IN CONVERSATION WITH RØDHÅD
Interview by Thore Damwerth
A true Berlin techno mastermind, Rødhåd is known for his energetic sets that never fail to heat up the atmosphere on international dance floors. With his deep and timeless signature style infused with powerful and melancholic elements, the DJ and producer spans a diverse spectrum of electronic music from dub to techno to house. His sound has received great recognition in the industry and scene – for a decade mainly in the Berlin underground circuit and now resonating around the world. Ever since founding his first own record label, Dystopian, in 2009, Rødhåd has remained steadfast in his commitment to real techno, especially amidst today’s strong variations within the genre. His dedication to this vision has manifested in the form of an album, several EPs, numerous artist releases and the inception of his second record label, WSNWG, in 2018.
In this conversation Rødhåd opened up about his journey through sound and scene, the dynamic energy he creates on the dance floor and his latest projects and performances, including his closing set at Neopop Festival 2023. As Rødhåd’s Dystopian label is now coming to an end, we also delved into the artist’s transition to new horizons…
With 10 years of experience before major success, you truly have a passion for your craft. Can you tell me a bit about your musical journey, how you got started and your path through the scene/industry?
I had my first contact with techno when I was 14 years old in the late nineties here in Berlin. Most of my friends where older than me and were going to techno parties already. One of them was a passionate DJ and he was also the one who gave me a few records to learn mixing when I got my first turntables in the beginning of the 2000s. I think it was that constant beat and the ‘never ending’ track that caught me and made me want to do the same. We did a few parties on our own on a field near our neighborhood in Hohenschönhausen, which is in the suburbs east of Berlin, but it took quite some time until I had my first regular bookings in Berlin. Eventually, my first residence in Berlin was in a small club in some old car garages called Zementgarten, which was in Friedrichshain around 2006. The club was temporary and had to close after a while. I was a guest at various parties by different collectives from Berlin but I never really felt that I was part of one of the crews. At that time, minimal and tech-house were super big in Berlin and the kind of techno I liked was not really played in clubs apart from Berghain and Tresor. I connected with likeminded people and we started our DYSTOPIAN parties at Arena Club in 2009. The record label followed in 2012 and I stopped my office job as a construction drawer in 2013. After that I went fully into DJing.
Known for captivating the crowds on the floors with a deep, powerful and melancholic sound and, as MARRØN once told me, creating a sexy, groovy and mysterious atmosphere, how do you build up and maintain this consistent energy during your sets?
Well that’s a good question. To be honest, I don’t know. I always try to put myself in the position of the dancer and I play what I would like to hear at the moment. I like to play with tension and release. I would play some full power tracks but then bring the energy down a bit step by step to have more impact with the next section of power tracks. I love the hypnotism, like watching into a rotating spiral, and I like the constant flow – a bit like water running down a river taking all the obstacles and turns easily flowing around the corners. Enjoying the quiet moments and looking forward to the next wild raft.
Coming from Berlin, you have been playing on diverse international stages all around the world, experiencing various crowds and energies. How do you adapt your sets to these different audiences and environments?
Usually I try to be in the club at least 30 minutes before my set to check the environment. I listen to the sound system and get an impression of the atmosphere. If I feel that the sound system is not able to translate the low end very well I would not start playing minimalistic deep techno which needs the bass to be felt properly and go into a more percussive and mid heavy sound to keep up the energy. I also cover quite a wide range of music styles so I’m able to push things in certain directions.
When I started playing on bigger stages and festivals I had my problems in the beginning because I was used to clubs where I can take my time to make longer intros and build up the set more slowly. Often this does not work so well on the big stages so I would shorten the intro part and get straight to the point. Also the shorter set times force you to just play your biggest tunes.
Where are your favorite places to perform, regarding space, scene and energy?
Although I like to play big festival stages I feel most comfortable in clubs with a capacity up to 1000 people. I also enjoy playing in small clubs a lot because the connection to the crowd is usually better, it is more intimate.
It may not be a big surprise but Berghain is my favorite place to play. After all the years I feel so comfortable in the booth that it is like playing at home. The sound system in combination with the room creates a very special space and in my opinion that is also the main reason why that kind of reduced techno works best in there. I have also played sets at Panorama Bar, Garden and Halle in the past and was able to cover the full spectrum of the music I like to play in my sets.
Bassiani is another really important place for me. The techno scene in Georgia is still quite young compared to the scene in middle and western Europe. People at the parties are super into the music and open minded. If you have seen the videos of the pride march a few weeks ago which was raided by far rights you will also understand how important the scene is by providing safe spaces for the queer community. The club itself is also super impressive with a powerful sound system in an old swimming pool under the stands of the football stadium. Set times can be extended and I played one of my all-time favorite sets there when I did a 12 hours all night long back in 2019.
You just released your latest album Revisited, a compilation of previously released tracks of your label now reworked by some highly talented artists, such as René Wise, Ignez and Silent Servant. How was it for you working on this album and how is it for you to see the reinterpretations of these tracks?
We ended the Dystopian label earlier this year and through that my releases were moved to the WSNWG – BACK TO ZERO label which I’m using for solo releases. Some of the tracks are more than ten years old now. I was curious to have a new look on some of them and started to do a few edits by myself. I mentioned it to Ignez during one of our sessions and he told me that he would love to do an updated version for Mines of Mars as this was one of his favorites from my back catalog. So I came up with the idea to make a compilation, started to get in contact with some of my favorite producers and asked them if they would like to do some new versions. Luckily everyone I asked was up for it and we had all the amazing versions together quickly.
Can you share some insights into the different approaches that the artists brought to their remixes and edits, and share what the album means to you?
I can’t really tell about the approaches of the other artists and think listening would be the best for everyone to find out by themselves. Generally, I think everyone transferred these tracks really well into their own style and brought them also technically into the year 2023.
I think it mainly lives from the work of the remixers. Their versions, considering the original stems and edits I did by myself, represent really well how these tracks sounded if I would have made them now. A bit more modern, with a better technical understanding and a fresh mixdown.
Personally it marks the end of an era for me. With the closing of the DYSTOPIAN label it is a last look back on the past and in the same time a look into the future.
You performed at NEOPOP Festival a few weeks ago. How do you perceive the festival and its crowd, setting and energy?
It was my 4th time at Neopop and it was great to be back again. I really like the crowd in Portugal. I have played regularly at various festivals and club shows here. Neopop was always a highlight for me. The crew is very heartly and welcoming, the production is always on point and the lineup is always curated really well. The location, an old castle, is bedded in between the ruff nature landscape of the Atlantic coast and a small industrial harbor which provides an ideal atmosphere for the festival.
How was your performance?
I played the closing slot on Sunday and decided to go a bit deeper as most of the big hits were probably already played. Sort of preparing everyone for the landing in the morning after the long weekend. I wasn’t sure how much energy would be left after Dax J, who played before me, but yet again the Neopop crowd didn’t disappoint.
Looking beyond the closure of DYSTOPIAN, but also your recent release and performance at NEOPOP Festival, are there any upcoming projects that you can share with us?
My summer is slowly coming to an end and there are just a few more festivals left. I will take off September for vacation and some studio time to finish the next WSNWG release and some remixes. I’m really excited for the ADE Weekend in October as we are doing another STOOR jam this year in a different constellation of artists. This time with Speedy J, Neel and Donato Dozzy as Voices of the Lake and Vril and myself as Out of Place Artifacts.