“My success is not defined by selling records, it’s defined by still liking what I do.”
Growing up in the techno mecca that is Berlin, its liberal and party-centric atmosphere landed right on the doorstep of Marlon Hoffstadt. As a DJ and producer, his journey hasn’t always been straight forward, having travelled in a number of differing (and in places darker) directions, over the last eight years.
Now pushing his ‘No Phones’ party, ‘Savour The Moment’ and heading up his label, Midnight Themes, the realm of Hoffstadt is surely compounding; powered by an innate and ever-strengthening belief system. As an artist clearly coming into one’s own, we caught up with Marlon to talk inspirations, affirmations and the importance of building a career over time.
First of all, can you walk us through some key musical moments from your childhood, that have informed your musical journey up to now?
As a kid, I spent a lot of time in Spain when I was younger as my mother liked to go there and when she met my step father, he also had a lot of friends there. We always went there to visit those friends and I ended up getting into popular Spanish music from artists such as Manu Chao. Back then, I was very into pop music and when I started to make house music, I thought I wanted to make cheesy spanish influenced house; I realised pretty quickly that this wasn’t the way to go. My mother always listened to this Morcheeba CD – it has a red cover – it’s very downtempo, chilled pop music. I also listened to a lot of classical music and my stepfather tried to teach me how to play the piano but I always resisted.
Those are my earliest memories, but to be honest I didn’t have a huge amount of contact with music in the beginning. It was at school, back in the day, I had this one friend who wanted to start DJing. We had this thing with each other, where everything was a competition, so I actually only wanted to start DJing because he did; I wanted to do it better than him. We bought a lot of equipment and started playing around with Traktor and stuff. Pretty soon after that, I felt like I wanted to start producing. I was still living at home with my parents at this time, but I learnt all different kinds of production back then. And, now I’m here! I got in touch with house music when I was fifteen or sixteen. Then I started going out to clubs and I had a lot of inspiration here in Berlin.
Sure, Berlin is a hub for electronic music. How was it to grow up in such a place?
Well, as I mentioned, It’s so easy to get inspired here. It’s also so easy to get into clubs when you’re of a younger age. I always had moments where I’d hear the DJ play a certain song in the club and I would become so inspired that I wanted to leave immediately, to go home and make a track myself. There is also a lot of help in Berlin, in terms of being able to get in touch and meet up with a producer, to sit down together and make something. This aspect was so helpful for developing skills and growing my knowledge as both a producer and a DJ. The scene is really big here but everyone still knows each other somehow. Some people are really supportive and some are not, but if you stick with the supportive ones there is a lot to give and a lot to get.
So, you mentioned you ended up getting into electronic music, almost by accident via your friend at school. You also just touched upon the fact that you found yourself having huge moments of inspiration in clubs. When did you realise that electronic music is where you should stay?
I actually have a super cheesy story. When we started to go out to clubs, there were two ways you could go. You could go down the route of going to listen to Justice, Ed Banger – the french, pop music style. Or you could go in the direction of house, deep house or techno – it was a big decision to make. I watched this movie called ‘Berlin Calling’ when I was really young and the scenes from Bar 25 looked so crazy. I always wanted to go there. Then when I went there for the first time, it was actually the closing, it was there I realised this is where I want to be. I didn’t want to be making commercialised dance music or big room stuff, I wanted to be making underground stuff.
The other moment where I realised this, was actually the first time I heard one of my own songs played out. I had sent a demo to a local DJ and then I went to see him play on New Years. I was really late to the party as I’d missed the train and everything was super hectic! I waited in the queue for such a long time and the moment I finally got into the club, he played my track. This was still in the very early stages for me. Hearing that played out, I noticed so many mistakes but I also noticed people enjoying the music that I had made. That was such a good moment for me. I had been working on this thing for a couple of years and suddenly I could see that, somehow, it was working.
I noticed you have been putting out music since 2011 and you had a pretty big record signed to a major label. You’ve been building your career for eight years now. Where has that journey taken you? How do you feel your sound has developed over time?
