For the past 15 years, Oliver Deutschmann has been making a name for himself as one of the go-to DJs on the deep house/techno scene. In a genre that can be oversaturated with remixes and compilations, Deutschmann’s prolific output never falls into a state of repetition. Instead, his hypnotic and atmospheric bass-driven 4/4 beats maintain the kind of consistency and gradual build in intensity that act as the perfect soundtrack for those lost in a state of ecstasy, and because of his preference to release new music in quick succession as and when he’s working on it, Deutschmann remains a topical figure amongst his contemporaries.
Rooted in the underground scene and wholeheartedly believing in the DIY ethos of cultivating your relationships and always remembering those who have helped you along the way, Deutschmann is naturally a polymath of sorts – a DJ, producer, and label owner who is inspired by the way music brings people together. In 2007 he founded Vidab Records with Stephan Hill, as a way of releasing streamlined content that resonated with their ideas of timeless club music. During this time, his own creative output soared as he also found himself releasing songs with the likes of Konsequenz, Vinyl Did It, Aim, and Polytone; and just six years later, it was time for his debut album.
It’s been almost a decade since the release of Out Of The Dark, and whilst Deutschmann says that he has been planning to create its follow up for the past five years, his passion and excitement for creating music means that he simply doesn’t allow himself the ability to amass a longer body of work. With numerous collaborative projects to juggle, and a relentless schedule that would see him travel all over the world and find a particular love for DJing at sex-positive parties, it’s a wonder how he has been able to find time for himself over the years, let alone to write and record an album. Deutschmann has always found himself inspired by gigs, so whilst the global pandemic and national lockdowns have seemingly provided him with ample time for writing; his inspiration has been taken away. Despite maintaining hope that things will resume a semblance of normality soon enough, he admits that it feels as though his old life is but a dream; a distance memory. In fact, it seems as though he is now coming full circle.
With events at a standstill, Deutschmann has returned to his day job as a social worker. It’s a career that he studied for over 20 years ago, and never thought he would never have to get back involved in with – “I thought I could make music until I died,” he says. In fact, it’s what truly pushed him to being a DJ. Working with homeless people and adolescents in Berlin, Deutschmann found himself being burnt out from such an intense line of work, and as he always had basslines stuck in his head from when he would go to parties, he decided that he would try and pursue a career in music. Just like the diversity that is displayed in his DJ sets, Deutschmann is adaptable in his working life!
As we discuss his time spent touring around the world as a DJ and the wildest things that Deutschmann has seen at sex-positive parties, we digress into the concept of him sharing stories around a bonfire when he’s older or, he jokes, writing a book and publishing it in The Sun – though of course that will never happen. Deutschmann finds most documentaries and books about techno to be rather boring and prefers to experience it all, first hand. “I really miss dancing for two hours on a crowded floor and talking to random people you will never see again,” he tells me. But with the date of his vaccine approaching, and restrictions in the UK easing up, there is hope that we will be able to fulfil these fantasises once more.
KLUB VERBOTEN: You started out as a metalhead before becoming a DJ that specialises in house and techno. Can you talk me through the journey you went on, to move between two completely contrasting genres of music?
OLIVER DEUTSCHMANN: I always was into music, but then from the age of 12/13 I was into underground music – metal and hardcore – and I bought my first metal vinyl when I was 13. It was Metallica or something like that. Later on, I went to concerts and gigs all the time with my friends. Mostly my mother had to drive us there, or my grandfather. I was listening to this kind of music until I was like 18/19 or 20 – this was the ‘90s, I’m now 48 – and then this thing called techno took over in Germany, especially Frankfurt and Berlin, and one night I was going with a friend to a Sven Väth party in Frankfurt, in the old Omen Club – we were listening to these techno sets from Sven all the time in the car – and this was the moment it caught me. I never thought that music could be as powerful as metal or hardcore, but these beats… they did it!
When you compare the two things, especially looking at basslines, there a sort of darkness that really brings out the emotions. I can understand why there might be a parallel for you…
It’s the darkness for sure, in techno. I also really love house music, which is the sunny side of that, like deep house, but it always must have this kind of darkness even if it is a nice house track. I like dark basslines and the Chicago style. It’s pretty important. I hate funny or happy music, I have to say – some tracks maybe, but not that many!
What kind of set up did you have when you started out? Did you keep it simple or were you at a point in life where you could become fully invested in it?
I mean, I started to do parties when I was 16 and I would DJ like stuff like Rage Against the Machine or hardcore/metal stuff. Then, when I moved to Berlin when I was 23/24 I got into this techno scene and my first set up was just two turntables. I recorded my first set on tape and I listened to these tapes on my Walkman whilst walking the streets of Berlin and I always got really happy when I when I mixed two tracks pretty well. I felt almost like the older DJs!
