NOTE: This is the extended version of Rees Urban’s interview with Lars Behrenroth, published in the February 2009 issue of 5 Magazine.
A native of a small fishing town outside Hamburg, Germany, Lars Behrenroth now resides in L.A. where he records his Deeper Shades of House radio show and podcast that is one of the most popular House Music shows on the internet. DSoH is being downloaded over 10,000 times a week from his website in addition to being broadcast on over 20 FM and internet radio stations worldwide.
DSoH was a featured program on XM radio’s The Move before their merger with Sirius in mid-2008. With this, the only hope of spreading the Deep House vibe over satellite airwaves has completely died. Knowing it was potentially a losing battle, Lars took his show to the internet in a moment’s notice.
Lars has continued his vision with the start of his own label, Deeper Shades Recordings, featuring up and coming artists from across the globe. No newcomer to production himself, he has released tracks on notable labels including Prog City Deep, Chez, Records of Interest and most recently Freerange and Peppermint Jam, as well as a remix on the famed West End Records.
You were born in Hamburg, Germany?
A smaller city up north called Cuxhaven. It’s a small fishing town of about 60,000 people. Their main industry is hotels and fishing. I moved to Hamburg ’92, it’s the next biggest city. It makes it easier just to say I’m from Hamburg though. I started DJing when I was 15 in Cuxhaven at Sunday school dances for 10-15 year olds.
What were you playing?
(Laughs). We’ll we got paid like $20 for the whole Sunday and had to buy all our own records. So I would only buy what I dig. I was playing Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Things like that. This was probably ’86. I didn’t do it for that long though because of course kids wanted to hear stuff that was on the charts. I moved on to local clubs.
I remember in ’89 I was playing a school party and just 2 days prior I was listening to a live radio broadcast from a bigger city and they were broadcasting from 1 of the first Acid House parties in Germany. A few days later I went record shopping and bought all Acid House and that’s all I played. No one had ever heard it before. It was so bad! All the kids went to their cars and got their tapes and wanted me to play them. They didn’t want anymore of that shit!
You moved to the States in what year?
2004. I met my wife in ’99 here in Los Angeles. I was involved in Cyber Radio, which was the first internet radio station and later the first internet TV station in Germany. It was full programming during the day and at night it was DJs. When they started getting short on money they decided to start a headquarters in the US. We started Cyber Radio in LA and that’s when I met my wife, she’s been a Househead forever. I was on H2K, which was a mailing list (House 2000). I sent her a message saying I needed some DJs. So we met and rest is history. We had a 5 year long distance relationship and finally we were like fuck it and I moved here to LA because I was most flexible. At that time Germany was all about Electro-Clash and this awful Minimal stuff. There’s decent minimal and bad minimal and this stuff was like unfinished Reason tracks.
Remember when minimal was minimal before it was called that? That shit started with Robert Hood and people like that way before. That was real minimal. There were changes in the tracks but they were so minor that you’d have to pay attention but they had a big effect. And now it’s like I have this drum track and I can’t really play any instruments so it’s done.
So you were over the music that was happening there at that time anyway.
I didn’t have the opportunity to play what or how I wanted to play. I’m fairly flexible but I still have to play music that I dig. There’s wedding DJs that can play whatever it takes and I have respect for them. Everyone that’s making a living at what they love and if they bend the rules even a little bit to be able to do that, more power to them. Even if people produce music I don’t like, it’s the same kind of profession and I think everyone deserves the same respect. That’s one of our biggest problems. I’m jumping topics here…
That’s OK, go ahead…
It’s a big problem in the underground dance industry at the moment because everyone is just shitting on everyone else.
I love talking shit too! Everyone loves talking shit! But at the end of the day we’re pulling the same strings. People who just listen to the music and didn’t necessarily grow up with it and didn’t learn where it’s coming from, they don’t know the difference. They go to a club and to them it’s all Techno related. I would however rather have them call it Techno than Electronica. The problem is there’s no unity in House because people are always trashing each other. And usually it’s the people that are more successful than themselves.
I think it’s everyone’s choice how far they want to go with their production or how far they want to move into that commercial world. I don’t think anyone should hate because they make it, but that’s the whole sell out thing. People think, “Oh they started out so good.” Like Roger (Sanchez) or Erick (Morillo), those type of guys. Those guys in the early 90’s, they were fresh and now it’s all Electro-House and commercially. I don’t like it but mad props to them. I think that’s the problem instead of aligning yourself with these people and saying they used to do underground and they made it, maybe I can stick with my underground sound that I dig and pay a little bit of attention to the people that have had some success.
