At the Controls is a series of interviews conducted last year that peeks under the curtain of electronic music production, to highlight the behind-the-scenes people whose contributions have had a lasting impact across the dance music landscape.
Stefan Eichinger is something of a one-man industry, based out of Heidelburg, Germany. He is a film-score composer, musician, and mixing-and-mastering engineer, whose own quirky creations as Lopazz have found a home with Get Physical Music, Output, and Poker Flat.
It’s his discography that reveals the greater scope of his influence. A long-running relationship with Get Physical has had him at the controls of key releases by their core crew of artists: M.A.N.D.Y., Heidi, and DJ T. Add to that Eichinger’s technical and production experiences, from techno bods Alex Cortex and Neil Landstrumm to house super-group La Pena, and you have a unique perspective of an artist both in front of and behind the scenes.
How did you first become involved with the Get Physical crew?
Andreas Baumecker released my EP I Need Ya on his freundinnen label and Output Recordings signed it some weeks later. The track helped me to get attention by big-name DJs and labels, and Get Physical asked me to do a remix for Chelonis R. Jones, followed by the Migracion EP with remixes by Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano.
You’ve worked closely with M.A.N.D.Y. and DJ T. What are the best attributes that each of these artists have brought to the productions you work on together?
Well, they brought so much DJ- and A&R experience to the studio. They know what they want; hard workers, actually. They don’t play instruments on a professional level, but they don’t need to do this. That’s why we collaborate. They know my style, attitude, and studio skills. The guys bring samples and tracks they like and we get started. With M.A.N.D.Y., I spent one month in Iceland, some days at my studio, and Philipp’s place in Berlin, where I also did the Heidi track. DJ T. came to my studio in 2010 and 2011 for a two-year production. He is one of the hardest-working guys in show business. Prodigious, really.
What’s currently in your studio?
Room one is a daylight studio with plenty of hardware, like the original Prophet 8; Roland legends like the 101, 505, 606, 808, 909; two Moog Synthesizers; a Nord Lead 1; MPC; and many more—classic instruments I grew up with. There are also drums, guitars, microphones, preamps, shakers, percussion. For monitoring, I use huge Revox Passive speakers from 1983 with handbuilt AVM power amplifiers. I also have a Tannoy System (800 active with a sub) and a Fostex mono wedge. Everything is connected to my AMEK and SSL mixer and the SSL Soundcards.
Room two is connected to room one, but in room two I do more mixing and mastering work with tools like the SSL, Maselec, Manley, and SPL compressors and equalizers for mixing and mastering. Everything is connected to a Backbone and TC System 6000 48bit mainframe with George Massenburg EQ, MD 3/4, and other tools I need. I use a Dynaudio Air20 speaker setup with two subs and another Revox Passive System. All rooms have certain acoustic treatments like room-in-room, splayed walls, custom diffusers, and sofas for couch-potato producers. Of course, there’s also a DJ setup with two Technics 1210s, a Rane mixer, Serato, Twitch, CD player, and tape deck (which I recently used for a Running Back recording).
How would describe your own production signature?
My sound has always been a bit leftfield with some weirdo elements. Most of the time, I avoid using plugins. There’s a collection of microphones at the studio, and I put at least one track of recorded vocals or atmospheric sounds on almost all of my tracks. I play around with the beat grid and try to keep things unquantized and alive, and with old hardware effects I create psycho-acoustic space.
Do you have any production heroes or a favorite piece of music that you aspire to?
Stockhausen, George Martin and The Beatles, Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys—it’s an endless list of great producers like Rick Rubin, Phil Spector, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, [Kraftwerk’s] Ralf & Florian, and many more.
What proportion of time would you say you spend collaborating rather than working on solo material?
I’ve always collaborated with directors for scores and TV music, with other DJs for club tunes, with bandmates for Krautrock or jazz projects, and so on. I think it’s 50/50.
In your own words, how would you describe the difference between producing for another artist and “ghost writing”?
No big difference. We should ask the lawyers, managers, and A&Rs…contract issues, I guess.
Are there any tracks that you secretly wish you had kept for yourself?
No, not at all. Sharing is caring.
What’s your proudest production moment?
Every time I’ve managed to achieve something I really worked hard for. Every time I solved a difficult problem. Every time I played a track in a club and people freaked out. When I receive a white label and it sounds amazing.
When you’re collaborating, do you have a usual starting point? And is it the same as when working on your own material?
It’s not that different. Collaborations need some talk before getting started. Listening sessions also help, followed by creating sound libraries, instrument setups, and workflow patterns. This is actually almost the same as working alone. When I am working alone, I do not have to make any compromises, of course.
What has been the biggest learning curve or problem for you to overcome?
Mixing. The problem is, once you’ve started playing, jamming, sequencing you fall in love with certain sounds. But when you start mixing, you may find out that certain sounds you fell in love so much cannot stay in the mix. It’s a challenge. When collaborating, it’s even more difficult. One guy wants this, the other one that. But I still think that composing is the main thing. A good track can have a bad sound—it’s still a good track!
What advice would you give to aspiring producers?
Find your own sound. I think too many producers are copycats trying to be successful. It’s cool to quote, but you should be able to bring it into your own context, your own sound and style. People should recognize your style. Don’t try to produce hits for charts. Try to produce great, timeless music. Be eclectic and dynamic. Experiments are fun. It took me 10 years to get successful. Ten years without getting paid. Ten years! Maybe young producers should read the KLF manual first, hahaha.
What do you think is the most surprising track/collaboration that you’ve been involved in from your discography?
I have four: the DJ T. remix I produced for Phreek, ”Passion,” on Compost Records. ”Share My Rhythm” on Get Physical Music, with my old friend and techno legend Alex Cortex, and my upcoming releases, “Our Love,” with Alex Flatner, and “I Feel Love,” with Casio Casino. With Casio Casino, I’ve produced almost all of my scores for TV and we’ve been making music together for almost 20 years.
**Click here to sample the At The Controls: Lopazz chart featuring 10 tracks from his production discography.