I actually think in the early stages, I put out too many records. I should have waited a bit longer but that’s the path I went down so it’s all good. No regrets. Looking at the past eight years, I think this can be divided into two parts. Part one is where I found out where I wanted to go and part two is where I started working on the music that I really wanted to make. When I started, I made everything and the music I made was very different to the music I’m producing now. The way I produce has actually stayed the same, in terms of I produce music based on how I feel it in that certain moment; I make it and then I put it out. I don’t try to overthink it too much. The music I made in the beginning was very different, not only from a technical perspective but also in terms of style.
When I had the track that went really big, this was actually the turning point for me when I realised the path I didn’t want to go down; the commercial style. I don’t regret anything because in the end I found where I really belonged, but at the time, I was so unhappy. I was really young when I put out that record and I produced it with another guy. We signed a lot of contracts and the guy I was working with told me they were totally fine, just standard contracts. Then when the record got big, it got sold to Warner. We were given a lot of money in advance, which actually wasn’t a bad thing for me; it wasn’t all bad. However, they put out these terrible remixes and at this point, I realised I had no control over my track anymore. Suddenly, at the age of 19, I was touring a lot, playing shows that I didn’t want to play. I was quite weak, I was getting sick a lot and I also wasn’t mentally stable either. When you’re touring at that age, you need someone who supports you.
Something that I noticed during that time, is that you can make quite a lot of money out of dance music, but you can also make yourself really unhappy. It’s a funny thing because when you see stories like that one with Jackmaster, everything that he did at that festival was really sad and really bad, but what struck me when it came out is the way everyone was jumping at him; metaphorically jumping to kick him in the face. It was like a witch hunt. Of course, he was acting like a complete idiot and nothing that he did should be supported but still, he needed help. I even knew he was a party animal and I had never met him. There will have been people working with him for a long time, knowing that he is that way and that he has such problems, acting the way that he did. No one did anything and no one took responsibility. It was fine as long as the money was flowing. Everything has become so competitive and commercially driven that people don’t take care of each other anymore.
It made me really sad because it reminded me of when I decided to stop making commercial music, everyone around me lost interest. I had been making remixes for all the major labels, but then when I showed them the new type of music I wanted to make they said ‘we can’t do this as it’s not selling’. For me, my success is not defined by selling records, it’s defined by still liking what I do and having the drive to do it. This brings us to the second part of my journey, that I’m still in now, where I’m slowly finding a place for myself in the scene.
Throughout your journey so far as an artist, you’ve clearly had a lot of opportunities to learn. Now you’re making the music you really want to make and releasing this via your own, self initiated imprint ‘Midnight Themes’, but who has inspired you along the way?
This is quite easy for me. I’m a big big fan of Steve Rachmad, I think I’ve played a track from him in every single one of my sets over the last few years. Even his other projects, Sterac and Sterac Electronics all of his tracks are really good. This is where my modern house inspirations lie. However, in terms of production it’s not so much being inspired by a person, I’m more inspired by certain times and their processes. For example, when I produce I like to keep things really rough, I get the track down and written, then I just focus on mixing and finishing the track. I think this process is quite alike how people made tracks back in the day; it was rougher and faster. I don’t like to overthink things, I’m not that kind of person. I do everything on my own, so this also feeds into my process.
As you mentioned, you now do everything yourself. How has this affected your process?
I released the first Midnight Themes record two years ago now. Before that I had released records with Hot Haus, Ransom Note and Axe on Wax. As soon as I had the idea to start my own label and I built the construct for it (things such as who would be my distributor, who would do my designs? I decided to do my own designs) pretty soon I started to see that things were coming together and it looked solid. As soon as I had this all set up, I had the complete freedom to just start producing. This was so much better for me, even when I had such a nice and easy time releasing with Hot Haus, Ransom Note and Axe on Wax, it still took such a long time to get the records out. When I started to do things myself and made my label, it gave me a clear headspace – I could just go and produce music, send it to the pressing plant and put it out. This is how my creative process works. As a DJ too, I like to build my sets around my own music, so I wanted to make the process quicker for putting out my music. I start playing tracks out as soon as I finish them, so putting things out on other labels meant by the time the tracks eventually came out, my music already felt old to me.
You’ve got a lot of experience working with labels and having that one big track. Today we see so many up and coming DJs and producers who are looking for that kind of instant success. Why do you feel it is important to build your career over time?
