On a recent break from a hectic touring schedule, Hamburg-based techno DJ Oliver Huntemann took a few minutes to reflect on his early career and the industry shift from analog to digital. “Being a passionate DJ means never stop searching for the new pearls which make your set special and keep you up to date, regardless of whether you are playing with vinyl, CD, computer or the next technology from outer space,” he said. “The music is the key.”
A legend in the world of underground techno, Huntemann has made a name for himself both as a discerning producer, and also as the visionary behind Senso Sounds, a label that cultivates an exciting array of DJ talent. His latest recording, “Elements Remixed,” was released on July 1, and his upcoming performance schedule includes top clubs the world over.
Huntemann’s music is surgically precise, deeply methodical, and never loses an infectious groove. Though his sounds are frequently otherworldly and futuristic, he is strongly rooted in the analog world of vinyl recordings. When the vast majority of the public quickly stored or sold their vinyl in the mid-’80s, audiophiles and DJs took advantage of the wealth and breadth of records, building curated collections of rare pressings. Huntemann, himself has quite the vinyl collection, but has recently transferred his record collection to digital. We asked him to share his expertise on the art of spinning, and how beginners can improve their vinyl collections.
Q: What influenced you to become a DJ?
A: Before I became a DJ, I used to be a B-Boy, taking part in breakdance shows and competitions around my hometown. After watching the movie Wild Style, I immediately got infected with the DJ virus.
Q: When you started, what type of setup were you using?
A: I started with two belt-driven turntables from Dual and a no-name mixer without any equalizer.
Q: How did you start buying vinyl?
A: After school I worked for a record store by walking through the city as an embarrassing human advertising column. I took the money I got and bought the hottest import records first.
Q: What do you remember about searching for records?
A: I miss, a little bit, our weekly Friday noon DJ meetings in the local record store, trying to get the hottest stuff first and being jealous when someone else snaked a special record first. There have been hours of listening sessions and discussions with other DJs while smoking one cigarette after the other. Okay, that might have been the most disgusting part. Luckily I was able to give up smoking without giving up buying music.
Q: Any advice for people wanting to build their own collection of records to sample and play?
A: Start with your dad’s record collection if it still exists. Listen carefully to every track and mark the ones you like most. You find samples often on records which are totally different to your style — it’s just a sample and is waiting to be used by you, for you. After getting to know your new basic record collection (it’s now yours because your dad doesn’t care anymore about the heavy, uncomfortable black shit and is more than happy to get it out of his house) you can do the next step and enter a hard-to-find record store.
Q: What type of music excites you?
A: It is, and it always was, electronic music that excites me. At home or while traveling it’s usually more quiet stuff such as Chet Faker and Flume or electronica from Moderat and Jon Hopkins.
Q: Since the onset of digital technology how has your setup changed?
A: A couple of years a go I transferred my last vinyl record box to Traktor, and I’ve used Traktor Scratch with timecode vinyl and a controller for many years. Since Pioneer improved the CDJ-2000 to the Nexus versions, I’m using these ones, and I must say it’s like coming back home to my basics.
Q: How has your own style developed over the years?
A: I try not to get stuck even though I’m getting older. To me electronic music is about evolving, finding new sounds, getting better production-wise. It’s only because of this that techno and house are still big and influential. Personally, at the moment, while I’m working on my next album, I try to lift the arrangement and sound structure to another level (to not be that reduced anymore, and with more emotions, but still clubby). This development started already with my release “Schatten,” and it feels simply great to me.
Q: What are the perks of digital versus analog?
A: Maybe it sounds blasphemous, but I don’t have a very romantic relationship to vinyl. It is just a sound-storage medium like a hard disc or USB to me. No one’s a good DJ because he or she is playing with vinyl. The selection and combination of the music is the art of DJing. Sound-wise, no sound system — and certainly not the SL 1200 turntables — is able to transfer the famous warm vinyl sound. For this, a high-end system and a decoupled reference turntable without vibration and with a top pickup is needed. I haven’t seen this in any club in more than 30 years. I heard countless fantastic sound systems, but they were never suitable for the real vinyl experience. As a professional DJ, I have to be interested in new technologies, but I also expect the rookies to know how to work with classic equipment and how to beatmatch without a sync button.
Q: Can you comment on the current state of DJing? What are new DJs bringing to the table?
A: This is difficult to say. There are so many possibilities for DJs when it comes to technology, but in the end, everyone cooks only with water. Especially during a gig each artist has only two hands. To me it’s not about the number of blinking gadgets onstage. I wish the focus would be, again, more in the music and the dramaturgy of a set instead of hunting for the latest plug-in or apps. I’m a fan of long and very long DJ sets where the artist shows variety, spontaneity and surprises without losing the touch to the crowd. It’s no art to present the current Beatport Top 50 in a synced one-hour megamix.
Q: What will the future bring for the art of DJing?
A: Jeff Mills played back in 1995 with four turntables, short vinyl snippets and crazy mixing shows. It’s not as different as many people think compare to some of today’s super-equipped modern loop-based DigiJocks. The technology is just the material for one’s work, and art of DJing is the personal way of expression of each DJ.
In a collaboration with Dubfire, Huntemann will be releasing “Humano” on September 2 plus an album entitled “Retrospective” on September 30. Listen Here