Published on | by CCPAR0
HardtraX | Interview | Hardtechno
Hardtrax, one of the very first artists from the early wave of the German hardtechno/darktechno movement of the new millennium, talks openly to CCPAR about his experiences and knowledge regarding the hardtechno scene. Here is what he has to say!
Could you please introduce yourself to the CCPAR audience? Who is HardtraX?
HardtraX (with a capital “X” in the end) is my alias that I use since around 2001/2002 as one of the very first artists from the early wave of German-style hardtechno/darktechno that came up during this period. I am also one half of the world’s first hardtechno live-PA duo “HardtraX vs. Jackhamma” which was established in the same year. In 2003 James J. Ritchie aka Jackhamma and I went a step further by creating our own vinyl-label “Dark Force Recordings” which in early years fans referred to as one of the most influential record labels within this still very young style of music. Several successful releases on our own imprint and on most major international hardtechno labels followed, resulting in an extensive vinyl-discography, international gigs on different continents (both DJ- and live-performances), appearances on a multitude of CD-compilations and Dark Force Recordings label-events held in five different countries.
How did you discover hard techno? What is your first memory of hearing hard techno?
This question is actually quite funny and needs a bit of explanation from my side, because when I started creating my own hardtechno productions the genre did in fact not exist yet. My interest in electronic music in general and techno-sounds in particular came up early at the age of 10 already (I was still in primary school back then!). I started to produce my own music using Commodore Amiga computers and the legendary ProTracker arrangement-software when I was 16 years old and still in college. Those were the years when I produced a lot of different music in various genres ranging from acid and hardcore to jungle and house, before I made a switch to a different production-setup in the new millennium.
Still very fascinated by the high output of techno-music and the variety of sounds, I recognised a gap between the percussive techno-style at about 140 BPM and the rough hardcore sounds at more than 170 BPM which were dominating influences in Europe back in the days. I was missing a kind of techno in between of these genres that would pick up elements from both sides, and hence I had a starting-point to produce my own, individual style of techno-music that would combine the best of both worlds. After a while I motivated my friend Jackhamma to get deeper involved into music production too, and after a while we figured out through findings on the internet that several different people across Germany were individually working on music in similar styles. Networking started and we got in touch with different artists through the means of forums and on techno-events. With more and more harder techno music being published by early hardtechno-artists like us, those supporting the new wave of hard German techno faced strong opposition from many different groups, especially from established techno-artists who were not too happy with the developments that were going on. I personally always defined hardtechno as a sort of dark, obscure and hard techno-style close to the edge of hardcore, merging the different styles. Artists who preferred the dominating percussive, sub-140 BPM kind of groovy tech-sounds were not amused by the slow but constant rise of hardtechno, yet they have not been able to avoid the unavoidable: Especially after the year 2003, new series of events dedicated to the style were held, more vinyl-records were pressed, more labels founded and more listeners gained.
Our harder, fast-paced and raw kind of techno (typically within the tempo-range of 145 to 155 BPM in early years) gradually gained momentum and enjoyed an increasing popularity within the techno-community. An entire scene developed around “our” new, little sub-genre which first expanded to countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and France where we played some of our early HardtraX vs. Jackhamma live-PAs. It did not take long until hardtechno would win the hearts of EDM-fans worldwide, which later resulted in a degree of expansion no one of us would have expected in the start.
To us it was not forseeable the crazy things that would happen during the following years. We sold Dark Force Recordings vinyls even to remote places outside of Europe, my records received favourable reviews in countries like Japan for example, fans contacted us from very distant places like Australia, Malaysia or the USA, demo-CDs came to us in numbers so large, we were unable to listen at and reply to all the material and Jackhamma even received phone-calls from hardtechno-supporters in Brazil because his mobile phone number was printed on the vinyl-sleeves of our records. The fact that so many different persons from all over the world have discovered, loved and enjoyed hardtechno since the time we started still turns a smile into my face from time to time.