When did you first discover the kink and fetish scenes, and what made you interested in DJing at sex-positive parties?
The first fetish party I’d been to was Snax at the Ostgut – the former Berghain club. It was the first fetish/gay party I had been to. I wasn't DJing back then, I just loved electronic music and dance, and a good friend of mine – the tattoo artist Hans from Blood and Iron in Berlin –he was the guy that took the money there. He told me once when he was tattooing me: “Oliver, there’s this party at this club called Ostgut. It’s called Snax, just look it at it man, you’re from a little village and you will be shocked!” and I thought why not, I’ll come. The things I saw there… I will never forget. It was great – I met some amazing people there beside all of the stuff I was seeing. I’m a straight guy but I love these fetish and gay parties because there’s more energy there than all other parties I know.
I first of all was like a voyeur, you know, I’d watch all that stuff going on and but in connection to the music, it was just the perfect mixture of crowd and music, sex, vibes and techno. I think the best parties I’ve had are at kink, fetish, and queer parties – later at Berghain, of course, the many gigs I’ve played there, there's always a sex vibe or a kink vibe. Maybe today more than a few years ago, but Ostgut/Snax was my first my first entry to that scene.
What do you think it was about that experience which made you realise that these were the kind of parties you wanted to DJ at consistently?
Later on, I played a Snax party, at Berghain as a DJ and it was an amazing experience – fully packed, six hours of naked bodies and just an amazing vibe – I don't know, it’s hard to describe if you don't know it. I’ve played so many parties and gigs in my life all over the world, and it’s always the queer and fetish parties that catch me the most. It’s the open-minded vibe of the people, I guess. The last kink party I played was in 2019 – it feels like decades ago – it was the Gegen party in Berlin at KitKat, and I just remember playing two hours and after, I danced for eight hours there. Normally, I love dancing, but when you play a lot, every weekend, you don't do that anymore. You just want to go to the hotel and chill and then go to the next gig because it kind of eats you up when you do it so many times, but this party felt like it was in the ‘90s because of the vibe. People smiled more than other techno parties I played before. Most of them are good, but this was a special vibe. Not only is it that the crowd are amazingly open-minded at kinky/fetish parties, but also the hosts; the promoters – Karl for example, and Hanny or Hans, or Fabio for Gegen, or Raquel from Pornceptual – they are amazing, open-minded people. They always give you the feeling of being a family member, you know? That’s a connection of everything. After so many years, I'm not only looking at the setup. For me, it's important to have good hosting, a good dinner, and a crowd – it’s all together. At fetish parties, it's mostly brilliant. They’re good hosts, for sure!
There really is a community aspect in kink/fetish scenes which also goes hand in hand with like the collaboration aspect of DJing. From a DJ perspective, are there many differences between kink scenes around the world?
A kink party in London or Berlin, I think, is less dangerous. People party in a free environment, for example. You don’t have to hide your kink. You really don't have to hide it if you go to a party, but you don't have to hide it outside as well. Maybe it’s easier? A year ago, I should’ve played at a kink party in Hungary with Gegen and I was looking forward to that. It had to be cancelled because of COVID-19, but Hungary is a country with a government that is amazingly fucking homophobic and against all of that shit that's going on – the good things – so there’s no freedom that they’re living. I was really looking forward to playing a kink party in a country like that, that is ruled by a government who is fully against homosexuals and against kinks. I mean, at home they do it of course as well, I'm sure they are hypocrites! But all the kink parties I play are normally in cities where the people are pretty free anyway, so honestly, I really can't say what the difference is because for sure there is difference in culture but all of these people have one thing in common, and that’s the lust for freedom – to express yourself. I think a perfect way to do it is at a good party with good hosts and music. It’s more about the connections, not the differences.
What do you think it is about electronic music that works well in that kind of environment compared to any other type of music? There’s got to be something psychological about the beats and the frequencies – just as we were talking about the darkness of metal.
A repetitive vibe… Of course, in techno – also with house but it’s a bit more about techno in that scene – I don't know, what do you feel when you go to a techno party and you hear a good beat and you dance for two hours? Getting sucked in at a party where people are dancing around you and they are open-minded, and naked, and there is sex going on, you’re maybe drunk or stoned; it’s just that connection or a thing of fusion that is great. It’s dark, sweaty, with repetitive music – and naked bodies – who doesn’t like that?
It is quite difficult to put an experience that is very much a physical thing into words, sometimes. When you’re DJing at these events, are you trying to curate a mood for the evening or more trying to invoke a feeling within people?
