Like most seemingly ‘meteoric’ rises, Mladen Solomun’s has in fact been slow and steady. Over the last decade or so he’s been working tirelessly on his music and is now reaping the rewards of a combination of hard work and undeniable talent.
Now, in the month that sees the release of his first ever mix compilation, Defected’s Ben Lovett catches up with electronic music’s favourite Croatian to ask what we can expect…
“I’ve always had a great relationship with Watergate” Solomun opens. “The club saw what we were trying to do with Diynamic and trusted us to host our own label parties, all of which went well and solidified Diynamic’s position. Watergate is an amazing venue. It is an intense space with a great sound and interesting line-ups. There is always a desire to break the mould.”
Watergate 11 is Mladen Solomun’s first ever compilation. Apt considering that the world famous Berlin club gave his label Diynamic Music one of its biggest breaks a number of years ago. “I wanted to make a mark, of course, and live up to the high standards of the series” Solomun says. “Therefore, not all of the tracks I’ve included are new ones. In short, I’ve picked tracks that are special to me; tracks that I might have loved for a number of years. I wanted the mix to be interesting and to engage the new kids coming through; give them something to learn from.”
Watergate 11, then, weaves together many of the influences that have shaped Solomun’s career to date – the funked soul of Lucy Pearl (Don’t Mess With My Man), the fancy French hip-hop of Alliance Ethnik (Respect), the swish house groove of The Supermen Lovers (Family Business, Hard Stuff), the spaced-out glide of Heiko Voss (DJ Koze’s remix of I Think About You), BPitch techno of Sascha Funke (Forms & Shapes) and wired electro pulse of Robag Wrumhe (Draw Halcyon Days). There is also room for a number of Solomun edits, including his exclusive slap bass disco ditty Kackvogel; which translates as ‘shit bird’. It’s anything but shit.
“When my friends at Watergate first approached me about doing this album I was so pleased” he indicates, “but then they told me about their concept of having each curator contribute an exclusive production and I totally stressed out. I didn’t have the time, I told them. I tried to persuade them to let me do a mix without a new Solomun production but then, by chance, I stumbled across a folder on my laptop with an old drum loop I’d recorded ages ago. I could see the framework there for Kackvogel.”
Solomun has, like a number of other relatively new, intentionally subversive electronic artists on the continent (he lives in Germany), exploded; his rapid ascent up the global clubland ladder incorporating big remixes for Noir & Haze (Around – over two million views on You Tube and soon to be released with fresh mixes by Defected) and Tiefschwarz (Corporate Butcher – an undeniably powerful underground anthem last winter), productions Daddy’s Jam and Something We All Adore, and his management of Diynamic releases by H.O.S.H, David August and Uner.
He is, without doubt, super busy but Solomun would challenge anyone who says his workload is too hot to handle. “It might look to an outsider like I’ve only just arrived but not really” he qualifies. “I’ve been growing and learning over many years, so my rise has actually been quite slow. That’s how it feels to me. Therefore I’ve had plenty of time to react and adapt. I’ve also had good people around me and no girlfriend, which has allowed me to get on do what I want to do. It is sometimes hard, but not that hard. I mean I get to work in music!”
Prior to music, Solomun worked within the film industry. He started out in his earliest twenties, taking on low ladder rung jobs with a view to working his way up in a creative field he admired: “They were normal jobs, which I wasn’t always that ecstatic about. I’m a huge film fan which is why I was there; I wanted to learn how to shoot my own movies… go deep in that scene. But I wasn’t always that comfortable there; the people had too much energy…they were too hectic. Everyone was always smiling but it felt false; I didn’t feel I was going anywhere.”
Solomun had been interested in electronic music before. As a teenager – he was born in Bosnia (a region subsequently falling under Croatian rule) before promptly relocating, with family, to Germany – he visited local Hamburg club House Of Youth, learned from the residents how to DJ, bought crate loads of records and, in turn, played out himself. His interest, however, was still relatively casual and then a life behind the lens took over.
Fast forward to 2004 and Solomun’s second sonic coming: “Different creative scenes are often interlinked and it is no different in Hamburg. I made some good music contacts through all the film work and that steered me back to the dancefloor. Some great records were being released, and cool new scenes were being created. It was exciting… more me. I decided to pursue music again.”
The launch of Diynamic was a giant (funky) step forward; a blueprint for Solomun’s varied and original take on house music. Solomun recorded most of its initial tech and electro-lined releases himself; collaborating with Gebruder Ton (Martin Stimming’s partnership with Alexander Kubler) H.O.S.H and label co-founder Adriano Toilio, and generating huge amounts of interest. There was hefty support from taste-making DJs across the globe, which would ensure Diynamic’s future.
The label today is a byword for club quality; more so, club personality – an ingredient often forgotten in these times of mass digital production. Surrounding Solomun and Adriano is a close-knit, progressive roster of artists including shiny Oslo duo Ost & Kjex, deep b-line groover David August and Berlin minimalist darlings Kollectiv Turmstrasse; not forgetting original signings Stimming and H.O.S.H.
“The label is a lot like Hamburg where it’s based,” Solomun offers. “It has an overriding sense of community. There is a unique positive feeling about everything we do. It’s hard to explain but it’s there. I’m very pleased about where Diynamic has gotten to.”
Bizarrely, to a fifth anniversary even though the label is six this year: “We wanted to mark five years, last year, with a compilation looking both backwards and forwards. We’d already spent months and months on it but didn’t feel it was quite ready and didn’t want to rush it out, so it was postponed until now. We felt our anniversary, and the music, would still be relevant. This way we could get everything in place.”
The thorough organisation includes an important charity element, for Five Years Of Diynamic – featuring one disc of exclusive new material, and another of freshly remixed catalogue classics – will direct all proceeds to a local children’s hospice charity, Kinderhospiz Sternenbrucke, so that it can build a music therapy room for its terminally ill residents.
“Everything is good with Diynamic so we can afford to do this” Solomun outlines. “We wanted to give something back and Kinderhospiz was a deserving fit. We decided very quickly to help. As for the album itself, it says everything we want it to. We loved the idea of working with artists not directly tied to our own scene; therefore you have Cassius and Hot Chip providing remixes. We will always try different things.”
The anniversary compilation, finally released next month, also celebrates the pain-free birth of Diynamic’s even more wildly experimental sub-label 2DIY4. Diynamic itself has now notched up over 50 releases, spawned a 24-7 booking agency (firing its signings far and wide) and established a tasteful underground Hamburg club, EGO, firmly in line with its own searing dancefloor vision.
“There will never be a better time for me than today to do what I want to do with electronic music” he concludes. “The politics have gone, which is really liberating. People ask me what my sound is but I can’t say; a funky b-line is important as well as the constant desire to experiment but beyond that? I was actually at dinner last week with a fellow artist, and we were both saying ‘how the fuck have we achieved all this?’ I haven’t had the time to think about what I’ve done so far and what it represents. I play everything down... lead a normal life where I can. Making music for a career is great but I don’t let the idea of it distract me from being who I really am. That probably best sums up my sound; it’s just me....”
Words: Ben Lovett
Watergate 11: Solomun is released by Watergate Records on June 18. Five Years Of Diynamic, on Diynamic Music, follows July 16.