I guess that some participating artists and promoters who contributed to the movement so early must have done something right. I feel that we have been able to create a type of sound which actually matters to people. These people care about hardtechno because they can identify themselves with the music, in the same way as those who intially created it as a result of the ideas that were transformed into sounds. To know that so many listeners worldwide enjoy hardtechno and feel the same way I do when they hear the same music is simply amazing. Is there any greater achievement you could think of in life?
What were your influences when you were growing up?
I remember having seen quite a lot of TV-shows and news-coverage that have been all about the first rave-parties, the techno DJs, the artists and promoters behind the first techno-tracks and events that quickly gained popularity in the very early ’90s. Moreover I listened at a few of the first radio-shows dedicated only to rave-music and I got to admit that video-footage shown from the first Mayday-events and Love Parades have been influential too. In 1993 I purchased my first techno-mixtape called “Techno Dance Party 6” when I went on a trip to France with my parents and the hard electronic beats instantly got me hooked (I still own this tape until today).
How did you get into your DJing career?
I had experimented with DJing a bit during the late ’90s, but I was not too much concerned about developing my skills or mixing on a regular basis until I purchased my own DJ-equipment. Music production was so fascinating to me, that I gave always gave it top-priority until this point. The first vinyl-release of my own production on Plug’n’Play Records 02 in 2002 however gave me the incentive to push things further. Not only did I allocate more time to the mixing of vinyls, but I also improved and refined my production-style, set up a live-PA with Jackhamma and short time after we planned the launch of our own record-label. With DJing, live-performances, track-production, managing-tasks and the work as a label-owner I was determined to live the techno-lifestyle in its full extent. I had the urge to be an active part of the scene and my desire was to actually create something. In my opinion every creative mind has got this inner feeling deep inside that turns you restless and which drives you to further push things forward. You feel like you need to get your creativity to the next level as you constantly evolve and refine your own proper style as an individual artist.
How would you describe your musical approach?
I would describe my music as a slightly harder form of tekkno with a rough, dark and sometimes industrial edge. I think this short statement sums it up pretty well. I always try to create music that I could personally imagine dancing too. If the track is not energetic, I can impossibly be satisfied with the outcome of my production-work. It is fantastic to see that people who first heard my music 12 years ago still remember my hardtekkno-related works, and so I guess that my style must have caught a few listeners emotionally. This is simply amazing to me, and it is actually a good reason why I like my typical trademark-sound and my style of music.
Could you please tell us, in your opinion, what is the root of hard techno and how do you think it has evolved through the years until the present day?
Every piece of music is a product of your imagination, your ideas and concepts of sounds you have got in your head. However every track you create is somehow influenced by music that you like. This means that everything you produce is influenced by the music you have already heard before – music that was previously created by other artists. I believe that in the case of the German wave of hardtekkno which initially started around the year 2002 simply evolved from the kind of tekkno that was present at that time (with new elements added and also borrowing sounds from hardcore tekkno).
In the early days of the style, every artist added an individual, recognisable touch of their own to their productions. This result in a great diversity of sub-styles within hardtekkno, but after 2005 things definitely went down when the majority of producers decided to copy from each other. Imitation instead of innovation is what happened since then and this negative trend continues to persist even to the present day. In my opinion hardtekkno went through a regression instead of an evolution during the last ten years. As an artist who is in this scene since the beginning, I knew that the lack of creativity would eventually lead to a lower popularity of hardtekkno and this is exactly what has happened on an international scale. Of course it hurts to see how this music came into this developement that can be compared to a downwards-spiral.
Now most of the music in the genre is totally interchangeable. Most so-called “artists” sound the same and nobody seems to care about creating an individual trademark-sound of their own, in order to stand out above the rest.
