It's quite appropriate that Berlin DJ-producer Alex Niggemann titled his debut long player Paranoid Funk.
It's a clever description of his sound, which can be dark and moody. Or anxious like a bout of drug-induced paranoia. But a Niggemann track is never lacking in proper floor-ready funk goodness.
This sound has made him one of the most consistently praised producers in a dance music capital and international scene full of contenders. And he's only 26.
Niggemann's new album, released last month on Steve Bug's beloved Poker Flat imprint, is quite an auspicious effort. And it even offers a sort of document of the transtlantic tech-house zeitgeist in 2012, blending elements of Berlin techno with the Detroit and Chicago variants of deep house that the Germans love. That said, this DJ-producer's entire discography is a force to be reckoned with, spread across esteemed imprints like Tsuba, Supernature, 8bit, Poker Flat, and his own Soulfooled.
Ahead of his Miami debut at the Electric Pickle tonight, Crossfade caught up with the talented Mr. Niggemann to talk about the new album, his label, and upcoming projects.
Crossfade: How did you first get into electronic dance music? When did you begin DJing and producing?
Alex Niggemann: Although my first record ever was Armand Van Helden's "The Funk Phenomenon", I got into it more or less by accident. I was 15 when my brother took me to my first techno party. I was so amazed from then on, how someone can move a big crowd just by playing records. It was so intense that I started going to parties all the time and started using my brother's turntables to do my first mixes. I started producing when I was 16, as I didn't get a chance to play somewhere in my hometown. I just said "if you don't want me, I will do it my way!"
There is a lot of musicality to your production work -- melodies and hooks. Are you a classically-trained musician?
Yes, before turning my hand to dance music, I played the piano from the age of 4. That, honestly, is one of the best things I ever did, even if my parents sometimes needed to push me to continue doing it.
How has the scene in Berlin shaped you as an artist?
It helped me a lot, because I got to know so many people working in that scene. It opened doors for me that were closed before. People started listening to me and the music I produced, and suddenly I found myself doing a remix for Booka Shade. It's such a creative city, and people are really open-minded to new stuff. I also met a lot of my best friends at that time -- one of them just sent my first records to labels, without letting me know, as I always thought I wasn't good enough. In the end my first single was released. To this day we are still exchanging music and helping each other out.
What was the concept behind the new album? Did you approach it as just a collection of tracks or is there a story or theme tying it all together?
My intention from the very beginning was to produce an album that you can listen to and dance to in the club. I also tried to combine modern elements with the roughness and coolness of dark old-school stuff. This makes for a special combination, as you might not think these different things fit together at first. This is also the reason for the name Paranoid Funk -- two totally different words that do not really have an association with each other, but fit well together. Paranoid stands for the dark and clubby part of the album. Funk for the laid-back, more groovy and musically orientated part.
What can you tell us about the creative process in the studio? How did you approach the songwriting and production, and how did it differ from past projects?
Honestly, it just happens. I get many inspirations when touring, and only try, when I'm back in studio, to express them through music. Sometimes it's a melody, sometimes a groove. I also meet with friends and musicians in the studio and we just start jamming. The only difference to past projects is that I have less time than before. I have to schedule it in and keep some dates free. It's not that I'm just going to the studio because I just want to now, at this stage there are days when I have to. But I still do love every day in studio.
How did you first hook up with Steve Bug and the Poker Flat label and how did the album get signed?
Long story, so I'll try to keep it short. I agreed to a swap with Phonique, when he was doing a remix for my label Soulfooled. So when he released his last album on Dessous (also Steve's label), he asked me to remix a track. Steve really liked it and sent me an email. That's how I first got in touch with him. Afterwards, I started sending him single tracks, and "Lately" was signed to Poker Flat. The album thing was a really spontaneous. I had dinner with Steve in Miami and we were talking about music and my future plans. I told him that I want to do an album at some point and he directly offered for me to do it on Poker Flat right then. That was exactly the point when I decided to do it!
Back in 2010, you launched the Soulfooled label with Superlounge and Marc Poppcke. What has been going on with the label lately? Any forthcoming releases?
There is a lot coming up. There has just been a new EP featuring new hot guys like Balcazar & Sordo, Mario Aureo and Nico Lahs. Out now, there's the Detailed EP from Francys, an Italian young blood who has recently received a lot of attention for his first EP on Highway. He's one of our main talents, and I tell you, he's fucking good. Last but not least, we just finished our first compilation, featuring most of our artists. That one will be out this month.
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So besides the LP release, what have been some of the highlights of 2012 for you? And what do you have in store for the rest of the year?
The huge tour I'm doing right now. I've never been traveling and playing this much in the last years. 40 gigs in less than 3 months is definitely going to be tough, but also so much fun. I'm also really looking forward to the remixes of my album coming out in the autumn. There will also be a few remixes, but I'm not sure if I'm going to release anymore of my own stuff this year. I don't want to bother people.
Alex Niggemann. Thursday, July 5. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.