Known as Siggatunez behind the decks and as Siggi Tunezia in the studio, Hermann Stichel is better known for running his own deep house label called Tieffrequent whose latest release I reviewed at the beginning of the year. Last week I had the pleasure of having a long and friendly chat with Hermann over Skype and this is what came out of it. Enjoy!
Hello Hermann, thank you for taking the time to have a talk with me.
Hello and thank you for the invitation.
How did you get into music? What were your influences as you grew up?
I started listening to music at a very early age because my parents were heavily into music. Being born in East Germany, I grew up in the GDR and my father used to play in a jazz band so he bought a lot of western music by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Even though It was not easy to get foreign music into GDR because it was all controlled by the state, my father managed to get hold of these records either through friends or via the illegal black market specific for those years. This means we had a great record collection at home and I was able to listen to all this type of music while growing up so that's the reason why my background is predominantly into soul and funk music. These are the tracks of my childhood and I still like them. I'm still a Stevie Wonder fan even though he changed a little throughout the years.
I see, so that's where the soul in your music comes from?
Yes, I also really like to sample when I'm making music and I do it a lot directly from the old records I got, but I also sample new soul artists like Charles Bradley, Gregory Porter or Sharon Jones. These are the musicians I really like even though they are really big right now, I've been listening to their music for years, before they were all famous. So yes, I sample soul music a lot so this might be the reason why there's soul in my music. But as I got older, me and my brother, which is the same age as I am, we got into hip hop in the 90's when it was in it's golden age in the states and we listened to a lot of Chicago, Detroit and New York hip hop artists like Wu Tang, Nas, Common, Guilty Simpson, Jeru The Damaja. This was the reason why we started producing music basically by making beats, just beats.
So how did you make the leap to electronic music?
I started listening to electronic music when I was in Frankfurt. I grew up in Eastern Germany near the Polish border in a city called Görlitz and I lived there for 18 years. Then I had a small adventure in Great Britain after which I moved to Frankfurt and lived there for 8 years and just last year I relocated to Berlin. Before leaving my home town I was only making beats just for fun, but once I got to Frankfurt I started listening and producing electronic music. There I met my now best mate Le Rubrique who introduced me to the scene and I got into everything from Detroit Techno to the Frankfurt sound. I would definitely describe my electronic music roots in Frankfurt, Frankfurt is my heart.
Which artist had the biggest impact on you so far?
One of my biggest influences is Motor City Drum Ensemble. Me and Rubrique started listening to his music when he did broken beats under his Inverse Cinematics project. There was a song called 'Seven by Seven' that got us into thinking how could we get Danilo to play at our events called Sucio, which we did in 2008 when he wasn't famous at all and cost us only 150 Euros. I've been constantly following him ever since, heard all the evolution in his music and saw all the success he gaine and I'm really happy for him. He's 28 years old and the knowledge he has about music is epic, he digs for records the whole time, he even travels around for music, but after all this he still keeps it underground. Of course there are a lot more people that I really like, but he's the one that I've been following constantly for 6 years and is still influencing me because what he does is my thing.
I also like the straight raw techno music that Marcel Dettmann does. The Detroit-Berlin or Chicago-Berlin connection is really strong so you can listen to all the big names here like Jus Ed playing in Panorama Bar. I really like straight, on the point techno music techno as well. Right now I'm thinking about starting another moniker and do some techno music with drum machines, but I'm not sure whether I'll put out anything that I make.
So speaking about producing, what came first to you: dj-ing or producing?
Producing. As I said earlier, I started making beats with my younger brother. This was done using a cheap computer program that was made for transferring vinyl to digital which we used because it had 2 audio tracks letting us mix multiple sounds at once. Then I asked my father if I could have his old Yamaha drum synth. He bought and used it in the 90's when he had no drummer in his jazz band for a whole year. We put these two together and started making hip hop beats back in 2003. When I moved out to Frankfurt and met Le Rubrique, who already had a home studio with a lot of gear, I got in contact with hardware analog instruments. I always wanted an MPC and since I got it, it's my main tool, my sequencer, my heart. I also got a Virus, an 808 clone from Jomox, an old Novation bus station, a Waldorf Micro Q, a mixer and some cheap synthesisers. My DAW of choice is Ableton Live which I use only to record and arrange, this is what the program is actually great for.
It's a well known fact that Berlin is a special city that ultimately influences everyone who is living there. How did it influence your music, in what ways did Berlin changed you?
