20 Questions With Solomun: On Returning To Touring & ‘Chasing’ Jamie Foxx For A Feature

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Solomun

As the dance world reopens, scene pillar Solomun returns on Friday (Nov. 5) to Manchester’s fabled Warehouse Project for his first set with the event series in six years. The night’s lineup also includes techno stars like Sven Väth, Cici and Sama’ Abdulhadi, with organizers also promising a special indoor pyro and fireworks show.

This extended set by the producer — who was born in the former Yugoslavia and raised in Hamburg, Germany — will no doubt include music from his latest album, Nobody Is Not Loved. Released this past May via Solomun’s own NINL imprint, Solomun’s second album and first since 2009 is 12 tracks of cleanly sophisticated electronic music that glides between sumptuous deep house and harder-hitting techno, altogether asserting itself as one of the best dance albums of the year. Nobody Is Not Loved features a bevy of special guests — including Jamie Foxx, the featured vocalist on the album opener “Ocean.”

Solomun concedes that this past spring was perhaps not the ideal time to release the album, given that the global dance scene was not yet fully reopened and that tracks had a hard time gaining traction. (Solomun declined to comment on a set he allegedly played in Tulum last January, which some categorized within the so-called “plague rave” phenomenon wherein DJs played shows around the world despite pandemic health risks.)

But with the dance world finally getting back on its feet as club shows and festivals continue to reopen, Solomun is resuming his position on the forefront of the global circuit. In July, he was amongst the many DJs who reopened the European festival scene by playing a set at at Serbia’s EXIT, the first major European festival to return since the pandemic. In late October, he played the CircoLoco’s closing party at DC10 in Ibiza, and in a few weeks, he’ll cross that Atlantic for a Nov. 19 set at The Midway in San Francisco.

Amidst all this action, the producer reflected on his album, his rise through the scene and the better part of a year he spent getting Jamie Foxx to work with him.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?

I’m in Ibiza right now, I’ve just come back from a touring weekend — Time Warp Mannheim and a show in Porto. It’s a peculiar vibe on the island as the “season” is coming to a close. Last week, Monday I played at the CircoLoco Ibiza Closing party, and it was great to have this event to conclude the year here, even though there were only a handful of other parties, mostly outdoor with concepts fitting to the governmental regulations.

Personally, I chose to not play rather than to compromise, so I was very happy that CircoLoco managed to have these three shows without restrictions at the end of the season. Of course I said yes when they asked, and I felt honored they offered me the closing slot on the terrace, and hence the last track of this entire season. It felt almost ceremonial: Ibiza 2021 has officially ended.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

The first record that I actually purchased was the soundtrack to the breakdance movie Breakin’ from 1984. Ten fantastic tracks, including Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” and “Street People” by Firefox, which is an incredible song until this day.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you did and do for a living now?

My father, who passed away now 12 years ago, used to work on construction sites, and coming from a traditional Yugoslavian household, my mother was taking care of us kids and the home, and additionally worked as a seamstress on the side. She knows what I’m doing and has been to many of my shows.

For my parents, I was quite a handful when I was young; they didn’t always have it easy with me and it was a long way until I have chosen music. Back then, my mom always used to say “always boom boom, but no money in your pocket.”

4. What’s the first dance music show that really blew your mind?

It was a show by Antonelli; he was playing in a warehouse in Hamburg. The kind of sound was completely new to me at the time. This deep, warm, melodic underground techno music — before that I hadn’t experienced something like that live yet. It was a true revelation that drew me in, and one of the key moments that brought me to pursuing DJing professionally.

5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?

I find it difficult to pick a single album here, and I think I would rather go for a compilation. The fabric series, !K7, Sven’s Sound of the Season. There are so many great ones to get into the sound.

6. What’s the first non-gear item that you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?

I was able to repay the debts I had and be on time with the rent. Purchasing any items was not even a consideration at that time.

