Tiefschwarz, which comprises brothers Ali and Basti Schwarz and engineer Jochen Schmalbach, is currently one of the biggest names in the thriving German dance-music scene. Although the brothers have produced some of the most incredible and inventive music heard in years — a mixture of techno, house and electro, as heard on their latest release, Misch Masch (Fine, 2005) — their roots are heavily ingrained in softer and more mel-odious sounds.
A love for the American deep-beat sounds of labels such as Strictly Rhythm led to the opening of several Ali and Basti Schwarz — owned clubs; On-U opened in 1990, and Red Dog followed in 1993. Red Dog was a pure deep-house club, and with the brothers in control as resident DJs, the club became one of the most influential spots in the world. The venue was also one of the first German clubs to attract the talents of American DJs like Masters at Work, Mike Dunn and Tony Humphries. In 1997, the Schwarz brothers closed Red Dog and used the opportunity to tour as DJs and to concentrate on production work. They completed remixes at a feverish pace, with Ultra Naté; Byron Stingily; Jam & Spoon; Masters at Work; Earth, Wind & Fire; and Mousse T among the artists receiving a makeover. In one of Tiefschwarz's most career-altering decisions, the group licensed its debut album, RAL 9005 (2001), to London's Classic Records. Although the Tiefschwarz sound was already changing a bit, contact with Classic caused the group to veer off into clubbier, less vocal-focused electronic areas.
Tiefschwarz's excellent new double-CD release, Misch Masch, sums up the act's current incarnation. This definitive package includes a disc that reflects the group's DJ sets as well as a second disc featuring some of its choice remixes. The DJ mix is a journey into sound, with a complete Tiefschwarz night pushed onto CD. Starting with minimal techno, the mix moves into a peak-time moment in the middle and a leftfield-electronic finish. Although the sound offering of a typical DJ set is vast, Tiefschwarz prefers to let the music make the statement rather than implement any fancy gadgets.
“Sometimes, we use effects gear,” Ali says. “A couple of years ago, we used Kaoss Pads and Korg keyboards but stopped it. Of course, you can create some weird stuff, and we are thinking of getting back to it. For now, I'm much more into the music you can create with the pure track. The way you add the track, the way you select the music is the most interesting thing, and the technical side is on top of that.” The simple Tiefschwarz live setup features a Pioneer CDJ-1000 for CD use (currently making up 40 percent of each set) and two Technics SL-1210s. “We are thinking about using FinalScratch, but I'm not sure,” Ali adds. “I like the combination of CDs and turntables.”
The mix-CD portion of Misch Masch is indeed superb, but the real treat lies within the second remix disc. Tiefschwarz carefully deconstructs and then rebuilds each track to drastically alter the original composition. No definitive “Tiefschwarz sound” stands out, and it results in a widely eclectic array of styles that incorporates house, techno, breaks and electro. In fact, more often than not, very few parts of the original tracks are ever used. “To start, we program a small beat,” Ali says. “But when we listen to the original parts of the track, 90 percent of it, we hate. It works better for us to create a new track rather than create around something that is already there.”
Essentially, each remix is a new Tiefschwarz track. Using Apple Logic to chop up all of the original tracks and plug-ins, such as Spectrasonics Atmosphere, to add sound effects, Tiefschwarz virtually transforms tracks like Phonique's “The Red Dress” into pure magic. “This was a huge club hit,” Ali says. “The original is quite smooth, easy-going, and it isn't a full-on club track. It contains maybe only one instrument from the original from the breakdown and a tiny little bit of the vocals.”
Tiefschwarz is halfway completed with its yet-untitled new artist album. Scheduled for a June 2005 release, the record is set to feature a number of collaborators, including Matt Safer from The Rapture. In addition to exploring the possibility of adding live guitar and drums to its formula, Tiefschwarz is currently implementing sound-design program Celemony Melodyne. “It's basically for tuning vocals, but I'm using it on drum sounds and pianos,” Schmalbach says. “Our setup has been the same for the last two years because it's simple and works.” Regardless of studio complexity, the new record cannot come soon enough.