Dixon might have been a footballer, long distance runner or a high jumper, but luckily for house heads worldwide, dodgy knees and disillusionment towards solitary training methods meant he ended becoming one of the leading lights in Berlin clubland just as it grew beyond its techno heritage. One of the few Berliners to actually be from the city, he made his name on DJing alone: no gimmicks, no sponsored tours or two-hour guest spots. Coming through at a time when a residency was just that, he played records often on the soulful and deeper side of house, with a pinch of techno, every weekend, at the same clubs, all night. He also part owns Innervisions, a label known for the quality of its releases as well as the inventiveness of the music it puts it’s name too. Releases are sparse because each one has to be truly memorable, eschewing the hit and miss scattergun approach adopted by some labels. Dixon, a man who was once described as dressing like a crazy Bavarian goat herder (by a friend) has been in this game for 18 years and made house his home.
Where were you born and when?
Ok, I am born in ’75 and I’m one of the few Berliners that are actually from Berlin, which isn’t 100% right because I was born outside Berlin as my parents visited their parents for Christmas and I was born on the 21st of December on that trip. But after Christmas my parents went back to Berlin and since that I have lived in Berlin.
Was music a big part of growing up for you, were your parents really in to music?
No not really, my parents were working class people, and not into music and my first 16 or so years I was deeply into sport. I come from the east side of Berlin which means East Germany and we had a coach going through the schools looking for talented athletes and I was a pretty talented footballer and also a talented high jumper and long runner. When I was about 6 or something I started to play football at a pretty high level and that means that you were basically trained twice a day, going to a special school, leaving my house at like 7 o’clock, going training till 9.30, then going training again after school that’s it. It was all about sport.
So you were channelled into a schooling system that would help you focus solely on the sports you were good at?
Yes definitely, but it never felt like this as I loved football and when I had problems with my knees and couldn’t play football anymore I went to this other school for long running. I was a Kid, it was fun, and it was sport. I was never thinking about it any other way. Now-a-days looking back… they used me…!
Was there a moment when you knew music could be as important as sport had been?
It was from 0-100 electronic music. Seriously, I wasn’t even in discotheques before I entered my first techno club, and it was my first proper going-out experience, going to a real techno club. It was called the Planet in Berlin, I also went to the Turbine and Tresor. I was 16 and I was growing so fast that the cartilage in my knees was not growing as fast as the rest of my body, so it was really painful to do sport often. I was set on a bicycle in a room in front of a mirror and every day on this bicycle I was doing my training sessions, but I couldn’t participate in any tournaments any more and training for long running is I mean… well kind of boring.
I was told that I had to go through this period of eight months or something, but after two months I couldn’t stand it any more and I went straight out to nightclubs. And after the first time, and next week again, and next week again, and next week again, and something hit me and I just stopped sport for it!
You didn’t start at the local Saturday night type nightclub?
They were still local night clubs for me at that time. I am speaking about say like ’91; in Berlin in ’91 everything was still very local but very special also. Looking back, especially as someone who is a DJ now and thinks about music all the time, you tend to say that the music was the greatest you’ve heard, but the reality was, the people were so strange, so cool and you felt like you were part of something that no one around you was doing. This was maybe the main attraction, and through that was why the music was so interesting to me. And so first I was really affected by this strange new world! I got addicted to that group of people and that community, and maybe there is a problem for today that I don’t know if that community is there any more.
Can you remember when you first heard house music?
I heard it straight away, actually. Yes Berlin was, is, famous for techno and Tresor was super famous for it, but even there there was always two floors and there wasn’t such a clear defining line between these types of music. An electronic music night started with house, went into techno, and then finished with whatever. Pop! Yet from day one I was always affected by the more soulful side of it. I played drum and bass very early on, back then it was called breakbeats and by ’95 or so, there became a time when it was just too fast to mix it with house. When I started, It was more of a similar bpm. I didn’t even know it was ‘breakbeat’ I was just buying it and friends used to ask, 'Why do you always buy these records that are so hard to mix?' That was when I realised there was something different about them. So there was no real defining line but I was always attracted more by the soft stuff or soulful stuff, even if it was techno it was the deeper music.
Did you make a conscious decision to change the style of music you were playing?
