Christian Smith – Exclusive Feature InterviewNovember 9, 2018
Christian Smith is a Swedish DJ, producer and label boss of one of the biggest techno labels in the world ‘Tronic’ and has been releasing music since the late ‘90s. He’s on a global mission to bring his brand of diverse techno to the masses and whilst courting success he’s firmly passionate about the underground scene, and not taking the safe copycat route that so many emulate. He’s an innovator and intricate tastemaker and holds his own in the global techno scene, we caught up with after his successful party at OFF Sonar…
Mike ‘Moggi’ Mannix: Great to talk to you again Christian since our last chat at ADE last year. So give our readers some background about your life?
Christian Smith: Yea Mike I remember, thank you for talking to me. When I was about 10 years old I had an older brother and an older sister that used to bring home mixtapes from the local clubs where we lived that was early electro, late disco right before house music started and I listened to the tapes over and over and over and I really got into the music. When I was 14 I got my first set of turntables and became a battle DJ. I entered into the DMC Championships in America and became really obsessed with scratching and beat juggling. When I was 18 I started university in Washington DC and at that stage, I was still really only a hobby DJ. I was a student studying International Business and at the time there was a big rave scene and I got involved with and started to play a couple of gigs mainly in warehouses this was the early 90s where I played alongside Josh Wink a couple of times actually.
MM: Inspiring times, was it from that initial foundation then that you decided to launch Tronic and take it around the world?
CS: Yes, a few years later I started Tronic and 20 years later we are still here thankfully. I have a very capable and good team behind me and an excellent label manager and also very loyal artists sending me music on a very regular basis. We run Tronic branded events everywhere from Berlin to Tokyo to Buenos Aires and that is very well established now at this stage. We just had a label party in Ibiza at Eden a few weeks ago with two and a half thousand people the club was rocking really really good. So, things are really good right now and as long as I keep going this way can’t really complain.
MM: OK great, so just tell us then about the latest album out on Tronic?
CS: Yes, we had an album out a couple of months ago called ‘Synergy’ it contains 6 remixes of the original release. I deliberately chose names for the remixes that weren’t all hyped or are the biggest Beatport performers at the moment because I wanted to make a statement about how it’s not always about being at the forefront of a trend. Of course, everybody wants to be successful but I think
it’s more important to go with what you’re passionate about than that just being successful for success’s sake. A lot of people get too obsessed with quick success just copying what everyone else is doing.
I picked Oliver Deutschmann who is this German militant techno guy and UMEK under the guise of Zeta Reticula which was pure Electro and other cool names. I really like this project I’m very happy with the outcome.
MM: It’s a Banger I was listening to it just before I started the interview with you.
CS: Haha thanks J
MM: So what’s your thoughts on the scene today with so many trying to copy the Beatport top 10 and obsessed with chasing likes?
CS: Don’t get me wrong we are a successful label so we need to have tracks that are going to be commercially successful to pay the bills etc as well as trying to always support really underground tracks from a selection of artists. However, I do really love releasing tracks that I know are not necessarily going to be a huge hit, but maybe something that people might not expect instead. I’m passionate about the music that I’m releasing if someone sends me a demo that is a great track, then, of course, I’m going to release it, and if it does well on in the charts, that’s just the cherry on top for both the label and artist.
MM: Would you say that’s what pisses you off most about the scene then?
CS: Yes, if you are willing to release music that you’re not passionate about then each to their own, but I just have a problem with people in the industry that are just selling their soul for the sake of success. Sure, if I followed all the current trends I’d probably be more financially successful but I gotta do what’s good for the soul. If I’d have put out music I wasn’t passionate about I don’t think Tronic would have lasted 20 years.
MM: We can look at the scene as a whole and discuss where it needs to evolve, what would you like to see change?
If I could change one thing it would be is to make the music important again
because some people care more about what’s happening on social media and likes and artist selfies or if they’re in the gym or what’s on their plates than the music they play,
when I got into this it was all about the music now it’s about whether you are good at marketing whether you’re good looking things that had no real relevance when I started it really was all about the music and now it has less and less meaning.
