TIMO MAAS DROPS THE BOMB TRACKS.Before 1999, only a handful of cognoscenti knew who Timo Maas was. With several successful trance singles and remixes under his belt, Maas was best known as the man behind Orinoko's "Mama Konda" and a remix of Paganini Trax's "Zoe," both of which you could find in the record boxes of DJs like Sasha, Carl Cox, and Danny Tenaglia. Then Maas bumped his profile up a notch in 1999 by releasing the club hits "Der Schieber" and "Twin Town" on Bristol's Hope Recordings and remixing songs for Lustral, Southside Spinners, and Novy vs. Eniac.
But one particular remix turned Maas into an overnight sensation: "Doom's Night" by Azzido Da Bass. Maas's version became the anthem of the 1999 Berlin Love Parade, and it quickly spread like a napalm-fueled fire to both sides of the Atlantic. With its funky breakbeat rhythm, a riff that sounds like the helicopters in Apocalypse Now, and a wicked breakdown where the tempo revs from 50 to 250 bpm, Maas's "Doom's Night" remix caught the ears of DJs and clubbers, who found the song as irresistible as it was unique.
As the cliche goes, Maas provided dance music with a badly needed breath of fresh air. Just as trance and progressive house music were threatening to choke on the stench of their own cheesiness, Maas ignited the tech-trance revolution of 2000 by releasing a relentless salvo of bomb-track singles and remixes. Maas's self-described "hard and wet" sound found its way to the decks of just about every superstar DJ imaginable, including John Digweed, Seb Fontaine, Pete Tong, Tall Paul, Alex P, Brandon Block, and Paul Oakenfold (who released several Timo Maas singles on his 48K and Perfecto labels). Throughout 2000 it was nearly impossible to pick up a DJ mix compilation without finding a Timo Maas song or remix on it. In fact, Deep Dish included four Maas tracks on its acclaimed Renaissance Ibiza compilation.
The recently released two-CD compilation Music for the Maases (Kinetic/Hope) reveals the highlights of Maas's career through mid-2000. The dark, hypnotic four-on-the-floor tech trance that characterizes Maas's DJ sets dominates one CD, while the other features the breakbeat funk flavor of his recent productions. Missing from this set is Maas's latest single, "Ubik" - a departure track featuring Martin Bettinghaus's vocals, and bass and rhythm guitar parts recorded live instead of sampled or sequenced.
Maas notes that "Ubik" provides a taste of the music style that will dominate his upcoming full-length album, scheduled for release in early 2001. "Martin's voice sounds so unique and intense that it motivated me to do an album with him," Maas says. "People have been surprised to hear male vocals on my new single, but I always like to surprise them."
It's a wonder that Maas even had time to think during the last year, let alone complete an album of original new material. He has performed DJ sets all over the world and released an average of one track or remix every week and a half. Recently, he remixed Madonna's "Don't Tell Me," as well as songs for Placebo and Spice. Maas admits he couldn't keep up this pace without the help of his production team, Martin Buttrich and Andy Bolleshon, who oversee operations at Maas's Time Tools Studios in Hannover, Germany. "I have a great working team," he says. "Without them I couldn't maintain my schedule. It's really good to have my boys working for me at home while I'm out doing my DJ sets." While Maas claims he slowed his deejaying activities to work on the album, he still manages to visit the United States and hold residency gigs at the Gallery and Home in London.
Maas shows no signs of globetrotting burnout as he enters the lobby of L.A.'s Standard Hotel to talk with Remix. In fact, his demeanor is as powerful and energetic as any of his floor fillers. As he reflects on his best year ever, Maas drops hints that the years ahead of him will be even more fulfilling.
As you've been getting busier as a remixer, you've been getting busier as a DJ. How do you balance those separate careers?
