Monday, January 31, 2011

Interview: Jerome Sydenham

Jerome Sydenham takes over the reins of Adam Beyer's Drumcode Radio this week, with a special guest mix from the long-serving US techno hero.

For more than 20 years, Sydenham has worked in dance music, both in the underground trenches as a committed DJ and producer, and behind the scenes as the owner of five record labels.

Capable of producing a kaleidoscope of club sounds, the Berlin-based artist has released all manner of grooves from classic house, tech house, and deep house on his respected label Ibadan (which he co-runs with Dennis Ferrer), to heavy hitting techno on his Apotek and Avocado imprints.

In December, Sydenham released his second Drumcode EP 'Trombipolution', a five tracker of deep and energetic techno that showed the producer's flair for creating techno with an edge of funk, something which he is renowned for.

With Sydenham's Drumcode Radio show guest mix available today as a podcast, we decided to interview Jerome to find out more about him as an artist, his ideals on techno, and his approach to DJing.

How did you and Adam Beyer first meet?

I moved to Stockholm after I left New York City. I lived there for about six months and got to know the Swedish music scene.

Then after I left Stockholm, I called Adam to do a remix of 'GSXR 810' for me on Apotek, and he returned the favour by asking me to remix 'Forming Dies' for Drumcode. We also crossed paths on the DJ cicuit , and you could say that our relationship really took off from there.

It's quite surprising you guys didn't connect properly before 2008.

The thing is, I was trying to develop the Apotek brand, and I wanted to do that before reaching out to other techno labels that I liked, like Drumcode. It was important for me to give attention to my label first, before spreading the love around.

So how many labels do you have?

Well, there's Ibadan, which is the parent label I guess. And then Avocado, which is a pet project for Rune RK and myself where we release just our own music. Apotek is specifically for techno, whereas Ibadan does everything from house, to techno, tech house, electronica etc.

I've also got UK Promotions, which is my new label that has a tougher more sample based sound.

And there's also Public Service which is also a bootleg label, but that's really defunct now.

Where did the name for your recent 'Trombipolution' EP on Drumcode come from?

It's actually a very rare funk record from early '80s, which I love. The original track had a lot of bravado and punch, and when I made 'Trombipolution' it reminded me of that record, even though they're not the same genre. The track has a certain freedom to it, so I decided to use that title.

How did the EP come about?

When I make a track that I think fits Drumcode, I send it to Adam. If Adam feels the track I then progress onto the development of the EP.

'Trombipolution' has five tracks on it, which it quite unusual for an EP, and that's because I was digging through some old work I did after we were ready to go, and I found this really interesting track that I thought would go perfectly with the others. I did it a while ago, and I totally forgot about it.

Which track is that?

'Bite' - it has an edgy stamp to it, and it's quite versatile so it can easily be played in tech house or techno sets. It's one of those modern accessible techno records that you can slow down to house speed, or pitch up for techno sets. It had enough energy to be on Drumcode anyway. Whereas 'Trombipolution' is an out and out techno record.

There's a good variety of techno on the EP. You've always been about variety. Why is that?

That's just my basic, simple love of music. I still enjoy most forms of music in my own time, including country, classical, world music, even weird folk music. Omitting, stupid commercial pop music of course.

I love things that are emotional and have been creatively made with spirit. When I make music, it has to be something that compliments my DJing, so I'd never do a folk label for instance, except maybe when I retire from DJing. I really love David Byrne's label by the way. But right now, I'm loving the nightlife and dance music scene, and I need stuff that I can touch.

How has Berlin's nightlife scene affected your music?

Berlin is pretty good. I love Berghain, and some of the more underground, darker places in the city. There are a lot of reasons why I'm here though. I really like the simplicity of the city - it's 24hr, affordable, still very free and creative, and there's not much traffic.

Its techno and house reality is flourishing of course, and because of its location it's really easy to fly out to gigs. It's so easy to get to London, Madrid, or Stockholm. New York on the other hand is so far away from everything and it's dance music scene is not as thriving as it once was, although it has had a bit of a comeback recently.

How long were you based in New York? How is the scene there?

I was there for 25 years so I know a lot about the scene. There's some good stuff happening in lower Manhattan right now, and there's some good parties in Brooklyn. They're booking some good international DJs, and there's a healthy local scene too. But the amount of music coming out of New York, compared to like 10 years ago, I'd say has more than halved.

If you think about all the big New York DJs - guys like Roger Sanchez and Erick Morillo - they're still DJing, but production wise they're very quiet. They don't contribute as much to music as they used to, and that's seems to apply to the whole of New York.

Why do you think that is?

That's probably just a reflection of the market place in the US, although appreciation for dance music is hopefully coming back. That's what everyone is saying anyway.

Your sounds always seems to evolve, never faltering for more than a few months on one groove. How would you say your sound has changed over the years?

I always look back to check what I've done, to make sure I'm not stuck somewhere in no man's land. When you're in the middle of a transition, sound wise, you can sometimes get lost. So I listen to my old tracks, so I have something to compare my new music to.

There's no real plan with me, I'm influenced by the things around me. Sometimes I get tired of something, or I hear something new and that will affect my music. Even a great DJ set will affect my music, and I'll go into the studio and try to make a track that could have been played in that DJ set.