However the monotonous nature of hardtekkno productions in the past decade is unfortunately not the only bad aspect and not the only reason why hardtekkno never had the chance to become something bigger than it is today. The crowd does not know about all the dirty things going on behind the scenes and of course nobody involved likes to talk about this issue in public. The problem is and has always been the way agencies, artists, promoters, labels, shops and distributors worked against each other, leading to lots of problems and internal wars where the scene as a whole loses out. Some really good artists did not want to put up with all the bullshit and politics anymore, that are going on behind the scenes and hence they just dropped out and stopped making music. This meant another big loss and less diversity for the genre.
And there is even more to tell about how hardtekkno lost popularity over time. The way technology has changed also plays a key-role in this story. Hardtekkno is not as big as it used to be since the vinyl-industry went down. Labels had to close down and distributors went bankrupt not only because the global crisis caused people to spend less money on music, but also because digital vinyl systems became affordable. Final Scratch, MixVibes, Serato Scratch Live, Ms. Pinky, Torq DVS, Traktor Scratch and similar systems allowed DJs to mix MP3s like real vinyls without having to buy records anymore and without having to switch over to expensive systems like CDJs for example. Due to the nature of digitally compressed music, the work you created which is sold on the web via download-stores does not feel like a real product anymore. You cannot touch it, you do not have any printed sleeves or booklets and collecting them is just a matter of storing MP3-files to your hard drive. This is why the music has lost a big part of its value for many listeners, who are just not ready to pay for their favourite songs anymore. Music production itself however is not free either as it is a very time-consuming process for which hardware, software and various pieces of studio-epuipment is needed for. The artists who sell less music can invest less money and produce fewer tunes, while they struggle to cover their costs. Many listeners unfortunately do not take this background information into account when they download illegal music off the web.
I need to point out that not everything is bad and not everyone just downloads everything from illegal sources. For example I am very pleased by the very satisfactory sales of my latest album entitled “Rude And Direct” on Bandcamp.com and the support and numerous messages I receive from fans keep me motivated and confident. Hardtekkno can only die if you let it happen. Listeners, artists and promoters all represent very important parts of the scene and as long as at least one single person still listens to the sound, you cannot call hardtekkno a dead style of music. Actually I believe that the fans who enjoy what we (the artists) create are the most important people in the scene. Even the most big-headed wannabe-superstar DJ with VIP-attitudes is absolutely nothing without a crowd (and yes, artists with star-attitudes even exist in a small scene like ours).
“EDM today isn’t as good as it used to be”. Does hard techno fit into this premise? Discuss.
In fact it is very hard to find good music within the genre now. Things were much easier back in the days when the hardtekkno-scene was just about to receive its modest boost of fame. We had a great choice of music with many interesting and very different sounds in the years between 2002 and late 2004/early 2005. Most of the hardtekkno from the past few years really makes me sick. The tracks sound so similar that it becomes hard to recognise who the producer is, who created the tune you are listening to. Everything is very much the same now with the same beats, rolling bassdrums, ridiculous-sounding loop-vocals and endless high-pass filtersweeps. Hardtekkno is indeed not as good as it used to be. Despite of this unpleasant developement of hardtekkno, I decided to create even more tracks once again. A few artists surprised me with good music in the last years though. Aspartam from Germany, DJ Integra, Darkside9878, Nadon and Hedmess from the USA, Satyriasis and Formaldehyde from Australia are good examples, as well as Spanish-based producer DJ Scaleripper are creators of some very original tracks. I think right now is the time that we need innovative producers the most in order to keep the music alive. Thanks to the lack of good music in the hardtekkno-genre, I am always looking out for good tracks from the industrial hardcore-scene which usually provides a higher quality output. It is sad to say this, but I fear that this is currently the truth. As a conclusion I have to point out that I have never been happy with the path hardtekkno went down to.
How has the music industry changed over the course of your career?
The most significant change is how quick the important infrastructures of the EDM-industry directly related to hardtekkno have disappeared. Vinyl-shops, record-labels, radio-shows, distributors, magazines, festivals and regualar club-nights in various countries have vanished. All of this happened very fast in a matter of just a few years.
