Last summer, I visited a festival in Berlin to support someone I know who performed. I had no expectations of the festival itself, any other artists who played or the location, aside from a self-made promise of giving it full gas after a COVID imposed 6-month clubbing ban.
One thing that took me by surprise during those 3 days was bearing witness to a steam train, pulverising set stuffed with jacking and driving acid flavoured house from Rydim, together with his two accomplices showcasing their conspicuous and hugely successful anonymous project. Shamelessly, not knowing much about him beforehand, and having no preconceptions, it was refreshing to hear quick, clean mixing, mostly pumpers, ideal for a set on a stage by a lake, and what felt like the personification of “es gibt nur ein GAS!”
After his set, our paths crossed and we shared a drink whilst we checked out a big player on the main stage and came to the conclusion that we’d like to meet and figure out how we could translate his skills to the IA MIX Series.
Rydim, real name Johannes Mai, is a well-known face in Berlin and has been DJing at many of the capital’s well-known haunts for over a decade. True, maybe not hyped as some Insta-famous Berlin DJs but by no means less effective behind the decks. He also comes from years upon years of production experience, not only making tracks but also in music products, working in various Product, Project and Technology roles at Native Instruments. He gets music, he gets gear even more.
His solo work as Rydim, and collaborative projects, has pushed him to cities, festivals and clubs in most underground corners of the world, flying ever so slightly under the radar. At the start of a new year, now seems like a better time than ever to get to know who or what Rydim is and represents.
Over a video call, we talked about his DJing style, his past work, collaborations (some of which will remain a secret or he’ll send the heavies over), and his musical inspirations. The mix is one he recorded on the back of a big ol’ tear up on NYE and captures the energy and excitement of the dancefloor, the experience and the dancers of that night. It’s also a technique he employs when recording his monthly show for Balamii Radio. It’s pumping from the start. Hold down your toupees, this mix might blow ‘em right off!
Interview by Luke Hawkins
"Music was not written to be consumed by one person in a room. It’s a social thing for me"
How was your Christmas and New Year?
Christmas was quiet, it’s always a little bit stressful so I and my partner decided to spend time with each other’s families just before it, and chilling together in Berlin actually on Christmas. We visited a spa on the 26th, relaxed and enjoyed ourselves. NYE was quite the opposite where I played a gig with my other project [laughs].
Was the NYE party fun?
It was wild. It felt like Panorama Bar back in the day. Really good sound, people, and energy.
You mentioned you took the energy from the gig into recording the IA MIX. Do you feel like playing on NYE helped sharpen your tools?
Yes, I took that energy into recording. It might be a bit primetime but the music is slightly different from the gig but the energy is the same.
What’s your usual approach to mixes?
Normally I aim for a one-shot mix with minimal editing but you know we are all human and errors can happen. So now and then I re-listen, fix some small stuff and if I don’t like a certain track, some small editing needs to happen. If I am coming directly from a party I don’t need to think about which tracks to use [as much as I normally would]. Hit the record button and go. This is how I like best recording my radio show.
Sounds similar to professional sports…
Yeah precisely, if you are playing sport regularly to a high level you don’t need to practise as much, same for DJing.
How was the mix recorded?
At home, digitally with 2 CDJs and a mixer. I was mixing quite fast, and I got through a big volume of tracks, which suits the style of music I played. This is something that I don’t think would have been possible with vinyl purely from a speed point of view.
Was the aim to represent a specific sound that defines Rydim?
I wanted to play speed ambient gabba [laughs].
Exactly what we were looking for!
But seriously, it’s a difficult question to answer as with Rydim I can play anything from 115 BPM Disco house to 145 BPM nose down Techno to even faster stuff like trap or Chicago booty style.
I have been told by agents that it also presents a problem for promoters as the music I play is quite broad. I have thought to branch out my disco and techno stuff into other monikers but for example, with my radio show, I play all those styles only as Rydim.
For this mix, I left out the outer parts so no disco, a little bit of techno but not the super hard stuff. But I guess the BPMs were around 135-145 bpm I think and one theme that I recognised was quite a lot of jacking, Chicago booty style house. Quite energising and pumping.
