You will have heard many more of Marc Romboy’s records in house and techno sets over the years than you’ll likely be aware of; and this is documented perfectly in Romboy’s new anthology Shades.
“You see a lot of producers releasing singles and remixes on a variety of different labels. However, often these aren’t drawn together into a single unit, which is able to represent the bigger picture of an artist to the fans. This is what I‘d been missing with my music, I think.”
The German DJ/producer has a background in club music that stretches back 20 years, and this year his Systematic Recordings label also celebrates its 10th anniversary. With Shades, what began as an album project featuring a collection of unreleased club records, eventually evolved into a three-disc affair that would showcase the breadth of the sounds produced by Romboy.
There’s electro-charged mainroom records like Don’t Stop, as well as the warmer, funkier selections like L’arc-en-ciel, which form the first disc. Then there are the deeper selections on the second disc like Muzik, which typically make an appearance on the dancefloor after 3am. Finally, there’s also a vast selection of rougher, tougher, noisier techno cuts on the third disc.
Whatever your taste in house and techno, it’s likely you will have heard a great many of the eclectic records that feature on Shapes, without even realizing Romboy was the studio talent behind them.
“And this was exactly the aim I had in mind,” Romboy told Data Transmission. “Because I know how life is nowadays. It’s so full of information, so many discussions, and so much music… It was clear to me it made a lot of sense to create a frame to hold the picture together.”
Data Transmission caught up with Romboy to find out more about his Shapes anthology, as well as what he’s got planned this year for the 10th anniversary of Systematic Recordings. When we grabbed him on the phone, he’d just returned from the Winter Music Conference in Miami.
So how was Miami this year?
It was great. I was only there for five days, but it was amazing in as far as I could catch some sun. We had really great weather, and I was very eager for some sunbeams on my face to be honest. I must say though that Miami is almost all EDM nowadays. But nevertheless, there are still a lot of my colleagues there. It is not what it used to be in the past, but the good weather is very convincing and you always meet with many people, so I do enjoy it, it’s good.
The conference was considered once a hub for underground dance. Do you feel this has changed a lot in the past couple of years?
Yes I would say. Back in the day there was definitely more of a focus on the underground. Of course, there has been a high inflation of parties anyway, because every last venue wants to throw an event with a couple of DJs. I did visit a few parties where I was surprised that it was quite empty. I don’t want to say any names [laughs]. I think in terms of the business side for insiders, it’s not about the parties; it’s more about meeting colleagues and having a good time. You have a lot of other really good parties during the year, so you’re not really depending on another great one during the conference.
Do you feel there is a growing audience for underground sounds over in the US?
This is a very good question, and it’s one that I discussed with a couple of colleagues as well. There are different theories, but overall I would say that it is positive. When you take the phenomenon of EDM, of David Guetta and all these fellows, you might think that it’s about selling out and quite negative. But what I assume is that young people aged around 15 or 16, who are still in development of their personalities, if they enter electronic music through one of these EDM fellows, then it’s likely that after a couple of years of listening to music, they will switch over to deeper music with a more varied background.
So someone who likes Steve Aoki today might be listening Carl Craig in five years. Why not? I had a similar development myself. I was a huge fan of Kiss when I was 11, though within five years I was listening to Joy Division, New Order and The Smiths. Rather deeper and more serious music. So when I take myself as an example, I would say that it works [laughs].
Have your own business opportunities changed much recently, as someone who’s been running a record label for ten years?
Slightly. The record sales are still going down. I know that overall the figures are growing again, but this is more due to the fact that the major companies are starting to repress their biggest albums from back in the day. Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley and this kind of stuff. So the pressing plants that remain are now very busy. But when you look at electronic music and independent labels, the numbers are still going down. This is something that’s not a lot of fun, because the point for breaking even is moving even further away. I still break even with Systematic Recordings, but even this is something that has changed over the past two or three years still. On the other hand though, I still like it, and I still do it. I still want a platform for myself as well as my friends. I still have fun, and we still have exciting releases. The label has reached its 10th anniversary this year, and we are still also thinking about further business models.
I will start a new part of the label that will be called Systematic Sounds, and we will release sample packs by different artists from this year onwards. That’s something that is really exciting. The first two sample packs will be from Robert Babicz and myself. In the beginning I was worried the process would be a bit boring, but it meant that I observed things more closely during the production phase that I normally wouldn’t pay as much attention to. For example, I have an old drum machine called the Oberheim DMX, which was used by all the breakdance producers during the early 80s. A friend gave me a hint that there is one additional box you can buy, which allows you to put samples on a little chip, lasting for just a second, and then you can insert them into the DMX computer. This was something that only a few people know, and I was very curious to check it out. And I was actually amazed at the grooves I was able to create. I always thought the DMX could only create the kind of typical sounds you know from famous breakdance records, from the likes of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. This was something really exciting that was a result of working on the sample packs, and something I didn’t expect in the beginning.
