Interview: Five minutes with Philipp Straub
Image credit: David Montes Albea
Meet Philipp Straub, a DJ, producer and consultant who has been actively part of the international music scene for decades. As a result of his work in the world-wide scene, the producer has created the well-known TITAN INTERNATIONAL – an agency centring around placing artists, managing events and working on other concepts based on youth culture. His latest EP, Lyra is with the rising duo Outcome on John Digweed’s esteemed Bedrock Records and marks 28 years of Philipp working in the industry.
Take a listen to the EP below as we get to know the rising producer from Vienna in the exclusive interview below.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
I always had a passion for music, but it all fell into place when I was a young teenager and some sort of rebel against everything. I just didn’t fit into any of the given boxes. Escaping to the path of music was a natural approach. That it all went on to become a serious business was a bit related to luck, being at the right place at the right time, as well as my consistency coming from my German roots I guess. Always over organizing and constantly trying to deliver…. plus a bit of talent I hope.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
Most of the time I have an idea in my head. Sometimes they are influenced by other songs, sometimes by sounds I want to use, sometimes also only from a vibe I caught when being on the road. I get bored very quickly so things only excite me when they are fresh, hence I don’t have one approach of how to work with music productions, but try various ways to keep me fully motivated. Repetitive work patterns can become very boring and I didn’t escape the normal business or society world out there to then end up producing music like a factory worker.
Tell us about your favourite track on your latest EP? Why does it stand out to you?
Even though I love ‘Lyra’ and it still gives me goosebumps, I choose ‘Modular’ simply because it’s the oldest of the tunes from the EP, and it’s very rare that I still enjoy listening to tracks after such a long time. I think it could become a timeless future classic, which still sounds relevant in the years ahead.
Does your material feature any collaborations?
Most of them do. I love to share my knowledge with others and also absorb what other people know. Ongoing development I would say is very important. Interestingly enough, I do not enjoy playing Dj sets back to back at all and try to avoid these as good as I can. When playing Dj sets I really like to build my own flow and story from the beginning to the end and I find it most of the time quite contra productive if someone else steps in. They have a different way to mix. A different way to EQ. A different choice of sound, etc. which results in losing the flow. Then it’s just music playing and not a story behind it really. I know some DJs manage the team thing very well. I don’t.
But in the studio, it’s the opposite. I find it very stimulating experimenting with someone else and creating something which then ends up being different then you would have expected in the first place. It’s a lovely way of creation. To be honest another reason for me to team up with others is that I don’t have the time anymore to focus on all the technical aspects of running a proper music studio. I have various jobs & roles in this industry which I love and creating music is just one part of it. I sold my own studio some years ago and being able to keep up producing songs on the level I want often also needs input from others, who are still deep into the technological process of it.
What’s on your current playlist?
Due to Corona, no DJ playlist really. So many fresh producers out there that it’s hard to name just some of them. Without the context of events, I am not so much into dance music. I dig into the new releases and promos once a week for a day for being able to be up to date and always have fresh tunes. I edit a lot of them too so they fit my needs when touring.
Aside from that, in the office, I love listening to Nils Frahm for example and all kind of similar producers. Absolutely stunning. In the car when driving I love classical music. It’s great when you go fast over the highway, have a sunset in front of you and a classic concert over the sound system. The contrast of high speed and mellow music is appealing in my opinion.
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
I am quite old school and love to tailor mixes to perfection… or at least as close as possible. Blending songs into each other over various minutes on 3 of 4 decks, EQ’ing them, filtering them, adding effects or samples, that all creates new songs somehow. If I do that right and I am confident with it, then I am satisfied and can share that emotion with the crowd. It’s an organic process. If they feel the same they give back their energy and I have more comfort as well as a feeling of what kind of direction they want. Pushing it up more, keeping it on that level or giving them a bit of a break by bringing things a bit down for a moment.
I used to play vinyl for 7 years, then switched to digital, but after some years of experimenting, I personally felt I lost the connection to the crowd by just staring too much in the laptop. So I went back to a more simple DJ Setup, which allows me to have always an eye on the crowd.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
For me, it’s just about the idea of the song and trying to realize this as good as possible. Working on the sound, I leave to the teamwork with my co-producer(s) as well as the mixing engineer and mastering pro. It cannot all come from one person in my opinion.
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
Normally I work occasionally on new productions on my Macbook in Ableton and try to get rough projects out of basic ideas I got. Then normally twice a year I go to a friends studio and we sit down for a week every day from early till late to finalize these ideas and start some new productions too. Regularly this results in around 8 songs per such session. Makes annually around 15 songs. I try to sign 3 Eps per year of which one is Bedrock regularly. For all of them, I use around 10 to 12 songs from these. Some I then just don’t use and either we try to change them into something new or I give them out once a while as free bonus songs.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
Very early actually. At the first clubbings and illegal raves in the very early 90’ies when I first witnessed the early stage of electronic dance music in its raw form live I felt immediately I wanna be part of that. And since then I pushed for that and constantly do so until today. That’s my personal path and the best thing for me about it is that I can involve all the energy I got into it, but at the same time have a very big amount of freedom in my life. I have lived without an alarm clock for 30 years (except for few early flights), don’t need to fit any dress codes, no rush hour traffic for work every day, etc… the small things make a big difference!
