Christian Smith is one major exponent of the techno scene, both as a DJ and producer. Two musical sides and qualities he’s constantly swinging, with a steady flow of releases on labels like Drumcode, Plus8 Records, Cocoon or its excellent own label, Tronic. We asked him a few questions after his event for the french Evasion Festival in late January, about Tronic and his success story, his production process and his vision of the actual techno scene.
Now considered to be one of the global 3 top selling techno label and after reaching the 200 releases’ landmark, Tronic has gone a long way since its beginning, moving to a success story that globally shines today. But the legend claims that record shops owners were at first faint-hearted about selling your music, because it was neither house or techno, but a fine mix of the two styles. How did you came up with that idea of an in between artistic direction? How was it received by crowds at the time? How can you explain the steady label’s success?
I think one of the main reasons why Tronic has been so successful over the last 20 years is that I never looked at the label as a source of income and only released music that I am passionate about. I am very open minded and like eveyrthing from deep house to hard techno. Back when I started the label in the late 90’s people thought that releasing tracks that both techno and house dj’s could play would never work. This was long before the term ‘tech house’ excisted. But I would not really call Tronic a tech house label. More housy techno! 20 years later, it’s very ceetain that they were wrong. Tronic just ha its best year ever in 2016 and we have many amazing releases and projects planned for 2017.
You also launched a few compilations called « Tronic Secret Weapons » who features amazing music (like « Cholnare » from Reinier Zonneveld). How do you choose the artists who releases on Tronic Music ? How are you gonna make the label evolve in the upcoming years? Are you going to focus on the labels’ headliners such as yourself, Wehbba, Anna, Eric Sneo or are you going to widen your roster with rising stars?
I always try to evolve myself as a producer and dj. Doing the same thing over and over for me is boring. I like to change. This is one of the reasons why I love producing albums. It forces you to think outside the box and be more creative. I look for the same in artists that i sign to the label. Artists that have their own style, good sound, ambitious, and of course talented. The main artists of the label changes every few years. I also find it very important to release new artists and give them a chance as well. Unfortunately I get around 200 demos a week, so It’s impossible for me to listen and get back to all the artists. But i release 2-3 new artists every year on the label and i’m proud to say that I have helped many artist’s careers with tronic !
In last October, you released « Input-Output », an 11 tracks album that takes listeners on a techno journey, not of them being « club » designed, like « Interlude ». What was the idea behind the production process? What do you use in your workflow? Any ritual or favorite drink to enhance your creativity while making music?
The secret to my workflow is that I take long production breaks. Then when i go back to the studio I’m very motivated and insprired to make new music. I also tend to work fairly fast. Sometimes it’s not for the best, but I’m also not a person that spends 2-3 weeks on one techno track. If it feels right i usually finish it the same day i started making it. Ironically the track mentioned ‘Interlude’ i made in 45min (laughs). This track is actually getting it remixed now because many people asked me about this track to get a version with beats. This tune in particular is very Detroit inspired. I have immense respect for Carl Craig and the music he has produced in the 90’s. Especially his more ambient works. My album took around 2 weeks of 12 hour days to finish. I finished most of the tracks, played them out at my gigs, made some adjustements of levels and ararngements, and then it was finished and ready to get mastered.
With leading artists such as Adam Beyer, Cari Lekebusch, Tiger Stripes, La Fleur, Joel Mull, PetterB, Sebastian Mullaert, or even Cirez D or the Swedish House Mafia, Sweden has always been the birthplace of great talents. How do you explain that? Is there a secret ingredient that swedish mums fills your cereals with?
I get this question a lot. I really do not know why Sweden has such a huge output in music. Whether it’s techno, edm or pop. Maybe the long dark winters have something to do with it because you spend much more time in the studio than outside.
Clubs & Festivals scenes have been on the rise lately, how do you explain that? How do you think these scenes are making our society evolve?
I am very happy that techno is big again. One thing I love about techno is that it always changes and evolves. I have been touring the world as a DJ for almost 20 years and have seen the genres ups and downs. Afew years ago minimal was hyped, the tech-house, then deep house, but now its back to TECHNO! Its great that clubs and festivals are booking more underground music again. I think all this commercial EDM garbage has peaked, and promoters are starting to see that underground acts can also sell a lot of tickets.
As headliner of the first 2017 Evasion Festival event, which will takes place at Petit Salon on January, 20th, alongside local DJs Carlo & Pilou. What is your ritual when coming to a club, before and after your set? Are you usually coming at the beginning of the night to listen how the crowd behave and reacts to different musics or do you just pop up 10min before set time and play on the fly?
That day in particular was a travel nightmare for me. Due to bad weather in Barcelona, I missed my connection to Lyon and had to get a new flight 6 hours later to Geneva. So I basically landed in Genevea had someone drive me to the club, had a strong drink, and started playing ! Usually I like to come to the event an hour before my set so I get an idea what works, and how the vibe is. I really enjoy playing in France and love the cultrue and food as well. I am also very happy that the French scene is very strong again! Big repesct to to all the local dj’s and promoters!
What’s the special track you oftenly end up playing to close a set? A night?
Carl Craig – At Les (Christian Smith Remix) – Tronic
Laurent Garnier – Crispy Bacon… Laurent Garnier is actually remixing a track for me at the moment. I am very excited about that!
When you were a rising DJ / producer, what was the venue you always dreamed of playing in? / What would be your dream venue?
It is really crazy, but I think I have played most of the venues that I always wanted to play at. In the early beginning I always wanted to play at Rex in Paris. Then later I wanted to play for Awakenings. One of my favorite places to play at in the moment is Argentina. I love the vibe and energy over there and they really appreciate techno and long sets. I never play less than 4 hours when I go there.
When more and more artists are getting booked thanks to their productions / music and less because of their DJ-skills, do you think double-hatting as a producer and a DJ is mandatory in today’s scene? What came up first for you? How doing both has been working out for your carreer?
These days it’s impossible to grow as an artist without making music. I started as a dj and then slowly got into production. There are many fantastic djs out there that play way better than many of the famous artists, but how will they be known outside their own city if they don’t make music? Sadly there are also many famous producers out there that are horrible dj’s and only get booked because they made a big record. I personally love the balance of both. Its amazing to have the luxury to make a track in the studio and then test it infront of thousands of people on the weekend.
Our moto is “life is hard, we make it sweet”. What exactly makes life sweeter for you?
To see the smiles on the clubbers faces when I play tracks that they have never heard before.
Interview led by Virgil.