Yeh, I did actually have the instant success. I had the track that no one expected to be a hit and then it was. All of a sudden I was up there and I didn’t know what to do with it. I would have rather slowly gone in the right direction than going really fast into a world where I didn’t feel completely comfortable. The faster things get, the less control you have over where things are going. During the last eight years, I’ve seen many ways in which you can build yourself into something. I believe I’ve discovered a number of different ways for starting your own thing and in the end, they make things last longer.
These things I have learned have all fed into the structures and plans that I have put into place. It’s better to take ten years building your own thing with friends and people around you, who believe in the same ideas and music as you. Rather than being thrown into another world or group of DJ’s at a big label, who can push you to your limits and make you a superstar for only two years; then you’re burnt out afterwards and you don’t know where to go.
Another thing to add is that, these days, everyone can present themselves as the next superstar via social media; it’s a big ego show! This can be so stressful to keep on top of, this need to self promote, it’s an added weight on your shoulders. I’m not going to be the person to say to someone ‘yeh, you look happy but you’re not really’, however, I’m actually quite sure that a lot of people in the music scene aren’t as happy as they look. Everyone is having the best time ever and touring is so nice for them, but as a promoter myself, you see DJ’s coming to a party and they’re super exhausted. This isn’t the side that everyone talks about.
Moving on from talking about your past…looking into the future, what are your hopes for Midnight Themes? Would you like to bring other artists on board?
Not really. Midnight themes is always going to be me, putting out my own music for myself. There is no real need for me to promote the label either, as it’s just a place for me to express myself really. Of course, I do have other plans. Prior to Midnight Themes, I was running two other labels and I’ve been thinking about possibly starting another label for my party ‘Savour The Moment’ at some point. It would be great to ask all the other producers that I work with to put out their music. However, at the moment, I just want to concentrate on Midnight Themes and focus on what I can actually do at this particular time.
You touched upon your party ‘Savour The Moment’. This has a strict no mobile phones policy. When and how did you come to the decision to start this party?
First of all, people should know we aren’t running around at the party like the fun police, telling people to put their phones away. It’s an ethos for us. If you don’t want to follow this, then you’re just not getting the full experience of the night. In Berlin, a lot of places put stickers on your cameras but for me that’s not enough. For example, if I play a track and I see someone Shazam it, I always feel a bit annoyed. If he wants to get a track I.D I’m totally happy to share it. This is how you meet cool people. If someone digs the same sounds as you, then maybe you have something in common with this person. I would rather share it with that person and discover more about them as a person. People who look for track ID’s are into music and that’s one thing that connects you to the DJ.
This is what music is there for, to connect people. If you’re constantly stuck in your little internet world with all of its technological possibilities, you’ll never meet new people. If there is a real person standing in front of you, then go and talk to them. I’ve even seen people going on Tinder in the club. Come on man, look around, what is wrong with you? There are endless amounts of possibilities literally running around you. Phones give people an ego – they make you only look after yourself and not those around you. Technology is fine by the way, I also use Shazam but not in a club. For example, if a track is playing on the radio you can’t ask the presenter what it is. I also use my phone a lot in my free time as I answer emails and keep in touch with friends; it’s a great tool for organisation. However, at the weekend when you go out to a party you should be able to just shut it off and experience a bit of your own self.
I guess a lot of people use their phones to hide from themselves too. However, on the topic of your ethos for ‘Savour The Moment’, I want to know how this manifests in your line-ups and the vibe of the party?
In the very beginning, I just booked people whose music I liked. However, once I actually booked an artist who took a picture of himself DJing in the DJ booth and he posted it on Facebook. At that moment, I realised that I needed to start checking out artists on social media. It’s fine if people want to do that, but it’s not what my party is there for. It’s not there to have cool videos of ‘me and the lads freaking out on the dancefloor’; There are so many parties where people can do that.
Anyway, after looking at the music, I take a look to see if the person has already played in Berlin. For each party, I try to bring over one or two Berlin debuts. There is so much competition in Berlin and I could quite easily book the same people as everyone else, but I’d rather get ahead and book someone who hasn’t played here before, who I’m sure would play here at some point in the future. At the moment, it’s really nice. I’ve stopped booking super big names. For my recent parties, I’ve just gone for really cool musicians.
