Berlin-based DJ and producer Johannes Albert has become known for his organic house stylings that have graced imprints like Needwant and Corp, as well as his own labels Frank Music and Fine, which he co-runs with friend and fellow producer Tilman. Started back in 2011, Frank Music is now nearing its 30th release and along the way has provided a home for artists like Monosoul and Moon, and on top of that has acted as a space for Johannes himself to explore his influences and tastes.
As a longstanding Renate resident and family member he helms the booth once a month at the clubbing institution, or his “Berlin playground” as he fondly calls it, and even has his studio set up there. Here he chats to us about his influences and approach to production alongside a mix of original unreleased material that drives through downtempo, house and breaks…
Let’s start with an ice breaker, what’s your earliest musical memory?
Well I guess something like Genesis around the year ’89/’90 when they were playing it on the radio. I can’t dance.
Did you have a particularly musical upbringing?
Yes, actually. Music was always present at home. My mum is still part of a choir. I started playing the piano when I was around six. I wasn’t too successful though.
What led you into music production?
After many years of only being a DJ I had the urge to dive deeper into music. Production techniques changed and made it easier to get started. Ableton came as a blessing. Plus I had some piano training so it felt only natural.
Are there any producers or artists who have inspired your production?
When I look at Lauer’s discography I get jealous, but I am following up. I think Cinthie is an inspiration. Not just her production, she’s working so hard and she does so many different things like running labels and a record shop, travelling and playing gigs, constantly with a big smile on her face. Oh wait. Todd Terje made some eternal music. So yeah if I would have to name one producer, it’s THEE Todd. Tunes like ‘Eurdans’, ‘Inspector Norse’ or ‘Ragysh’ – instrumental dance music can’t get any better. It’s not that I want to sound like Todd. It’s more the idea of making an instrumental dance track that works like a song, you know. To find that one-in-a-million melody. Making a track that sounds like a classic at first listen.
Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio?
Good coffee helps I would say. Nowadays I mostly make music during the day which is kinda nice. You get that carpe diem vibe.
Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?
Actually yes. I am getting the greatest results when I have some idea in mind. Maybe I’m going in a totally different direction in the end, but I don’t care, I just need an idea to get started. Can be a drum I’m using or and 303 line or anything. When I recorded ‘Fountain Of Youth’ I wanted to make a trance track. No kidding.
Are you the type of producer to work on a track until it’s perfect, or are you more of an impulsive creator, happy with first takes and sketches?
Well, life ain’t perfect right? So I strongly believe in making mistakes. I would rather create 10 sketches and finish two tracks instead of making the one perfect track. I bet a lot of timeless dance classics were made within two hours. Also I get bored easily so yeah, more of a sketch guy. Being a DJ means you have to listen to many new tunes each and every week so I’m used to “snippets” all the time. When I like a groove or a pattern I just go along with it. No need to fiddle around for too long. I often see producers getting lost in arrangements or versions. Not for me. When I like something I will just make an arrangement and that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I work on a break for two days straight to get it right. But when it comes to the creative part I like it impulsive.
Can you talk us through how you might construct a track?
Mostly I start with a beat and go from there. Sometimes I would use a pad, or a sample. After a basic beat I add a bassline and some melodies or a sample. Then I switch from session to arrangement mode and that’s it. No rocket science, huh? I am always looking for melodies, like a theme or lead. Like a refrain. That’s what I am always after.
How much of your material is sample based and how much is original?
I would say around 20/30 % is sample based, the rest original. For my second label Fine which I am running with Tilman we are using mostly samples as a base. When I use samples I mostly use them in a bold way. Like a sample plus some beat and that’s it. The classic DJ Sneak way from the 90’s. It’s different when I make music with Iron Curtis. Sampling in this case means we usually use it more subtly, like some beat sampling or something. Just tiny elements.
What’s the most important bits of kit that make an Johannes Albert track?
Ooof. I use quite some KORG machines. Lately I’ve been using the DIVA synth a lot. Strongly recommended.
Your label Frank Music has been going for almost 10 years now, what are your future plans for the label?
I have something great coming up: David Jackson is a 19-year-old producer from the city of Heidelberg and his EP Broken Heart is dropping in December. When I got his demo via a mutual friend I was hooked immediately. It’s gonna be number 30 which makes it a milestone and well yeah I am even a little proud. I don’t make too many label plans these days but there will be more Moon material in 2020, the project that I’m doing with my guy Iron Curtis.
You’re a resident at Berlin night club Renate, how did that relationship come about?
Been playing Renate for a long time. At one point I was asked if I wanna hop on the resident ship. Quite the honour. It’s my Berlin playground and I love my monthly Renate show. I can always go places and take them on a ride. When playing in the wild you always get at least three hours of playtime which is amazing actually. Plus I have my studio at the venue as well so I’ve even got a key to the club. Ha.
This mix is comprised of 100% original Johannes Albert material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?
The mix is basically an excerpt of what I was doing in the last couple years and will be releasing in the near future. Expect everything from Ambient to Techno. In the end it’s just House music but I want to show off probably? Especially the Moon project is something that my heart really beats for. When it comes to all things acid, you will hear some HNS-X, my tiny side project. In the end I go deeper and towards a Balearic direction. My new remix for Benjamin Fröhlich is in there. When we were celebrating the five year anniversary of my label I made a song entitled ‘All Things Mind Altering’. Bits and pieces of my last album ‘Lichtenberg’. An upcoming track for Uncanny Valley. Going Piano-Breakbeat. In the end it’s just a deejay mix.
Anything on the horizon for you? Any releases we should know about?
Remix mode is on: There will be mixes for Rydim on Catz ‘N’ Dogz’ Pets label, one for Permanent Vacation’s Benjamin Fröhlich, Renate’s Longhair project and another remix EP, this time with other artists twisting tracks from my last album Lichtenberg. Can’t wait for this one to drop early next year. Giegling’s Map.ache, Running Back mainstay Shan & Renate’s Techno Poster boy Sebastian Voigt delivered amazing reworks.