I never prepare my gigs or my sets. That’s what I did years ago, when I started and when I was too nervous, I had to prepare because it felt better, but after all these years of experience, I don't do it anymore. I know my music and I think I can read a floor. I don’t know if I play differently on a kink floor than on a normal techno floor? Maybe I play more scene-related tracks in the later hours when I play – like Airbourne or Pleasure Seeker… I can remember the first Verboten I played and normally I start pretty hard and punchy, but I started with some really moody stuff, and I thought it worked pretty well so I continued to play more moody and dark stuff, but not too hard. For a big floor like Berghain, I play much faster and harder. On a sweaty fetish floor, I don't play that much rave music or anything that is maybe too uplifting. It’s more sophisticated, if you can say, but I don’t prepare anything before. It goes with the flow, always.
It’s almost as though everybody in that room is going with the flow because it’s an unpredictable situation, and essentially following whatever feeling that they're having…
If I prepare too much then I’m limited. I never know even five minutes before, which track I will play first. Never. Even at Berghain, it always comes a minute before. I never think about it the whole day – it’s what I did before when I played the first time in Berlin, 20 years ago, I wouldn’t sleep for two nights before because I prepared all my vinyl’s, even writing the pitches, minus and plus, on the vinyls. It was a good set but very limited.
There’s a power in submitting and succumbing to whatever might happen, which again, goes hand in hand with like the sex-positive communities. Have you ever had any moments when you're playing and something has gone terribly wrong?
Of course! Like, a lot of times. That’s how you learn to be a good DJ. That's experience; you have to make mistakes. When you put in a lot of years, you get a little self-esteem, you get pretty confident. That's what I got in the last few years is being pretty confident in my DJ skills. But I only got this because I made a lot of mistakes, and I’ve played a lot of bad gigs in my life. And it was my mistake sometimes, because I wasn't prepared, or the turntables were isolated and people were dancing and jumping around, so the needles are jumping, and it's not your fault! But people think you're the idiot, you know? All these things you have to learn and you have to experience and that makes you a good DJ after 10-12 years. It takes a long time keep a big floor rocking… I mean, with good music… With bad music like the top 50, everybody can do it nowadays, but you need to have confidence. People have to see that you are confident and you know what you do.
There's a lot of trust that comes with that…
For sure. And a lot of times I felt pretty unsafe when I played in my first years because you make mistakes, and people are shouting at you or people scream ‘boring’. Sometimes people write something bad about you and you read it online… In my first years, it just ruined my whole day to read a bad review. I was telling my wife: “You can’t imagine what this guy wrote about me!” And it would ruin my day, but you have to run with it, and after a few years, you don't give a fuck anymore because you are confident. Hopefully!
Do you remember when you first thought: “Fuck it, I’m good at what I do”?
No, not really… I didn't mark it! I still have bad gigs. You think you are confident, and three months later, you do a bad gig with some mistakes or you play the wrong tracks, so you're never perfect. You're always learning. You should never be too confident. Sometimes there are days or moments in my career where I think what I’ve been doing for the past three months is really good, and then the next weekend I fuck it up again. It’s a job – it’s never perfect but that’s what also makes it interesting. You should be aware that it always can get worse again. There’s nothing more uninteresting than your fame from yesterday, it's like you always have to work on yourself to get better, and once you are too confident, you make a mistake, you go back again, and you do better next time.
When you're playing, how connected are you to what's going on? Do you ever zone out and go on autopilot?
Going autopilot is the moment you always for search as a DJ. It’s the moment you maybe had on your first gigs, when it was good. Sometimes you don't get it if you just play two hours on a headlining gig and it just doesn't happen – even if It's good and the crowd is rocking, but you don't get into it – but, mostly it’s always when you play longer sets. I can't get into a lost moment when I play for just two hours; it’s not possible sometimes. Sometimes I’ll play closing sets at Berghain for ten hours and then after you’ve played the first five/six hours and it's good, then there's this moment when you just get lost and everything goes automatically – everything's perfect. The blends; the mix; it happens sometimes to me, at Pornceptual and the Gegen parties – there I played just two hours but it felt like that, I have to say. It’s really strange that I never have that feeling when I play just two hours. When you play gigs that are around 5-8 hours, you get lost after five/six. Then you're drunk or stoned and everything comes together; people get more stoned and drunk and at Berghain or Pornceptual you just see them going crazy or wild. That’s the connection – when I feel this, I take my shirt off and play! This happens once in two years or so…
Do you have much interaction with the crowds at these like sex positive parties? Or are you more in the voyeuristic mindset?
Firstly, I have to concentrate on my mixing. That's the most important thing – I don’t put my hands up because I want to have good flow and the perfect mixing – then, if this goes good, I interact, but I never interact in the first half an hour so. I’m really into myself and the worst thing is then when people in the crowd and look at you and do this [draws a smile across his face]. Wait two hours and then I’ll smile! Once the flow is there, everything can happen but first I need to concentrate on work. I want to have fun but first work has to be done. You have to suck the people in, and then you can suck it out.
What's one of the wildest things that you've seen from behind the decks?
