There are few names as established and respected in the genres of electro and techno than Anthony Rother. His appeal is remarkably broad, with his productions appearing on anything from Ministry Of Sound’s crossover bench-marking Annual series, through the now retired underground pulse check that was fabric’s monthly mix series, right up into the sets of the likes of Marcel Dettmann, Dave Clarke and Laurent Garnier. Are there any better credentials than that?
Recently he has been aligning with DVS1’s Mistress Recordings, while continuing his output on his own PSI49NET imprint and contributing to established taste-setters like Omnidisc, Shipwrec and a Rekids offshoot called Stranger In The Night. Right now, life is obviously good, so when presented with the chance to catch up with Anthony to talk about electro, his studio setup and his freshly minted GHOST ARCHIVE imprint, alongside running an exclusive and deliberately hush-hush live performance session for our mix series, we jumped at the chance. Dive into the interview below and get into this mysterious blend of audio now.
Interview by Simon Whight
"I'm seeking the thrill of trying to perform and control a big complex machine risking that in every single moment I could make a mistake and the whole performance slides into uncontrolled chaos"
Hi Anthony, I hope you are well and thank you for hosting this live set with Inverted Audio. You’ve been taking your live sets to a few top clubs such as Fabric over the last few months, how have you found the experience?
This year I played my electro live set a lot more often again. I’m pretty happy that all the gigs went really well. Especially impressive for me was the performance at Kiev at Brave! Factory Festival with an unbelievable terrain and a blatant dedicated crew. And of course my very first set in Berghain. Playing on this floor was merely incredible. In general, I am pleased that all of the live performances were worth remembering. That’s something I don’t take for granted.
My setup is very big and includes nine large flight cases for eight devices, mixers, cables, tailor-made tables and several stands for the whole synthesizers. You could also say that I go on tour with a fully equipped recording studio. I re-designed my setup in 2016, and it’s technically sophisticated, but the performance possibilities are vast – that is why I am taking the difficulties with 200 kg equipment of transport and logistics.
With my setup, I can always improvise. I’m improvising every single live show as I have no finished arrangements. I create the music on stage, and I am very free to change whatever I want at that moment. Playing live a great extension of my artistic work in the studio, it gives my music a different reality.
Is it difficult translating from the studio setup to the club/live setup? How did you go about approaching this?
With my live setup, I focus on performing my music with a wide selection of equipment. With all the gear I’m bringing, people have called me a one-man-band. But not every track I write in the studio is a track that necessarily work or have to work for the live gigs. The tracks for the live sets must have a very specific structure and composition. They need to have elements that I can work with, for example, melodies to play on the synthesizer or vocoder vocals.
Most club tracks are very stripped down and repetitive, so it makes no sense for me to re-play them live because I would end up tweaking two or three knobs. This would be very boring for me and for the audience too, I think. For the live sets, I’m seeking the thrill of trying to perform and control a big complex machine risking that in every single moment I could do a mistake and the whole performance slides into uncontrolled chaos. This thrill keeps me concentrated; it’s like being high without drugs. The general danger, the constant tension, the sound in the room, all together with the energy of the crowd – I love it.
In terms of your studio, you’ve got a vast setup at your disposal, lots of classics from the likes of Nord. If there was only one synth you could keep, what would it be?
That’s tough. In general, I only work with hardware synthesizers. The computer is only for recording and controlling my hardware equipment.
But you should know that I’m working in two separate studios in one building. It’s called PSI Studio and currently located in Offenbach, the city near Frankfurt. Room 1 is the main studio, which I use for all of my productions. The second room is the jam studio where I can perform and record my performance or sessions directly on a master tape. I always call it the big live machine without a computer, and I only use a hardware sequencer to control the synthesizer.
I work with hardware because I love the physical aspect. Walking from one synth to another, crawling behind the mixing desk to connect cables, moving faders to adjust volume, tweaking knobs to control sounds. Using my body to create music is very important to me. The studio setup is an extension of my body.
"Using my body to create music is very important to me. The studio setup is an extension of my body"
The hardware market is in incredible health right now, is there anything new you’ve got your hands on that you’ve been impressed with?
As I’m crazy about hardware, I always search online for used gear. I’m reading articles about the newest synths or drum machines. I’m watching videos and tutorials, even driving around Europe to buy new equipment. Over the last two decades, I have met a lot of great and like-minded people in this community. I guess it is my obsession. There are a lot of machines I am impressed, but let’s pick out a few of those many.
The new AKAI MPC-X is so important to me because I am using it for my live show. Before the MPC-X, I used the MPC Renaissance, which needed a computer. Now the MPC-X is standalone, that’s just great.
The Jomox Alpha Base, it’s a drum synthesizer from a Berlin-based company. To me, Alpha Base is the one of best sounding drum synthesizer available at the moment – besides my all-time favourites Roland TR-909 and TR-808.
The Waldorf Quantum Synthesizer released in the year 2018 is the most futuristic machine available on the market. The Quantum synthesizer defines the future in terms of sound and user interface. And because of its technical capabilities and the great engineers from Waldorf, the Quantum sound engine will expand in the future. This machine is simply unbelievable.