It's loads of work. I've never worked so much in my life. Two years ago I never imagined my lifestyle would be like this. I have to ask Paul Oakenfold how he does it. I can't carry more than two weeks of clothes with me. I just sent a package of dirty clothes from Chicago back home to my mom in Germany so she could wash them. My secret for keeping up with the remixes is having two guys back home in the studio. A lot of times we'll do the basics together in the studio, then we'll talk about the arrangement over the phone while I'm on the road. If we're getting started on a remix, they'll load everything into the sampler while I'm away so it will be ready when I get there. Martin [Buttrich] might have weird ideas for a bass line, but he knows how a Timo Maas record has to sound. When I have ideas, I call them.
Your music has gone in a funky-breaks direction lately.
I don't play breaks when I DJ, but I like music with funky bass lines and fat bass drums. Azzido Da Bass was the first thing I ever did in which I decided to do something with a breaks feel. I also have a side project called Mad Dogs, a breaks project I do with Leon Alexander [cofounder of Hope Recordings]. There is a huge breaks influence on the last couple of remixes I've done for Muse and BT. I mix breaks and four-on-the-floor a lot. But it doesn't matter which direction I go in. My music fits into the set of almost any DJ - house, trance, or techno. I put a little bit of everything in all of my productions. Not too many other artists are doing that.
Your tunes also sound quite different from most of what's out there.
We work very hard to make sure our records sound louder and fatter than anything else on the market. When I find an absolutely incredible-sounding record, I take it with me to the studio and we analyze it. Then we try to do it better. I love the Propellerheads' bass lines. They're unbelievable. I like the fat, massive mixes of the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy. It's brilliantly produced music. Those things influence me from a mixing standpoint. I also love the early Deep Dish records. I wondered how they could get a house record to sound so fat and have such a cool groove. I met those guys a while ago, and they said they wanted to sound like me! That was very funny, because I usually think my stuff is just okay. Sometimes I don't even like it. We had a great time telling each other how much we loved the other's work. Now that I've gotten their respect, I feel like I'm going in the right direction.
Your remix of "Doom's Night" by Azzido Da Bass was a huge breakthrough. What is the story behind that remix?
Engel, the artist behind the Azzido Da Bass project, who is a good friend of mine, offered me the remix. We know each other from hanging around in clubs drinking loads of Jagermeister shots. We did the first mix, and I thought it was absolutely fantastic. The only problem was, it didn't include anything from the original song, because I didn't like it. I just did the remix because Azzido is a good friend. We turned it in to the record company, and they said, "There is nothing from the original song on here." I said, "Yeah. I know. It wasn't good enough." They asked me to do another one. I said to my guys, "Fuck them. Let's do a weird version then. If the record company doesn't like it, that's okay." We banged it out in three hours in one afternoon - quick production, funky bass line, and that was it. Since it was for a major label, we decided to put something interesting in the middle, so we speeded up the bpm from 50 to 250. That was the legendary break. Everyone loved it, and it became my most important record. The original remix that the label turned down became my new single, "Ubik." [The original version is the B side, "Ubik (The Dance)."]
How did you create the wobbly bass sound on that remix?
That's a Korg MS-20. We are big fans of analog synths and good old tube compressors - all the old-school stuff. We don't have a digital mixer - we have a 56-channel analog Mackie console. You must know your instruments first; then you can do whatever you want. We tried to create something special, and that involved going back to the basics. I play very basic sounds. That's all you need when you're making ass-shaking funk.
What is the story behind your remix of Paganini Trax?
We did that first for the Sony dance pool in Germany. They put out about 800 copies on vinyl, and nobody seemed to be interested in it. I was disappointed. I played that song a lot for two years, but no one noticed it until Sasha put it on a compilation. Then Sony UK put it out on vinyl again, and we've sold more than 10,000 copies. I've done three remixes this year with no singers. It's either been that or rereleases of old stuff like Southside Spinners. My Green Velvet remixes are some of the best I've ever done.
How did you get involved with Martin Buttrich and Andy Bolleshon?