Yes!, When I was playing in the beginning, I was in a circle of people around Atari Teenage Riot, which is this hardcore gang, and I was the young kid and the super-soulful guy that somehow really didn’t match with them, but they always asked me to play.
Then there was a certain moment when I realised that I had more of an interest in house music, especially vocal house music, and I started to play more and more of that on these nights. It was totally the opposite of guys like Alec Empire. I integrated it in the beginning and then there was this one night where I just played only house and it was somehow my statement of like, OK I’m over with this, I am now on the other side. This was maybe ’94. Until about five years ago, in all the interviews I said that I started to play in ’93 or ’94. We did this house night in Berlin called Washing Machine, the concept was to play music from 1985 to ’92, classics you know? One night there was this one guy coming and giving me a tape of mine in 1992 and it was not my first tape, it was my first official tape that was sold on the street and that was not the beginning of my career. I already had a very small name, and that was 1992, so I had to change my interview answer to late 1991.
What did you do next?
There was one guy in Berlin called DJ Cle', nowadays he is one part of the Martini Bros, he was my local record dealer, one of my DJ heroes and also THE guy for house in Berlin. He asked me to play at the Tresor club on a Wednesday night and that was my first proper night that was somehow successful. The Tresor club was two floors, the super famous Tresor which is down on the minus level, down in the basement, super hard music, strobo, you know the actual real Tresor room. Then there was the upstairs room that was called Globus, that was more softer house, a bar, you know... nice.
The less sweaty version?
Yes exactly! Except we started in the summer, and around the Globus there was a beautiful garden in the centre of the city. The room we were playing was for 200 people but the garden was for 600, so all of a sudden in like two months this night became super famous for… the outside area: 900 people trying to squeeze into this small inside space. It was pretty intense. The night was free and in the winter they decided to keep on going and take money for it, and for whatever reason I said if you take money for it then I am quitting. I don’t really remember how I had the balls or whatsoever now? But they said well we need to take money for it, so I stopped doing it but the night over the summer had been so successful that I got more and more offers from that and my career was building and first I did a night at E-Werk and eventually moved to the WMF club.
Hasn’t that just re-opened?
Yes it did. They basically offered me every Saturday night in the basement for 150 people. Upstairs was an eclectic night, it was the time of Mowax, with hip-hop and of course Detroit techno, and I was playing house music all night long downstairs. It was supposed to be six hours from 11 till 5, because 5 was when upstairs was actually over but downstairs was always longer and longer, so my spot became a pretty cool place for people who arrived at like four in the morning, and they came especially for that. It was my first experience of having a residency: every Saturday playing for eight or nine hours and learning everything you have to learn.
Did that give you the freedom to experiment?
Absolutely! But back then it wasn’t even a question that it could be like that... it was just the way it was then. Every club had one or two residents and then sometimes you had the superstar from where so ever, that was the cream on the pie. I was in my city and that was my definition of my job. Later on when I started to travel I realised that when you play two-hour sets somewhere else, you can’t play an hour of one style and then go to the next, it works different.
It’s a typical thing in Berlin you hijack this venue and you are there for one or two years and then they find you and you go somewhere else. The WMF club asked me if I would like to take over the main room, so I agreed to do a party called Audio Video Disco with my best friend at the time Mitja Prinz every Saturday for maybe four years. We had this deal of twice a month we play together and once a month one of us played alone. He was always playing harder and I was always playing softer, so that means for me I played from 11 till 4, still five hours and then from 5 till 10 he was finishing it. This was the key experience of my career.
Was that when you started Inner city at Weekend?
No there was a gap; at the end of the WMF club I started to travel actually. I didn’t really produce much back then so I was travelling I think because of my DJing. So for a year I did this and then the Watergate club decided to open. I remember when we looked at the club at the beginning we expected it to have like 5-600 in this sort of venue and it turned out that you needed 1000 people to have fun there. It wasn’t really the right timing, the club was not finished and they changed it over the years completely, the whole thing. It was not so successful so after 8 months we stopped it. Then there was another 6 or 7 months before I started at the Weekend club. I played there all night long and every second night I had guests, but it was once a month only, but very much about me playing all night long again.