When I find a sound I'm happy with, that can stretch for a few months, or sometimes even a year. When Dennis Ferrer and I made 'Sandcastles' for instance, that was us being tired of the same old New York shit. We had got so bored of it, and wanted to break out creatively. 'Sandcastles' was our departure from the New York sound, and it was very original when it came out.

It actually made me more relaxed about music. If you're not relaxed, I think you deny yourself self-expression. So I sort of slapped myself in the face and relaxed, and that got me into making techno.

What would you say is the difference between the techno you produce for Drumcode, and the techno you release on Apotek?

There are certain records that I'd do on Apotek, that I wouldn't bother sending to Drumcode. A certain energy is required for a Drumcode record.

For example, 'In The Zone' which is included on the 'Trombipoltion' EP, I'd never have sent that to Adam as my first EP track. It's a perfect first track for Apotek, but it's more of a B side for Drumcode. I don't mind putting out high energy stuff on Apotek, but I occasionally will drop some deeper stuff on the label too.

Actually next week, there's a very deep minimal techno record coming out on Apotek called 'Vanishing Point'. It's probably the best record I've done over the last year, and it's a good example of the kind of sound Apotek is about.

Which producers or DJs are you currently digging?

Recently, I've been really influenced by... well, I'm in nowhere land right now. But six months ago, maybe a year ago, I was definitely heavily influenced by the early Blueprint and James Rushkin stuff. Like the early 1990's techno and music on Deconstructed. I was re-buying all of that music.

Even though my music doesn't sound like that, I found the way they approached music very sexy and it inspired me. It made me work hard, and it had a positive influence.

What about the Berghain guys like Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann - have they influenced you?

Yeah, I love those guys. They have definitely influenced me. I play all the time at Berghain, and they have this amazing venue and play this style of techno which I love. You can definitely call it Berghain techno. And then you've got James Rushkin, Luke Slater, and the other great talents of techno pushing at the other end.

That's the thing with me, I'm influenced by positive people who care about what they do. Quality control is so important, and all of these guys know exactly what sound they want. It's great to be around such talents. It's fun, and I feel very at home.

You've done a special guest mix for this week's Drumcode Radio show. What can we expect from the mix?

Actually, when it comes to my DJing, I play whatever I'm feeling at that moment on that particular day. So the guest mix feature the records that I'm playing right now. Like, if you asked me to DJ at a club right now, these are the records that I'd play. And maybe a week later, it would be different.

I'm completely spontaneous when it comes to DJing. I don't rehearse. I just grab my vinyl or CDs and mix on the spot, so my set is really guided by my emotions at that moment in time.

The same goes with my club sets. I play based on the response of the crowd, how I'm feeling that day, what the DJ is playing before me, etc. It's spontaneous emotion really.

Surely when promoters book you though, they request that a certain Jerome Sydenham turns up?

Yes, promoters often tell me what kind of music they want beforehand, and that's cool. I always do research on the club before I play there, to find out who plays there, and what I can get away with, and I will never show up at a gig with the same records that I played the night before. I would never play the same music in Madrid for example, that I played in London the night before.

And then depending on how the first three or four records go down, that really dictates the mood of the next hour or two. That stuff is never planned. I always bring enough techno with me to last several hours, in case I have to play a long set.

I know that a lot of DJs have pre-arranged sets, and that works for them. But if you don't change your set very often it simply becomes repetitive.

So no Traktor or Ableton Live for you then?

I'm learning about digital technology right now, and I'm not against it. It's just my preference to play vinyl and CDs. If I play a long set, in Tokyo for example, then I can't bring too much vinyl with me so I bring a tight 30 vinyls and then lots of CDs.

Some places that I play don't even have turntables these days. It's happened to me so many times in the UK recently. At least I've got my CDs.

Some friends of mine use digital technology to DJ, like François [Kevorkian] uses Traktor, and Kerri [Chandler] uses three computers now I think. I will always call those guys if I need help or tips on DJ technology, as people like Kerri are always three steps ahead.

I have played with Ableton. I bought one of those APC40 machines the other day, but I haven't plugged it in yet. It looks like fun. I'm no technology snob though - I think it's good the be knowledgeable about all these things.

(Words: Terry Church)

Jerome Sydenham guest mix: Drumcode Radio

Head to to subscribe to Drumcode Radio's podcast, and to download Jerome Sydenham's recent guest mix.


Tracks linked are available to buy from

01. Jerome Sydenham - "In the Zone" (Drumcode)

02. Sawf - "Slim (DVS1 Four by Four Mix)" (Perc Trax)

03. Audio Injection - "Toggle (Original Mix)" ( Sleaze Records)

04. Alan Fitzpatrick - "A Small Decline (Mark Broom Dub)" (Drumcode)

05. Shed - "Boom Room" (Ostgut Ton)

06. Len Faki - "The Dub Track (Jerome Sydenham Edit)" (unreleased/Figure)

07. Jerome Sydenham - "Rabid Dub" (Apotek Records promo)

08. Jerome Sydenham - "Particle Zoo" (Apotek Records promo)

09. Jerome Sydenham - "Vanishing Point" (Apotek Records)

10. Silent Servant - "Untitled" (Sandwell District)

11. Spektre & Subfractal - "Turista (Jerome Sydenham Remix)" (Sleaze Records)

12. Transversing Wormhole - "The Astroid Belt (Function Remix)" (CLR)

13. Mark Broom, James Ruskin - "Erotic Misery (Original Mix)" (Blueprint)


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