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
Some water, some alcohol if in the right mood, a towel, two back up USB sticks, a backup LAN cable, my recording device and, a coffee chewing gum in case I get tired. I also try to have a stagehand close by or a friend who can help me sort issues with the sound or light if needed.
Any emerging artists on your radar?
A lot! I always loved to support upcoming talents along the way as I think its important that long time “veterans” like me who had the luck being able to live this live also share their knowledge and contacts to nice people who are looking for advice as well as help. Obviously, Outcome from Croatia are amazing, with whom I had the pleasure to release an EP together just recently. Baime from Denmark also delivered on a very strong level for a while and I had the pleasure to work with them when managing Burn Residency a while ago. Thales Boutroumlis from Germany is a very promising upcoming new talent. He is still in school but delivers awesome productions. Just to name 3 that I think you guys should check out.
The industry has evolved enormously over the last 28 years. What piece of advance would you give to a rising producer who is struggling to find their feet?
Staying true to yourself as well as to constantly deliver. Trends come and go. If you always try to catch up on the changing trends you always will only be a follower and ride one of the waves behind the trend.
Only if you stay true to yourself, independent from the trends around, you can become an original, and eventually, the trend at some points naturally shifts towards your direction and makes you organically a leader of this genre.
Trends always go in circles – at least somehow. So stay patient and passionate and wait for things to evolve even tho it might not be easy.
But also constantly push and deliver. There is so much competition out there to miss out on opportunities.
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Not being overloaded with tasks and a good work-life balance.
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
When on tour and playing shows I love to use 4 good decks. Can be the latest Pioneer such as CDJ-2000 Nexus 2 or CDJ-3000. Also, the Denon Prime, which is awesome. When it comes to the mixer and I have a choice I really still prefer the Allen & Heath DB4. It still gives the best sound and you can tailor the effects to perfection. The Effects are so sensitive if you want, that they blend in perfectly within the music running. Yes, the new V10 is great. I love the compression and the effects got way better. But in comparison, they still sound a bit more aggressive than the DB4 as well as I miss some possibilities to tweak the timing of the effects like I want. I also have my Zoom recording device and sometimes also a RMX 1000. But in the end, I also have some samples and effects as audio files on my USB which I play from one of the decks while using 3 to sync music. In terms of sound, I personally love L Acoustics.
Any side projects you’re working on?
Well, I wouldn’t call them side projects, but work projects. For over 3 years, I have been working as Director of Music and Head Consultant for Sekoya Management who run and own the Soho Garden Development in Dubai. It includes 7 venues (Soho Garden, Soho Beach, Hive, Code, …) at the moment which since they opened became the most important nightlife venues in the region. For 1 year I have also worked as a talent buyer and consultant for Venture Lifestyle, which is a big hospitality group in Egypt. They own various venues around the country and do a lot of events from smaller scaled regular club shows to huge massive concerts. On top of that, for some months, I have worked in a similar position for a group in India and we currently develop the plans for the next years to come. After some years of not being active in my old home market of Austria, I also got offered the same role from a big Austrian real estate group that own a bunch of clubs, hotels, restaurants and bars. We are just waiting for Covid to finish to start rolling out the plans we developed. And there is more in the making, which I cannot reveal yet… but I think you realized that this is not a regular job for me but my passion and using my time as productive as possible means a lot to me.
Tell us about Titan International – what has been one of your favourite memories of working as CEO for the agency?
Titan is my own company which is the common platform for all business I do since I started in this field. It has also constantly evolved along the way. For some years it went exactly as I planned. For some things went in slightly other directions but as CEO for a company, it’s important to keep an eye on the best possible workflow, growth potential as well as maximum possible productivity of the company and its team.
There are countless memories from the thousands of shows we had the pleasure to realize, but a great memory was when we did a concert with Gossip and Beth Dito years back for a big student crowd and the kids just didn’t pay a lot of attention. Beth jumped into the crowd and worked hard very close with them to motivate them to take it seriously and enjoy the event. It showed me that even when you are a rock star, things can go wrong and when you have pure passion and commitment you can still make things work if you don’t give up. Success doesn’t come on the silver tablet and she showed clearly that she has that something special that makes you a star.
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
Isn’t all in life about developing? You grow by learning from mistakes and it’s satisfying to see how your skills progress. Putting yourself outside of your comfort zone is maybe not very attractive in the first place, but the only way to keep pushing boundaries and I think its also one of the main reasons I managed to be up and running on a good level after all those years in this field.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
Possibilities of public appearances are limited in Covid times so a lot of my time is used to plan and prepare things for the time when we can get a good part of our old lives back. At the same time, I also commit a good percentage into new developments and business ideas that are not dependent on live income only. The big learning for me from this pandemic was, that we all in the industry rely way too much on one revenue stream only. Monetizing digital content is one of the ways forward, as well as we have to use technology way more clever in order to keep a good balance between the rather old business model most of us followed for such a long time and new direction. Evolution.
Famous last words?
Go with the flow
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By Sarah Britton