Chris Liebing on EDM in America: "It'd Be Cool if People Got Into More Underground Styles"
There is EDM and then there is electronic dance music.
What's the difference? The former has been co-opted by the U.S. media to describe any electronic music that's popular these days -- from Swedish House Mafia to David Guetta to Skrillex -- with little, if any, distinction between acts.
But if you are looking to find the up-and-coming, you're going to have dig a little deeper into the European dance music scene, which thanks to Winter Music Conference and Miami Music Week, will be out in full-force at Miami-area nightclubs.
Take Chris Liebing and his label CLR Records, for example. The German DJ-producer has cultivated a strong techno following with a carefully curated slew of releases and an artist roster -- which includes Tommy Four Seven, Radio Slave, and Monoloc -- that would make any other dance music label envious. Adding to the prestige is CLR's highly successful, 250,000-subscriber podcast, which Liebing uses to showcase the best in underground techno.
So go ahead and enjoy Swedish House Mafia's last hurrah, but make sure to further your dance music education at CLR's events Friday at the National Hotel during the day and then Space at night. (Let's call it a 24-hour techno seminar.)
Crossfade touched base with Liebing on the popularity of the CLR podcast, on the U.S. EDM scene, and how putting on a night and day event will effect the mood of his set.
Crossfade: Your podcast is popular with techno fans everywhere. How do you go about selecting the artists highlighted on the podcasts?
Chris Liebing: I try to get a good variety of all kinds of different shades of electronic music which fall under the definition of techno I have in my head. Obviously, all of them are very well-respected artists, some of them already established, others are new, up-and-coming talents I find out about and I am excited to give them a platform. Then we also feature some legends, which is also very exciting. All in all, it should be a good mixture of well-established and up-and-coming artists, and usually we schedule the podcasts in a way that the artists can promote a new release, an album or a compilation, so that it´s beneficial for all sides.
Do you think the podcasts have helped popularize CLR?
Yes, you can say so, but it was not really the intention. I had done weekly radio shows for a very long time before we decided to do a weekly podcast as well, and we never imagined it would become so popular so quickly amongst techno lovers on the whole planet.
Why did you rename CLR to "Create Learn Realize"?
I renamed CLR to "Create Learn Realize" because I wanted to get rid of my ego in the name of the label and open it up to all kinds of new artists and tendencies. In the beginning of CLR, my release policy was extremely one-dimensional. It was like, let's release tracks that I play at peak time. That was my sole purpose of having a label and I was thinking in a very functional way. I was not looking much to my left and to my right, I just thought that I want to release whatever I enjoy playing, especially at peak time. This has definitely changed very much over the course of the last four or five years. My former idea of the label has slowly changed into the approach that it just has to be interesting music, no matter if I can even play it in any of my sets or not. It has to strike me in one way or another, then I am happy to release it. This new attitude led to the great variety of releases we currently have on CLR. Now I get introduced to really amazing music I would have never looked out for in the past and I can suddenly just go and release it. That´s really fun, and running the label together with my great team is really a lot of fun anyway.
How would you compare the U.S. techno scene to what's happening in other parts of the world?
Everything that happens in the U.S. is much bigger and in some way more colorful. There is a whole lot of excitement about electronic dance music, which you call EDM. In Europe we don't really call it like that. In the States it has become popular on such a big scale in a commercial sense, which was never really the case in Europe. Now this basically comes across to Europe as well, even though the European underground scene is still much stronger. Anyways, I do believe that all the current interest in electronic dance music in the States also helps the little underground branches of this scene to become more popular. In other parts of the world, those branches of underground music are still much stronger than in the U.S., but there the interest is definitely rising as well.
What do you think of the current interest in EDM in America? Obviously, what's popular with the American masses is a far cry from what CLR is putting out. But do you hope people who discover the pop-side of EDM eventually take interest in the underground?
It's true that the EDM in the U.S. is quite commercial and obviously very different from what we are putting out on CLR, but I feel that some of the people who discover the pop-side of EDM will become interested to dig a little deeper and will come across various different styles of electronic music that are not as commercial and "popular" - as in "pop." Essentially this is what happened in Europe 15 to 20 years ago. There was a big commercial trance hype and usually people who started to listen to electronic music first listened to this quite commercial trance music, but then they quickly opened up to all kinds of different electronic music styles. It might happen in the U.S. as well, or it might not. It would be cool if more people would get into more underground styles, but essentially it does not really change at all the way we approach our releases, run our label or our parties. The current success we have in the U.S. is definitely a great thing. We really enjoy it and of course we hope that we can continue this momentum.
Your DJing style has been describe as improvisational, which seems rare these days. Do you feel that's essential to your sound and style?
Is it really rare these days? It might be rare within the more commercial group of DJs, who basically have to stick to certain tracks they have to play because people expect them to do so. This is also very understandable, because when I go to a Depeche Mode concert I also want to hear certain tracks, so if I am for example a fan of David Guetta and I go to one of his shows, I probably want to hear some of his hits - that's why those people have to kind of stick to a certain track list. That´s the big difference and the great thing about the way I play, because for me it has never been like that. I can always play whatever I enjoy at the very moment and to me the improvisation in the sets is what the fun is all about. It´s not that rare in Europe, most of my DJ friends don't plan anything and basically improvise all of their DJ sets.
You are hosting both a daytime party at the National Hotel as well as a nighttime event at Space. Will you take a different approach for each party? Do you think there are sounds that work better for day events versus night?
Yes, there are definitely things that work better at daytime events and others that work better at nighttime events. It does not mean that I play completely different sets, but the sets are influenced by completely different surroundings and factors. Factors like being outside, on a beach, in the sun - you will obviously not play your hardest and darkest music in those kind of settings. On Friday´s daytime event at the National Hotel pool I might want to play things that get people interested in what will happen at night at Space. It's gonna be different sets, but not because I plan them to be different, but because it will naturally happen due to the different circumstances and surroundings.
Are there any artists you are hoping to catch while in Miami for Winter Music Conference?
Yeah, the WMC is a great place to catch other artists. Usually I try to catch something of Danny Tenaglia, who has been very inspirational for many many years when I came to Miami to play and to go to parties, but in the end I really like to go with the flow and then I get to hear the artists who play on the parties where I finally end up. So I would say let's do that -- let's go with the flow and let´s just enjoy our time in Miami. That's definitely what I am going to do and I hope to see you all at the National Hotel pool or at Space on this coming Friday the 22nd!
CLR Miami 2013 Pool Party. With Chris Liebing, Radio Slave, Marcel Dettmann, Drumcell, Monoloc, Rebekah, and Chriss Vargas. Friday, March 22. National Hotel South Beach, 1677 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. The party starts at noon. Call 866-215-6641 or visit nationalhotel.com.
CLR Miami 2013. With Chris Liebing, Carl Craig, Radio Slave, Marcel Dettmann, Tommy Four Seven, Black Asteroid, and Truncate, plus visuals by Oktaform. Friday, March 22. Space, 34 NE 11th St., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $30 to $40 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-375-0001 or visit clubspace.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.