Name: Johannes Albert
Occupation: DJ, producer
Nationality: German
Current release: Johannes Albert's Frank Music imprint is currently celebrating its first decade in action.

If you enjoyed this interview with Johannes Albert and would like to find out more about him, visit him on Facebook, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

Tell me about your first DJ gigs, please. How did you approach them and how do you look back on them with hindsight?

I remember playing at my favourite record stores' birthday back in 1998. I played every record I had. Literally. My favourite moment was when The Bucketheads "The Bomb" came on. Mum picked me up around midnight because I was only 15 years old.

Around that time I DJ'ed at a lot of birthday parties for my friends. I brought my own turntables & mixer of course. It was a strange thing because I was into Blaze & DJ Sneak records. My friends from school were more into Prodigy or The Spice Girls. It wasn't exactly easy ...

What were some of the artists, technologies and clubs/events that changed your perspective on what DJing could be?

Around the year 2000 I went to club Airport in Würzburg every Friday. Ralf GUM was the resident DJ and he showed us how to programme a proper club night. He always took us on a ‘journey’ each and every week and I was always curious what records he might play that night. He made us love certain records at all times.

I remember Jon Cutler "It's Yours". Everyone knew that tune! It was a time when local DJs were our unsung heroes. I was not interested in technology so much at the time. It was all about music and the latest 12" House records.

A couple years later my destination was the Robert Johnson club in Offenbach. Especially the monthly "Liquid" night when Thomas & Gerd were doing warmup. [Thomas Hammann & Gerd Janson] For me it felt totally new when they played deep, loopy and slow music at half volume around 2:30. It was peak time already, but there was this amazing subtle and also weird groove going on (like STL "Space Warriors") and people were going nuts! It made me explore different, deeper records and understand the feeling of an intimate club vibe in general.

Another thing was the radio, I always listened to Hotmix '98 on Evosonic radio or Njoy the mix from Hamburg where Boris Dlugosch would play tomorrow's hits. Looking back we always made the extra effort to discover new music, artists or places. It felt only natural going on a 3-hour car trip just to listen to a certain DJ or finding out about a new spot.

How would you personally rate the potential for expressing yourself with DJing compared to producing? What can be expressed through these two different disciplines?

It goes hand in hand.

When it comes to DJing it’s always about creating the very best moment in the club. It can not be redone. A track is something I do alone in the studio, more of a steady thing. Like a statement, something that lasts. On the other hand I can create these special moments in the club through my own tracks. Clever right?

In the end there is more potential when DJing. It's all about sharing. Making music in the studio can be great, but also a lonely thing.  

DJing has always – at least partially – been about presenting exciting music. In a club, however, people are dancing and in a community with other guests while they're listening rather than sitting at home or listening on earbuds while travelling. How does this change our perception of the music, do you feel? What makes the club experience unique?

As I mentioned previously, a club night is a very social thing. A great club night does not only offer exciting music & dancing. It can be drama, it can be "joy and pain - sunshine & rain" as MAZE used to sing. In and out, much like life. Music is a terrific part of it. But there is so much more.

Composers and songwriters combine notes and sounds. DJs combine entire songs. 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?

When you work as a DJ, staying curious for new stuff is essential. Regrettably my listening habits turned a bit uncanny. Skipping through all these tracks for the weekend? What a mess!

The more dance music I produce the less I hear it at home. Recent years has seen more soul, ambient or folk in the home listening section. Coming back to albums in full.

On the other hand DJing makes me stop listening to music altogether at some point. My ears need rest, you know.

What role does digging for music still play for your work as a DJ? Tell me a bit about where and how you're looking for music that excites you and music that will work in a set?

It's the most important thing to do, you dig and dig and dig. Then you dig!

I usually start with the email promo folder, but I usually only play 2-5 %. There is just too much mediocre bullshit coming in. Then I go to the (digi) shops like bandcamp, junodownload, hardwax, beatport, decks, phonica, oye, whatsoever. When it comes to older stuff I use discogs or youtube or - of course - record shops. They help me (re-)discover stuff I wouldn't get across otherwise. It's basically a mix of anything and the moment I lose interest in discovering fresh music I will stop DJing.

Oh, I wouldn't listen to any DJ mixes. I need to discover fresh tracks for myself. Unfortunately my day only has 24 hours so I need to be real quick. Usually, it takes around 5-10 seconds to get a hold of the vibe of a track. So if it's a no, it's a hard no and I go on.

It's like a sport, yeah! A sport of selection. When I have a gig on a Friday I might listen to new music for 5 hours on a Thursday. It’s a big part of my job.

I've always wondered: How is it possible for DJs to memorise so many tracks? How do you store tracks in your mind – traditionally as grooves + melodies + harmonies or as colours, energy levels, shapes?

