From investment banking to underground taste-making, Tronic Records head honcho and club veteran Christian Smith has traveled the globe with unprecedented musical stamina. With a catalog of Beatport chart-toppers under his belt and a long-standing reputation for making cutting-edge music, his attempts to play past the pigeonhole of techno has made him a tough artist to box, but all the more fascinating, naturally.
Having recently reeled out the label’s 100th release and dropped his second full-length artist album, Omakase, there was never a better time for Beatport News to quiz the Swedish producer/DJ on his new record and numerous goings-on.
Things don’t seem to have gotten any quieter for you 2013. How are you feeling nearly half way into the year?
I am feeling pretty good after one month of detox. I basically had no alcohol and was going to the gym four times a week. Now I am feeling very energized finally.
Your career has seen you transition from an investment banker to a global artist. Have there been any essential lessons learned along the way?
When I was a banker, I worked extremely hard. I was doing up to 90 hours a week, but I hated my job. The first few years of my life as a full-time DJ felt very privileged, as I was always solidly booked three months in advance. The pace to date has changed and now you have to work just as hard as I was as an investment banker to make it happen. I love what I do, so it’s not a problem, but it is no longer just about playing a few tracks on the weekend. You need the right alliances, a successful label, and the whole wheel needs to turn consistently.
Similarly, you haven’t been shy of globe-trotting. Did you take many different influences from your earlier travels?
My father was a pilot for Lufthansa, so I have been traveling since I was a child courtesy of a 90% discount. Going to different places was nothing new, let alone moving around. This is the single best benefit of being an international DJ—it doesn’t really matter where you live, so long as you live near a big international airport. I have enjoyed the constant shifts in culture as you learn a lot. I am now based in Spain predominantly and I absolutely love it out there.
You are one of those artists who seem to be consistently pigeonholed under the techno category. What are your thoughts on the current state of the genre?
The current state is really good. Had you talked to anyone five to 10 years ago, they would have used it as a dirty word. Now the genre has become seemingly hip. So many people are making music these days and there is a lot of good music out there—you just have to seek it out. Good DJs really have to do their homework nowadays; just having tracks from the Beatport Top 10 doesn’t make you the best anymore. I think that is a positive thing, though.
Is it fair to say you aren’t too bothered about the constraints of any particular genre?
Had I just done techno for my entire career, I would almost certainly be more famous. But I don’t abide by these rules. I love house, tech house, sometimes even progressive. Challenging myself in the studio and behind the decks is what motivates me. There is nothing worse than hearing one DJ play in one dimension for three hours, and thus, I hope I am not one that can be boxed.
Omakase is your second full-length offering to date. Were there any particular lessons learned or changes in approach from that of Directors Cut?
Directors Cut was a very varied album. It held some slower tracks, as well as acid house and techno. This album looked to be an outright club album. I wanted to focus on techno and the sub-genres of techno, such as minimal, melodic, and peak time, devoting an album to those different energies that have built around the genre. I wanted to avoid tedious repetition for this one, so every track was road-tested thoroughly in my sets. I needed to be sure each of those approaches translated onto the dancefloor before committing them. It was no “concept” piece as such—just 12 tracks I loved that made the final cut.
Just to add to the buzz of 2013, your own Tronic imprint just hit 100 releases and is knocking on the door of two decades in action. Talk us through the initial vision and how the imprint has developed.
When I started Tronic in the mid-’90s it was a hobby. I wanted to do a label that both house and techno artists could play tracks from. My distributors said it was impossible, insisting we did one or the other. This was before tech house had become a popular term, you see. I really didn’t care for this mindset, so I did it anyway. Over the years we have built a good team together and things have gradually become more professional. With a good machine ticking away and artists like Dosem and Wehbba on board, it has been a truly wild ride, but I hope we can reel out hundreds of more releases over the years.
What do you consider to have been the most challenging aspects of running a label in times of such rapid change for the industry?
Music always presents challenges; this is its beauty and its curse. Back in the days we sold only vinyl; while we still do vinyl, the game has changed immensely. That isn’t to say I don’t support the digital shift—we should never ignore technology, but embrace it.
How important have the various developments in technology been to you as an artist over the years? Has it been all good?
For some people, it is just effects; for others, it is the basis of their system of DJing. At the end of the day, it is about the music that is played. I embrace it in my sets wherever possible, using digital mechanisms and FX, but it’s the tracks that are being used that really make the difference, not the hardware or software.
You were brave enough to take on some meaty remix duties for the likes of Carl Craig and Underworld earlier in the year. Where did this lionhearted studio stamina come from?
These were all tracks I loved when I started DJing in the ’90s that I felt didn’t stand test of time in terms of production quality. With those tracks, I didn’t change them totally; I just took the hooks and gave them my own flavor. Generally, when I do remixes, I only accept it if I can bring something to the table. If the track is poor and someone just wants my name, I won’t do it. Some tracks are perfect already—if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Has the balance of a radio show, manic tour schedule, professional career, and duties at Tronic ever been too much to handle?
To be honest, yes. Between the label, touring, and balancing it all with my private life, I have my work cut out, especially as I am married with a kid. If you love what you do it, all comes much easier. The only hassle in my occupation is flying Ryan Air; there is no curing the pain of consistently delayed flights. But the work itself is sheer pleasure.
How is the game plan looking from here onwards for 2013?
The Ibiza offers are on the table and we will be scouring the globe with around 30 branded Tronic events to celebrate the landmark. I am hitting Asia throughout April and South America during May whilst promoting the album and our ongoing work at Tronic. No rest for the wicked just yet.