German DJ-producer Timo Maas has been in the EDM game since long before it was the mainstream soundtrack for weekend clubgoers around the world.
As a child of the early '90s rave generation, he soaked up the era's variety of cutting-edge new electronic music styles, emerging as a master of experimentation and reinvention. It has taken his sound from the hard techno and breaks of early rave through progressive house, trance and beyond.
By the early '00s, Maas was already a card-carrying member of the international EDM elite, sharing a DJ residency with American house legends Deep Dish at club Twilo in NYC and getting debut artist album Loud signed by Paul Oakenfold for his Perfecto imprint. He would later begin a long-standing production partnership with Italian producer Santos as Mutant Clan, with releases on the esteemed Coccon imprint, followed by 2005's Pictures, his second and last album to date.
More recently Maas mixed the latest installment of the renowned Balance compilation mix series (his first in 9 years) documenting his most current eclectic tastes. The record is also being supported by a North American tour which will bring Maas through Miami for a Wednesday night performance at Nocturnal with Lee Burridge.
We caught up with the legend in advance of his upcoming performance to talk about his two-plus decades in the scene, his new album in progress, and his production M.O. Get the full Q&A after the jump.
New Times: You've been producing since the '80s. What kind of stuff were you working on back then and how has your sound evolved over the years?
Timo Maas: I think my first tries to, for example, do some remix stuff was with an old tape machine and cutting the tape and sticking it back together, and making a mix that way. That was the old school way and I was about 17. It was '85-'86, around that time. I think '89 or so was the first time with all the Atari computers, 4-tracks, something from some records, rearranging.
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My first release was '94, and from the very early steps to the first release, to the point of today -- let's say a lot of things have happened. Technique was completely changing. There was a scene coming up and we had no idea in the early '90s that it was going to be that much of a global thing. I'm happy I'm still there.
As an original rave generation kid, do you think that rave culture (as opposed to club culture) is completely dead, or could it come back?
I mean, there's always a few raves in nearly every bigger country in the world going on, and they are still going on. Back in the day, of course, there were more parties, but, as you said, the techno club scene wasn't there like it is today. Normality of the sound was also not there, because you were listening to electronic music and it was not just as a music lover, it was also a statement and a community: "I am listening to electronic music." "Really?" At the time, we belonged to a community, which was very strong, which was different from anything I had experienced before, even though I was a music lover as a child already and had been to many concerts.
That thing was just very different. We all felt different. It was also the first Love Parade, etc. There was a statement. We were standing for something nobody was really able to describe or understand. Of course, the feeling of the early days is definitely not there anymore. There's a lot more routine with it. But I'm still having amazing parties at raves or clubs or beach parties.
The world is big, the scene is huge, and people will always want to go out dancing. This is something you cannot take away from the human being. They've done this since thousands of years, really, not going out for dancing, but dancing. Music and dancing was always one of the essential things.
Your sound is a hybrid of diverse musical styles, from techno and progressive house to electro and breaks. How does an idea for a track usually arise and how do you execute it in the studio?
In completely different ways. Sometimes it's vocals, sometimes it's a sound, sometimes it's when we're just sitting around and playing on the vintage synthesizers, sometimes it's a melody, sometimes it's a loop, sometimes it's a certain vibe or energy of a track that I'm then describing to Santos, my partner: "I would like to make something like this, like that, shall we just try something?"
As I say, it's always different but the ideas come in just doing something. The ideas come in listening to old records. The ideas just come up. Sometimes both of us wake up in the night and think, "Oh, damn, I have an idea", and talk the next day. The studio is right here on the farm, so it's quite easy; we see each other everyday. Just today I was playing him two old songs from the '80s that hadn't been covered yet, which are super fucking cool, and might be a nice, interesting idea for my next album. So the ideas just come day by day, which is good.
You've worked with some stellar guest vocalists in the past, like Neneh Cherry, Kelis and Placebo's Brian Molko. How do you normally approach the songwriting and production process in collaboration with singers?
I was doing different things over the years. Partly, I was producing -- back in the days it was with Martin Buttrich, we were producing the first tracks and just after listening to them, after the tracks were done, we were thinking, OK, now we need to find a vocalist. We were asking different vocalists until something was really suited to what we wanted.
These days, I have already spread my arms a little bit out to possible collaborators. I'm in the process of writing a new album right now, and it's slightly different. So when I know somebody has interest, of course we produce it slightly more into what we would expect the artist to do. It's not just like you have a track and you have a vocalist and then you cut it together and maybe you have a hit. It's a lot more like the energy, the intensity and also melodies, which is then of course a little bit more focused into certain people.
