Saturday Mass: a new interview series that tips its hat to Larry Levan and explores the art of the resident with some of the best in the business.
For our next edition of Saturday Mass, we call upon one of Europe’s most revered DJs, Robert Johnson resident and self-proclaimed “appreciative regular” at Panorama Bar and Trouw . Of course, a lot of hard work has gone into gaining such a lofty reputation and Gerd Janson’s abilities can be traced back to the time he has spent cutting his teeth at Robert Johnson, where he has been resident since 2000. In Janson’s typical eloquence and modesty, he filled us in about the responsibility that comes with playing to a dancefloor full of close friends, being force-fed food by the Trouw owner, how returning to Robert Johnson now is a bittersweet experience and which residency he like to saves the “piano disco hoover rave” for.
What do you think makes a good resident, and who are some of your favourites?
Someone who shows up on time, doesn’t get too intoxicated too early on and is still standing when the lights go on. Seriosuly though, I think it’s more about a perfect match type of situation. Club and resident DJ should complement each other and the DJ should be able to hold his or her horses while setting the table for the guest. A certain form of dedication towards your record collection and the segments of it that you want to make public helps.
My favourites? Probably too many throughout the years. But when I started going out to clubs in the early nineties, you had a quite a devoted lot of them serving every week: Ata and nd_Baumecker at Wild Pitch Club in Frankfurt, Thomas Hammann at the Café Kesselhaus in Darmstadt and probably the Milk DJ Team in Mannheim and at Frankfurt’s XS. And although I wouldn’t count it as a direct influence, I have to give it to Sven Väth for almost every Friday night at his tenure at Frankfurt’s Omen.
Having been a resident at Robert Johnson for 15 years is quite an impressive feat. How integral has your relationship been to the behind the scenes at the club been for this to continue for so long? Were you active in all aspects of the party?
Not in all of them. I would make a horrible bartender and I am too much of a weakling to man a door. But apart from DJing there, I have involved in other ventures of the club like the infamous book, mix CDs, inviting guest DJs and as a former writer, some verbal creations here and there.
Robert Johnson is a notoriously small club, and after having been there for so long there must be some nights where you feel like you know nearly everyone in there. Does playing in a room with people who are essentially your friends affect the way you perform?
It’s a bit like Matthew McConaughey said in Dazed & Confused: “You get older and they just stay the same.” Naturally, you know quite a few faces though and that can be a blessing and a curse, as you know what they like and what they dislike and that that’s sometimes upside down with your personal take on things. Especially with close friends, I sometimes get quite a headache from feeling too much responsibility towards their tastes and wellbeing at a party. Having said that, it can be a joyful satisfaction to make them dance to music they should hate – or just tortuting them with it.
It’s not common for a DJ to hold multiple residencies, yet you managed to juggle three with Trouw and Panorama Bar. How did those two come about and how did they differ from that at Robert Johnson?
Trouw was due to its figurehead Olaf Boswijk and his unshakeable belief that I will be finally good for soemthing since he invited me to Club 11 for the first time. So, I am quite happy that he used that as excuse to feed me numerous nice plates from their dedicated chef and we could keep each other company. As for Panorama Bar (and actually the same holds true for Trouw), I would rather say that I am a appreciative regular instead of a resident (the bouncer has to take your picture for that one). After the first Innervisions Sunday a few years back they just kept inviting me back with less and less time in between, so that’s that.
Both are, or have been, fundamentally different to Robert Johnson. Different cities, different sound systems, different dancefloors and basically different people. Some records I only ever played in one place and never at the other two, some hits you can play everywhere. In general, I would say that my personaöl experiences at Trouw and Panorama Bar are much more focussed towards peak time pressure, whereas at Robert Johnson I still play the very early slots with slow and boring music, and happily so.
As an extension of this, is there a certain sound that you associate with each of your residencies? When you are purchasing records do you buy certain ones with the space and audience in mind?
I most certainly do. Ethereal, deep, ambientesque and bph (beats per hour) type of records go in the Robert Johnson crate. Piano disco hoover rave on to the Panorama Bar USB-stick.
Resident’s set times are generally more on the fringes of a night, warming up or winding down sets. Do you feel like these slot times are liberating or restrictive to play, compared to your headline sets?
Rather liberating. Although you have the first and foremost duty to get the dancefloor ready without over boiling it, the way and means to it are essentially yours. You can throw more curveballs and try out things which in return can pay off for what you call headline sets. The same holds through for the last slot of a party. That’s at least as satisfying as the other two.
Over the years, you have gained a lot more international recognition and now have a much heavier touring schedule than you did back in 2000. How does playing at Robert Johnson less frequently affect your experience when you go back there?
It’s rather bittersweet. I would still like to be there each and every month like I used to, but time waits for no-one. But the surprisingly refreshing thing about Robert Johnson is that it’s still the same club at its core. After all those years and, despite the dynamics of dance music, it’s still the quintessential intimate club. I am happy to be permitted to go back there again and again.
Now that you tour so much, are there things you miss about your residencies when you’re on the road, or are there aspects of holding a residency that touring can’t replicate?
It’s two compeltely different things. A residency usually doesn’t involve the amount of travelling that a touring schedule does and you are usually not restricted to two hour slots. So you pace the selection and sometimes even the way you mix it in varying ways.
We were still in nappies when it was released, but what a track to close our boat party with, spun by #gerdjanson himself. Head to stampthewax.com to check the 150 tracks we IDd during our unforgettable weeklong voyage at @dimensionsfestival. #dimensions #boatparty #90s #stampthewax #finallyitshappenedtome
Recent efforts in London at Phonox (with Jasper James) and XOYO (with their residents series) suggests the resident is starting to occupy a more prominent position in the promotion of a party. How do you see the role and importance of the resident changed since you first started in 2000?
Maybe it’s me or the public perception of it but, like I explained earlier, from the time and place where I come from it was the norm for each and every club. Then it became somewhat of anomaly with more and more DJs travelling everywhere and all the time and places that stopped relying on a recurring cast. Nowadays – and this is essentially a good thing due to the resurgence of vinyl as a DJ tool – it seems like there is a special pride towards that title and clubs that have a focus on that. Maybe like cooking yourself instead of getting a take away? A misleading comparison!
Finally, how do you feel your residencies have improved you as a DJ? What have you gained from them?
I think that is actually how you learn to DJ. You can hang out in your bedroom, attic and basement forever, collect all the records you always wanted( or never knew that you wanted them), amass all these secret weapons, carry the DJ’S DJ monstrance, but that all doesn’t make you fit to be at the helm of a party for hours and hours. In fact, I still think that I haven’t achieved this myself, but you get a glimpse of how it maybe can be done, if you get the chance to practice it with a dedicated dancefloor, week after week or monthly for years.