Is that your sweet spot?
I rarely play tracks above 150 BPM, but I like changing up the tempo and sneaking in 2 or 3 records in the middle that freak people out is something I like doing [laughs]. Sometimes playing one tempo can also be great and can affect a clubber or an audience in different ways.
A crowd can have certain levels of experience and expectations so I can get out some older stuff for the more experienced clubbers that might not work on another, younger floor. Getting the vibe on the floor is the key for me. As a DJ it’s your job to pick out old and new music and old music is more often than not new to a lot of people.
Do you attempt to research the clubs or cities that you play in?
Yes, I do, at least a little bit. Floor capacity and set time are most important everywhere of course, but also pictures of the sound system and floor setting help sometimes. Not to forget the line-ups of previous parties. But usually, your agency has some info like this for you anyway.
Is there a certain style that underpins your DJing style as Rydim? Do you knowingly play groovy, jacking, trippy or deep house?
That’s a very good question and I need to think [laughs]. Reflecting on it I definitely believe I have something going on with this “ghetto house” style. There are certain producers still making this style but I believe if there is a pattern it is more with American, Chicago ghetto house and techno.
In regards to that style of harder Chicago house, is there an artist you regularly return to during gigs to kill the floor?
The whole Dance Mania camp is just fantastic. I played a show at Ipse with DJ Funk some years back and had a chance to meet some of the guys in person. Before that, we’d just been collaborating online [Rydim released a track with DJ Funk on Hot Creations]. What broke my heart was that Paul Johnson was supposed to play on the same night but he couldn’t make it due to missing his flight. That is the name I would want to mention most because if there was one person who had a huge influence on me and my musical tastes it was him. It’s hard to find a mix of mine without a Paul Johnson track included.
You mentioned Underground Resistance as well.
I am a huge Underground Resistance fan, which is of course a bit different in style but is another main influence for me. I like something more vibey but not killing everyone with too much melody [laughs]. I was lucky with my other project to collaborate with a member of UR. I would say the third biggest influence for me was Daft Punk and one dream would be to do something with Thomas Bangalter but I don’t think he’d have time [laughs].
Good luck with that! Those guys also list Paul Johnson, DJ Funk, Dj Deeon, DJ Rush etc as a few of their influences.
Yes exactly. I feel what was born there in Chicago in the early/mid-90s really had an impact on many artists.
Moving on to your production, you included two new remixes of yours in the mix.
Yes, one remix is coming on a new label, Lava Lava, from Budapest run by my good friend Mate Tollner and have played some parties there with some really nice folks in the past. His crew have founded this label and features a track from him with remixes from Rydim, Detroit In Effect, and Gnork. It’s my interpretation of bumping Chicago house/techno track made mostly with analogue gear. it’s a bit dirty rough and should bang on a Soundsystem.
The other remix is for Pixel82 from Porto. I played at his club, Planto B, once or twice but when I lived in Lisbon for the first half of 2021 we were in contact often and he sent me his tracks for a new album on Blossom Collective and I fell in love with one of his tracks and told him “this is the hit of the album and if you ever need a remix let me know”. I was joking but he took me up on my offer. There will be a remix EP to promote the album but with vinyl pressing delays I am not sure it will be out before this mix is released.
What’s your usual workflow for making a track? Do you have a tried and tested method of beginning with one element like melodies or drums?
I believe I tried everything in the last 25 years [laughs]! What I gave up is trying to build a certain sound or track that’s in my mind. Never really worked out. Instead, I rather have an idea like ‘I could trigger my Moog DFAM from a sound of my Drumbrute and have a polyrhythmic pattern. Let’s see how this sounds!’. I’m inspired by what the machines do and build a track on that. This is the most fun for me, including all the unpredictabilities outboard has.
You also are working on a new release with your side project, right?
Yes, I am just about to finish a new EP and hoping to get that done before I move to Lisbon in two weeks. I don’t really have time in those two weeks to start some solo Rydim stuff but I’ll have my minimal setup with me which is more with Cubase, an Arturia Beatstep Pro and other software and will take down some musical sketches.
