Name: Tobias Hagelstein aka Ruede Hagelstein
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current release: "The Life That Kills You", a collaboration between Ruede Hagelstein and Sailor & I is out this Friday on Metaphysical.
Recommendations: Book: Nelson Goodman - Languages Of Art; Song: Arca - Piel
If you enjoyed this interview with Ruede Hagelstein, visit him on Facebook, Instagram and Soundcloud for infos, images, insights and music. Ruede also has a personal page on the website of the Watergate club, which he has been closely associated with for many years.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Technically I started DJing when I was +/- 17 years old, when having the opportunity to mix with two vinyl decks, but I’ve bought my first records way earlier. Before that I recorded tons of radio shows from BFBS London, DT64 and other Berlin based radio stations and made my own mix tapes out of this material. I always loved to create my own playlists, I think this is what DJing is about, basically.
For most artists, originality is 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?
My influences are very diverse. I think my childhood was about setting up my artistic spectrum … I loved Pink Floyd, Kate Bush and other more or less edgy pop stars. Techno and House came into my life, when I was 11 via radio, as mentioned before. Berlin’s Loveparade introduced me to this kind of lifestyle the fashion, the dancing, the community.
But I went through many genres, copying them, including EBM, Wave and Hardcore, some Hip Hop ending up with Old School Electro. I never really educated myself about the history of Detroit, Chicago etc ... I approached it emotionally and less academically and I am bad in remembering names. Neither am I a collector of things. Pieces fly in and out.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I am not very tactical, when it comes to creativity. Not with my own music. I am co-producing a lot, therefore it’s important, I think. But my own art is always driven by a feelings, which are based on my moods. I could have countless aliases, but I decided to put most of my chaos under one artistic roof.
What were your main creative challenges when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time?
To be honest, I don’t feel like I'm a DJ first and foremost. I am primarily a producer. When I started DJing, I was digging music a lot. The more time I spent in the studio, which is every day now, the less I enjoyed listening to promos and new music on all those platforms. Since I don’t play vinyl, I am not hanging around in record stores either, which changed my DJ life. I always played a lot of my own stuff in my DJ sets. When I play on stage I am mostly playing live at the moment.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I grew up in Berlin’s surrounding area and I started making music with 14. It all started with the very first Cubase on Atari and one useless Roland 880 multitimbral synthesizer, which I bought from my first money without having a clue of anything really. This piece of gear was absolutely useless for Techno, but I was a clueless kid. There were no Youtube tutorials or anything else to learn more and go deeper. I had to find others to learn more. So it was a slow process. Later I met people with better gear and developed a deeper understanding.
I remember the day when Reason got released and I was able to save a project without these annoying MIDI setups. To work digitally was the shit, no longer did you have to write down the parameters on sheets of paper and save samples on small discs. Nowadays I am working analog again, 90% of my music is from outboard gear. But everything has become more comfortable now. I love the warmth and noise of analog equipment.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you perform?
DJing is a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation. How would you describe your approach to it? What do you start with, how do you develop a set, how does a form gradually manifest itself, what are good transitions between different tracks etc …
I think DJing became a little bit too perfect lately. Everything is in sync and in key and designed for armadas of ice canons and visuals. I like it freaky, moody and diverse, unpredictable. Doesn’t mean there is no need for being prepared, but there should be space for accidents. Keeping the chaos. You need time to dig and discover music. I am not inspired by many DJs, just another reason why I focus more and more on live sets.
How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? Is there a sense of collaboration between you and the dancers?
There are two different types of crowd. Some people just want to dance, physically moving and shaking their bones, doing some kind of sports on a groovy basis. As a dancer, I'm sometimes like that, too. So some DJs play a very hypnotic sound, less breaks, less surprises. It’s not easy to hold the tension over hours, building things up and down slowly. I am bad with this. I have never been that kind of DJ. I think my approach is closer to a concert show, less footwork, more brain activity. Playing 2-3 hours instead of 12 hours sets. Combining things in an unusual way. This could fail epically, but when it fits, I am in heaven.