If everybody made those adjustments instead of paying so much attention to hating, imagine how much more creativity could be used. Just think how much energy is wasted just by talking shit about somebody when the core is usually a tiny bit of jealousy.
Remember when House started, it was just House – that was it. Now you have Electro-House, Minimal, Deep House, Tech-House, what is it that the Brit’s have… Scouse House and now there’s Fidget House. I’m like what the hell? In Chicago you guys have that Boompty shit. Don’t quote me on that (laughs)! My thing is I try to at least explore different avenues. There are tracks that have certain sounds that I don’t really like but I like the track so I’ll try and put them in my sets.
People are very protective of their music even more so here than in Germany. As a DJ you’re very protective of your gigs and over what you play. Some people take themselves a little too seriously. I can occasionally put myself in that category as well. Over here it’s very political. So you might associate yourself with one group of people and another group of people you might have associated with in the past that really liked what you did before stop speaking to you. That’s what’s dividing everything.
Look at Hip-hop for example. It’s usually like the brother that House is looking to. What did they do? House was equally as strong as Hip-hop at one point. The difference was Hop-hop has faces and House didn’t. House had Crystal Waters and CeCe Peniston and they would show up in the gay clubs and maybe made it in Europe. Then the attention for House producers and musicians was focused on being successful in Europe and they took the focus off of the US and lost their leverage. Where Hip-Hop is all one, it’s we’re all Rap / Hip-hop, whether it’s underground or even Southern or Gangsta Shit. It’s all 1 industry. They have the same awards and all that. Nobody is really dissing each other. Of course you’re going to have your political people that are going to diss the Southern shit and that because it’s like bubblegum music. However, it’s still all 1 industry. And House doesn’t do that, it doesn’t define itself as 1 industry. Everyone’s so stuck on trying to be different.
Sometimes I play out at venues that have nothing to do with House. I play some hotel gigs and things like that. Some people ask me to play Deep or Soulful stuff and I do and then they’ll come up and ask what I am playing. I’ll say it’s House or if you want to be specific it’s Deep House and they’ll start to disagree with me because there’s so many different kinds of House. They’ll try to look for it online and they can’t find the music because they go to a site like Beatport or Traxsource and because they have no idea what they are looking for, unless they have an artist name to go on whatever, they’re going to be totally lost. It’s designed for DJs.
I always thought the download sites would help because it would bring music to people worldwide all at the same time and the average person that wants a track can go and buy it. You don’t have to be a DJ or own a turntable or what have you.
I’m sure overall it helps! At least the tracks are available somewhere and people don’t have to trade or download illegally. But the online stores are still mainly made for DJs. You have to figure out what you like. If the variety is so big like it is on a site like Beatport, a regular user is so overwhelmed. They only have to click 2 or 3 times on a track that has nothing to do with what they want and they give up.
I do the same thing. I get overwhelmed going on there. It can really be a pain in the ass unless you want to buy and play the same things everyone else is playing.
And you know what’s up! Imagine going on there and you have no clue! You know that eventually if you keep digging, you’re going to find a good track. Other people think I have been clicking 3 or 4 times and I have been listening and I hate these songs, they’re going to think that this store isn’t what I am looking for. I think iTunes helps though, because they don’t have all the sub-genres, which of course brings us back to what sells most in regards to dance is people like Jay-J, Kaskade, even Tiesto and Oakenfold because those are the names that are everywhere. Those are the few faces that are really out there. No one puts themselves out there. The DJ hides behind the turntables. No one ever really knows who the producers are unless they are also a DJ. The vocalists in most cases sadly enough are too ugly to be presentable.
…Or they’re not even mentioned in the credits on the releases to begin with.
And that is of course another problem in itself. I personally could care less how someone looks as long as they can sing. Unfortunately most people that spend money don’t think that way. No one wants to see certain people.
You have people like Osunlade that has a face that people recognize. He has a look that stands out. He enters a club and everyone knows it’s him. Every time I play in Chicago there are ten DJs that I know but I don’t even recognize them. It’s their prerogative but that’s the point I’m trying to make. That’s what’s missing. There’s no identity in this music. As far as DJs go, there’s Steve Aoki and DJ AM and that Samantha Ronson chick. (This has nothing to do with being a House DJ, just a DJ in general). Those are faces. They don’t just have 1 or 2 press photos like most DJs. (If the average DJ even has that). It’s also because they take their business side of their shit a bit more seriously.
