Name: Helmut Josef Geier
Occupation: DJ, producer, label owner
Current Release: House Music Box (Past, Present, No Future) on The Hell Experience Records.
Recommendations: Check out Jonathan Meese from Berlin and also Daniel Richter from Berlin. They both are genius painters.
Music - Young Marble Giants. They only did one album.
Book - Uwe Schütte: "Mensch Maschinen Musik". It's the best book about Kraftwerk.
If you enjoyed this interview with DJ Hell, visit his facebook page to stay up to date on his work.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started learning how to play records in front of a crowd around 1978. My first parties happened in the early 80s. I played all kinds of music in front of a very mixed crowd. The styles I would feature where more like punk music, new wave, new romantics or dub and ska.
My first own record, "My definition of house music", was published under my DJ Hell moniker in 1992 on a Belgium label called R&S records.
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?
David Bowie said that he was never the first to jump on new ideas and new concepts. Instead, he was the one who made them relatable and successful. So copying is a very innovate part of making art & music.
I always tried to be free and step on new ground, to not just follow formulas. At the same time, I also tried to sound like the people or producers I love.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
At first, you have to find out what equipment you need to sound different or to find out how to program and manipulate Roland drum-computers or Roland analog keyboards like the 101 or 303. It takes a lot of experimenting and trying with the machines. When I started, it was all analogue. There was no digital software whatsoever.
What was your first studio 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?
After so many years, the most important piece of equipment is still the Roland 808 or Roland 909 drum machine.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Nowadays, it's all a mixture between analogue and the digital world. Plug ins rule the studio world. The great update here is that you no longer need a big studio anymore with lots of equipment.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
For all situations I use the best I can. So I choose the best possible singer like Bryan Ferry for one of my tracks. I have also worked with Alan Vega.
When using real instruments, I vice versa try to invite the best musicians to the studio. When the final song is sent off to the mastering I need to connect with the best mastering studio and later on the best pressing plant for doing vinyl.
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 music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other – do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I feel better doing music at night time. It feels natural to me after working as a DJ for over 40 years. Long sessions are very welcome, I have no problem with working 8 or 10 hours in the studio.
Most important is that everybody involved is in a good mood and brings in the best he can. This is why it's very important that everybody is highly motivated and pushes their limits.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I can only make music when I have something to say creatively. I need concepts and ideas before I start working on an album. Ideas comes from everyday life, meeting people, travelling, playing at festivals and nightclubs, listening to new music or getting inspired by musicians that influenced you. When it comes to techno, the formula for me was always to go where no man has gone before.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Strategies help me to get started working on new music. But at the same time, I need to discover new ground. The challenge is to not repeat myself, while still sounding like myself or working on a typical Hell signature. When I worked on the new version of Klaus Nomi's "Cold Song", it was the first time I stepped into classical music or opera.
To be creative and work in the studio, I need to be hungry for new music. It's best not to touch anything for some month and then focus every day on new ideas.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I love to improvise and experiment on everything when I do music. Playing as a DJ every weekend gives you so many input and new ideas, also listening to other DJs and anaylising their sound their music.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I am very open to everything. This means I am able to surprise myself many times. I always look for the perfect beat and the most unusual sound design. Sometimes it takes days to find the right sound for a bassline or strings that fit. What kick drum to use in the end was mostly the biggest question. Drum sounds and bass lines are the main elements of my music.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
The fashion world was always a main part of my world. So from there, taking the step into the art world was more or less logical. I try to combine all these elements when creating something new. During this process I am already thinking about the visuals and a possible cover and how I would like to promote it all togehter. I can’t separate these ideas.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Most of the time, I think artistically in every sense. What am I going to eat today, what will I wear? What way will I communicate? What car will I drive? What movies do I want to watch? These are all artistic decisions, 24/7 automatically. What will I wear when I DJ on stage? What travel gear will I be using?
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I am working on new ways of performing as a DJ right now. The video for "Out of control" off my new album features a Hell avatar that can be used now for festival and also performing in nightclubs. So I don't need to travel anymore. Instead, I simply send the avatar video, music & sound.