Photo by Jason Harrell
Developing as DJs in early 1990s Stuttgart, Ali (left) and Basti (right), a couple of Schwarz brothers in love with schwarz music, transformed into tech-house heroes Tiefschwarz, a name now synonymous with the Berlin club scene.
Back home, Ali ran now-legendary clubs ON-U and Red Dog, recording their self-titled debut Ral 9005 (Four Music) in 2001. Relocating to Berlin in 2003, home of their record label Souvenir, they’ve contributed remixes for artists from Terranova to Madonna. Her Sex book appears to have affected their latest album, Left (Watergate Records) which leans heavily on collaborations with Berlin’s porn king Khan, who will be joining them for some heavy breathing on Friday, June 12 at Watergate.
How did you hook up with Khan? Did he associate “Schwarz” with darkrooms?
ALI SCHWARZ: He’s an old friend of ours back from the days of his project called Captain Comatose with Snax on Playhouse when he was still in Frankfurt, and at Robert Johnson. The good ol’ days. We’ve known him for a long time, but it was just a lucky coincidence that we happened to bump into him in Mexico City in 2013. We had a mutual friend, so we went for dinner and then we took him to the club. We had such a great night we said, “Hey, what about trying to sing on our new material?” And then, you know, it was a sure shot.
BASTI SCHWARZ: He’s an Urgestein. It means, like, an old rocker, a living legend. He’s like the little brother of Freddy Mercury.
Both you guys and Khan have now been associated with Berlin for over a decade. What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed?
BS: Techno [laughs]. It’s still techno.
AS: I think the four-to-the-floor dance rhythm is just such a healthy and normal pattern that it won’t go extinct. Sometimes you have the feeling that techno is the big word above everything and then you have the little, you know, paths to the left or right. But it’s all under the big headline of techno still, especially now. But there is so much incredible music out there, and the music scene is so rich. From nerdy bands to electronica to whatever. A big, big reason for that is the internet, obviously. People are playing in the future somehow, you know? Without knowing what they are doing, but it’s all technical-based futurism, in a way.
BS: And everybody has the chance to produce music. Which can be boring, in a way, because a lot of people are using the same loops. But it’s all about the idea you have behind it and if you just have a little sequencer and a good idea that’s all you need. It makes the quality of your ideas more important than ever.
AS: We also like that we didn’t do a strictly techno album. It’s kind of anti-trend.
Did you use a lot of analogue equipment on the album?
AS: So-so. There’s no rules. We also work with a lot of plug-ins. So we’re not part of this nerdy gang. We just take what comes, you know?
BS: But if you’re using analog stuff, it’s good. It’s more... was heißt Handwerk?
BS: It’s more handcraft: you can feel the knobs and it’s another energy when you are working with digital. It’s a completely ‘other’ energy. It feels like it’s a bit alive, the analog stuff, and digital is more like, really clear. I’m becoming more and more a fan of analog, to be honest. Sometimes, it’s really good not to look into the computer all the time.
AS: I’m always the guy – I care more about the result. I don’t care from which source it comes.
You also bring in more melodic material and what feels at times like a dub influence to some tracks.
AS: Yes, dub was a big influence for the whole album. Like with the track “Hi Fu”, it’s kind of Bobby Konders-esque; it has a Nu Groove vibe in it.
BS: We listened to a lot of reggae records back in the day, a huge collection of stuff. It’s quite interesting to get influenced by the sounds of delays and stuff like that.
AS: In the early 1990s, it was a very interesting time because Stuttgart was the melting pot where German hip hop was created, and that had a massive influence on German pop music. It was the beginning, the source for a lot things for us. I mean, there were interesting people crossing our paths. One guy we knew had an incredible collection and he was a selector, but not only for one genre: everything from jazz to reggae, soul, funk, techno and house. He was my introduction to a lot of different musical consciousnesses. Before meeting him I was listening to new wave and like, alternative metal from California.
BS: Deep Purple, Deep Purple, Deep Purple.
AS: [Laughs] Yeah, but then it got more sophisticated. And that was before we started opening the clubs. But that was a long time ago, more than 20 years now.
Were your parents into music?
AS: Our family was always into partying and celebrating. We had a Bandmaschine, a tape machine, and our father would bring it to the parties with some hits on it.
BS: Yeah and after that he got a big stereo record player. When we had a party, by the end of the night he would just be tossing the records behind him as he went.
What’s it like being brothers and touring together?
BS: It depends on the day [laughs].
AS: Mostly it’s constructive though, of course, otherwise we wouldn’t be sitting here. We have arguments, but that’s normal.
A lot of bands that aren’t related to each other still argue.
AS: Exactly, I mean look at Oasis.
Oasis are related to one another.
AS: Hey, you know they’re getting back together?
BS: Really? So they need money, huh? [Laughs] Right, reunion tour it is then. See you in 10 years, Ali!
TIEFSCHWARZ FEAT. KHAN Fri, Jun 12, 23:00 | Watergate, Falckensteinstr. 49a, Kreuzberg, S+U-Bhf Warschauer Str.