Germany has a very real history of electronic music, with the likes of Kraftwerk, Frank Farian and Giorgio Moroder. Do see what you are doing now as continuation of that ?
Yes definitely… but… those you mentioned are producers actually and I consider myself as a pretty OK producer! But I don’t think I am anyhow as genius as the people you mentioned, there are those in Germany who right now are really the follow up to this but I don’t consider myself as this.
So you consider yourself a DJ first and a producer second?
Definitely, I would say that I am a pretty good DJ and an OK producer!
Do you think that German people aware of this history?
Me? Yes! But I’m a nerd you know. I’m not just a person that parties, I choose to learn about this as my thing.
Tangerine Dream and Can are fairly well known in England are they at all famous in Germany?
I wouldn’t say they are so famous in Germany, definitely no... Even Giorgio Moroder, I don’t think that any more than one out of 20 people would know about him, so thinking about it twice now... NO. These people are not a big part of the musical history that German people know about. For instance Tangerine Dream or Can, I wouldn’t say that they are famous, even well known; I mean it is still something you can surprise people with.
is there perhaps more of an influence from American music or American DJs?
For me not DJs, but definitely from the music. I was much more influenced by people around me: DJ Clé, another guy Kid Paul, and a radio DJ called Monika Dietl (Moni D). And yes I heard American DJs and yes I loved them but I wouldn’t say that it was influential. The most influential thing for me was a DJ, but not as a DJ but as someone who was interviewed. It was an interview with DJ Pierre in Groove magazine. This interview with DJ Pierre was different. Instead of 50 questions and you get 50 answers, they had a conversation, and it’s like 35 minutes of DJ Pierre. He spoke about the programming of a night, how you have your hits in your bag and you can know that you can play them and save yourself from every complicated situation, so it is important that you try to get yourself in complicated situations, that you have the balls to test something to do something new, just because you know you have that back up! There is a couple of things that he said in this interview that actually opened my eyes and made me think that yes that is what I am doing already. I realised that what he is saying is exactly how I am feeling or thinking! Then I heard him play later on and I was actually… really disappointed… but it didn’t matter because what he said was very influential to me. His DJ set didn’t really leave an impression on me but this interview did.
Maybe he just got himself into too many difficult situations?
Maybe! Or maybe it was more he was just playing for two hours you know, guest DJ slot, two hours, cool then it was over and it was like on to the next one.
Where do you get your main inspiration from now?
For me an inspiration is something you hear and you like and that you wanna do too. This is how we start. But I think that actually the inspiration comes from the search itself. To get deep into something you need to go through something slowly, and that helps you to open your eyes, ears, brain. But because of the internet no one needs to go through that phase anymore...
Because of the availability of music?
Yeah because it is so accessible, you get it within nothing and you forget it within nothing.
So more often than before it means almost nothing?
There you go! My inspiration comes from still trying to search something. A friend of mine is really much into Art and he opened my eyes to that and just by the fact that it is something new to me it gave me that search engine… my human search engine started again. I am researching stuff again, trying to get inspiration from everything else except music. After being 18 years in this dance business it’s rare that there is something fresh and new that really is inspiring. It’s interesting and you think, wow how did you come up with this? You play it, you hear it you like it but as a driving force to change what you do that’s not enough anymore! It’s reading, exploring cultures and travelling.
Has travelling meant you can maybe find other inspiration?
I was in India earlier this year. I loved the experience of how the music was presented there, and how the people live with this. How internet-wise on the one hand the people are super-connected, but on the other hand it’s a completely different world. Being disconnected from the internet, it opened my eyes to a certain chaos. India is a certain type of chaos. It is this powerful thing but at the same time it is so slow. It opened my eyes to trying to slow things down. With Innervisions we are not trying to release a record every week, we really try and consider what we are doing. That doesn’t mean we are thinking about it all the time, we just have this feeling that you don’t need to rush things. You know being pretty successful in this 'DJ Business', you think you don’t need to rush anything, you are saying this in an interview, but you realise fucking hell I am rushing all my life, I am flying to there, I am flying to this, I am doing an interview in between something and I know already that in one hour there is a dinner and then I have one hour to finish that thing that I am producing, 20 minutes to burn a CD then I have to go to the club. Then I am sitting here and telling you about how we are trying to slow things down! But India showed me how much I am rushed all the time, this inspired me and influenced me and maybe it is reflected in the music?
