Part 1

Name: Andre Crom
Nationality: German
Occupation: DJ, Producer, Label Founder at OFF Recordings
Current Release: Rhea EP on Sleaze Records
Recommendations: I just read „The Handmaid’s Tale“, which is a masterpiece of dystopian literature, and a very current reminder of the importance to resist totalitarian and ultra-religious movements and tendencies.
As for music, I’m listening to Len Faki’s "Mixmag In Session" mix while I’m writing this. Probably not exactly a secret tip, but I’m stating it here anyways as Len’s pretty much my favourite producer and one of the key artists which led me towards techno.

Website / Contact: Andre Crom operates an excellent soundcloud profile. But you can also find him on Facebook.

When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

At the age of 19. I had started to go to clubs as soon as I got a car, and the music of that time, beginning with stuff like eurodance and Faithless, over Daft Punk to Emmanuel Top, was what initially drew me into house and techno.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

Since I am first and foremost a DJ, it’s very much like you describe it above for me. I never had a musical education, so I can’t easily sit on the piano and jam something out, and also, for underground techno, it’s often not about writing the most elaborate melody, but more about to understand sounddesign and to create an interesting and original atmosphere and arrangement. So yes, I’m definitely inspired by the tracks of other artists I like to listen to and to play out.

I think the key is to not copy one specific artist, and even less a specific memorable bassline or hookline of a current hit - that’s not going to get you very far. But for me, it’s definitely okay to get inspired by other artists sounddesign, atmospheres, vibes, by other people's sets, and so on. So, don’t copy a specific element, but get inspired by certain characteristic elements of the musical style you go for, and then try to do your own thing within that genre.

What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?

I prefer to DJ, as it’s just this intense exchange of emotion with the audience that made and keeps me addicted to it. I also enjoy studio work, but that’s still an often tedious process to me. Since I’ve only committed myself to solo music production since 2 years, there’s still a lot I have to learn, and there are phases where things go slower than I’d like them to.

But if you want to play all around the wold as a DJ, a few exceptions apart you need to write killer tracks, and to do so it takes time and practice; so that’s what I work on every day!

How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?

There’s this old concept of a DJ who should entertain and educate, and for me that’s true in most cases. A few pure underground clubs apart, where people are REALLY well informed and you can play in a very free way, a DJ will often meet a crowd where some people know more about the music than others. And then it’s the DJ’s job to take the crowd on a journey that they can understand and enjoy, but where they also get challenged and experience new things.

If you only play safe, people will react okay, but not really freak out. If you only play weird shit, you might lose the crowd. But if you combine it, start your set with a few more accessible tracks with some crazy stuff, then you can really create an amazing experience for everybody.

What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

I started on 2 Technics and a Pioneer mixer. Now I play with USB sticks, and I love them for their reliability and ease of use. But for my studio I’m going to get 2 Technics again with a Pioneer DVS mixer and timecontrol vinyls, so that I can do regular livestreams. That’s going to be a fun way of going back to my roots, and as we all know, people love to see a DJ "work with his hands", instead of just pushing the mouse to trigger Ableton clips.

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

In the studio I do have some machines, but find it a bit difficult to integrate them into my workflow. Guess I’m a bit lazy there, but I really do like the benefits of total recall, enabling me to go back and change things whenever I like. Machines on the other hand require you to commit to the result quickly, which can help speed up the workflow. And they can create "happy accidents" which is a big advantage; but you can somewhat emulate that with software too. On stage, mixing with vinyl will obviously make your set more organic and give it a live feeling, which I still find very charming. But the advantages of digital DJ-ing for a travelling DJ are so big that at least right now I don’t play any vinyls while travelling.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

I like to ease into the day with a relaxing bath and a meditation session (I recommend "Headspace" very much). Then I’ll mostly go to a cafe down at my house for a breakfast and some emailing. Next I walk through the streets of the beautiful Born and Gotic quarters in Barcelona to my studio with another pitstop to get a fruit/veggie smoothie.

After that it’s a few hours of working, before a break for sports (yoga and functional training) and lunch. Following that, back to the studio, sometimes until 20.00 to meet some friends later, but often until the late night … the job of a producer can be pretty consuming because you do what you love, so there’s a tendency to spend more times in the studio than is healthy … but I love it!

Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?

I always try to learn about the gig before I prepare the set. When I play in a pure underground techno club, I select quite different tracks than when I play in a spot that also has more "mainstream" artists.

Of course there are limits to how far I will adapt. If somebody expects me to play deephouse nowadays, I would not accept the booking. But I do like and play a range of different music, and I’m happy to adapt within that range.

Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

If you are in the ideal situation, your conscious thinking kind of stops and you get into a flow, where instinct takes over, and your mind is just intuitively combining the different tracks you could mix into each other. You don’t need to read the crowd with a very high attention anymore, because you are connected, you know where you can take them. On a non-ideal set, it’s more the opposite, you spend a lot of time looking at the crowd and trying to apprehend what to play next, how you can connect and keep people engaged.

Many sets start challenging, where you might have to struggle for people’s attention for 30 or 45 minutes, but then things "lock in", and you have people’s trust; the dancefloor becomes "stable", and you can really enjoy the trip together. That can be very rewarding, when you have to somewhat fight for it, but eventually what you thought would be a difficult night turns into an amazing one.

What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?

One element are the energy levels, they should be close to each other. Another would be musical elements, of course you don’t wanna play 2 almost identical tracks after each other, but it can be great if they have one similar element. I tend to only think 1-2 tracks ahead, as things can always change, and you need to be able to adapt.

Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Or as something entirely different from these terms?

I see it totally as improvisation. But before that comes preparation, meaning that I spend a lot of time before each weekend to prepare and memorize the tracks. Only after having done that I feel I can improvise in a skillful, opposed to a random way.

How do playing music at home and presenting it in the club compare and relate? What can be achieved through them, respectively, and what do you personally draw from both?

I almost never play music at home, as I spend most time producing. Also I don’t enjoy it so much to be alone when DJ-ing. That being said, with today’s importance of social media, I’m going to do start with livestreams. That should be fun, as I know that people are going to watch it, and I’ll be able to interact with them in the comments, even after the set.

How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? How does this relationship manifest itself during a performance and how do you concretely tap into it?

As pointed out above, in many sets you make a compromise between what you want to play and what works on the floor. That can still be great fun for everybody, when there is enough common ground between you and the audience. But when you and the people are really on the same page, then no compromises are needed, you can play some wild stuff, and the party can really take off and become something memorable for everybody.

Especially thanks to the storage facilities of digital media, DJ sets could potentially go on forever. Other than closing time, what marks the end of a DJ performance for you? What are the most satisfying conclusions to a set?

I think a great set concludes with something really emotional. As much as I like and play toolish techno, I think it’s the emotional tracks which really open people’s hearts and make DJ and audience connect and remember each other.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

For me the social and political aspect of techno is its inclusive and progressive thinking nature. On the dancefloors of underground electronic music clubs, people of all races and orientations come together, and at the very least accept each other, often become friends and sometimes lovers for life. Inclusion has been in the DNA of techno since its beginning, and remains especially nowadays an extremely important aspect. I think very few techno lovers voted for Trump, Brexit, or other separatist or extremist movements of any kind.