7. What’s the last song you listened to?

I’ve just updated my Spotify Momentum Playlist, and one song really stuck with me: “SHADOW” by BABii. Great track. You should check her out!

8. Do you have guilty pleasure music? Would we ever catch Solomun listening to country or pop music?

I do listen to many different genres — some of the range you can see in the Momentum Playlist I just mentioned. I might not listen to country music. But yeah, I definitely know to appreciate a great pop track, for sure!

9. For Warehouse Project, you’re closing out a night that includes a bunch of incredible artists, including Sven Vath. Do you have a particular approach when playing for an audience that’s been exposed to so much great music before your set?

For this particular event, there will be three different rooms, and Sven is playing simultaneously with me on another floor. My approach is always to catch the vibe of the room at the point where I start my set. I try not to overthink things, I prefer to soak in the energy when I’m actually in the booth and go with what feels right.

10. Every DJ has a scary plane ride story. Do you have one?

Of course there are a few, but the first one was this: You should know I always hated flying, I was constantly nervous and annoyed that I had to do it time and time again. What a bad choice of profession I made! I was traveling from Hamburg to a gig, together with [a friend], who at the time was much more experienced than me. It was pretty bumpy, but he was pretty cool about it and managed to calm me down. Then suddenly: a drop of what felt like a mile, all of us approaching the ceiling, only held by our seatbelts. I looked over at [another friend] who was clawing at the armrest for his life. Seeing him like this, I knew I wasn’t exaggerating, this was some serious stuff going on. Needless to say, it all went well in the end, but I was frightened out of my mind and will never forget the look in his eyes.

11. Your album Nobody Is Not Loved came out in May, just as events were starting to happen again. Was that timing intentional? If so, why did it feel right?

Well, to be honest, I don’t think it was a good time to release an album. I have just been working on this record for such a long time and our release schedule was settled before [COVID] started. We then postponed it one more time in the hope it would get better, but unfortunately it only improved slightly.

Of course it was a shame that, in the early phase of the album promo, nobody could play the tracks that have been released. But, we chose to walk down this path and now we make the best out of it.

I’m still very excited about the whole process, even if I’d have wished for brighter circumstances. However, I don’t want to complain at all about this strange turn. I’ve experienced far too many unexpected things in life that I had to face up against. I’m just happy that I was able to create and release an album which I firmly stand behind, and on which I could present a broad musical spectrum that represents me. Luckily, by now, events are slowly making a comeback, and I hope the album remixes will be able to circulate on dancefloors without restrictions.

12. What does the album say about where you’re at artistically?

For this project it was very important for me to experiment with different genres and soundscapes, to discover what feels right and fits. I didn’t want to limit myself in feature ideas or dancefloor-ability, instead thinking more in terms of song structures, but without following a traditional pop formula. I think that’s exactly what an album should allow.

I had been collecting ideas and inspirations for years and slowly started to puzzle the pieces together, arranging the order to create a flow, ultimately forming an album that tells a story. In my opinion, an album still has the highest significance in terms of musical artistic expression. I think artists not only have the possibility, but much rather the duty to run wild, experiment and test new pathways for themselves. The majority of my people got that and knew how it was intended.

Because like always, I have to follow the ideals that feel right to me, that’s the only way to stay authentic. I think it’s better to be motivated by maybe reaching some new people to discover and like your sound than work restrictively in the fear of losing someone with an experiment.

And don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with making club tracks, but if I would have wanted to make 12 of those, I wouldn’t have needed to make an album, and just could have released those as EPs instead. It was a very exciting process and I’m very glad I took the time to do it.

13. Do you feel in any way different when you play out now, versus how you felt before the pandemic? 

Of course you can feel that, nowadays, every party is being celebrated like it’s the last party ever. Even though I play less shows, because I didn’t want to immediately start with three or four gigs per week, I notice that through that energy from the crowd, I too give it my everything and come home completely destroyed.

