A former journalist, multi-tasking music aficionado and fanboy extreme, Gerd Janson is a veteran of the booth holding regular residencies at the likes of Robert Johnson and Berghain/Panorama Bar. He also forms one half of Tuff City Kids alongside production partner Phillip Lauer and heads up the stellar Running Back imprint. To call him busy would be an understatement. Constantly on the road for gigs in cities scattered across the globe, a glance at his hectic schedule is unnerving. This man barely has a minute to sit down and catch his breath.
This interview was supposed to be conducted at Amsterdam’s Dekmantel this past August following a high-octane set from the man himself, however after an assessment of the surroundings it was decided that the music should be enjoyed and the questions saved until later. With Running Back having just issued 50th release, we thought now was the right time to tap Janson for an interview and some advice on setting up a small independent label. In a tongue and cheek manner, some of the answers that follow are intended to be taken with a grain of salt. Read on to hear about some of his favourite places to dance, the time he spent six hours interviewing Theo Parrish, his friendship with Prins Thomas and why he’s put down the pen and retired from the realm of word-smithery…
Dekmantel has quickly become a model for the forward-thinking, electronic music festival. Could you talk about your own viewpoint on this based on your experiences touring clubs festivals around the world?
If you know me a little bit (and even if you don’t), I guess it is quite obvious that I am more of a club person than a stage persona. So, I very much applaud the rise of festivals like Dekmantel that really try to take the feeling and atmosphere of smaller – and mind you – bigger clubs and translate it onto a festival site – with a strong emphasis on music programming and a mixture of known/unknown/established/up-and-coming artists. Other festivals that come to mind are Nachtdigital in Germany or the on-going British party invasion in Croatia.
With the rate that society consumes media today it’s expected from a lot of musicians to churn out new material – which definitely takes away from the context of sounds. As a journalist, what is your opinion on this and as a DJ, how does a producer find a middle ground and maintain authenticity in their work?
The word authenticity always made me cringe. What does it mean or what is the purpose of its use in music? Does it mean that you have to be born and raised in the Windy City to make House music or House music that uses the language of Chicago? Is it bound to race, class, gender or maybe just your age? I don’t know and I don’t want to know. Maybe it means that you should incorporate a certain level of respect for the works of others if you reference them, but then there always has been the anarchic element, that…I’m rambling. If you mean by authenticity that an artist nowadays should watch his steps in relation to flood the market or satisfy it demands, I really don’t have an answer for you. It comes down to each ones own decision. No one forces you to go online or offline, to not accept any remixes or to say yes to everyone that is offered to you. You can live very well as an artist by limit your output as well as by opening the gates. Just look at Aphex Twin and you will find possibly and answer to every possible question.
What was the most interesting interview you’ve ever done?
It is really hard to extract just one as I was blessed with a rich variety of interview partners and characters. Meeting Theo Parrish for the first time and spending six hours on the floor of a living room in Frankfurt while fearing to run out of tape, was quite an experience. The same goes for sitting in Bobby Konders’ garage in Jersey or interviewing the mothers of Dj T and Sven Väth.
Who out of anyone in the world would you absolutely love to interview – even just to give them a piece of your mind or the chance to tell them your opinion on something?
Still: Tony Humphries.
Did you find that being a journalist ever made you cynical about music?
All the time. After the first glow fades, you quickly become one of those chain-smoking, flabby-sandwich-eating-black-coffee-drinking type of guys with loosened ties that you know out of US-American journalist movies of the seventies. Not a strong look.
To what capacity do you still write today? We noticed the press release you wrote for Roman Flügel’s latest album.
Actually, I don’t. Or: I rarely do. It’s usually for friends like Roman or special one-offs that might interest me. That chapter is closed now for good. I did my share and it has been a long time, over 15 years. The inkstand has dried up.
As a label owner what’s the best A&R advice you would give a promising young artist?
Boy, better get a job!