This new album will be your first in six years. What can you tell us about it?
We've made some quite interesting stuff. It's due for next year, the album. So far I can only say it sounds very radical. I'm quite happy so far and I hope next summer I know better how the end sound is going to be. So far I'm really excited. I'm working with some really amazing musicians together now on that and a completely new pool of musicians, and eventually some singers. We'll see.
So far, it doesn't sound like something that is out there yet. Quite powerful, quite radical. I'm quite excited. When I talk about it, I have a smile on my face, and that was not always my whole production career. There are some things I did that were more of a pain, but I feel quite a release, and I feel very comfortable with the team I have right now with Santos as a partner. And it should be some really good shit. I'm working on it.
What is your working relationship with Santos like and how does it compare to producing solo?
I've always had a partner, really, since the very early years. I always had ideas but I was never patient enough to learn Logic in every little detail. I have Logic on my laptop, I have my music studio software on my iPad, I have Logic on my desktop computer, and I fix some ideas, but it's so much easier when you have a partner who does that. I just need too much time for that. I cannot do everything perfectly, I'm very honest. So I'm trying to describe, as perfectly as I can, even singing melodies and having pretty much a clear picture of what I want, but I don't know 100 percent how to change it into music, and Santos is the perfect partner for that.
He's totally open-minded and we understand each other kind of blindly. When I say something, he knows exactly what I mean and also can change it in minutes, where I would possibly sit for a few hours and lose the idea and just do something completely different. Sometimes it's like that. Sometimes it's like, I cannot play guitar, but sometimes I play guitar and sometimes we even take samples from that and put it into songs. It comes like it comes, but I have the perfect man in the studio who does the engineering as perfectly as I want it to be too.
How did you first hook up with Deep Dish for your Twilo residency, and what did the duo impart to you professionally?
For the old production team, like Martin Buttrich, and even more into the past, like Andy Bolleshon and myself -- very back in the days, mid-'90s, we were a team of three people. The Deep Dish sound was always very influential. We were looking into what was going on in the UK and especially in the US, and these guys just had certain sound which we absolutely loved and which was a really big inspiration for the sound we were doing back in the mid-'90s.
A few years later, I was running into the guys for the first time, and they told us exactly the same thing. They were listening to our very early stuff from the mid-'90s and we had been a big influence on what they did. So the relationship since the end of the '90s has been really, really good with the guys, even these days. Over the summer, I run every second week into Ali [Shirazinia AKA Dubfire] and when I can I love to get drunk with Sharam. We're still good homies. There's still the support and long-lasting friendship. I really respect the guys. Back in the days when we were doing the residency together at Twilo, it was just a blast. For me, it was a really big thing because they'd really been heroes and very, very early supporters of my sound overseas.
You just released your Balance 017 compilation record last month. What can you tell us about this mix and its track selections?
What I really like about the opportunity to make a Balance is that I really had some room to spread myself out musically. Usually when somebody asks me in interviews, you know, "what is your music style"? I always say I'm not the person who decides what kind of style it is -- I always have a good excuse because I don't like to lock myself into one particular style. I really love a lot of music, the older I get and the longer I play and the more music I discover. Obviously I love a lot of music that is not exactly the thing I would play out on a regular club night.
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What can I say? I just tried to create essentially a really good and intense trip that has a very nice flow, touching certain micro-styles in electronic music that I personally really like and respect, that touch me also. And then put this all into one continuous trip, so it starts really kind of mellow, with some exclusively written stuff for the CD, into classic Chicago house, into even jazz-house and dark techno. Then on the second CD, more straightforward club stuff. When I have the opportunity, I want to just show the music I really like and also show that I'm not so easy to categorize like people would like to categorize me.
What can Miami expect during your upcoming performance at Nocturnal?
A proper kick-ass Miami experience. That's why I'm coming. I love Miami. It will be great. It will be intense. For sure it won't be a one-to-one copy to what I'm doing on the Balance mix, because it's always a showcase of a moment. It's a snapshot of a moment and after I finished the mix, of course I discovered a lot more music for my sets. But if people like to get their ass kicked, nicely, funky, trippy, and deep and dark -- that's me. I'm going to treat.
Timo Maas with Lee Burridge. Wednesday, November 24. Nocturnal. 50 NE 11th St., Miami. Doors open at 11 p.m. Tickets cost $25 in advance via wantickets.com. Call 305-576-6996 or visit nocturnalmiami.com