Electro is an evergreen genre; however it has found itself in a media spotlight over the last few years. As someone who has been immersed in it for so long, have you felt a difference as this shift happened?
Electro is a music that is in general futuristic, cold and dystopian. If you don’t find the beauty in these aspects, you would consider this music as dark, frightening, and not suited for the club. I think that’s why puristic electro, thank god, has not been sold out over all these years or has been destroyed through hype or commercialism. I think you need to understand this music deeply to rave about it.
In the 1980s, the originators of classic electro created a blueprint that defined the standards of the genre until today. It’s comparable to how techno music’s standards have being set in the past by the genre’s forefathers, and still being used till today.
A few years ago, I started to focus on producing music, specifically for my DJ sets. Just pure electro sets filled with my own exclusive, unreleased tracks. Nowadays I’m working on electro tracks that provide a similar energy like four-on-the-floor tracks that also keep the core of the classic puristic electro sound.
Producing these new tracks teach me a lot and have to give me a fresh perspective on electro for the club. Through this sonic exploration, I feel a great inspiration these days with big respect, and tribute to the forefathers work.
"Puristic electro, thank god, has not been sold out over all these years or has been destroyed through hype or commercialism. I think you need to understand this music deeply to rave about it"
You appeared on DVS1’s Mistress Recordings earlier this year, a label that I often associate with blooding brand new talent. What is the story behind how you found your way to the label?
Two years ago, at a time when I wasn’t paying much attention to what was happening in the dance scene, I received a message from Zak. He wrote to me that he had been playing many of my tracks for years and asked me to contribute an exclusive track for his Fabric mix. At first, I was a bit sceptical, but he was very persistent. I quickly realised that he was serious, especially when he invited me to the Fabric in addition to the record release party.
When I heard him during his set, I knew immediately: he is no joke! Because I had a good feeling, we expanded the contact, and I sent him a selection of jams and tracks that I had never shared with anyone before. MISTRESS 12 and MISTRESS 12.5 have been the result of our exchange. I appreciate and respect DVS1, not just for pushing me to release some of these tracks, but for his dedication to the cause. We both put music first.
You’ve been running PSI49NET for some time now, but are going to be kicking off a brand new imprint called GHOST ARCHIVE, what can you tell us about this new venture?
I started my label PSI49NET back in 1998. After releasing my debut album ‘Sex With The Machines‘ on Kanzleramt, I wanted to run my own label that is fully dedicated to puristic electro music. And while I’ve ended my other imprint Datapunk along the way, after 21 years PSI49NET is stronger than ever. This year I released two new 12-inches PSI49NET-103 and PSI49NET-104, the first EPs since 2003.
But in the last years, in the process of producing exclusively for my DJ sets, I’ve collected more and more tracks that wouldn’t suit the electro-only idea of PSI49NET. The only way to share these more club-orientated cuts was to start a new label. I always came back to the name GHOST ARCHIVE, and I liked the sound and immediately associated various meanings and visual appearances with it.
While PSI49NET will remain an electro label, GHOST ARCHIVE incorporates more dynamic yet emotional techno infusions, but the boundaries will surely become blurred. The first 12″ is a four-tracker that comes out in mid-November.
"My motivation comes from my creativity, and that's why I try to protect all my creative processes by cutting out everything else"
What else does the future hold right now, on the road and in the studio?
So far, 2019 has been a very inspiring and intense year for me. Organising and performing all of the DJ and electro live sets, the releases on Mistress and Stranger In The Night, reinvigorating my label while starting a new one – rather ambitious, even for me. From the business side, I’m actually running everything myself together with one more person.
At the end of October, I was invited by Danny Daze for a US tour to play some showcases for his label Omnidisc, including Smart Bar in Chicago and The Bunker New York. Currently, I’m also finalising a new EP for Omnidisc that will be released in January 2020.
And for the rest of this year, I will spend a lot of time in the studio. I can’t wait to work on new ideas and tracks for Mistress and GHOST ARCHIVE. Although I get some inquiries for other releases and remixes, I want to keep the circle of people I work with small but personal. I will continue to choose rather carefully which projects I realise because I want to do things without pressure and aiming for high quality.
Do you find it challenging maintaining such a prolific calendar, do you find that you have to keep yourself motivated or enforce some downtime when you need it?
I want to have freedom in what I am doing, and like many others in the scene, I try my best to avoid running behind schedule for months. This is something I am very aware as I had those periods in the past when it’s just about business but no more art or music. It kills my creativity and erases any spontaneity.
My motivation comes from my creativity, and that’s why I try to protect all my creative processes by cutting out everything else so that I have as much time as possible in the studio. I’m first and foremost a musician writing and performing music; everything else comes second. Although I realise the whole scene has rapidly changed, for me, my music won’t just be a vehicle to get gigs. Music is the main reason why I’m doing all this. Composing music is my life elixir.
Anthony’s first release on GHOST ARCHIVE can be found over on Bandcamp.
Photography by Hannes Windrath.
Discover more about Anthony Rother on Inverted Audio.Anthony RotherMistress RecordingsPSI49NETElectroTechno