You spent some time during 2021 in Lisbon and plan to do the same this year, was the plan to continue producing, recording ideas or just taking a complete break?
If I could, I would take my whole studio with me to Lisbon. It’s like an extension of my brain and I have been working in the same space for 10 years. There was the opportunity last year during lockdown to go there with my partner and experience the sunshine, culture and food. We didn’t miss much in Berlin and came back in the summer for the festival season. I’ll be there again for another couple of months.
Will you aim to keep your finger on the pulse with releases, work on your show and keep busy with making music on your laptop?
The possibilities are limited without my studio room but I can run a full production on a laptop and will have some speakers there. But it’s way faster and more pleasurable for me to use my studio. I am more optimistic this year about playing gigs in Portugal too and I’ll also take my CDJs for my radio show.
How much has your studio changed since this interview in 2016?
A few things, but essentially the same. I sold my Moog Sub 37 recently and plan to swap for a Sequential Pro 3. I needed some space and the Moog had to go. What I consider to be the backbone of a studio, the acoustics, the monitoring, or certain effects and sound processors has remained the same. I got this SSL mixer which changed my workflow a little bit. A few creative machines have been swapped which have that excitement of new sounds and possibilities…all this inspiration coming from small little boxes.
How often do you buy new gear for your studio?
I have a feel-good amount of gear in my studio and if it’s getting tight and I want to buy something new I usually sell something. Always a tough decision when I need to sell, though.
"I'm inspired by what the machines do and build a track on that. This is the most fun for me, including all the unpredictabilities outboard has"
Do you think limiting gear in a studio is a good thing for producers to do?
Absolutely 100% the best thing to do. One example for me was mixing with this SSL mixer. I realised after years of mixing with software EQs that feature a graphical user interface, you are looking more than hearing. With this mixer, I feel I am more direct and arriving faster at better results again. I started mixing with a big 24 channel console in the late 90s, now I realise what I have been missing. For me, UX design and usability has an impact on the outcomes too, not just whether it’s analogue vs. digital.
I know you feel like the backbone of the studio is key. But what about the argument that if a track bangs on shitty speakers or headphones it will sound good on any system. Does monitoring, cabling, processing make such a big difference in our eyes?
Monitoring for sure, cables might be a bit esoteric. Processing just gets stuff where it should be unless it is already there. Shitty speakers and headphones don’t do it for me, that’s like flying blind. Respect to everyone who can get to great results with only that.
You began hosting an online radio show in 2020. Tell me a little about your Balamii Radio show and how that opportunity came.
In lockdown in 2020 my girlfriend and I were looking for internet stations with interesting music trying out lots of different stations, and during weeks and months, we always landed back on Balamii. It became my favourite online radio over time and I thought if they totally match my taste in music, and my music would fit well I decided to reach out and say hi. I exchanged some Soundcloud mixes with them and they offered me a monthly slot almost straight away. I record a show every month, 1 hour from me and a 1-hour guest collaboration.
Do you invite artists to collaborate or do they reach out to you?
Both actually. Some are friends that I invite, some people reach out to me. In December Cici contributed and was someone I met at DC-10 years ago and who is a dear friend of mine. It was nice too all of a sudden having a best breakthrough DJ on my radio show. (nb. Cici was included in Mixmag’s 2021 Top 10 breakthrough DJs list). One pattern is inviting good friends, people I like hanging out with to the show. The first show ever was with Cinthie who is living around the corner and whom I met almost every week outdoors in lockdown to enjoy some hummus with!
In November I had a great young talent called Crescendo from South Africa who enthusiastically contacted me and sent me some of his music which I really liked. I had no idea people in South Africa would be listening to my show. Balamii has a great reach but I didn’t realise how far. Upcoming shows will see Johanna Schneider and JP Enfant join me [for guest mixes].
Do you have a particular idea or certain sound that you want to promote on the show?
I am moving styles constantly and it’s actually hard for me to find really good new music for one specific style for example if they asked me to make a 1-hour show of deep house every month, I would have a hard time finding enough good music to include. I am collecting different styles of music all the time, so when it feels right I can do a techno or disco show.
