Deep house is making a comeback in the world of electronic dance music. Much of the deep revival is happening in Germany, and especially in Berlin, a city that epitomizes the world's most cutting-edge dance music and where producers like Phonique are keeping it real soulful.
With roots in the '90s Berlin underground, Phonique a.k.a. Michael Vater, has gained steady international recognition throughout the 2000's as a DJ/producer with impressive output on top labels like Global Underground, Pokerflat and Dessous. 2008 saw him voted Best Deep House DJ by both the Beatport and Ibiza DJ awards, and he shows no sign of slowing down. Phonique will be making his first-ever Miami appearance at the Electric Pickle (north of downtown Miami) on May 22, for an exclusive DJ set that should serve us an exemplary taste of what's going on in European house music.
We had a chance to catch up with the man on the cusp of his Miami debut and ask him what he's all about.
New Times: You first moved to Berlin and got involved in the EDM scene there in the mid-'90's. How was the scene then, and how has it evolved over the years?
Phonique: The scene in Berlin has been great since East and West Germany came back together. The former East Berlin had so much interesting space available that a lot of bars and clubs popped up there. Also, alot of artists moved here because you didn't have to pay much rent here. Of course the rent slowly went up over the years, but artists are still moving here and the scene seemed to grow since the mid-'90s. Berlin's trademark is that it's always changing and new clubs and bars are evolving. Music-wise it was always more techno, house or jazzy, than hip-hop, drum 'n' bass or electro clash.
When you first started DJing you were known for your "freestyle" open
format of genres as diverse as hip-hop and drum 'n' bass. Tell us how
you first got into playing music and how you transitioned from what you
were playing then to your current deep house style.
Actually, I was into house music from the beginning in 1988. I bought
those more common vinyls back in those days (Inner City, etc.) and I
started to bedroom DJ around 1992. When I started to DJ at my own
parties in Berlin around 1996-1997, I only played the first 2 hours as
warm up DJ as I felt people needed a warm and slower welcome at the
parties than it used to be. I always wanted to get people slowly into
the mood to dance and party. They should arrive, have a drink and
slowly feel the rising energy. The hip-hop, freestyle, and break beats
were just there because I really
liked to have some nights, every now and then, where it's more about
groove and the feeling, than to just play pure house or techno. Also, I
started to play frequently at Berlin's famous Tresor club from
1999 on. The music I played there has always been a more technoish
minimal approach to house music. In the end it means I play house music
since I started and house music
has always been my love. Sometimes I add some other styles to my set,
sometimes my house is more minimal, sometimes more disco, but in the
end it's all house!
In addition to your accolades as a DJ, you are a prolific producer. What are your
influences and inspirations? What is your process in the
I mainly get influenced by other tracks. I hear something and then I
add other melodies in my mind, then I isolate my own melodies and start
creating a track out of it. If i would tell you which track inspired me
for each of my releases, you would probably feel it. If you listen for
example to "For The Time Being" and then to "Quetzal" by Los Hermanos, you can
easily hear that.
Deep house is back, especially in
Germany where the scene is normally associated with dark minimal
techno. What do you think brought on this new wave of soulfulness in
Ah, I won't say that Germany's sound is dark minimal techno. Techno has
been very strong for a long time, but we always had a lot of good house
music here. Even the DJs playing minimal or tech house are playing that
at a speed of 124-128bpm, which is very close to the house/deep house
style. All the DJs in Berlin who might be known for a different genre
than deep house, like Ricardo Villalobos, Luciano, Steve Bug, Daniel
Bell, etc., they are all playing some deep tunes in their sets and
not just happening recently, they are doing it for years. On top of
that, people call tunes deep house which wouldn't have been called like
that 10 years ago. Back in the day, deep house had a more irrelevant
attitude to most people. Nowadays the producers have much more
experience to produce a deeper track in a way, which makes it more
exciting for the dancefloor. All that made the so-called deep house
What does the future have in store for Phonique?
Right now I am working on my 3rd album. I am really excited about it as
i have some great vocalists on board and some really great songs are
already created. Besides that I am working on my own little
deep 'n' disco house label called Ladies and Gentlemen. An amazing 5th
EP is about to be released these days with tracks from Vincenzo,
Tigerskin and Kolombo. Parallel to that we release the first Ladies and
Gentlemen digital compilation with the best tunes from the past two
and a lot of new exclusive tracks, including a DJ mix I did with all of
these tracks. I also just did a DJ mix "Berlin Nights" for Wagram Music
only on tracks from our label family: Pokerflat, Dessous, Audiomatique
and Ladies and Gentlemen. When I come back from the US/Canada tour and
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before I head to Brazil
again, I will do another DJ mix for the Dessous "Skin Is In"
a lot of warm and sexy house and deep house stuff on it!