Name: Till von Sein
Occupation: DJ, producer
Current Release: Till von Sein's Woozyland EP is out now on Tilly Jam.
‘Do or Die’ by Leon Bing is a great book to dig deeper into what went on in Los Angeles in the late 1980's and early 90’s in the time of Bloods and Crips and endless Gang Wars. Yes the cover might look a bit falling out of time in 2020 but its an intense ride written by a former fashion model. And it still is shockingly relevant today, in 2020 as we still are confronted with the same problems and in some fundamental aspects didn’t really move any further as a society. We got all the looks, all the technical gear, can travel everywhere in the world whenever we want but there are some simple basics that would make our life as a whole better and we just don’t get it, or don’t want to …
‘Conflict’ by John Carroll Kirby helped me a lot in the last couple of weeks to stay sane. Just give it a listen…
If you enjoyed this interview with Till von Sein, his Facebook profile is an excellent place to start digging deeper into his work.
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?
I started in 1996 when I finally had saved up some money to buy a Technics 1210 and an Ecler Mixer. I was into rapping in my early teens and one of the main problems was that I needed to rely on a DJ, which in the days of heavy weed smoking always was an issue as you can imagine. So my main motivation was being independent.
Two weeks into having them at home I realised that mixing all those records I copped over the last years is way more fun than being home alone, rapping in front of my mirror, which at that stage felt totally foolish.
Besides rap I was heavily into Ninja Tunes, Mo Wax'ish kinda jams at that time plus the first House Music 12 inches somehow found there way into my collection. I never really had the intention to DJ at clubs and make people dance to the music I loved, it was more about being home alone and have this great hobby just for myself as I've always been crazy about music from an early age on.
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?
I realised pretty fast that I’m into a lot of different genres and styles. And of course certain artists had a big impact on me and my creativity. I’m not 100% sure but it feels like taking bits and pieces and puzzle them together created what one might call “my own style. But others are better at judging this …
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?
The major challenge was the transition from being that blunted bedroom DJ into - hey there are 200 Kids in front of me that want to be entertained now and their mood is quite the opposite of mine. The good thing was though, that back in the late 90s I could play drum n bass, rap, house, reggae etc all in one night and that helped me find my way to create a certain vibe I was aiming for. And that’s what still to this day makes it interesting for me that every now and then I have those kinda parties where people are just super open minded and go with the flow.
Making music on the other hand always had this therapeutic approach. I just love losing myself into it, not really looking at what people might like or even need, rather expressing how I feel in the moment. And that didn’t change at all over the last 15 years.
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?
My job is to entertain people. People pay money to have a good time. Of course the definition of having a good time shifted over the last decades and I'm well aware that these days everyone prefers looking at me while DJing rather than dancing and enjoying themselves. But that’s just a sign of the time, or does anyone out there really want to miss THAT moment (oh wait, that moment won't happen, so maybe don’t look at me and just dance? Hmmm).
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?
Then: 2 Technics and a mixer
Now: 2 CDJ´s and a mixer.
I'm not really a gear guy nor am I nerdy about technical stuff in general. I always liked my set up simple. Might sound cliché af but hey, I just play music other people made the way they wanted it to sound and I bought this tune because I love it the way it is. So no need for endless effect layerings etc., just let the music play ….
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?
Going back to the last question, I don’t. When the club owners or promoters ask me about my mixer preference my answer is: the one that sounds best in your club. Of course I like certain mixers better than others but sometimes I just experienced that they sound shit and then later that night the promoter tells me that every other DJ here prefers mixer xyz. (wait: I might be a bit nerdy after all those years? Really … dang!).
It's of course a different approach when working on music.
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'm an early morning kinda person (well pre-corona…) I usually get up around 5am, go to the gym for a quick 30 min workout which helps me to get my focus straight. After that I’ll have breakfast with my family and drop the little one off at kindergarten before I spend hours and hours answering emails and calls.