With such a mixed selection of artists on the imprint are you still open to signing new and unsigned artists?
They appear all the time on Running Back, don’t they? If you have a close look at the catalogue, you will find names like Suzanne Kraft or Mark E before they did records on other people’s places or lesser-known names like Thomalla or Aksel Friberg and and even guys like Tensnake, before they really hit big. So, it’s what’s inside that counts, not what it says on the tin. But having said that, being Radio Slave always helps.
How about the idea of nurturing an artist from the ground up and helping them launch careers then go elsewhere?
That would be the typical entrepreneurial thinking that you should have if you want to make a living with your label or keep on doing so resp. want to walk in the shoes of giants like Warp. Hold on, you mean like making someone and then let them go? That’s very altruistic and a holy way of working, if you are able to make “them” of course. I always felt more promiscuous about the label. It’s just like a DJ buying a wide range of records by different people who sometimes come again and sometimes not. No strings attached and no hard feelings.
Where would you like the label to be in say 5 years time?
Paralysed / Defunct!
Is it possible to make a living starting a small independent label today?
Depending on which kind of living you want to make, I would like to say: very much so. Better be prepared to move to Berlin though.
You DJ alongside Prins Thomas on the regular, tell me about your friendship briefly and do you bring out different traits in each-other when playing alongside each other?
It all started with a huge record parcel that arrived on my door steps. I was expecting one white label from the now sadly closed Wax Records enterprise out of Los Angeles that turned out to be something like a hundred records. Happy like a pig in a sty, I waded through them, surprised by the stuff that I already knew and pleasantly surprised by the ones I didn’t. After a while, happiness gave in to concern and an email later it turned out that I got the remix payment in form of a record delivery for a certain Prins Thomas out of Norway. Since then, we have a common bound. I guess, what I like about him is his knowledge of how to make a record work and how to work a record, his predictable unpredictability and his free-wheeling attitude. Different traits? The man is bullheaded! But I happily give in and leave the tech-house anthems in the box.
Who have been some of your other favourite people to DJ alongside over the years?
As much as I like different music, I enjoy various DJ styles. Prins Thomas or Marcel Dettmann? I don’t mind, bring ’em on. You might call me a back-to-back chameleon. The most natural and easy one might be Thomas Hammann, as I always tried to be his mimicry. But I also had memorable ones with Ben UFO, Joy Orbison or recently Move D.
What makes venues like Robert Johnson, Golden Pudel and Harry Klein so special?
I still look forward to the day, when I have to set a foot in Harry Klein – haven’t had the pleasure so far. What unites Golden Pudel and Robert Johnson despite all their differences in size and maybe even music policy, is a certain stubbornness and dedication that turns the economic system of night life into a cultural one – and it’s fun to DJ there.
I was going to ask you about Darmstadt if we had sat down to do this. What was life like there and do you return often?
Darmstadt is quite a nice mid-size German student town that takes pride in its chemical (look up MDMA for further reference), artistically and academic resources as well as some sort of German club music history. Lots of people that went on to do things in German Techno and House (Roman Flügel, Ricardo Villalobos and Jan Jellinek being prime examples) came from or went through there. It also was host to one of the nicest clubs that I have ever been to: Café Kesselhaus.
I actually visited there to play Olympic Handball years ago, did you ever play Handball?
Actually, I did. For about two or three weeks together with one of my best friends. When the coach announced on the brink of the school holidays that he wants to use the free time ahead of us to “really put some muscles on” us, we decided it was time to quit and do more sensible things like playing video games and watching horror movies. That was that and only one of maybe a dozen sports that I tried.
You’re constantly working and on the road, how often do you take time out to relax with family/friends & how/where would you most enjoy to spend that time?
Not enough and regrettably not in healthy rhythm. Where? I would really like to go dancing.
You can catch Gerd Janson play at Oval Space in London alongside Roman Flügel and Kassem Mosse on November 29th, more info here
Interview: Conor McTernan
Photography: Rachel Walsh