With its touchy feely subject matter and sometimes-cheesy visual aesthetic, trance music is sometimes mocked. Still, it boasts a devoted worldwide following. DJ Markus Schulz is one of the genre's marquee names. Based in Miami, he's been on the international circuit for more than a decade, performing a harder, more aggressive style of trance, which is often quite fluffy. (His sound has earned him the nickname "the unicorn slayer.")
Perhaps most impressive? His extended sets, which can last anywhere from 10 to 12 hours. He doesn't even stop to go to the bathroom. Ahead of his new album Scream 2 next month and his party at Sound on Feb 6 to celebrate, we spoke to Schulz about his career.
You've said it's not possible to do your extended sets everywhere, but it works here in L.A. Why?
To do an extended set, it has to be a cultural setting where people are educated. There are places where people aren't educated enough musically and so you have to play the obvious tunes and you can't go too far left or right. EDM culture in L.A. has a long history and it's thus an amazing place to play.
How do you deal physically with being onstage for 12 hours straight?
I don't drink alcohol while I'm playing. I just have some water or some iced tea, and I don't go to the bathroom at all. I sweat it all out. If you don't drink alcohol it makes it easier to not have to go to the bathroom. It's a physical and mental endurance test.
What's the secret to keeping the audience with you?
It's all about directing the vibe in the room. You can't be at 120 miles an hour all night long. You stay hot for 30 or 40 minutes, bring it down for ten and then bring it back up again. To go balls to the wall for a 10 hour set doesn't work. It's really about creating a journey of peaks and valleys, and the peaks are so much more dramatic when you bring it down a little bit before a big epic moment.
Do you lose your concept of time?
Definitely. I'll look at the clock and realize it's already five in the morning.
Does your mind wander? Do you start thinking about things you need to get at the grocery store?
If you hooked up a machine to my brain to measure my brain activity, you'd see that it's very high. You're constantly analyzing what's going on in the room and how the room feels. When the music is playing, part of my role is to be part of the room and the vibe. Each extended set has a moment when you realize "we're there now." It's when the energy in the room all comes together and you realize you're in a good groove and that everything is flowing. I love those moments. You couldn't recreate that moment in a two hour set.
How do you feel when you're done?
Physically, I'm exhausted, but the biggest problem I have is shutting my brain down after one of those sets. My brain has been so active for so long and it's such a high intensity thing. Within 15-20 minutes after the show I'm in my car or hotel room like, "What just happened?"
What do you make of the role of drugs in the scene?
Drugs are prevalent everywhere. If you go to a Dodgers or Lakers game, there are people who are going to be on drugs or drunk. I've been preaching responsibility. It's something for the media to talk about, and the media likes to make drama to sell papers and advertisements, but at the same time they've got to understand that this is an art form, and to label that art form with something so controversial is irresponsible. It really takes away from the beauty and the magic and what the art form is all about. I wish drugs weren't part of the scene.
What is the current state of trance music?
Trance just got tired. With the trance elitists, it got to a point where trance wasn't fun anymore. It was too serious with all the purists, and it got to a point where people wanted to separate themselves from that and make fun music.
I think we're on the cusp of another big renaissance in trance. Make no mistake, these melodies you're hearing in Swedish House Mafia or Avicii tracks, those are trance melodies, they're just not labeled as such because the artists and the PR made it a point to note that they're not trance DJs. But now you've got Swedish House Mafia playing trance melodies and Tiësto playing house melodies, so it's just a matter of being a DJ and using everything that's out there to create a story and a night.
What's your take on the L.A. dance scene?
The Los Angeles fans are some of the best fans in the world. People in Los Angeles should be proud of the scene, because there are people around the world that are envious. There's just the energy, and on any given night there's so much variety and passion in each one of these parties. Look at all the artists that are moving there. It's crazy. Every time I talk to someone, they say they're moving to L.A.
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Markus Schulz plays at Sound on February 6.
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