Would you find limiting to host a regular show only playing Detroit House given there is a finite amount of the good stuff out there?
Exactly, I think I could do a 1-hour monthly show but that would be really difficult for me to find records and only play Detroit House. I am always looking left and right and I think it’s an advantage to my brand that I play different styles and on different floors. If you book Len Faki, you know more or less what you are getting. For me, it’s always a bit of a surprise.
Donato Dozzy is a good example, he can play DnB, techno, house, experimental, ambient…
Yeah and on the other hand if someone is following the same artist, they are playing the same tracks, even the same sets sometimes…it can be quite boring.
You are from Rostock but have lived in Berlin for a long period. Has either city had an impact on what or who Rydim is?
Rostock definitely does define me as I was born there and my family is still there. I am often going home to visit. I wouldn’t necessarily say being there is a trigger for new music. I like exploring new places, adventures but also nice sometimes being back home and being with my family in an environment that I know very well. It provides me with a calm mindset, allows me to rest, preparing me for the next big adventure.
I think it’s more people that have an impact on me. Being with dear friends from Münich or Dresden, for example, whether visiting them or playing in those cities I get great new energy from those experiences or hearing new music being played. But this is not exclusive to Germany I would say.
So more the experiences you have with people and music, than purely the location.
I really like it a shared experience – music was not written to be consumed by one person in a room. It’s a social thing for me. Apart from when I am mixing down when I need to be alone [laughs].
Do you get inspired to write music whilst visiting Rostock?
I use my train rides there to listen to and make music. I sort my collections on Rekordbox or edit some audio in Cubase so I make use of the time. It’s not necessarily that I would be going there to sit on the beach and write music. This is not who I am [laughs].
When you are not making radio shows, tracks or performing, how do you like to decompress and relax?
I do a lot of sports, run 10-12km twice a week, and do weightlifting twice a week as well. Walking the dog get’s you out of the door regularly, and I like to cook. I’m an actual foodie, I spend way too much money on restaurants [laughs]. And travelling, I like seeing new places, hiking, cities.
What many people might not know is your involvement as a Product Manager for Native Instruments. Which gear were you involved in creating whilst at NI?
I worked there after my studies as an intern then stayed for more than 10 years and it was mostly part-time. I worked on Kontakt, Battery and Komplete. The last thing I worked on there was Maschine+. It definitely had a great impact on my life.
When I was there I was surrounded by people who were into the same things: everyone liked new gear, I got ideas from my colleagues, I got inspired to try new stuff out in the studio. A very fruitful connection. I enjoyed my time there but am certainly happy with what I am doing now away from NI.
What are you most looking forward to in 2022?
Fit, healthy family and friends and hoping this virus will go away. Looking forward to coming back to Berlin in the spring, my new release and let’s see if I can put together another solo Rydim record. Mainly going with the flow regarding music. But, generally, I am a planner, but COVID taught me to not even try planning. So let’s see what’s coming up!
1. Stranger – Someone I Know
2. Wilson Phoenix – Field Control
3. DJ HMC – 6 A.M.
4. Marcel Dettmann – Linux
5. Paul Johnson – Don’t Stop Movin That Ass
6. Audio Soul Project – Free Falling (Jamie Anderson Remix)
7. Joey Beltram – Arena
8. User01 – B1
9. Mate Tollner – U Should (Rydim Remix)
10. Stay – Where My Guerillas At – A1
11. K-HAND – Boiler Room Teaser
12. Marcel Dettmann – Music is Playing
13. Pixel82 – The Grid (Rydim Remix)
14. Ryan Clover – Stay By My Side (Jerome Hill Remix) (Rydim Edit)
15. Jeran Portis – Por La Noche
16. Life – Never EP – A1
17. Floorplan – Spin
18. DJ Assault – Crank This Mutha
19. DJ Nasty – Milkshake
20. Melleefresh & DJ_Genderfluid – I Want You (Instrumental)
21. DJ Rush – I Like It Like This (Avision Remix 2)
22. Joey Beltram – Game Form
23. Planetary Assault Systems – Devotion
24. Shekon – Police (Blue Hour ACAB Remix)
25. TAFKAMP – Darkness Calling