It not just changes your mind, it's just different… For example, in Frankfurt the music scene was kind of small so if you are into the scene like I was, you know everything that's going on. This is not the case with Berlin, it's completely different… It does influence you, but you first have to decide what you want because you can get either everything or nothing... You have to know your calling, you have to ask yourself: do you want just to party, or do you want to produce something, to have some sort of output? This is not easy because there's so much going on here so how can anyone recognise you as a DJ or as a label from the crowd? Tieffrequent, for example, is almost 1 year old now and only now, after 3 releases, I have the feeling that it's starting to grow. The newest record is from Johannes Albert and Monosoul who are two Berlin based producers. Johannes has been in the scene for years so this is why people started growing an interest for the label. Before this, nobody really recognised it. This is what I don't really like about Berlin to be honest: if you are new in this city and want to actually do something you either need connections or an epic name, or it's very hard to make it. If you are moving here like I did, you have to start from the beginning. When I got here it was a two sided feeling for me: I was happy because I moved here with my girlfriend, but I was sad because I had no idea where to start from.
Since everything we know about the german electronic scene comes mostly from Berlin, could you tell me what's the scene like in Frankfurt now? Anything special going on?
The Frankfurt scene is really inventive and the Frankfurt sound is starting to grow again. The scene is well known because of the old labels like Robert Johnson, Playhouse, Perlon and Cocoon, but they seemed to have disappeared in the last few years. Fortunately, many young people like Orson Wells, Emil Seidel or my friend Le Rubrique have started doing amazing fresh music recently. There's also the DBH crew pushing things forward and shops like Freebase and Tactile who help getting the music to the people. There's a lot going on right now, a lot of people who just want to start something. The Frankfurt sound is really interesting for me; it's very Chicago styled, so it makes a lot of sense to have Chiwax or Polytone based there. Some other labels who are doing it right now in Frankfurt are Separate Skills, Maria Colors, Healing Company, Smile For A While and Mainrecords.
How did you come up with the label? Was it an overnight decision, a spur of the moment thing, or did you plan it ahead for a long time?
The idea of a label is very old. Back in Frankfurt, Le Rubrique and I always wanted to start a label which would also be called Sucio and the concept was to put out music from the artists we invited to our events. But then I moved to Berlin it wasn't there anymore for me, so I wanted to start a label without any connection to Frankfurt. My premise was that I have to personally know and have a connection to all the musicians who appear on the label. I also thought that starting a label will give me a platform to connect to other people. If you just think of going to a random place and doing an event, in Berlin you can forget it. If I want to do something here, I have to do it in a place that I am connected to somehow. If you believe in what you are doing, people will know it and they will feel that you mean something, not just do it for fame, but because you want to create a connection with them.
So talking about the label, could you tell me a bit about the name? What does it mean, where does it come from?
The word is made from 'tief' which means 'deep' and 'frequent' which is the adjective of 'frequency', so a word-by-word translation would be Deep Frequency. Tieffrequent is used to describe if a sound is "made" from low frequencies, the deep sounds that you cannot hear, but you can feel deep in your stomach. But in connection to the music it means music made of low frequencies, like saying "deep house music is tieffrequent". So the label name enforces the whole musical concept. It's actually quite simple and it works.
All the releases on the label are vinyl only. Is this also part of the concept or are you going to address the digital market eventually?
I think I will go on with the vinyl only approach. The only reason I would release on digital is because I could earn a little more money to invest into the next record, but for me, vinyl is what I want. Also as a DJ I only play vinyl and have done so since I started spinning records. For me vinyl is special. If you do vinyl, you remember all the work that you have done along the way, it's a whole story. It starts with me talking to friends about the music which we then collect together. Then they give me the music which I give to the mastering studio where the vinyl is cut which is then sent to the pressing plant and the test pressing is sent to me. That's when my girlfriend and me talk about the artwork to be featured on the final release which she does and we send it to the printing press. After all this journey, the music comes to me as a whole product and 2 months of work flash before you eyes in one second. After that I put it on the turntable, put the needle in the groove and the story keeps unfolding to the public.
Speaking of which, the artwork on your records is very unique and different and seems to follow a particular concept. Can you tell me more about it?