Don’t get me wrong I’m still passionate about the industry but I would like the focus to be back on the music again. When tracks were released when I started you had a shelf life for a few months, maybe even a year with the right people hammering it out, now if you have a big hit that everybody’s playing you maybe got like 3 to 6 weeks if you’re lucky, so the shelf life of music is being really watered-down due in part to the fact that so many people copy the popular music to the point of saturation. I know people have done this throughout the generations but now it’s like a thousand times worse. Unfortunately, I have to turn down so many demos because they sound like all the other demos all copying the same sound.
MM: So what’s your motivation then what drives you?
CS: I really enjoy DJ-ing I really enjoy performing, playing in front of crowds and having a good party. I think I enjoy it even more than producing. Don’t get me wrong I love making music but there’s no better feeling than DJing in front of 50 people or 20,000 people and them all feeling the music and getting lost in it. This is what keeps me motivated, keeps me dancing and having a good time.
MM: Who’s inspiring you at the moment?
CS: There’s a guy who I have respected and admired for a long time and I don’t think he gets the respect it deserves – Mark Broom. He produces great pumping tough techno with a good energy. He’s very underrated unfortunately and he’s one of my favourite producers.
MM: How do you see the underground today?
CS: There are a lot of people that diss the underground and say if you sell more than a certain amount of tickets you’re not underground anymore, so how do you they define underground anyway? Richie Hawtin is underground, Ben Klock is underground and they are both big names that are pulling thousands of people into their events, but the real purist will say they’re commercial. Having said that, there is a huge segment of techno that is very commercial but that’s ok too like I said earlier if you are doing what you like and you’re passionate about them all good. The current state of techno is very good as techno is played out all over the world, States, South America, Europe, and Japan, but they’re having a hard time with techno as EDM is still so popular there.
MM: Any advice you can give the aspiring producer DJ today?
Don’t think about what else is going on around you, don’t think about the saturated market, do what you’re passionate about and get good at what you do. Work your ass off because if you don’t work super hard you’re not going to get anywhere. Be persistent, as nothing comes easy and nobody is going to hand you anything. It is difficult but it’s not impossible because being able to do what you love is an incredible thing.
MM: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in life and what did you learn from it?
CS: Of course, I am the first to admit I have made a few mistakes in my career and about 10 years ago I wanted to challenge myself because I had done a lot of the things I wanted to do in Techno already and I wanted to see if I could push myself. So, I released a house record on Steve Angello’s label, I released the trance/techno record on Tiesto‘s label, a track on Nervous and a few releases on Bedrock. By doing that I confused the hell out of a lot of promoters and they were like ‘Christians good but we don’t know what he plays now’ and this affected my bookings for about a year and a half. But all I wanted to do was to challenge myself to see if I could do it and it backfired so what I learnt from that was to stick with Tronic and release only on Tronic and every maybe once a year or once every two years release a track on another label and it’s worked out for me since then.
MM: What are your biggest moments at festivals or gigs?
CS: The last time I played a gig in Argentina at a club called Crobar and every time I made a mix in front of 2500 people it felt like I’d scored a goal for Argentina, it was like this loud roaring coming from the crowd like whaaaaa – it was insane. I also played the main stage at Exit in Serbia and I had such an amazing set, Slam was supposed to play after me but then they told me that the airline had lost their records so I ended up having to play their set as well, it was really good for me but not such a good morning for Slam. I had a fantastic time and got to play for 3 hours! That was a long time ago now, but it was a special moment. Pretty much any moment is special no matter what stage you’re on when the audience appreciates you – it’s a huge compliment.
MM: What do you hope people will say about your contribution to techno?
CS: Ha that’s the real philosophical question Mike, well I hope they say that “Christian was a good guy and played good music.”
MM: And just to close Christian, what have you got coming up then for the rest of the summer and the year?
CS: I will be releasing another EP with my good friend John Selway, who I have worked on many collaborations with, and that’s due out in September. It’s Part 2 of our Count Zero EP. Apart from that, working on the label as much as possible, we have some smashing new talents coming out this year, and the label showcases are heading over to the USA, where we have shows in Phoenix and San Diego. Then back to Europe for a showcase in Vienna, after Dreambeach festival in Spain, which is a big one. Also tours in Asia and South America shortly after that J
MM: Nice one Christian as always
CS: Anytime Mike.