14. Beyond making music, which talent would you most like to have?

My life is so entirely immersed in music that I rarely spend time thinking about where else it could have gone. Working on my album, I have been very involved in the music videos for the singles, and movies have also been a part of my life before I went into music all the way, so I think it’s fair to say that directing would be something I would have loved to pursue, if it weren’t for music.

15. The cover art for Nobody Is Not Loved is a photograph by famed German photographer Andreas Gursky. How’d he get involved, where did that image come from, and why did you select it?

I’ve tried a couple of ideas and approaches, experimented a bit, but somehow the crowd approach intuitively felt like the right one. Roughly three years ago I went to an art exhibition in Hamburg, and there I saw Andreas Gursky’s picture from MayDay Festival. It really stuck with me.

Andreas and I have become friends in recent years, so I talked to him about it and told him that I really loved that picture. He smiled and told me he had a few similar ones, coincidentally shot at my performance during Connect Festival in Düsseldorf. I particularly loved one of them, and so he gifted it to me.

16. How’d you get Jamie Foxx on the album? What was it like working with him? Is he a legit dance music fan?

“Ocean” has an incredibly long story: I had a first idea of how the track could sound like, which was meant to have spoken word on it, not a singing voice.

I asked a friend of mine from L.A. which actors he knew personally, and he mentioned Samuel L. Jackson. I loved the idea, so we reached out to him. Initially, he was not even opposed to it! It took a while for further contact, so we kept reaching out and became so pushy that at some point we were worried we would get a restraining order. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.

The same friend then later mentioned Jamie Foxx and I was like, “Why didn’t you say that in the first place!?” I’ve always really admired Jamie – he is such an outstanding talent with a beautiful energy. We came into contact through a mutual friend, and in February they suggested for me to come to L.A. to meet him. But February and March is when I do my annual touring break in Tulum, and this timeout is very sacred to me, so I didn’t come in after all.

We sent it to Team Foxx, but after three months of no reaction I thought, that’s also a response. Maybe he was just too polite to say it’s not his thing. So what we did was check out Jamie’s performances, especially the late night shows, to find new inspiration for the track and search for a way to incorporate the way he sings and acts. Then I made a new instrumental, more tailored to his voice. We sent it over again, and this time he loved it.

But after that, we were chasing them again, for roughly half a year. Jamie is a busy man, so it’s of course a challenge to get some of his time. We thought: we have to make it even easier for him. Malky, who is a singer and a friend, and who also wrote the lyrics, then recorded vocals of how we thought the voice would best fit, and sent it again. They loved it, but we ended up chasing it again. Then we were almost at a point where we wanted to cancel the whole thing, find someone else. But Jamie, who was at that point shooting in New Orleans, rented out a studio and sang in his voice what we had sent him. And not only that, he added so many extras and his personal touches, we were amazed. And this is what ultimately became “Ocean.”

Then later, we did finally meet at a restaurant in L.A. pre-[pandemic]. He played the track from a boombox and sang it live in front of the other guests in the restaurant. You can’t imagine how great this felt. And regarding him being a dance music fan: I don’t think he would have been on board with the project if he wasn’t. He is an absolute music lover, has an incredible education therein, is always open for new projects and I just greatly admire him for his person and what he has achieved.

17. Who’s your favorite DJ/producer?

That’s so difficult to say. I also don’t really see these kinds of things in the person, but rather in the projects they are doing. There are phases of certain artists that I love.

18. What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?

Generally it is nice to create a business out of a passion, but the focus has always been and still is the music; the business part came later. And on that path we have made some decisions that were “more right” than others.

19. Who was your greatest mentor, and what was the best advice they gave you?

“Mentor” might be the wrong word, but I’m a faithful Christian, and I draw a lot of strength from that, from Jesus. This is what works for me.

20. One piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

This is such a good question, and I’ve needed some time to think about this. But in the end, if I’m being honest: everything that happened to me had to come this way. All the experiences I’ve had, good or bad, all the things that might have first appeared as “mistakes,” later turned out to be lessons that brought me to where I am today.

 
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