Every Wednesday afternoon I meet up with my production partner Tigerskin in the studio and work on music but the rest of the week I pretty much spend at home and work. I do need my quick breaks every now and then, I’d go for a walk in the park, a bike ride, a 30 min listening to new promos or music session to keep things interesting for myself and get new input.
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?
What I normally do is spend an extra hour at least looking for some new music and then create a new playlist in rekordbox, copy this also on my phone so that I can listen to the tunes while travelling and get a feeling for them. It doesn’t happen that often that I have a 100% idea of how I play that night as I never really know what's gonna happen, so I try to stay as flexible as possible. I can get really anal about my playlists so that I can react quickly and spontaneous.
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?
I always nap before gigs so most of the times I still feel a bit woozy when I start, I always made that joke that this is my kinda K hole. I don’t drink or do drugs but the flash I get when I just woke up 30 min ago and now enter a crowded club is always mind blowing. It takes 2-3 transitions and I enter the zone I want to be in.
I just love to lose myself in the music and that happens especially when it’s a great crowd that’s also up for that ride. Sometimes I'm so zoned out that when somebody comes behind me and wants to ask me something that I really become frightened. Dancing always helps. Just loosen up and move my hips and I enter that vibe pretty fast.
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?
It’s a gut thing for me. When it's really “the” track, I know exactly which one I need to choose now to play afterwards.
A good fit can be on so many different levels. Bringing the energy up, or down or keeping it the way it is. It's always about that emotion I want to transport into this very special moment or time frame. I'm not the planning ahead DJ, it always comes naturally out of the flow I find myself in.
Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Or as something entirely different from these terms?
That’s a very good question. Due to the fact that it's always different it's hard to tell as so many components are relevant. The space we are in, the sound, the interaction with the people, the time of the day, outdoor, indoor, my own mood .... endless combinations.
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 don’t really listen to club music at home and never really did. For me there is a big difference in listening to a rap album or digging online for new music or listening to promos. But in the end it always comes down to emotions and that’s where it relates. I love to play out music that showcases the same or similar emotions I also hear in other music I listen to at home.
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?
Well I never really experienced the status of being that DJ where everyone comes to the club just to see me and hear my “hits” and wants a picture and buys my t-shirt etc. I always saw myself as the guy that tries to take the dancers to a plateau they haven’t been on yet (how naive, of course we've all seen everything by now…)
When I first started DJing in clubs in Berlin after moving here I met a lot of then well known DJs that told me how cool it was that I played certain tracks, and that they couldn’t pull it off. I always wondered why. Until I realised it's because they thought that the crowds expect something from them and they need to deliver ...
What a nightmare I thought.
Ultimately, when I play I song that’s a bad choice it's only 2-5 min of my life or that of the dancer in front of me giving me that look. The next song might be totally different and we are all one happy family again ;)
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 always liked the idea of an end where I can see two people dance together and head home to ... well ... you know ;)
Yes, it’s quite romantic and old fashioned but whenever I had those moments while playing an old Stevie Wonder song and could see into the lucky eyes of these two people I knew my mission was complete.
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?
I don’t call myself an artist, I don’t really like the word. I'm more about emotions. For me it's all about them. When I hear the word engagement these days I hear some ubercoolish guys that work in agencies when they look at instagram profiles and which “artist” they can buy a share in, in order to sell their product. This is quite the opposite of a social or political stand but that’s where we’re at now.
When you grow up hanging out in youth clubs etc. (Those were very popular in Germany in the 90s in the punk and hip hop scenes and a place where we threw our first parties) in times where kids used making music as an outlet to process and express their emotions it can be hard at times seeing fellow DJs that are only interested in their own social media status and enrichment.
But that’s how my generation is trained: just do it, the world is yours and the sky's the limit. That’s why I prefer emotions, I like doing music you can just relax to and ease your mind from all the bs out there.