I met them five years ago at a club called Peppermint Jam in Hannover. Martin and Andy were always doing absolutely brilliant records, but they didn't have any contact with DJs who could play them. They were just sitting in their basement doing music. They had no idea where trends were going. We decided to do a song together under the moniker Kinetic A.T.O.M., and we put out the single "Borg Destroyer" on Phuture Wax in 1996. It's sold about 10,000 copies to date, which is great for an underground techno single. Two months after that we did another production, then it turned into more and more projects. Two years ago we built our own studio complex in Hannover, called the Time Tools Complex. Now it has six fully equipped professional studios. We own two of them, and four other producers are in there. The vibes are absolutely positive. We have everything - rock producers, songwriters, musicians going in every direction. It's perfect, and it's good for my music as well. I've been traveling quite a lot, so I've been picking up loads of influences.
What do you have in your studio?
I have a G4 Macintosh with Pro Tools. We've always used computers to record, but the sounds we put into them are analog. Lately I've been working a lot with live bass players. Most of the parts are played live on my remixes and productions. That's one of the reasons why my music sounds groovy. It naturally has that ass-shaking feel.
Do you have any favorite pieces of equipment?
We've got four Drawmer 1960 compressors and 1961 EQs we use especially for bass lines and drums. That is one secret for getting a fat sound. My favorite synth is the Korg MS-20. I've used that synth since the beginning. My first single had an MS-20 line on it, and so did the last remix I did. I don't use a TB-303 anymore. It's a bit tiresome. We're working a lot with self-created sounds. We've got a guy in our studio, Dennis, who has done some really successful house projects. He sometimes spends a whole night at his audio system creating new sounds. Sometimes we use his sound creations, which are unique. When we create something, we try to make sounds that no one can guess where they come from. We edit a lot, working with filters, EQs, and Pro Tools plug-ins. We have nearly every plug-in there is. One of my favorite effects is a Roland Space Echo. I just bought a second one a couple of months ago on the Internet for about $100. You can do very weird things with two of them, which you hear on "Ubik." We have some old Russian effects processors and very old analog equipment, absolutely unbelievable. They sound so dirty and funky. Old equipment has its own charm. Digital is too exact and perfect.
But equipment is not the secret to my sound - Martin is. He knows all the tricks. Martin is the main programmer in our team. He's very young - only 24 - but he's into old-school funk. He has so much funk in his blood, but he can produce any style of music. Andy does incredible mixes. He knows how to make things sound louder and fatter. The simpler a track is, the better it sounds. Sound is so important. If a record doesn't sound good, I won't play it. All of the records I play in my DJ sets must sound good. I don't care how cool the bass line is - if it doesn't sound good, I won't play it.
I imagine you've been getting a lot of remix offers.
At the moment it's unbelievable. I get at least 50 remix offers a month from all over the world.
What attracts you to a particular remix?
The song must inspire me, impress me - it could be just a melody or vocal or even the production. Most of the dance records I've been asked to remix are good, but they don't have that special feeling. I always try to do different things. We never use the same presets for any song. We always start fresh from the beginning and create something new. It's hard, creative work, so we're not willing to do a remix of any old top 10 Eurodisco song. The BT single was my last remix for a while. After that I'll be working on my own album.
Your remix of Muse's "Sunburn" was a surprise. What drew you to that song?
What I really liked was its evil tone. That was the first time a rock band asked us for a remix. I had to look more closely at the melody and the feeling of the original song. It's still there, but we've taken it in another direction. It wasn't as easy as I expected. We started it on a Monday and had to finish it by Friday. On Tuesday morning we turned on all of our equipment when we came into the studio and listened to what we had completed by Monday night. It sounded pretty good. It only needed a little more work, so we actually finished it very quickly. The flow was really nice, and it even seemed like it would work on commercial radio. But it's still cool. You can dance to it. All but two of the sounds we used came from the original mix; we used very small parts of the drums, guitars, and vocals. It sounds very technical, but it's all handmade.