Are my kids are going to read this!? My daughter she's 14, so maybe she will see… I hope not! I’ve seen a lot of things. At some sex-positive parties in Berlin, I’ve seen whole arms disappear in asses, and I’ve gotten a bit distracted then! It’s ok – people can do whatever they want. That was a crazy thing but it’s also not that crazy. I mean, nothing really surprises me because I think anything can happen at these parties. I'm not really surprised about anything. I like to watch these kinds of things because it shapes me – I’ll have a lot of good stories to tell when I'm old!
As someone who's been doing this for over a decade now what would you say has been your proudest achievement to date?
Proudest achievement… To still be alive after all of those parties!? I mean, I’ve been partying for 30 years now. The biggest achievement career-wise would be putting out my first record in 2007; my first vinyl was a big milestone. Then releasing on labels like Mote-Evolver or Soma in the UK was a big thing for me too. Releasing good music on good labels is always a big achievement, and all the many gigs at Berghain. I’ve really enjoyed playing there. I don't want to stop, you know, but I don't want to do it as I did before, because I'm kind of enjoying this healthy life now. Sleeping in on the weekends and not getting up at two o'clock at night and going to a small sweaty club... I would love to do it, but not as often as before. I would like to pick out the good parties – Verboten, of course, Gegen, Pornceptual, Berghain – but not doing too many gigs anymore. I don’t want to get burnt out again because there was that feeling before the pandemic started, with four or five gigs in a week or on a weekend even with long haul flights. I can't do it anymore; even thinking about it, I'm getting very nervous! That's why, for example, the last Verboten party I played, I took the train from South Germany, it took me just 5 hours to London via Paris. I don’t want to fly so much anymore. There’s so much time spent at the airport and flight cancellations, just being anywhere like Singapore or Ulaanbaatar – it stresses me so much! I want to keep it in Europe…
On the Special Interests EP, you dedicated songs to parties that you regularly DJ at. How do you go about trying to translate those experiences into music?
I don't know… For these tracks, the titles came later. When I wrote that Verboten track, I didn't produce it with Verboten in my mind, but when it was finished I thought that the track would fit a Verboten party as a last track of the night or something. So that’s why I called it Verboten, and I gave the EP those titles so that I can talk about these clubs and give them a bit of exposure. It’s to give something back to the people; to tag them on Instagram and talk about maybe a special moment at that party I played. It’s to give something back and to give some exposure. I don’t know if they need it but I like to do that to keep the connection to the people at the parties, and just to be nice!
The track Verboten was released 2019, and now in 2021 you’re being announced as the new resident DJ at Klub Verboten. How does it feel when things come full circle?
It’s the best thing that can happen to you! The first time I played Verboten, I was getting so well connected – Hanny and Karl, they hosted me like we were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time. I’d never met them before, but it felt like I had. To get the opportunity to work with them more often – it’s amazing. I don’t wanna play here and there and get the most money out of it, I prefer to get little money for a gig, but a good gig, instead of getting tons of cash for a festival where I never connect with the people. Techno is about this friendship and a packed, sweaty night with good friends. It’s like the ‘90s feeling I have from techno and people like Verboten or Gegen or Pornceptual or Berghain give it to me. To be able to get a residency out or something like this, is just perfect. To play over and over again, to get to know the people; the crowd; to go back somewhere you think you belong to that are your friends and they really like to have you… Hospitality is 50/50 for me – hospitality and crowd/parties – that's so important. A good hotel room, good dinner, good people; it makes you feel better. It feels like being home and it makes me a better DJ. I can work better if I'm getting good hospitality. You can tell them!!
What are you working on at the moment? Can we expect to follow up to your debut album anytime soon?
My debut album... It’s what I’ve wanted to do for five years, I think. I’m doing an album… soon! I have an EP coming out in April on OFF Recordings. It’s a track I did a few weeks ago. I sent it to them and told them I’d like to release this as a one track EP and they said: “Yes, it's perfect, we’ll take it!” I will hopefully have a remix coming out soon, it’s an old track called Suicide Commando, from the ‘90s. I did an edit just for fun, and DJ Hell loved it, so it’s a dream come true! It’s a track that is really important for me and it’s getting released on a heroes label.
And then as soon as we get our vaccines, you can start playing shows again!
The biggest inspirations for tracks is just not there anymore – it’s clubs. I always test new tracks on the weekends to make them better or to see if there's something missing, and all of this is gone right now. Sometimes it feels like my old life is just fading away – this music career and travelling – but on the other hand there is still hope that it will come back at the end of this year. Streaming is cool but it’s not the same. Playing to an empty room where there is no energy coming back… There’s a lot of work behind it, I know, and it’s pretty important that people are doing this, but it’s not my thing. I did three or four, and for Verboten in the summer, but it’s not what I want do to. I want to rave and talk shit with random people in a dark club; having drinks, getting wasted and feeling bad for five days afterwards.