Steve Bug Interviewed: On Poker Flat, Minimal Techno and Avaland's Fifth Birthday
While the likes of Richie Hawtin, Sven Vath (and his Cocoon label), and the Kompakt label crew (Michael Mayer et. al.) get much of the credit for sparking the techno resurgence of late, Berliner Steve Bug deserves just as much reverence.
Steve Bug gigs Avalon's fifth anniversary on Saturday
Like Hawtin and Vath, he's been making and spinning boom-tss sounds since the early 1990s and, as the genre started to experience a second wind at the dawn of the millennium, Bug was there too. His 1999 track "Loverboy" was ground zero for techno's return to big-room prominence. Just as trance started to peak in an orgy of synthetic strings and spiky haired excess, Bug offered a more muted, minimal alternative that carried with it a darker, weightier sensibility. Bugs new "minimal" sound crouched lower to the dance floor.
This summer Bug unveiled his fourth studio album, Collaboratory. Like other recent long-players from techno stalwarts (Damian Lazarus' Smoke the Monster Out, for example), Bug's album eschews the genre's no-vocals, four-on-the-floor-bangers-only ethos to explore terrain beyond the dance floor. But he's still a superclub staple. His melodic, buoyant DJ sets have been staples of the world's greatest DJ booth at Fabric London. Meanwhile his label, Poker Flat, is celebrating 10 years in the techno business - a sign of how long this boom-tss resurgence has been brewing. The label has been out front in releasing accessible, big-room techno and in unearthing some of the genre's major talents, such as Trentemoller and L.A.'s own John Tejada. On the event of his DJ set to celebrate Avaland's own five-year anniversary at Avalon Saturday, we asked Bug about how things have progressed since the debut of Poker Flat and his scene-shaking track "Loverboy."
LA Weekly: It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since "Loverboy." How have things changed since 1999 in terms of the popularity and acceptance of techno?
Steve Bug: In Germany not so much has changed. Techno got really big in the early '90's. After that it was a part of the club culture and always had some ups and downs. Small-room music turned into big room music and so on, but it's still the same game.
You've been instrumental in the return of techno to the big rooms of clubland. Yet when people talk about the techno resurgence, Richie Hawtin, Sven Vath, and the Kompakt crew seem to take the spotlight. Do you ever feel like you deserve more credit?
No, I don't have to be in the spotlight. I am feeling great about where I am. And being in the spotlight sometimes gives you less room to develop yourself. Also, I think I get enough credit from people around the world for what I do. I'm content.
Collaboratory is your fourth album. Do you feel like you have something to prove in terms of techno being a viable long-form medium?
No not really. For me it was and is always important to come up with something that I am happy with. I just think that these days most artists don't really think of an album as a playground to create something else than just releasing 10, or 11 dance-floor tracks as a bundle.
You've worked with some Detroit stalwarts such as Paris The Black Fu. Is it important to acknowledge the influence of the Motor City in your work?
I honestly think that Detroit has always played a big role in techno, and even these days some of the most interesting tracks are at least Detroit-influenced. But it is the same with the Chicago and New York sounds: These are the roots of house and techno and you can't wipe them away. They will always be a part of it. So yes, how can you ignore the influence of Motor City?
How has Poker Flat developed to become one of the pillar labels of contemporary techno?
We are just doing our thing -- what we enjoy most -- and [are] trying to do a good job at it. I don't really want to analyze it, because it should be about the music, not about being successful. But maybe that already is the reason we do well: We don't smother ourselves with a business plan.
You've tapped John Tejada to put out material on Poker Flat. Is L.A. a source of talent for you? How is it looking these days compared to other cities?
I've known John for years and always respected his work, so it was just an easy step to release some of his material on the label. But I don't really see more talents coming out of a certain city. In my opinion there are very few talents around the world anyways. But the scene is definitely getting better everywhere in the U.S. It seems like house and techno are finally taking off.
Is Berlin still the capital of contemporary techno?
I don't know, but so many artists are living there, and Berlin still is a very liberal city with a lot of clubs, parties, after-hours [venues] open for 24 hours every weekend. So for a lot of people it might be something like the capital.
Minimal: A word that has gone out of favor, or a sound that has gone out of favor?
Minimal wasn't even minimal at the end, so it was a word for something else, whatever it was. The real minimal tracks were on labels like Studio One, Profan, Axis and so on. This kind of music I would still call minimal, because it definitely is. But that is the problem with people naming trends: Most of the time the names don't suit the trend.
Who are some of the artists who are rocking your world these days?
Here just a few: Motor City Drum Ensemble, the Revenge, Khris Wadsworth, Donnacha Costello, Ben Klock.
What's next for you in terms of production?
I just finished a mix-CD for [label] NRK, a 12-inch for Cocoon and now I am working on remixes for Will Saul and Ribn. I also did a remix for the next Dessous Classics release to be released next month. As well, I am releasing remixes from some of my favorite [guest] artists on my last album.
Steve Bug DJs Saturday with Adultnapper to celebrate Avaland's five-year anniversary at Avalon Hollywood, 1735 N. Vine St., Hollywood. 21+. Doors at 10:00. Tickets $15 in advance. Info: avalonhollywood.com.
Listen to Steve Bug's set for BBC Radio 1's "Essential Mix" earlier this month.
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