Exclusive Interview With Roman Fluegel

“You always have to keep discovering new music and be enthusiastic about it. When you become cynical, that’s the end of it. That’s the point where as a DJ you should probably look for another job”

Roman Fluegel is one of the biggest names in the German electronic music scene. Active since the early 1990’s, Fluegel is a chameleon visiting many styles from ambient/idm to house, techno, electro and leftfield. Works solo under the name ‘Alter Ego’ or with long time partner Jorn Elling Wuttke. Also co-founder of the Ongaku/Klang/Playhouse label. This July, Roman will make an appearance at Buiten Westen Festival, where he will be playing next to friend and Kompakt label-owner Michael Mayer at the NGHTDVSN stage, two acts that are highly anticipated already.

Last Friday Roman was playing at the Pixel night at Trouw. We first watched a little of Nathan Fake’s live show after which we headed to the office situated right next to the club’s main dance floor. As we shut the door the loud thumping bass drum disappeared almost completely and we could hear each other without having to raise our voices. As we sat down, Roman came across as a bit shy perhaps. But that all proved to be wrong after we started talking for a bit. 

So let’s start with the place we’re in right now. What has your relation been with Trouw, since you’ve been here multiple times in past years?
Very very good so far! I’ve been here maybe three times now. With the guys from Nachtdigital I’ve been here a couple of times and that was a lot of fun. I personally think it’s one of the most beautiful clubs in the world, a very special place with its design, the sound and the people that come here.

As you have been called a chameleon in your productions, always sursprising everybody with new releases that never stick to one typical sound or genre, I wondered what we can find in your record collection at home?
Oh my God. Well, it’s a wide range of music. It can be indie guitar stuff like Galaxy 500 or Brit-pop with things like Blur. But I like to listen to weird music like Indian tantric just the same, or early jazz – like I said, a very wide range.

Hmm, and let’s say you’ve just had a really shitty day and you come home and really need to wind down. What is it you pull out of your record collection?
That would be classical music, and Bach in particular. He’s my favourite composer and he never disappoints.

Your latest release has been an EP that you made together with Simian Mobile Disco. How did this collaboration come to existence?
Well SMD decided they wanted to do three collaborations on their own label and they asked Bicep, Cosmin TRG and me to work with them. And I almost immediately said yes because I knew their music and I liked it. And so it all ended up in their studio in East-London, where we had a session for three consecutive days. It felt like a jam session, especially because we didn’t really have any specific idea about what we wanted to make. But we just had fun and it sort of came together pretty quickly and then we had the EP finished.

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The EP carries the Japanese name Hachinoko. When looking at your history it shows a certain relation to Japan, not in the least part because you’ve had multiple tours over there. You seem to have a special relationship with Japan. How did this start out?
Before I ever went there, Japan was the most exotic country I could think of. So exotic even that it must have been like a different planet I always thought. And the first time I went there it did feel that way. And year by year, even though I never learned the language, I got to know more about Japanese culture and society and it has always interested me. Especially the club scene over there is incomparable to the West. They love music just as much as any European or American, but they don’t have the same way of partying. They react differently to the music, perhaps listen a little closer to it.

What exactly do you mean?
The clubs are very dark, with almost no light at all, which automatically results in a larger focus on the music than on what’s happening around you. And you just immediately notice that people are there for the music and nothing else.

No lit-up faces on the dance floor of people playing with their smartphone?
No, absolutely not.

I’ve read about something that happened to you in Japan that I want to know more of: you had a gig somewhere and the booker had a surprise for you backstage?
[laughing] Okay so I was in Okinawa, the island in the very South of Japan and I arrived there on a Monday. I entered the club, you couldn’t see anything and there was techno playing at 150 bpm or something. So I was a little shocked at first. Then the club crew told me to come backstage and told me that they had something for me. When they opened the door there was a table full of, what they thought was traditional German food. Like Frankfurter sausages, mashed potatoes and mustard and things like that. And everybody was standing around me smiling and awaiting my reaction while I was eating the food, by myself.

That must have felt comfortable?
Yes. And the funny thing is that they ordered everything off the internet because they don’t sell that stuff over there. But then the next day I ate traditional Okinawan dishes, things like pig’s ear and stuff like that, very different from the known Japanese kitchen like sushi. I love the Japanese kitchen so much, with all the fish and snacks.

Looking back a bit, one of your best known projects was Alter Ego together with Joern Elling Wuttke. In all your years together, what has your proudest moment been?
We worked together for 15 years, under various different names. What makes me proud is that we reached different levels and genres throughout our collaboration. We’ve had some hits and one huge tune, which was Rocker. If you’re talking about success, then that last one was maybe the thing that I’m most proud of, but even more so of the fact that we were able to to so many different things together.

And what is it that has really stuck with you through the years?
That at one point we were playing to bigger and bigger audiences all of a sudden. The thing is though: I never really knew what I had actually just been part of only after it had happened. You don’t realize that it’s just insane to stand in front of tens of thousands of people listening to you during a gig, that’s not your concern at that moment, the music is. Only afterwards I realized how surreal it actually was to play in front of such a crowd.

Is it hard to notice and keep enjoying special moments when you have been a DJ for so long?
It becomes normal in certain ways. But there is always the music and that always has to stay the most important. You always have to keep discovering new things and be enthusiastic about it. When you become cynical, that’s the end of it. That’s the point where you should probably look for another job.

Are you and Joern planning on coming back together by the way?
No not really. We of course keep in contact from time to time, but we’re busy on our solo careers mostly and haven’t planned anything like that yet.

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From what I’ve heard and seen, you’re a vinyl enthusiast. Which are your favourite vinyl shops in the world?
Well I actually like a small record shop, Tactile in Frankfurt a lot. The most important thing for a record shop is to have a person that I can trust musically, you know? And the guy at Tactile is a really good pre-selector that just knows exactly what stuff to order and what not. I’m not really a person that goes digging in every city he visits. I like to have one close to home, where I spent most of my time anyway, and Tactile is it for me.

Do you still have a strong connection to your hometown?
Yes, very much. I never chose to go to Berlin or Köln or whatever. Plus, Frankfurt is a very good hub for a DJ to live in. It’s close to the airport, loads of train connections, and geographically it’s pretty central in Europe. So yeah, it’s a really good place for me to stay.

What releases have you got lined up this summer?
There’s a new album coming, on Dial Records again like my last one. Then there is a remix coming for Daniel Avery on Phantasy and some more stuff that’s in the works. But the main focus is the album, it’s already finished, the artwork has been done and I can’t wait for it to be released. More news on that one soon..

What’s the sound of the album?
Compared to the last one more electronic, I got rid of the groovy/jazzy elements and it’s more new wave and kraut-rock influenced this time around. It’s more ‘weird’.

Allright thank you for your time! I’m looking forward to your show in a bit. Good luck and we’ll meet again at Buiten Westen Festival next month!

Oh wait one last thing: why did you lose the hair man?!
[laughing loudly] Well it was too heavy and warm for the summer, so it just needed to go I guess. I like my short coupe at the moment, don’t think my long hair will ever be coming back.

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NGHTDVSN Stage: Michael Mayer | Sebastian Mullaert aka Minilogue (DJ-set) | Roman Fluegel | Aril Brikha live | Rone live | Arjuna Schiks live | Terry Toner |

July 19 | Buiten Westen | Tickets | Westerpark Amsterdam |