They also have a bigger team of people working behind them as well.
That comes with it of course. Everybody has to figure out what they want to do, what their mission is and ideally how can they make money with it. When it comes down to it, you have to pay your bills. There are a few people I know that have solid day jobs and it doesn’t kill them. Then they do all their other stuff on the side and that’s great because they can keep their freedom. But, if you pay your bills with this you gotta really start thinking. It’s like a sales job; you have to sell something that people want.
How do you feel about the LA scene? I lived there for a few years and it wasn’t really for me.
When I came here for the first time, I hated it! I went to a few places and it wasn’t all that. It was about ’99 and it was artists like Richard F. and that type of House.
Like all of the US Hard House type stuff? Like DJ Irene and that?
Yes! That’s not my thing at all. Every scene has its own right to exist; it’s just not my thing. The only thing that really that keeps your head up high in L.A. is DEEP with Marques Wyatt. He’s bringing talent on a weekly basis like no one else is. At least for the House I like. I mean you can go to Avalon and they have big, big commercial names. It’s a different crowd and not the music I like. There’s a lot going on. You have a lot people throwing their own parties because they don’t get booked anywhere. There’s a good Deep-Tech House scene and that’s alive because they’re not the regular type Househeads. In order to have a party that survives you need people that are willing to spend money at the party. You can’t have everybody ask for guestlist.
Since everyone thinks they’re industry it’s hard a hard thing to get around. Everybody knows somebody, or works somewhere or dates someone or something. How is a night supposed to survive when no one wants to pay for anything? People don’t wanna pay cover, people don’t wanna buy drinks. Then they expect top-notch talent too? What the fuck?
Exactly! You can do that when I have the party in my living room! Bring your own 6-pack, I don’t give a fuck. I’ll play music; I’m not even going to charge you. But when you come to a club and you know someone is putting work into it? Come on! If you’re a cleaning lady, I don’t ask you to clean my house for free! If you’re a car salesman and I need a car, I don’t say well I drive cars all the time, I’m car industry!
I used to have the same problem with people that would shop at the record stores I worked at. I would mark the prices down super cheap and people would still have the audacity to ask for a “DJ discount.” I would say I don’t go to Burger King and ask for “Hungry discount.”
Right! Ideally, if you really are a DJ and you call yourself a DJ, you make money by playing the records you purchase, at the end of the year, count that against your taxes! That is your DJ discount!
A record store isn’t the most profitable thing to operate from the start. Everyone wants a hook-up and now there’s no money to be made for the store that was supplying the tunes from the get-go. Where do you see vinyl going at this point?
I still have all my records. I moved 10,000 plus records all the way here from Germany. A lot of records I have, even if I hear a second of it, it brings back memories. So a lot of it I am keeping for the sentimental value. I think that’s how vinyl is mostly going to continue. There are always going to be collectors.
I do think though for the labels, that means they need to step up their game. Now days you can’t just hope people are going to buy your shit and that’s it. You have to work for it. It never used to be that hard. You might press some records up front, then promote the release and then sell it to the stores. Maybe you would press up 1,200 copies and that would keep you busy for a few months.
Beatport gets probably a thousand new releases each week. If you’re lucky someone charts your shit on one of the download sites and that way you move some units otherwise you get lost in the shuffle unless they feature your release or you have your own chart.
If you’re still doing vinyl, I think you need to give the people a little more than they’re used to. I’m toying with that idea for Deeper Shades Recordings but it’s not going to be for a while. I’ve seen so many labels bleed themselves dry by paying outrageous fees for remixes or they only have the money to produce 2 – 12″ and that’s it. No distributor is going to be interested in that. They need to know that if they take on a label that they are going to be consistent. They know that if they don’t make money, I won’t make money. Distributors have been dieing left and right. I’m curious to see if most people are just going to end up distributing their own shit.
Omar S. in Detroit, he presses and keeps the stuff in his basement as far as I know. Even stores order direct from his website. I’m not willing to take that risk yet. I’m still trying to build Deeper Shades as a digital label at the moment. I figure it’s much easier for me to have done it now that I live in the US than when I lived in Germany because Germany is still very much into vinyl. They’re still not real keen on the mp3 thing. It wouldn’t have been as easy to establish a digital only label there without some type of ridicule. No one over here expects you to do vinyl anymore.