With Innervisions you only release six records a year, what is it that drives this?
When I started my career, I had this job working for Strictly Rhythm; I was an intern there, helping to do the promo stuff. At the time it was one of the greatest labels around. I worked there for two years and I realised that even though I was so close to the label I had forgotten half the records. So when we did this label, I just want to have the feeling that if I release a record I will not forget about it! I don’t want to be this label that is releasing four things in a month and one of them is great and the rest, well you know. So it isn’t a statement like every release must be the greatest in the world. We just want to have a feeling that if I hear something then it will go with me for the next six months and when this phase is over then I won't forget it.
Are you attempting to go back to when buying a record was an event, you would buy the record, play the record and read the sleevenotes?
Yes! That is all I can say to that, it’s exactly what it is! It’s going to get even more important in the future. I remember two years or so ago when everything started to go down, lots of labels stopped doing the artwork or the one sleeve simply because they aren’t selling as much any more, they need to cut down costs. Yet we are thinking that we are trying to do it different, trying to do the opposite. We are trying to put as much money into a record as we did before, maybe more, because we think the value is getting higher and we think that we are still going to sell. We are still doing OK. The numbers are not the same as they were three years ago, but you complain then you hear what another label's selling and you are like… OK... not so bad.
I don’t consider the label as a business, and I know that's stupid, but... At the beginning of this year we made a decision to do a disco sleeve with a cutout – the hole in the middle. And it was so expensive we realised that we can’t do it for every release unless we are pressing all these outer sleeves at the beginning of the year in such high amounts that it becomes affordable again. So we pressed so many that we are actually sitting on more than a couple of them now. So business wise it was stupid decision. Sometimes for us it isn’t a business, but that is also the best thing about it. I think you push things much more when you forget business considerations. In the summer of this year we came to a point where we decided that we are gonna put more and more money into the website and try and sell directly to people, therefore having higher income from a record than when you sell it to a distributor, who then sells it to a store and so you can invest more money in to the product. We are trying to be more and more direct with our contact with the fans and offer them pretty good value, for the same money.
We are also going to be releasing a book now, a book about Berlin. It’s called Lost and Sound: Berlin, techno and the Easyjetset and it was released in German already and we basically bought the rights to translate it into English and we are releasing it now and there is a soft cover and a hard cover version. The hard cover version, obviously very expensive to produce especially in that little amount of units that we are doing, but we are going to sell it on the website for 20 Euros or something. It’s not quite what we actually paid for it but everyone else would have sold this book for 40 Euros but due to the fact that we want to only sell it direct to the fans we can offer that price and this is what we more and more do now and we do a lot of exclusive things for the web shop. This is our main goal for the next year, to establish something that is more than just music. We are going to open a store in Berlin next summer also. A physical store where you will be able to buy a lot of exclusive stuff, if you are this raver from Australia and you go to Berlin for the weekend.
Does Berlin get a lot of rave tourists?
Seven out of ten people that are traveling to Berlin say that they travel there to go clubbing!
To go to Berghain?
Pretty much, but that is what the book is about it’s a lot of research about why Berlin became again a city with such an amazing nightlife like it had in the early ’90s, why there is a difference to all the other places in the world and why 7/10 people that come to Berlin come for the nightlife and the music.
When the Berlin wall came down how did it change dance culture in Berlin?
The best way to say it is to say it like this, the wall was the reason why west Berlin had an amazing ’80s nightlife. You had Berlin in the centre of East Germany so on the Eastern side you had the Russian army and on the West side, the capitalistic side you had the French, English and American armies all together. The government decided that people who lived in Berlin didn’t need to go to the army for one year like other people in Germany, because there was already so much army there that they didn’t need any more. So a lot of artists, gay people and people from the left wing, they all moved to Berlin when they were around 18 to 20, which is the age they are all searching for something. Then the wall came down and practically in the centre of the city you had an area that was empty spaces, and these people used these spaces for clubs, galleries and living, as there were so many houses with people living for free. So that the wall came down was a super important factor in this whole thing.
