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A Sit Down With DJ Dixon

09:38 Nov/13/2017


Dixon’s real name is Steffen Berkhahn. He was born in Berlin in 1975, had a promising football career (cut short by injury), chose music instead and became one of the best house and techno DJs in the world. He is married with one child.

Berkhahn lives what we might (pretentiously) call an ‘examined life’; interviews with, profiles of and, obviously, music by Dixon are just as Googleable as anything else. Perhaps this is why, over recent years, Berkhahn has tended to decline interview requests — maybe he feels he’s been “examined” quite enough.

He has had a long and successful career. That’s one reason why there’s now a corpus of information on him in the public domain. More importantly, though, this is a man who really thinks about his craft, is honest about it, and cares about both educating and entertaining his audience. Few do his job as effectively as he does, and that’s what continues to hold people’s interest.

 

"People actually speak to each other, work together, rave together and are always are very honest about things, which is very helpful if you're an upcoming producer."


 

How long have you been a DJ?

25 years. Plenty of time to fall on my face a time or two. What’s special, I think, is that it just slowly, gradually picked up. It wasn’t like I was immediately doing six gigs in five different cities within a three-day period, like I might nowadays. Two years ago, I played 135 shows in a year. Now I do 10–15 fewer shows every year.

Does the mix reflect your DJing or is it designed for at-home listening?

It doesn’t reflect my DJing, or what I play in a club environment. When I release music as an artist or as a label owner, I’m thinking of its use. If it’s a 12”, it needs to be good for a club, but if it’s a CD, you want to be able to listen to it in your house, in your car, on a Sunday afternoon. That’s why I’ll never do a club-orientated CD. I’m DJing two or three gigs a week, I’m in the studio a couple of times a week and listening to music at work for Innervisions, so I have enough house music around me (laughs). It’s important to have something else to listen to.

Regarding Innervisons, can you tell us how the label was formed?

I first started to run the label as a sublabel of Sonar Kollektiv but after a few releases i realised that i wanted the label to be ran as it's own company. So i hooked up with Ame, and the rest as they say, is history.

What role do your fellow friends and producers in Innervisions play in the label?

Frank and Kristian are my partners. Matthias runs the office. Henrik is not directly involved but we're always asking him for his opinions.

When DJing, you usually play at least one ‘curveball’ track. Is this to ‘test’ the crowd?

Even if I love a record, after playing it 10 nights in a row, I might get sick of it. I want to entertain myself. This is the first and most important rule for two reasons. First, I don’t want to be standing there like some machine. Second, if I entertain myself, I play the records I really believe in. Then I transfer a message that may be more authentic than otherwise: you should always be honest and only play records for yourself. It sounds very selfish, but actually it’s not. If you do this, the crowd gets the best out of you and then, you make a difference. As a DJ you should only play what you really love, otherwise you’re just like 90% of all the other DJs out there.

Tell me about the Critical Mass project with your label mates Ame and Henrik Schwarz. How does this work?

I can not really reply to this as I've never witnessed Luciano's project. I saw a couple of short videos and read some interviews about the Aether project but that's all. I imagine it shares similar basic aspects but maybe our way of doing things is more tailored towards the music itself then the actual presentation. For instance, we don't include visuals. We're no more than just 3 people on a stage! You could strip it down like this: I take care of the beats and basslines while Ame and Schwarz cater to the melodic side of things. If you witness how we present our music you'll notice they've a harder job them myself. We play remixes of certain tracks we've released over the past five years or so...so the audience can actually hear brand new versions of some of our "classics." In the beginning the idea was to perform live in the way that we knew what songs we were going to play but never when and how. It was all about creating moments and taking the risk to fail. The problem with this was that was great for imtimate club gigs catering to about 500 people but as soon as we played festivals we realised that there the delivery of our sets need to be much more "on point". So basically, we outlined a running order for the songs and tried our best to manipulate them in a way that even on big festivals we got away with playing tracks that have more then just a groove and a break.

You’ve also branched out into books with Tobias Rapp’s account of the Berlin’s techno scene. Why did you decide to distribute it?

The book is a special case, it came to us and it was the best thing we had ever read about Berlin’s music scene, and we took the opportunity to have it translated. It was fun to work on, something different from another 12” on Innervisions. We might release a DVD next year, but it’s too early to talk about that just yet.

Why do you think an industry largely based around entertaining people is so prone to sniping?

First of all, when I started to go out, I saw people I thought were super cool, and I wanted to be a part of that. But when something gets bigger, the crowd is no longer special. So people distance themselves from that. They want to have that one thing – even in times of Facebook! – that one party that only they knew about, and it was amazing. This is the ideal everyone is looking for. That’s where the criticism comes from – no one feels special any more. And then, these days you only hear the people that bitch. Most of the time, people that bitch do it faster than people that say something good. I can see it on my Facebook thing: if I get criticism, I get it on the night. People are actually on Facebook, saying ‘Oh this is shit’ already at the club. The people that actually like it react two or three days later. It’s a kind of sign of the times. People will have to search for it, to create that ‘special’ feeling again. We won’t do that for all of them, but for some of them at least you’ll find no information online, nothing:. You’ll either hear about it from your friend, or you won’t.

With the amount of sets music available for free online, is the mix CD still relevant?

If I'm being honest, no, they're not. Anyone can download the newest music for free on a day to day basis online. So if you're planning to release a CD with some tracks you like, then you've no chance that the CD won't be somewhat "dated" in dance music terms by the time it's released. With this CD, I actually finished it in july and it's due for release in October. But thats also why i chose to ask most of the producers of the tracks I licensed to give me all the parts of the tracks - so I could create versions that never existed outside of this mix before. I wanted to make the process as unique as possible. I guess around 10 of the 15 tracks on the mix are seriously different to the orginal versions So you can only here these versions on this specific CD.


What makes one DJ more successful, the other less so?

The art of it starts when you do more than just pick 15 tracks. When you’re playing six, eight, nine hours. Knowing what it means to play a warm-up. Knowing that people have been here for six hours already, that the alcohol and drug level might have reached a certain point. Being able to read and understand all of this, but also to have learned it. Not only seeing that it’s happening, but having five responses ready to go.


https://soundcloud.com/dixon/in-our-wilderness



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