Is the demand for these sample packs coming from new producers interested in learning about the production process?
Absolutely. In terms of what we’re doing with the label, I see this in 2014 as definitely part of the business model. Some people are not satisfied with only buying a finished product from an artist. This is something I can see in with messages I’m receiving on my social networks and on Soundcloud. Even if it’s just for fun, people want to produce their own stuff, and of course they are happy and grateful for files and advice from artists whose music they enjoy.
You mentioned it’s the 10th anniversary of Systematic Recordings. I’m guessing the label began just as things were starting to change, in terms of piracy and digital distribution.
The label began in the late summer of 2004. Ten years ago it was all about vinyl sales. Beatport was soon to start, which itself is turning 10 this year. It was a totally different situation, in terms of physical distribution and label structures. But at the end of the day, it’s still the same kind of business. The artist releases something, and the people who like the artists consume it. The game is more or less the same, independent from vinyl, downloads or whatever.
A lot of labels will talk about the changes, but it’s an interesting point that it remains essentially the same business. Do you see the changes as positive or negative overall?
I don’t consider things in terms of good or bad. At the end of the day, it is what it is. Especially when it comes to the discussion of digital technology and DJing. I generally exit the discussion immediately, because I really don’t care. For me personally, it’s dependent on the performance on stage, and I don’t care if the DJ is using Traktor, a USB stick or vinyl, it doesn’t matter to me. The whole ‘good or bad’ discussion, I leave that to the other guys.
Talking about Shades; it’s a very interesting release, and it must feel like an achievement to be able to showcase your work in this way.
Absolutely. It became something very different to what I’d originally planned, in that I’d initially wanted to release a more classic album with 11 or so tracks that were unreleased at that point. However, I decided to go in a different direction, because I always try and challenge my usual circles of thought, and to think of alternatives not necessarily in the front of my mind. At a certain point, I realised it might be a good idea to release an extended concept of an album, and to eve include tracks that had already been released. A lot of producers might release singles and remixes on a variety of labels, but they are not kept in a single frame or unit that represents the artist. This is something that I was missing. I’d released remixes on DFA Records for example, which is an amazing label, but it’s not necessarily one where fans go searching for my music. So I wanted to create a frame that held my work from the past years, as well as new productions, and new updates of records that I had released already.
I’m sure you also wanted to showcase the versatility that you have as a producer. There are some records on there that are quite mainroom, some funky stuff, as well the deeper offerings and some quite noisy stuff too.
I don’t want to limit myself to only one direction. I like the deeper records, as well as the more ‘ravey’ music. And I’m not that guy who wants to create several artist aliases to keep those separate. It’s always me, I want to stand behind it, and that’s the reason that I’m doing this.
You have a body of work that goes back 20 years. How did you decide what to include?
Basically, it was meant to be a spectrum of everything. However, I didn’t put the focus too much on the clubby tracks, the album should still be something you could listen to on your home stereo too. It was important for it not to be too clubby. For instance, the track Delusion of The Enemy that I did together with KiNK, that was one of several collaborations that were quite successful, but I didn’t include see the sense to include them all as they were quite clubby.
Stephan Bodzin is someone else who you’ve worked with a lot over the years. How important are these collaborations to the work that you do?
Collaborations are essential to me. This is life. One very important and essential part of life is to share. To share emotions, to share words, to share feelings, to share something that we like. To have fun together, to maybe to have some not so funny moments together. This is something I want to emphasise with my work too, but I’m not the kind of guy who feels he only wants to release music under his own name, that’s not what counts to me. This is why a lot of these collaborations made it onto the album. It’s a lot of fun for me, particularly the fact that you can learn a lot from your colleagues. In their own special way, every one of them is important to me.
You debuted your live PA at Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE). Will that be the beginning of a different approach to touring?
Yes, I played my very first live show at the Chicago Social Club at ADE last October. It was a kind of reversal of my usual DJ performances, and now I play some selected shows with live equipment. This includes a Moog synthesiser, a special controller from Livid, and a drum machine. It’s good fun, and I’m really happy that I decided to go in this direction.
Are you going to take it on the road this year?
Yes I think so. The release of a ‘Ten Years of Systematic’ compilation will be coming later this year, I’m putting it together at the moment and it will have a selection of exclusive tracks from people like Jimpster and Ripperton. A lot of friends are joining this project, it should be out around Autumn, and if you combine that with the launch of my live show, that’s enough of a reason to focus on touring this year I think.
Marc Romboy’s ‘Shades’ is out now on Systematic Recordings. Check out the album preview below: