Producer, DJ, visual artiste and all-round nice guy, armed only with his wits, formidable charm, searing acid basslines and coagulated kicks: Andreas Gehm. Releasing records since the mid-00s Gehm creates rough acid house and techno for strobe lit warehouses and grimy cellar parties, music for the lost and the damned operating deep in seedy underbelly of the European electronic scene. Transmitting signals quietly but studiously out of the shadows for the previous ten years Gehm's star is very much in the ascendency, with increased attention on his considerable back-catalogue and a plethora of new projects in the works. Graciously Gehm granted Digital Tsunami some of his time so we sat down with him one hot day in July to talk about the influences on his music, the equipment and production methods he chooses, his relationship with Bunker Records and his new label 'Cologne Underground Records', and just why he thought he'd make a song with a three hour break...
Digital Tsunami: So Andreas, what's the scene like in Cologne right now, and are there any local DJs or promoters that you're particularly impressed with?
Andreas Gehm: Phew, well we start with a very difficult question, firstly I moved from Cologne to a small village about six months ago, so I don't live in Cologne anymore. I lived in Cologne for about ten years, but I was born and raised in Dusseldorf and lived there for thirty years. In Cologne there is Claus Bachor a DJ who started playing techno and house in the late 80s and he's still on the scene, he runs a label called Psycho Thrill and invites people from Detroit and makes great parties. I released two records on his label a few years ago, [Manager 111 - Penthouse Traxx #1.0 2006 & Psycho Thrill & Trajical Bitch - Cosmic Dust E.P. 2010 Sky's Ablaze Records (Sublabel of Psycho Thrill) ]. Claus' parties were always good in my opinion because Cologne was full of only the same boring Kompakt shit for many years and he was the only one making parties with real music, next month I play again for him so in Cologne Claus Bachor is the one yes.
DT: OK, so if you were to go to a particular club in Cologne is there a place you would recommend?
AG: The best programming is at the Roxy Club, the owner Tobias Becker worked for Kompakt but he is more independent now and creates more open minded parties. For example during the week you can see jazz music at his club and stuff, it's not pure techno, but it's also not Kompakt so... [laughs]
"Yeah with a synthesiser you can imitate every other instrument with it", and I was asking him "so why do they still play other instruments then [laughs]?"
DT: As you were growing up what music influenced you and can you recall the first record you bought?
AG: Yeah well maybe it sounds a little bit stereotypical but really since I was a little child I was impressed by synthesiser music. I remember watching a German chart show on TV called Hitparade, which everyone watched, but I was like five or six years old and there was someone who was playing a synthesiser and I asked my brother "what is this instrument?", and he told me so I asked him what can you could do with it and he said, (he was only seven years older than me, so he didn't know everything), but he told me "yeah with a synthesiser you can imitate every other instrument with it", and I was asking him "so why do they still play other instruments then [laughs]?" So yeah that was my very first getting in touch with the synthesiser as an idea for making music. I remember the first 7" I bought was Human League's 'Being Boiled', I was eight or nine years old. This was the only time in my life I listened to pop music, I also remember a bit later listening to the radio and how impressed I was the first time I heard Trans X's 'Living on Video', so I think even at this time it was clear that I wanted to listen to music like this.
DT: Can you name three of your favourite records, not necessarily acid tracks but something you enjoy listening to at home for example?
AG: Oh, well that's a really hard question I think this is the hardest question ever [laughs]. Not only because there are so many good records but also because my preferences change always, but there are records like Steve Poindexter's 'Computer Madness' where I always feel like home, or QX-1, A.K.A. Mike Dunn 'I won't hurt you', that's also great, but there's nothing for me that's not so far away from acid house.
DT: Why did you first start making music, can you remember what it was that led you to buy your first pieces of hardware and start producing?
AG: When I started listening to house and techno in the late 80s and early 90s even then there was a wish to make it on my own, but for many years I was too lazy and too fearful to make something. In the mid-90s I met a friend and we started to make music a little bit and I realised ok, 'I can do this', which is important, [laughs], so in the late 90s I purchased an Ensoniq ASR-10 workstation, it was quite expensive at that time still but you could do cool tracks with it. So I started out with this and I produced many tracks with it, the first tracks where really crap, but then I moved on to some OK ones. My first release on Pyscho Thrill under my name Manager 111 [Penthouse Traxx #1] was totally made with the ASR-10 only, no other hardware included. I had to make some tricks to modulate the sound, because the ASR-10 is not made for modulated lines, but I recorded the tracks live and then always changed some parameters to try and create a live sound with it.
DT: Could you maybe give us a little overview of the machines that you use today and why you use them?
AG: Well people always think that I have a lot of gear but the truth is that I mainly work with software, so I have a 707 and I have a Roland JX-8P, but most of the time I only work with the software. It needed some time back in the days to make it sound like analogue but in the end it works.
The rough analogue sound is like life, life is also dirty and rough, and analogue. If it's too smooth there's just no soul in it.
DT: What is it about the particular synthesisers and drum machines that you use that you find so attractive, why is it those two machines that you've decided 'ok, these are the ones that I want to work with?'
AG: Well it's the sound, the sound of the 808, 707, 909 and the 303 of course, and it's clear, I mean even when I listen to music the tracks I really like are the ones always using the same sounds. It's very rare that I listen to tracks and I know it's made with totally different equipment but I think it also sounds great.
DT: What is it about the sound that you like then, is it some sort of emotional kind of connection?
AG: Yeah well I mean if you take an 808 it can sound so different: you can make totally rough tracks with it, like basement sounds, on the other hand you can make rough electro tracks with it and it also sounds good, or old school hip-hop tracks with many cowbells and stuff, it always sounds great, for me. I just really like it dirty and rough and analogue, clean music is mostly boring to me, the rough analogue sound is like life, life is also dirty and rough, and analogue. If it's too smooth there's just no soul in it.
DT: Have you been using software for a long time now then, or is it a recent thing? Since your earliest releases on Bunker for example, were you using software then?
AG: Yeah, I work still with an old version of Cubase SX 2 actually, it's very old but I my computer is also very old, the software is old, everything is old but my music sounds old so no problem with that. I still produce the same way for years because when I start to make music I can do it blind, because I know everything, so I can do it very fast and without sorting technical problems because there are none. I will not change until I don't want to use it anymore, never change a working system.
DT: Besides music from Chicago are there any other ideas that influence your music, maybe things that you see in the news or ideas that you might borrow from other art forms, books or films perhaps?
AG: Of course everything influences people, everything I do is at least the result of what I hear, what I do, even with the music, I mean Chicago has always been the biggest influence and I also listen to New Wave and some disco stuff, a little bit of funk, I think everything except rock music influences me. I mean if you listen to the old minimal wave tracks you have the same instruments and very rough recordings and I like that too, so this has influenced me too.
DT: Would you agree that the music you make has a similar sort of sound and feeling as some of the music coming from Den Haag?
AG: Well yeah of course Bunker Records was a big influence in the 90s too and yeah I was quite happy when I sent my first demo to them and they immediately accepted it and wanted to release it. At this time like 2004/2005 there were not many labels around to release the stuff that I liked and of course Bunker was one of the only labels who didn't care that anyone wanted to listen to acid. I mean of course there were people, as the record sold well, but there were not many labels around to release that sort of music. I remember when I was at home and my friends Mick Wills, Isabella Venis and Rude 66 visited me and I played the tracks to them I'd made, Rude 66 who released like fifteen records or so on Bunker told me that I have to send it to them, so I did and it was a really good decision. Before I'd sent many demos to many labels and never got any response, except like Psycho Thrill and Kommando 6 and yeah so I was quite happy that Bunker released it, many people thought at this time that I was from Den Haag or the Netherlands but, yeah, it was good.
I think every artist hates arrangement because if there is a loop and its great the arrangement can destroy everything if you get it wrong.
DT: When you create your tracks do you work to a particular method, maybe start with a concept or particular idea you want to represent, or is it down to a more random creative process?
AG: Well it's more like I just start playing around and I see what happens, a random process because sometimes I start with a concept but it never works, it always changes. I make loops and stuff, the beat, acid lines, bass lines and everything and if the loops are good then I start to arrange, and I hate arrangement because it's so boring, [laughs] but I have to do it. I think every artist hates arrangement because if there is a loop and its great the arrangement can destroy everything if you get it wrong.
DT: There seems there have been quite a big swing, in the underground anyway to 'dirtier' sounds, more analogue sounds that favour your kind of style over the past few years. Do you have any thoughts on why that might have happened?
AG: I have no real idea, but I'm very happy about it, I mean I think the internet has played a part. It's more like the past five years with Facebook and stuff the people who are into this music worldwide have been able to join together, even many people who listened to it in their youth like me. Before Facebook nobody knew the other people and everybody thought perhaps that they were the only ones who listened to this sound and now we know that we are a big scene, it's helped us to promote the music better.
DT: So you've recently started Cologne Underground Records and you've got one release so far on there, your own EP called the Second Coming E.P.
AG: Yeah well the second E.P. will be out in a few days, this includes various artists: Ekman, Jared Wilson, the Exaltics and myself. The third record is also in planning, this will be a double album with ten or eleven international artists and this will be really great. I met both Ekman and Jared in the Netherlands when I played there. I once played with Ekman and Unit Moebius and at another party I played with Jared Wilson and it's always nice to meet these people in person. I asked them for tracks and they sent them to me. I'll also be soon on Jared's label  with the Ghost Miners EP Part Two that's featuring a remix from me so I'm also really happy about that.
DT: Why was it that you decided to start your own label?
AG: I think after ten years on other labels most people will end up with their own label, my plan for years has been to create a label but there was always something in the way, but recently I really knew that the time was right.
Networks are important, relationships are important, but mostly it's important to be nice.
DT: Do you have any tips for anyone that might want to set up their own label, do you have any key points they've got to look out for?
AG: it's not so hard to make your own label, you only have to collect tracks, send them to the pressing plant, press it and have a distributor, that's all.
DT: I guess to have the good music you've got to have good contacts which I would imagine can only really come through being on the scene and gaining experience over time, time to develop those relationships?
AG: Yeah of course, if you don't want to release your own music it's always good to have connections but I've been in the scene twenty five years and making music for like ten years, so I know enough people. I was very happy when I planned Cologne Underground Records #3, I asked many people and everybody was immediately like "yes I'll send you a track", so that includes Jamal Moss, Legowelt and Takeshi Kouzuki from Japan. They sent me tracks because they know me, so yeah its true, networks are important, relationships are important, but mostly it's important to be nice. I mean there are many people who do not have so many connections and if they ask me really nicely then I can think about it, but there are also people who ask me very rude and don't have any plans and then I'll think twice before I send them tracks; I mean in your whole life it's always good to be nice [laughs].
DT: Sage advice. I notice that you're quite active with photoshop, looking at the pictures from your profile...
AG: [Laughs] Well, I always have to explain that I still work with MS Paint in my old computer, still the old version of course and if you see a really good photo shop picture on my profile they are always made by other people. If it looks like it was made in three seconds, I did it and it was made in two seconds [laughs].
DT: When you're not working with MS Paint or when you're not releasing jacking acid electro funk, what other creative pursuits do you get up to?
AG: Since I still can't live only from my music I have my nine to five job at the office so I don't have so much spare time, because in the evening I'm pretty tired, I like to take a nap and then make music until late and then during the weekend I have many gigs so it's only music for me in my spare time.
DT: What records have you got coming out next and do you have any other plans for the future? I saw you've got something coming out on Bristol's Happy Skull soon right?
AG: Yeah Happy Skull is the very next one, and then in the summer there should be a new one on Bunker or Panzerkreuz records. I'm not sure which one they're going to choose I asked them for Bunker but maybe they'll release it on Panzerkreuz, they have their own minds, so nobody knows yet, [laughs]. There will also be a new house EP on Chiwax soon. Also on Chiwax there will be a record feat Hard Ton the Italian supersinger so that's two separate EPs on Chiwax. Oh, I also have a release on a new label from Scotland called Schroedinger's Box that should be out after the summer too. Then there's the releases on Cologne Underground, the second EP and the double album, hopefully those will be out before the end of the year. But yeah, although all of this has been in the pipeline for a long time the issue is with the pressing plants as they're all so full, if you want to release a record you must leave at least minimum of three months because they're so busy, but I hope everything will be out before Christmas [laughs].
DT: Ok, so the final question is that I noticed your latest post on Soundcloud, 'Break', are you aiming to get into the Guinness Book of World Records with that, or is this next step in your musical evolution?
AG: I hope so, but I posted it two days ago and the Guinness people still haven't called me, so I don't know why, maybe they can't find my number, but Break will be released on a friend's label called 'Concern', and it will be out with a short edit of one or two seconds, some remixes and a standard edit of 25 hours because three hours are just not long enough.
DT: So is this a serious project then?
AG: [Laughs] I don't know, you tell me...
The delightful Andreas Gehm ladies and gentlemen
The second release on Cologne Underground Records, 'Let It Be (Acid)' is due for imminent release. Andreas' forthcoming release on Happy Skull, 'Yes or No' should be in all good record stores next week.