I have a lot of stuff planned for 2009. We’re going to give away some tracks for free. We’re going to do a little more than just putting up posts on my blog or on a message board. I wanna make it a little bit bigger than that when you give away something for free because you’re only reaching the same audience you would reach anyway. I gotta reach people and basically be like download this and it won’t cost you anything. Listen to it. Next to it I will have everything else I have put it out. If you like it, you might want to check those out. What I have realized about the internet market is that it’s not always about what’s new and hot and I like that about mp3’s. It’s about quality and quality will prevail. Every time I have a new release I see an increase in sales of older releases and I think that’s great for a label.
I think for a DJ you need to turn off that little I lift my finger and I’ll teach you type of thing, like I’m your Grandpa or something and you should know, and rather embrace the fact that people have interest in the music and build on that. There’s a lot of DJs that are like, “You’re not even supposed to like this because you don’t know what it is.” They have that kind of weird attitude where they treat people like they don’t know what this is or where it’s coming from and that they can’t even talk to you.
I think it’s important to embrace and know that you are reaching people that had no connection to House before. That’s why I do the (Deeper Shades) show. I don’t make money off of it. Of course it draws attention to me. I use it as a promotional vehicle for exposure obviously. Every time I get an email it’s either someone saying how they used to listen to House and that they have found it again, or they have never heard it before, or I thought I knew House and then I listened to your show. That kind of stuff is why I do what I do. There is so much good music out there that people don’t get the chance to hear. I obviously stay away from things I don’t like but even if I do like something, I tend to go more to smaller labels because they don’t get the attention. Labels like Defected, they have their machine running. They have a large marketing budget (I would imagine). The smaller labels don’t have that same ability and their music is amazing. I like to turn people on to new music. I have people that tell me that they like listening to my show but they don’t necessarily like everything I play but they notice there’s always a little change in the music. There are so many different kinds of this deep music that I want to bring to the people. Sometimes I’ll start my show out at 110 bpms and others I’ll start at 125.
Many people know the Deeper Shades of House show from being on XM Radio. Did it start there?
No actually it started on JAM FM, which is a nationwide Black Music station in Germany. (That’s what they refer to anything that is soulful or mostly produced by black artists. It absolutely has no racist undertone what-so-ever). I started the show there. I had met Luis (Baro) from XM a bit before that.
What year did you initially begin the show?
June 8th 2002 was the first one on JAM FM. July 4th, 2003 was the first show on XM Radio. I asked Luis if he was interested in re-broadcasting or syndicating the show. It took a minute but then they took it on and I then began recording the show in English as well. I’d use the same mix of mine and the same guest mix as well. I’d just do different voiceovers. I think when I had just done my 5 year anniversary; XM decided they were going to pull the station I was on, The Move.
Do you think that has affected the audience that you broadcast to after they pulled the plug on The Move?
I’m sure there are a lot of people that cannot listen anymore but I knew it was going to come, so I would always announce on my show to go to the website because I was going to keep doing the show. When we first heard about the rumor of the merger with XM and Sirius a few years back, we kinda figured out that this is not going to be a good thing. We knew it was going to turn into more of an overground thing. Once that rumor surfaced I started podcasting the show; prior to that it was exclusively for XM. Shortly after, I started to hit up different stations. Now it’s on over 20 stations all over the world. About half are internet and half are FM stations. A lot FM stations in Europe. More are regional than nationwide but at least FM in places like Turkey, Italy and Spain. Then the usual suspects on the web like SS Radio in the UK, Motion FM in Canada and Cyberjamz in the US, those are a few of the internet stations.
I think the listenership, as far as I can tell has gone up at least in regards to downloads and direct traffic through my website. It has gone up a lot in the last 2 months alone. I just checked my new stats and from the site I have like 10,000 downloads a week now and that’s not including all the other stations that broadcast it.
Let’s talk about your label Deeper Shades Recordings as well as some of your own productions on other labels.
The label is like the radio show in terms of the guest mixers that I have. It’s about quality, not about who you are. I like getting artists that are fresh, willing and hungry. They’re excited to have their music out and they’re going to help promote it too. Bottom line is if your shit is good, I’ll sign it.
This year as well I’m going to focus on a lot of remix swapping. I have a few things lined up already for the label with Boddhi Satva and Atjazz, which I’m really excited about. I have a bunch of remix swaps, some free tracks I’m going to release and an EP finally on my own. I want to release a compilation this year as well weather it’s on Deeper Shades Recordings or on another label.