For example, I saw the Boiler Room at Pitch festival from Merve – she played a really cool Boiler Room set there. She had this super nice energy and she was so smiley. Then she played this one song that I always used to play too (Duke – So In Love With You). When she played that song, everyone freaked out and she almost looked ashamed because it was so nice. I could see that she played an amazing set and she was also a super friendly person, so I decided to bring her over for Savour The Moment. Sometimes, you just have moments where you know someone will fit so well and you just have to try and make it happen. I’m not stressing myself out about getting big names anymore because in Berlin, everyone is booked for Panorama Bar anyway and then there are parties such as Cocktail D’Amore.
Where does ‘Savour The Moment’ sit within the Berlin scene? What example are you setting to the wider international music community?
Ooo, it’s difficult to say. I started Savour The Moment here in Berlin but now we are currently trying to establish the party in other cities as well. It’s quite funny, when people come to our parties and you see them on the dancefloor with their phones, you see other people reminding them ‘okay, hey, look it’s a phone free party, put your phone away’ and people are really grateful for being reminded. Then you see people really getting into it and enjoying it. When we started to look at clubs outside of Berlin, there are two different replies that we get. The first type is ‘ah this is really cool let’s definitely look for a date’, the second type is ‘oh we don’t need that, there are no problems with phones in our clubs’ – a pretty harsh no, basically.
I think phones are a problem everywhere and there are only a few parties where they’re not. Berlin is quite good with it because of the no photo policy, but this is because everyone wants to create a safe space for people who can’t be themselves in the normal day to day. Personally, I don’t think this ends at just having no pictures, I think it ends with everything that is connected to the phone – it ends at just having privacy. I wish more people would pick up the concept and be as mad about it – I don’t have this idea copyrighted you know. It should definitely be happening everywhere else – I just want to push it. When I play in the UK, I can see that it’s the perfect market for this kind of party; everyone is on their phone! I played in London a couple of months back and everyone was on their phone! I had a Savour The Moment sweater that had a ‘no phones’ sign on it and people started filming me. It was insane!
To finish, I want to talk a little about your EP ‘Ready For Take Hoff’. This was released on your own label, Midnight Themes and is made up of music you produced for your DJ sets and the dancefloors at ‘Savour The Moment’. We have spoken about how your sound has developed, but to me it feels like you have really come into your own with this EP – would you agree?
I actually felt really comfortable with that EP. With all of my Midnight Theme’s releases, if you go all the way back to the first one, I think that was one of my favourites. When I put it out, it felt like I was starting a new path and I had the freedom to do everything for myself. The second one was also really nice and I was very confident about it. Then I felt a little bit lost, as I had all of these different possibilities and directions of where I could go with my music. I just started producing it all and I ended up with this huge catalogue of music. I realised I had all of these tracks to make up the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh releases because I’d had a really productive time; the third release had been a remix EP with no originals from myself. I lined them all up and then I noticed with the seventh release (Ready For Take Hoff) that this was the music that I really wanted to make. However, I still had the other EP’s, four, five and six.
I decided I still wanted to put out those EP’s before ‘Ready For Take Hoff’ to show the progression and how I had arrived at the seventh EP; I didn’t want to make a massive jump. The EP’s have built up to this point where I’m at now. There’s a nice mixture between house, trance and disco on this EP and this is what I love most about it. Those are the genres that I travel through most when I play out too. I play disco anthems from The Pet Shop Boys and Silvy (De Bie) that kind of stuff. I also play older techno, going in a trance direction along with some housey, melodic style tunes. I love to play all of the tracks on that EP out in the club as well. That’s an important thing for me, to be able to use the music that I make.
What is coming up for Marlon Hoffstadt?
I’m going to be taking things a little easy. I’m working on an EP but it might turn into an album; I want to take it slow and see where I want to go with it. I have two really cool tracks lined up already and I’m working on another two; they seem to be a little difficult to finish, so maybe I need to leave them and start something new. I also have my own PR agency to run and I’m studying. I’m also taking a break as I’ve just became a father! So for now, I want to build up the PR agency a bit more, continue doing the parties and write more music.
Words: Sophie Mcnulty
Ready For Take Hoff is out now – grab it here.
Read Our review of it here.
Marlon and his ‘Savour The Moment’ crew are at Renate, Berlin on 12th October – Line-Up & Tickets.