For quite some time everyone was living in East Berlin. Normally when you look at a map of a city you have the centre then around the centre you have living areas, the suburbs. But when you look at a map of West Berlin there is a suburb called Kreuzberg but it was right close to the border as there was no space to expand, so Kreuzberg was the cheap area to live and when the wall came down all of a sudden it was the centre of the city. So now you have Kreuzberg close to the government district, close to East Berlin and the whole art scene and also in the centre you have what was an old suburban area, I mean in Berlin there are 3.5 million people, not that much for such a big space. It is very important for the city, the area where the wall was Kreuzberg and East Berlin, Mitte area and then in the centre of those three parts you have the government area you know the polished area, so there was such a strange clash that it keeps the city very fresh.
Did Berghain have a big part to play in Berlin’s dance music culture?
Yes. It changed everything!
What made it so important?
Everything in the beginning of my experiences of Berlin came from the gay community. It was one of the trashiest places, and then Panorama, Berghain, OstGut opened. The first thing that came out of the gay community was really focusing on music. At times they were a closed community and it was hard to get in! Even now it’s mixed, but... it is still pretty hard to get in there. But once you are in there is a community feeling. I don’t experience this anywhere in the world at the moment! There’s great clubs and I have great nights, but not this feeling of intimacy and wildness.
Everywhere people go out for, what, five hours? They go out, they drink, dance, start to speak to this girl, they go home with a girl, there’s a certain time-frame and that is… reality. This is what you plan, you know you arrive at the club not before 1 o’clock... no no no you don’t arrive before 1 and you will be home at 6! It’s safe. Then you have Berghain. Where people go for like 20 hours, and you ask them what exactly have you done there for the last 20 hours and they don’t know, 'I was drinking, I was doing this… I was dancing, I was doing drugs.' But they are doing the same things in other clubs, but fucking hell, for twenty hours. People forget about time. It’s the reason you are not allowed to take photos in there!
I loved the other community in the techno world. When I was 16 or 17 I was somehow attracted to it and felt proud to be part of it. The young people today, is there anything that they desperately want to be part of? That they can be proud that they made it? No! Everything is accessible. You want to go to Fabric? Go to Fabric! Maybe you will be too drunk and they don’t let you in but no! You can buy tickets beforehand. It’s all very very safe. How can anything that will change something come out of this? Not at all. Now, thinking about Panorama bar, people feel proud, people feel special to feel part of this because they don’t see it anywhere else and you haven’t seen it before on the internet.
Any other places you've been surprised by the clubs?
When I was in India, the clubs close at 11.30!
In the evening?
In the evening, so whereas everywhere else you have your five hours there you have just an hour and a half – to get drunk, to listen to the music, to get the girl... that’s why you hear only trance there because everything has to be done so fast!
In Japan, even if it is very civilised there’s a strong community feeling there. Like there are people that only go to this fucking club and if the club closed they are not going to any other club! There’s this club Yellow, and it says that there is approximately one third of the people that went to that club they’re not going to any club anymore, they are waiting for Yellow to re-open. And that is not my philosophy you know, but it is addiction, it is special and there is something like this. Also all the places that are not yet explored, I mean if you go to Eastern Europe... no... Actually no forget about it! It’s not like this, five years ago maybe, now... no! Now the clubs have Funktion One systems and now they are all normal.
Tell me about FC Magnet Mitte?
It’s a football club and I am at the moment the vice president, but I play as well once or twice a week and I think that next week they are going to select a new vice president… because I am never there, I need to give my position to someone else as I can do what I need to do without that position.
Do you think that not being vice president might affect your place in the team?
No… my age is going to affect my place in the team.
and your knees!
Yes both definitely... there is also out of this a bar that came out of FC Magnet Mitte certain people are running and there is a Coffee to go and a bakery as well, and it all came about from people that are my mates from football.
Last question that a really good friend of mine from Berlin, who you might know but who’s name I can’t reveal requested I ask you and that is and I quote “How does Dixon remain a male sex icon for many of the lady fans out there with your weird shirts and crazy hair?
You will see tonight…. Ha ha ha...ha ha….. well maybe..
© DJhistory.com 2010
Interviewed by Mark Treadwell in London 12.12.09