It's weird. I hated Latin in school for instance. I couldn't memorise vocabulary. But when it comes to music and tracks my brain mostly works very well. Back then you remembered the cover of every record. "The blue cover with the banging b side" or "the acid one with the green stamp, where the needle always jumps after the break". Now it's a bit trickier with all the CDJs and playlists.

I think a track is mostly connected to a genre and part of the night (like an energy level, yes?).  A vibe basically.

Let me give you an example. I have this new Eden Burns track in my mind. It's something groovy for the first part of my set, file under ‘warmup’. It's just saved under my personal imaginary warmup folder.

Then you would have "Get It Up For Love", the Tata Vega version. It's a peak Disco tune, all in! Going under my imaginary ‘Disco’ folder.

But Disco ain't Disco you know. Hard to say really. Some tracks are gateway-material. Like drum tools. I connect every track to a certain moment and try to recall them in the very second I need them in the club.

It always helps to listen to the new tracks again before you play. So when travelling to a gig I always listen to the new tracks over and over so I get to know them better even if I just bought them an hour ago.

Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like, from selecting the material and preparing for and opening a set?

Well let's pretend I did all my digging homework already and I have all the tracks that I might be playing ready.

I open rekordbox. First I create a new playlist and name it after the gig and date. I do a new playlist for each and every gig. Usually I scroll to my latest playlists and add my current faves to the new playlist. Then I open my monthly music folders on my hard drive (which I've been doing for about 8 -10 years now) and add more current faves. "Current" does not necessarily mean new music, just the stuff I am feeling and buying these days. My latest productions (released + unreleased) will be added. Then I go on and try to order all these tracks in a way that makes sense to me.

A lot will be deleted when I skip and listen to the music again. No more than 100 tracks. 80 or even 60 is better. It depends on the gig. Longer slots mean more music and more variety. Sometimes I need my fair bit of chaos. Comes in handy. I can't handle too much organization since it can kill the vibe. We all love a bit of chaos at times, don't we?

When I'm done I send this playlist to my USB drives. I always use two in case the CDJ connection does not work. If I'm playing vinyl, give me another 3 hours pleeease! When I arrive in the club I get into the vibe, like an hour before the show. Then I will start with one of the top tracks in my playlist. No experiments at the start since I need some confidence.

How does the decision making process work during a gig? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?

I prepare the first 2/3 tracks beforehand and I have this vague idea what to play next but it's mostly improvising from then.

It's funny: The more I prepare the more different I go in the end. But that’s a good thing after all. Knowing your stuff well makes you feel safe no matter what you end up playing.

What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit?

You could say it's the tempo or the beat or the instruments being used. It's all true probably, but for me it's still just the vibe. Sometimes playing the not-so-obvious track is the best fit!

Kode9 once said: "Many DJ sets go from drop to drop, so the biggest part of the track is always when it comes in. That kind of DJing I find pretty boring and that kind of DJing would be better done by a machine. I prefer to hear tracks in the mix together for extended periods of time, and I like to hear the tension between two tracks." What's your take on that?

He couldn't be more right. Sometimes you play a track for 10 minutes and just let it flow, let it breathe and groove. Once in a while you need a cut after 2 minutes and bring it right in. That's the tension and journey I'm looking for.

What Andrew Weatherall said: "Fail we may, sail we must". This is what I am talking about. I like to please the crowd but the trojan horse must be installed. Always.

Even if tension between tracks is not a goal for you, pieces can sound entirely different as part of a DJ set compared to playing them on their own. How do you explain this?

I can't tell you how many times I heard a track in a club and I was like "Wow! What is this banger?" and when I ask for the id I will be like "Okay, I know this tune! I listened to this one 3 days ago in full and I didn’t really feel or even like it".

Music tends to sound different on various sound systems, rooms or situations. Sometimes music grows on us or just needs the right time.

In terms of the overall architecture of a DJ set, are you looking more for one consistent level of energy or a shift between peaks and troughs – and why?

Oh we need energy shifts. We can't reach high peaks without the lower parts. That's why 2 hour slots are such a shame. It only creates high peak sets (I might have fallen into this trap once or twice too).

When you have time, you have time. An intimate club setting makes it easier to go deep and low along the way. When you stand on a stage and you look into 1000 pairs of eyes you rather go bang all the time. A great DJ will always bring their a-game when located in a dark corner in a small club.

Many DJs have remarked on collaborating with the audience. Others rather want to present their vision without external input. Where do you personally stand in between these poles?

I would talk to anyone while playing. Maybe only for a second though.

We DJs are actually present at a club to play music FOR people. Give and take right? Yet again: I do love people.

A DJ gig, just like an improvisation, is a fleeting experience which can not be repeated the way listening to a record can. How has DJing affected your view on life and death and the importance of memories?

DJ gigs made me realise and worship the importance of social gatherings even more. We help to create memories, yeah. But again, it's so much more. DJs only play a small part in it.