It’s always an experiment and I never know how it will end. Playing live is more planned, I can’t change styles and energy levels on the flight to follow the audience. If my spot or stage time does not fit my set, it won't work. When DJing I am having more options to follow the needs of the crowd.
In a song or classical composition, the building blocks are notes, but in a DJ set the building blocks are entire songs and their combinatory potential. Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening and perhaps also, if applicable, your work as a producer?
A club track is 6-10 minutes long, a long intro and outro, bridge and break, everything is stretched out for a club night. It’s all about the factor of time and time feels different on the dance floor, compared to listening on your couch.
Also, it’s about sound design. A club track has more bass and doesn’t need the brilliance in the high frequencies to work properly. The DJ experience taught me to translate and switch between those worlds technically. During the pandemic I had no club shows and making dance tracks felt a little academic, because there was no playing out loud in front of people in the club. I think it’s pretty tough to make dance music without having that club experience. It’s a skill to, in your mind, slip into those ecstatic moments you get at a party, while working on a track in the afternoon in my studio drinking an ice tea.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
Mostly I go to bed early and I can’t wait to be back in the studio the next day. No kidding, I am excited every single day. Coffee, food, shower. The morning hours are great. Berlin is sleeping, no one calls me or knocks on my door. So the mornings are for creativity, for diving into something.
After lunch, I'll do emails, interviews - like this one right now (laughs) - and business meetings regarding my label and my work as producer. In the afternoon I am having clients over for music productions, mix downs or other business stuff.
From 7/8pm I get back to what I did in the morning and stay in the studio as long as I can. When the gyms are reopening again, I will use the first hour of the day for exercising.
Can you talk about a breakthrough DJ set or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
One of my first live sets ever was at Fusion Festival 2016. I was beyond excited and nervous, so many people and I was still a beginner at performing my own tracks live on stage. I'd played Fusion before, but as DJ, I knew it could turn out great or a disaster. Luckily it went amazing and motivated me to keep on performing live.
By far the saddest live set I had also took place at Fusion Festival. 2 minutes before I went up on stage they told me, that some one had just died at the festival and that they would turn off the music for 15 minutes on the whole festival ground for paying respect. I remember I was fighting my tears when I started my set, it was weird and hard for me to perform. Instead of uploading my set afterwards to soundcloud, like I did in 2016, I decided to upload 15 minutes of silence. Everything else would not have made sense to me.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Healing is such an undefined field. Music makes me happy, I guess that can’t be bad for any kind of healing process.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I am running a label called DUAT Records. DUAT is the realm of the dead in ancient Egyptian mythology. I am knee deep in that topic. We streamed our music at the ancient Egypt exhibition in Berlin, next to the Nofretete.
When you deal with other cultures in your art, do it with respect and acknowledge yourself, then it’s a positive thing. What I hate is randomly taking samples from somewhere, not being aware of what it means. Don’t make things your own, make compliments.
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?
I think there is a lot of entertainment in dance music. Not every dance track becomes art in my opinion. A good example is the new album of DJ Hell and Jonathan Meese. Jonathan is one of the biggest contemporary artists and this project is pure art. It’s tough to consume, compared to Hell’s last House Album, but it’s closer to what I call would call art. It tells you more, than just dancing.
Music can be functional or meaningful in other fields, politically, philosophically, etc … Same with my music: Some of my tracks have a deeper message, some are more for working it out on a party. Both are good and important approaches.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music comes from life. Minor or major are based on natural principles, which we can understand through mathematics. Nature has no crooked notes, so we can’t stand them and feel uncomfortable when we listen to a detuned guitar. We are able to crook things up and amplify tones, that makes us special, that makes us human. And this, precisely, is what touches us in that wonderful way and becomes an expression of our feelings.