Most of the records people offer me are very simple and basic dance things. They just want a Timo Maas remix because they know it will sell. But it's good that we've reached a point where we can decide what we want to work on. We don't do remixes because we need the money to pay our bills. People pay us well now. This is the first time I've been able to do what I want in life. I've worked very hard for years. Now I'm working on some interesting collaborations for my album.
"Ubik" sounds quite different from anything you've done before, as well as everything else in dance music right now.
I always want to be different. Not many DJs play my style of music. Somebody called my music "girlie techno." Normally when someone plays techno, it's very hard sounding, and only the boys dance to it. When I play techno, more girls are dancing than boys. They're booty shaking. Maybe it's the groove, or it's sexier. I think sexy is cool.
I'm glad I can reach so many people at the moment. It's the best thing that can happen to you as a musician. Getting a great response from the crowd and from colleagues like Deep Dish, Carl Cox, or Paul Oakenfold is very satisfying. It's a great feeling.
AlbumsMusic for the Maases (Kinetic/Hope, 2000)
SinglesDJ Timo Maas, "The Final XS" (LiTime, 1995)Timo Maas and Gary D, "Die Herdplatte" (LiTime, 1995)Dakota Harris, "Wellengang" (Jerk, 1996)Kinetic A.T.O.M., "Borg Destroyer" (Phuture Wax, 1996)Kinetic A.T.O.M., "Return of the Borgs"(Phuture Wax, 1997)Mad Dogs & Englishmen, "Sudden Journey"(Lakota, 1997)Orinoko, "Mama Konda" (3 Lanka/Sony/Dance Pool, 1997)Timo Maas, "M.A.A.S.M.E.L.L.O.W." (Casseopaya, 1997)Sounds of Life, "Chicago Cops" (ProgCity/Peppermint Jam, 1998)Ian Wilkie vs. Timo Maas, "Twin Town" (Hope, 1999)Mad Dogs, "Infected with Mindfunk/Better Make Room" (Planet Breakz, 1999)O, "The Fifteenth Letter of the Alphabet" (3 Lanka, 1999)Timo Maas, "Der Schieber 1 & 2" (Hope, 1999)Timo Maas, "Eclipse/Shadow Lounge" (Bush, 1999)Timo Maas, "Notrance" (Bush, 1999)Timo Maas, "Riding on a Storm" (Bush, 1999)Timo Maas, "Der Schieber" (48K, 2000)Timo Maas, "Killin' Me" (Tide, 2000)Timo Maas, "Ubik" (Perfecto, 2000)
RemixesParaphonic, "Reincarnation" (Wizard, 1995)DJ Crack, "The Singular 2" (United Ravers, 1996)Pink Torpedo, "Shelter Me" (Rockwerk, 1996)Blank and Jones, "Heartbeat" (Motor Music, 1997)Commander Tom, "Eye Bee Em" (Noom, 1997)Jamie Anderson, "Expressions" (Hope, 1998)Microbots, "Cosmic Evolution" (Overdrive, 1998)Paganini Trax, "Zoe" (Sony Dance Pool, 1998)Salt-N-Pepa, "Push It" (Motor Music, 1998)Smash, "Get Nervy" (Nerve, 1998)War, "Outlaw" (RCA, 1998)Azzido Da Bass, "Doom's Night" (Edel, 1999)Big Ron, "Let the Freak" (Perfecto, 1999)Dave Aude, "Push That Thing" (Duty Free, 1999)Lambda, "New York" (Alphabet City, 1999)Lustral, "Everytime" (Hooj Choons, 1999)Novy vs. Eniac, "Pumping" (Additive, 1999)Southside Spinners, "Luvstruck" (Obit, 1999)BT, "Never Gonna Come Back Down" (Nettwerk, 2000)Green Velvet, "Flash" (F-111, 2000)Muse, "Sunburn" (Mushroom, 2000)Pascal F.E.O.S., "Are You Tranquilized"(Planet Vision, 2000)Winx, "Don't Laugh" (Edel, 2000)