There are certain DJs who've long denounced trance, even though the genre helped turn them into international superstars.
But not Markus Schulz. The German-born, Miami-based dance music veteran (and America's Best DJ titleholder) says, "It shouldn't be a dirty word."
Perhaps Schulz is comfortable with the label because he's always been secure in his musical identity, whether during the trance trend of the early 2000s or now that "trance," as the DJ admits, "has gotten a bad reputation."
Set to release Scream 2, the follow-up to his 2012 project of the same name, with a party at Mansion on South Beach this week, the DJ-producer remains refreshingly unapologetic.
We here at Crossfade spoke with him about the new album, being the Unicorn Slayer, and why trance still matters in 2014.
Crossfade: So what's life like for America's Best DJ?
Markus Schulz: Well, I'm nursing a hangover. But that's kind of a rarity these days. I don't go out very often. Unless I'm headlining.
What is a DJ in 2014?
With technology, pretty much anybody that plays pre-recorded sounds. That's what a DJ is nowadays. And when they make something special out of it, it's interesting to hear, interesting to see, interesting to be a part of. And obviously, people have shown a huge interest in the scene.
You grew up in Germany. But you've long been living in Miami. How did that happen? And why did you choose the MIA as your base of operations?
Yeah, I've been here for quite a while now. And when I was making the decision, I was living in London. But I wanted to come back to the U.S. and I knew I needed to be on the East Coast with warm weather as well as an airport that could take me really quickly to Europe.
Then after I moved, I became a resident at Space and that just solidified why I chose Miami. It was like, "Yeah, this is where I need to put my roots down. I love it here." At the time, Space and all the residents like me had developed a really great following, a really great community. It just immediately felt like home.
And today, I still love the scene in Miami. It's very eclectic and it's always evolving. This is one of those cities where you could play four nights a week and you'd never get the same kind of crowd. The diversity of the clubbers makes for a really exciting vibe.
You make trance music. And you won America's Best DJ. But trance isn't usually considered the biggest electronic genre in the U.S. Stuff like big-room house or dubstep get more hype. Does trance gets the respect it deserves?
You know, I think today's trance music is not your big brother's trance music. It's not the same as it was ten years ago. And to be honest, when I hear some of these so-called house guys, like Alesso, he just sounds like BT from back in the day.
I've been associated with trance because I was there during the heyday from five or six years ago. And I never stood up to say, "I'm not a trance DJ," and I've always embraced the title, even though the hard-core trance purists would never claim that I'm a trance DJ.
As time passes, the lines have been blurred on exactly what trance is. And what distinguishes my style is I'll play the house-y grooves with melodies on top, and I've never been into that 140-beats-per-minute supersaw trance where the kick drum sounds like somebody's knocking on a piece of wood. [Laughs] I've always been into the more soulful, melodic sounds. But it just so happens that I was labeled as a trance DJ.
I've spoken with DJ-producers recently who didn't want to be associated with the term trance anymore. Why embrace the label even if you're making music and DJing set that might fall largely outside that genre?
It's just a word. And I don't want the controversy of people thinking I'm chasing trends. For me, I've never changed, I've evolved. So I'm not going to stand up and say, "I'm not trance anymore." And to be honest, I'm fine with it, because the trance genre has produced some of the most amazing music and beautiful melodies in dance music. There's a reason why a lot of the riffs in modern house music are copied right from trance records.
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Trying to shrug off the trance label would also imply there's something dirty or negative about that kind of music.
It shouldn't be a dirty word. But for sure, trance has gotten a bad reputation over the last five or six years. And that's because trance started going very fluffy, like love songs with a beat to it. But I was never into that, which is why people started calling me the Unicorn Slayer, because when trance became rainbows and unicorns, I definitely didn't go that route. My music is full of melodies and tension and buildups and lots of dramatics, but I don't have any interest in that stereotypical love-song trance.
Markus Schulz' Scream 2 Album-Release Party. Friday, February 7. Mansion, 1235 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $30 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-695-8411 or visit mansionmiami.com.