Members: Simon Haehnel, Tobias Müller
Occupation: DJs, Producers
Current Release: Stay Close to me with Högni on Superfriend Records
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with andhim, find out more about the duo via Facebook and Soundcloud. andhim also have their own webshop.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Simon: When I was 13, I discovered some DMC videos by accident. By then, I'd already listened to hip hop thanks to my older brother. But this DMC stuff was simply from another planet. Cutmaster Swift was standing on a giant turntable-shaped stage, manning the decks like a wizard. I instantly knew I'd found my calling. A month later, I bought my first belt driven turntable and started to follow in the footsteps of legends like Roc Raida, Q-Bert and Rectangle. They taught me to be a DJ with passion and full dedication.
Tobi: When I was about 16 years old, my mother gifted me a DJ course in Cologne by DJ Lifeforce, an early German hip hop DJ legend. The day I set foot in there, I was hooked. It wouldn't take long before I joined forces with a few of the other participants to form a "DJ band". Under the name of Noise Stylus, we were runners-up in the world championship and released a few records as well as a pure scratch album. At the same time, I started to collect a lot of music and to build my own beats, from hip hop to drum n bass.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Simon / There are musical influences and inspirations everywhere. We always had a wide range of interests and we were never fixated to much on particular artists. But of course, we listen to how others are building their arrangements and to the dramaturgy of their songs and then we incorporate that into our songs. It's a constant two-way learning process. You also try to imitate certain sounds and moods.
I'd say that it did take some time until we really found our own sound. Especially during the phase when we weren't called andhim yet. It was all just a big experiment and there were no concrete goals, we were just having fun. It was a wild fusion, somewhere between synthie-pop and electro, and I even held on to a microphone occasionally. From these early sessions, our own musical fingerprint evolved slowly.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time?
Simon / We started out DJing as teenagers. So the first thing you have to do is find an audience. Which we did, first among our circle of friends, then among the young people in our village and finally in the clubs. I recorded tapes and distributed them. Later, I burned CDs, added my own cover designs and handed them to promoters. It was a big fight back then. But it was the right way to do things. You had to fight for every single gig. Things have changed a lot since then. Self promotion has become a lot more professional all around the planet. You can magically turn into a super star dj within just a few hours.
You started out with turntablism. Is there still something from that time that informs your current sets?
In the beginning of our career, we still did a lot of live scratching. We no longer do that very often. But we do work a lot with tools like accapellas and we use 4 CDJs and effects. We need to stay busy while playing. It's in our genes.
Other than the style, are there fundamental differences between spinning hip hop and house?
Totally. Hip hop was always about battling with other DJs. You'd prepare your sets at home for days and practise hard so everything would work perfectly. Mixing house is more intuitive and not quite as cerebral. The main goal is to play good songs and to channel a vibe that will let people dance.
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ?
DJs have become highly significant. Being a DJ has turned into a much coveted job. The techno DJ has long become a part of mainstream culture, posing as a model for fashion labels or car manufactureres, lending their music to ads, tv series or movies. What used to be the underground has long been replaced by EDM. As a DJ, your influence on society is enormous.
Motivations have changed accordingly. To many, the desire to become a DJ is no longer born from passion, but from the wish to become famous and travel the world. People want the Instagram life. Which is admittedly part of the job. But so are the immense workload, the pressure and not being able to have normal social relationships. Most aspirings DJs don't take that into account. Despite all this, it's the best job in the world for us and we consider ourselves very lucky to be able to practise it.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
We're DJs through and through. We don't need too many gadgets. Sometimes, we'll bring along effect pedals to a gig. But we mostly focus on our 4 CDJs.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Unfortunately, we no longer have a normal course of life, since we're on tour for most of the year. Which makes it harder to produce, because we don't get to spend a lot of time in the studio. And when you do have some time at home, it's hard being creative at the flick of a switch. Generally speaking, we do try to spend every spare second with music. Studio time mostly takes place during the night.
Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?
We never really plan our sets in advance. It's almost always freestyle. It's just the most fun and makes more sense to us. Of course, playing some of our own songs is a given. And we do have our favourites for a few months. But other than that, we constantly adjust our set to our changing tastes and the changing situations.
Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
People trying to squeeze themselves into the DJ booth to draw attention to themselves are a no go. To us, this feels disirspectful. It can also be detrimental to the vibe of a performance if guests are constantly filming videos with their mobile phones, especially if they're using lighting. Whatever may come, though, we're 100% 'there' as soon as we start playing. It still feels like our hobby and we really enjoy doing it. It's quite common to feel tired or sick or drained ahead of a performance. But as soon as the gig begins, all of that is forgotten and you completely lose yourself in the experience.
What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
Our decisions are pretty free and based on intuition. Sometimes, we may reserve certain tracks for peaktime or postpone them until the very end of the set. Other than that, however, things are very spontaneous.
Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Storytelling? Or as something entirely different from these terms?
Probably a blend of everything.
Especially thanks to the storage facilities of digital media, DJ sets could potentially go on forever. Other than closing time, what marks the end of a DJ performance for you? What are the most satisfying conclusions to a set?
The last track needs to be strong. In a way, it's the centerpiece of the entire set. It should engage everyone and lift your own spirits. If it does, everyone walks home in the perfect state of mind.