In contrast to the sterile one hour sets that are a by-product of the computer age, Berlin-based DJ and producer Hunee is known for his adventurous, extended sets, dropping disco with techno, acid with soul – any genre, really, that represents the best of modern dance music.
Last January 31, 2014, SmartBar welcomed one of Europe’s most fearless DJs to Chicago. We got to talk to him ahead of time.
Someone told me that you used to work at a record store? Is this true?
Yes, this is true. In my early twenties, so probably 2002 – 2005, I was working at a record store called Soultrade in Berlin Kreuzberg. Its main focus was what was summarized as “Rare Groove” – lots of soul, jazz, funk from the DJ’s perspective. Later the store changed its focus to New Jazz and Mash-Ups and I started working somewhere else.
Rick Wilhite talked to us about being a DJ on tour, and feeling like it’s an obligation and a blessing to drop in on the record stores in different cities to participate in the local culture. You’ve been travelling a lot — do you have any favorite spots in different cities that you’ve been to?
When it comes to record shopping, I even prefer to go digging when I’m touring, as it’s a great way to get to know the city, its scene, maybe kill some time and find interesting records. Every time I go to Amsterdam I visit the Rush Hour store, and of course Redlight Records (in my top Top 5 stores of all time – a visit is a must!). Tokyo has lots of great stores, as well as Paris (Superfly, Bettino’s, etc…)
The US also still has so many stores in every city, especially New York City. A-1 and The Thing are precious destinations. I am also very excited to visit all the stores in Chicago and planning a few extra days just for this.
As someone that obviously loves and plays disco, funk and soul, I’m surprised I haven’t seen your name all over the disco edit craze. I know you did that edit of Curtis Mayfield’s “Love Me” that everyone was playing a few years ago, but it was never released. What’s your feeling about that?
Regarding edits, I am more relaxed these days. I play some as well, but I mostly prefer to challenge myself with making the original version of a song work for me in my DJing.
There are many tasteful and respectful edits out there, but I’m allergic to “disco edits for Deep House DJs” type edits – making the song just flat, quantized and deconstructed into a neat 8-16-32 bar arrangement. I hear this and it’s not for my dance floor.
You play a lot of different sounds in your sets. Have you had any bookings where you’re asked to stay within certain parameters? How different is a set that you might play close to home from what we might hear at, say, SmartBar?
I am happy in that I feel most promoters know what they’re getting into when they book me. It does happen sometimes, that I get asked to play a more “organic” set or even “strictly Techno” for a few hours. I actually enjoy both – the freedom to build a journey through a variety of styles and genres, but also the challenge of boundaries and building a journey with a more limited scale of sounds. For SmartBar, I have no idea what will end up in my bag and on the decks, and I’ll probably only know while playing.
I usually have a rough idea of the night, but in the end, one record just leads to the next.
It seems like DJs, who are paid to make people dance, spend an incredible amount of time in decidedly non-dancey environments, like taxicabs, airports, lounges… So with all due respect to Brian Eno: what was the last music you’ve actually listened to in an airport?
The only things I listen to “on the road” are either the tracks I plan to play that weekend, some promos I still have to go through or a selection of podcasts from The New Yorker fiction series. But most of the time I enjoy – “with all due respect to Brian Eno” – the “random” composition of sounds of my surroundings. Like the sound of the wind, the train, the people, the doors closing, the shoes moving forward, the page turning…
It’s strange that Berlin is so widely regarded as the center of the electronic music universe right now, but two of the most interesting producers I know of there (yourself and Alex Agore) are totally chilled, laid back and seemingly the exact opposite of the hyper-ambitious Deep House artist who has like 100 promo pictures taken of him before anyone knows who he is…
Most of my friends out there who are DJs and/or producers are pretty chill and laid-back. Some put more effort into promoting themselves than others, but hey: for the majority of us, in Berlin or not, this isn’t about being on the cover of magazines anyway.
Is Berlin as competitive on the inside as it seems on the outside? Is it any different than it was since you’ve moved there?
I have been there since 2000, so my musical world in the city has been pretty grounded and I have not really witnessed too much competition. I think the spirit of support and the idea of “doing something together” is much more apparent. It’s a pretty easy-going and accessible city and scene really, which is also the reason why hundreds of music-hungry people still move there every year.
Your original releases have come from a rather elite set of labels (Rush Hour, Permanent Vacation, Ostgut Ton…) In some ways they fit so well with the label’s sound it almost seemed like they were tailor made for them.
I’ve definitely made the majority of music specifically for a release – I’ve never had the situation of sending the label a ton of tracks to pick from. It’s mainly because I don’t have a ton of great tracks lying around.
But as money gets involved, does this become more difficult? I’m sure you get a billion open offers a day to drop something on such-and-such label — but you haven’t oversaturated the market with Hunee tracks. Has anyone dropped a brick of cash in your lap and said, “Here, remix this piece of crap for us”? If not, what would you say?
It’s very important to me which type of relationship I have to a label, its past releases, the people running it and the musical world they have created. I was never eager to put out as much as possible or to join every ship that passes by.
I decline 90% of all remix requests. Either I don’t like the original version or I simply have no time to do it. It’s not that I’m massively popular, either – it’s just that the accessibility of the internet has lead to a lot of labels sending out a ton a remix/release requests to everyone they like.
I read in an interview that you mentioned Roy Davis as one of the DJs you were feeling at the time. We actually have a story with him in this issue as well. Any tracks that stand out from Roy’s catalog, old or new?
That’s interesting – I think I meant his productions and not his DJing, though. (Not that I don’t like his DJing, I’ve just never heard him play out.) But I’m a big lover of his productions. Uff, he has been active for such long time and created a massive body of work! I still play his productions under “The Believers”, “Phuture” and other groups and aliases. His Wild Life EPs, the Chicago Basement Traxx… Roy is a true force.