At the same time the importance of online music-marketing and social media to communicate with supports and artists is on the rise. Online-forums related to hardtekkno seem to be losing importance since Facebook became the number one place for people to talk about everything and to publish every aspect of their lives. I am not ready to join Facebook and I do not like the concept and idea, so I may not set up a page there. I prefer blogging even if I often do not find the time to publish regular updates.
The ways of selling and distributing music have changed a lot too. Hardtekkno-sales through Beatport, iTunes and similar download-portals are so extremely low, that the generated income looks ridiculous compared to vinyl-sales from the past. The same can be said about many other styles too, so it is not only hardtekkno that suffers from low sales. People are just not ready to pay music for money and artists have no choice but to generate income through performances, even if this has become a very difficult task nowadays too.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
This question is the hardest one for me to answer to, because travelling around the world thanks to hardtekkno enabled me to experiences countless fantastic moments in so many places. There have been plenty of wonderful events and thanks to the music my life was like a wild ride over the globe. I cannot really pick any specific highlights because I am sure that I would forget to mention the majority of them, but to state some examples I can reveal that I always enjoyed playing HardtraX vs. Jackhamma live-PAs in the Netherlands, I loved playing on Spanish club-events and festivals, my appearance on television with the interview for the EDM-programme on a Colombian TV-channel was a great experience, I have met awesome people in Lithuania, had a blast in Malta, loved to play for Bulgarian crowds, I enjoyed meeting die-hard fans in Austria and I have been glad to play in New York as well. French and Belgian parties were more than just nice, Slovenia was memorable, playing live for various international radio-stations was big fun, the crowd in Portugal was insane, Venezuela rocked too… aaaaaah, this list goes on and on endlessly… I feel really lucky and thank god for the opportunities given to me.
What are your thoughts on the electronic music scene in South America?
South America’s scene is actually a lot more important than many people may realise. There is a high number of EDM-enthusiasts since many years and many South American countries have been able to set up their own structures with agencies, artists, promoters and media related to electronic dance music. The times when the whole world was looking at Germany as the number one source for innovative electronic music are long gone. Germany is not the center of attention anymore and I do not think that we still have a leading role in EDM. Most of the trends coming from Germany in recent years have been very short-lived. Take the hype about minimal music for example, which was horrible from the start and bound to go down anyway.
If you take a close look at the hardtekkno-scene as a small part of the entire EDM-scene, then I guess that South America countries play a very important role. The high level of enthusiasm is outstanding, and the love for music that you can feel as an artist playing in South America quickly makes you realise that this is the driving force behind the rise of EDM on the continent. This love for music is reflected by the local artists and promoters who put up an impressing number of events with international bookings on a regular basis. Their work deserves my full respect. I need to praise the Colombian events in particular for their enthusiastic crowd. Performing in Colombia makes you feel like you are at home, thanks to the great support by the local hardtekkno-scene. It is similar to being at home, except that it is actually better than performing in my own country. Honestly said, spinning at a small club in Bogotá for 250 people often proved to be more fun than playing on a German festival with 50.000 visitors. But then I am not a big fan of overcrowded mega-events anyway.
Could you tell us about your future plans in music?
In recent years I have stepped back a bit and took some distance from music, but currently I am very active as a producer once again with six releases I have put out since the end of 2013. My latest EP “Living In A Dark World” is available at http://hardtrax.bandcamp.com and I also plan to finally get back at blogging more seriously again. Currently I am considering to perform live as a solo-artist and take bookings again, but this is absolutely not certain yet (unfortunately HardtraX vs. Jackhamma is no more due to various reasons, including lack of time and distance). Further I am supporting an upcoming internet radio-channel and may probably have my own show there too, if time allows. In one way or another, I continue to be actively involved in hardtekkno for sure. Besides of the harder stuff, I also do some work in artist-management and music-promotion for different styles of music nowadays. You have to keep it rockin’!
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