The artwork is made by my girlfriend Vanessa. She is an artist and has been drawing all her life and now she studies costume and stage architecture. I knew I needed an artwork for the label, but I wasn't really sure what I wanted. So we thought about it together and she came up with the artwork for the first release which if you don't pay attention, you can't tell what it is, just a black shape. But if you look close enough you can see a person from the back. This is because it's painted in watercolour, which is not sharp and edgy and straight, but round and warm. So thats why having the artwork in watercolour makes sense along with the music on Tieffrequent, because the sounds are deep and float one with another, just like the colour so that's why we decided to use it on all the releases. The front label will always feature the painting with all the description and on the back will always be just another part of the painting. We also try to connect the sounds on each record to the artwork so she always has to know what the music sounds like in order to produce a matching painting.
You also have a release under the Siggatunez name on the label. What can you tell me about the name? What does it mean, where does it come from?
It's a long story behind it. When I was in school I had about 20 nicknames in a row and Siggi was one of them. A friend of mine from the old days which I met from time to time always called me Siggi. One day I though about giving myself a producer name and I wanted to have a connection between my nickname and the word 'tunes', but Siggitunes sounded like shit so I quickly jumped to Siggatunez. Then one day a friend called me "Hey Siggi Tunezia, how are you?" so he basically gave me my DJ name. To be honest, I don't like Siggatunez, it sounds a little old fashioned, but it doesn't make any sense to change the name now because no one would have a connection to the new one.
But what about the little hairy monster that you use as a logo for yourself? How did that come to be?
Well, if you are an artist you also have a face attached to you. If you hear my name you have music in mind but you don't really have a face in mind. Since I don't have any photos and I've always tried not to have photos online, I thought about a logo which people can connect to. So thats why I drew this monster which it's a logo, it looks funny, I've been using it for the past 5 years it works for me, people can relate it to me, it belongs to me now.
So what's coming up in 2014 from you and from the label? What are your future plans for this year?
I won't say any names, but I'm planning to drop two more records in 2014: one in the summer and another one in autumn, but not more than two this year will come on Tieffrequent. It's simply a financial aspect because it's really expensive to produce vinyl and I always have to wait for the records to sell in order to invest in the next release. This is because I do it all myself: I go and do the mastering in Frankfurt at Andreas Kauffelt at Schnittstelle because I know him and I can tell him how I want the tracks to sound like. He also does 100% analog mastering which I choose because it sounds warm and it also makes a lot of sense since the music is released on vinyl. Andreas also does the vinyl cut and sends the dub plate to the pressing plant in Leipzig and I have to pay all these production costs. After that I send the records to Intergroove who manage the distribution and they give me a price for each record they sell so only after selling all of those I can start investing in the next release.
We've seen a lot of genre revivals in the past years: minimal house, disco, 90s house, now deep house is on a huge wave and garage is gaining a lot of attention. What do you think will come next? What do you think will be the sound of 2014?
What I think is really strong right now is the analog based approach to producing music. A lot of people do straight analog music with all the popular roland machines like TR-808 TR-909 or TB-303 and I think the gap between analog and digital will increase more and more with each passing year. A lot of producer I know, from Frankfurt for example, are doing music with analog instruments only. So I think more and more people will go back to the roots of electronic music by using drum machines or analog synths. Also what I see around me is that more and more people are playing vinyl. This seems like a trend that will increase, but I don't know about the style of music to be made in the near future. The last two years were really soft and harmonic, but I see a lot of people trying to use more edgy and raw drums so maybe the sound will be a little rougher this year. I think there will be some fresh ideas in deep house as well. Already people like Borrowed Identity, Ugly Drums or Max Graef are doing fresh music and driving the genre into a total different direction.
Do you think online record stores are taking away from the crate digging experience that you only find in a record shop?
My first record that I bought was a 12" EP which I got in Frankfurt at Freebase Records. There are 3 big record stores in Frankfurt: Freebase, Tactile and Mind so naturally I started buying records in the store, but sometimes I ordered online from Decks if they were unavailable in shops. Right now when I buy music I go to Oye Records Store so all the records I buy in Berlin I get from there. I do it because I get in contact with the people who work there so for me it's a social thing. The store is also located between my home and my work place and even if it's not that big, it has everything I need so I go and spend some good hours there. The downside is that it's not cheap at all, it's rather expensive to buy music in shops.
What are your favourite records shops in Berlin? Which are the ones you would recommend to an outsider?
When I think about records stores in berlin I have 4 big names in mind: Oye Records which is my favourite one, then there's Hardwax, Spacehall which is a huge techno shop, and finally there's Mitte Music.
That pretty much sums it up. Thank you very much Hermann!
Thank you also, it was my pleasure!