sound systems makes sense. But CDs only have 16 bits, and that’s usually enough. Today, kids are walking through the streets and listening through cell phone speakers. If I could choose between 24 bits or vinyl, the answer starts with a ‘v’.
As a listener, do you hear the difference in sound between these two bitrates through your home music setup?
I get my mastered files back in 24 bit sometimes, so I have to compare. With very good headphones, you are convinced you hear a difference. But the difference between 320 kbps, or any lower mp3 bitrate, and a CD is much more critical.
Do you listen to internet or FM radio? If yes, tell me more about it.
I’m responsible for the chillout and ambient stream at Chromanova.fm web radio, sometimes I’m listening, yes ;) Meanwhile, there are so many web radios where people can choose their personal music interests and don’t get annoyed by advertisements or comedy breaks. Even though it’s free for the listeners, it costs a lot to run web radio. Combined with free web access everywhere, this will be the future for all those who won’t restrict themselves to a personal collection.
What about your radio show at Chromanova.fm? What is the concept of the show?
Every Sunday, I stream the weekly “Chill On!” transmission from 2 until 6 pm, Berlin time. As far as possible, you get the freshest releases in the first hour followed by an exclusive DJ mix, sometimes thematic specials. At the end of March 2015, we celebrate the 5th anniversary, and all feedback shows that we are on the right path. Most of the sounds running in the daily program you get in my show first. Therefore we get supported by most of the leading chillout labels. The winter days were used to upgrade our program and bring more exclusivity on air, like what we had already started, for example the ten-part series “Fairytales”, with a focus on slower tunes, or “Exclusive Monday”, with exclusive mixes by supporting artists.
How has the show evolved over 5 years of existence?
One strength is continuity. We have not changed the concept of the show. It still leaves options like stretching up to 5 or 6 hours when streaming specials. But support by labels increased, so the first hour especially will surprise you with the freshest sounds. People should enjoy their free Sunday. When I’m on tour, you’ll get a recording I make a few days before. In the first year, I also made a few interviews and planned to do more, but people seem to want music only, so we’ve kicked out that idea and reduced moderation. Therefore we use Facebook to inform about the program every week with more details.
In April, you will play in Berlin at a big event. How big is the stage where you will play? What kind of music will be there?
Honestly I don’t know the size. There will be two floors with both psygressive trance and progressive chillout. I will open the second floor with a two hour live set containing tracks from my recent album, “Cookies”, and the EP, “Splendensity Vol. 1”, which will be released a few days after. It may happen that there will be some unreleased tracks in my set.
You perform both as a DJ and a producer. Do you receive the same emotions in both cases? What is a DJ set like for you ?
DJ sets leave more options to change and play with the people. As a DJ, I usually have more to do than when playing a live set. But, indeed, I prefer girls freaking out to my own productions instead of others’.
Do you have a “day job”? What do you do for a living?
Software developer for a health insurance company. Conditions there are perfect to stretch your weekend for gigs, and for having enough time for making music.
Many young artists ask me whether it is possible to make a living in the “downtempo” world – who are the artists you know that make a living mostly from music?
I don’t know any artists who really can live from the income of chillout productions. You may have luck and have your sounds run in TV productions, like GMO produces for. Internet piracy prevents a fair income.
What keeps you going with music? What’s your biggest motivation?
It’s possible to create new sounds every day. As long as promoters ask me to play, I will do.
When you’re not in the studio, what do you like doing? How do you spend your free time?
It’s good when I spend free time far away from any electronic device.
Thank you for your time, it was very interesting to discover more of your reality. I would like to use this occasion to invite you to visit the newly created forum (forum.psybient.org).
We have a special section for producers and your advice and feedback to young producers would be highly appreciated.
Thanks for your interest in my work … and stay chilled!