INTERVIEW / FLASHBAXX / NuNorthern Soul – By The Insider

Interview conducted by our favourite four-to-the-floor expert, The Insider.

NuNorthern Soul founder, Phil Cooper, has stayed connected with FLASHBAXX, aka Daniel Stenger, ever since Daniel remixed Abimaro & The Free’s Mark for the label, back in 2014. Phil was convinced that Daniel was capable of creating something truly special. With Take Care My Friend, a mini-album inspired by the German producer’s deeply rooted love of jazz-funk, Stenger has repaid the faith shown in him. He’s delivered a collection of quality cuts, characterized by audible warmth, effortless musicality, and memorable, sun-soaked songs. 

Thanks for taking the time to talk. Where are you today and what are you up to?

Thank you for the opportunity! I just set up my DJ workspace for a Halloween party. I’m not a big fan of Halloween, but the party I’m playing at is just down the street from my studio, and the location is legendary. 

Where were you born, and where are you based these days?

I grew up in Wenighoesbach, a small village near Aschaffenburg. That in turn is near Frankfurt. I moved to Aschaffenburg when I was 25 and have been living and working here in my studio ever since.

How long has the Flashbaxx project been alive?

I always base that on a release. When my track, Livingroom Adventures, made it onto the compilation, Flooristik 3. It was also released by EMI. That was in 2003.

What were you doing musically before FlashBaxx? Have you DJed too in your time?

Here I have to backtrack a little. Before Flashbaxx, there were actually only the usual cover bands at school. The thing is that I was always more ambitious, and in a village with just under 1000 inhabitants, that was just very difficult at the end of the 1990s. I didn’t want to wait for a band all the time. At some point I took everything into my own hands and learned how to make music with the computer, record individual instruments, and how to work with a sampler. During that time, I also taught myself how to DJ.

What can expect in a Flashbaxx set?

I think you have to separate that. There is the party Flashbaxx, who plays practically all-in-the-mix and responds to the situation on the dance floor…and there is the artist Flashbaxx, who feels very comfortable in house, downbeat, nujazz and funk.

When you were growing up, what were the musical influences you had around you?

My first real interest in music was definitely Queen. After that came grunge and then I was hit hard by the Britpop wave. It only became electronic at the end of the `90s, when Fatboy Slim and Daft Punk became big. I listened to a lot of big beat and house. But then I was drawn more to the quieter electronic music: Groove Armada, AIR, Quantic, A Forrest Mighty Black, and especially Jazzanova. Here I also discovered how musical electronic music can be. The mix of jazz, funk and soul with electronic influences worked best for me.

What tracks in particular did you listen to back then?

I have listened to Moon Safari by Air up and down. Vertigo by Groove Armada. Tourist by St. Germain, Mishaps Happening by Quantic, Jazzanova`s remixes. Just to name a few. I’ve put together a playlist, on Spotify, that pretty much defines Flashbaxx’s influence.

How did you listen? Was radio important to you? 

I actually discovered more about this kind of music through compilations, and the artists I liked the most,  I then followed up and bought their records.

What artists from back in time influence the music that you make today?

My influences are manifold and not necessarily exclusively from the electronic realm. I love the piano of Ben Folds, and Radiohead, the warmth of Air and Zero 7, or the songwriting of Jamiroquai. I also like to look at arrangements, and if I’m unsure, I think to myself, “They’ve done this before, so it works.”

Who do you think is making great music today?

Personally, I think BadBadNotGood, Fieh, Anderson Paak, SOYUZ, and Young Franco are very good at the moment.

Since you released the critically acclaimed Something To Believe, in 2013, you’ve taken a long break from producing as Flashbaxx. Why did you take the break? 

I can’t even say myself. The record was very well received, but somehow not much happened after that. That depressed me. Besides, I wasn’t satisfied with anything I started producing as Flashbaxx after that. There were so many possibilities, and no direction I took satisfied me. I just didn’t exist.

What were you doing in that time? Were you working on other music projects?

I produced music for commercials and films, DJed at parties, produced smaller bands and acts, and got into the podcast business.

Inspiration is a difficult thing. Sometimes it flows and sometimes you can’t find it no matter how hard you search.  Do you believe you can conjure up inspiration, or do you feel you have to just wait until the planets align?

I believe in sitting down and working instead of waiting for inspiration. I have the best run when I don’t actually have time to make music and actually have somewhere to go, or something else to work on. I’d like to say that it’s often the songs that go fast. But that’s not true either. Everyone has their own method.

NuNorthern Soul’s Phil Cooper cites your remix of Abimaro & The Free’s Mark, back in 2014, as inspirational.  Tell us a little about this project.

I knew about Phil Cooper and his label. I wanted to deliver something special. I liked the original track very much and wanted to push it in another direction. In retrospect, these were the first steps toward the approach I used on the new album – Not following samples, but setting the direction myself, through my own instrumentation.

Your forthcoming album feels deeply inspired. What was the first track that you made on this album? Did it come together easily?

Thank you. The first track was actually, Alright. This was written and recorded in one night, from beginning to end. It was a clean sweep, and everything just turned out perfectly. I was hooked instantly to that warm and organic vibe, with a squeeze of Latin sound. It was the spark for the whole sound and concept of this record. As a music producer you have unlimited possibilities these days, with thousands of sounds and presets right at your fingertips. So Alright inspired me to limit myself to the instruments I used. Every song that I produced after that one, has the same setup. Like an imaginary tie, in which every musician has his instrument and space. In a twisted way this self-limitation gave me the freedom to focus on that instrument to get the best out of it. I didn‘t want to follow the limitation of a sample and just garnish it. This time, I wanted to compose music and be musically sophisticated. So I had to play most of the instruments myself.  I think that was also the biggest development for me. I can’t tell you if it came easily, as I think my biggest critic is still me, with my own insecurity and my drive for perfection. That’s a bigger struggle than making music itself.

Where did you make the album?

I recorded and produced the album in my studio in Aschaffenburg. The A-side – Alright, It Just Happens, and Strangers – was mixed by Axel Reinemer at Jazzanova Recording Studio. The B-side – Brooklyn Love Boat, Take Care My Friend, and City Lights – I mixed myself, because I finished the songs very late, and Axel didn’t have time for it. With a mix at JRS, I fulfilled a small dream. The same goes for the mastering at Calyx, in Berlin.

Were there other musicians that you worked with on the tracks?

The very brilliant Florian Brettschneider played the guitar solo on Strangers. I also have to say, he made me very uncomfortable with his opinion of my tracks. But that’s totally OK. As I said, he’s a brilliant musician with a good feel for music and production. But he probably doesn’t know my style that well. My good friend Kathrin Kempf sang on Strangers, and contributed most of the lyrics. So did Chris Pookah on City Lights.

Can you tell us more about the Kathrin?

I‘ve been friends with Kathrin for a long time, and I produced her first E.P. Unlike me, she is a brilliant singer and songwriter with the ability to write very deep lyrics. I‘ve always wondered how she might sound on a jazzy soul track. Actually, this version is a remix. The instrumental that Kathrin Kempf originally sang on was completely different. It was more of an MPC beat. To adapt the music to the record, I wrote a new arrangement and adapted the vocals to it. Strangers had a deceptive, almost hopeless, atmosphere to me. It‘s not a happy song. A few of my lines actually made it into the song, but Kathrin just nailed the lyrics. If I remember correctly, she was struggling with her relationship at the time, and you can hear that emotion pretty clearly. It became a song, growing with each minute passing, without being pathetic and not even having a hook.

When I listen to this LP I am immediately reminded of the work of greats like Patrick Adam or Roy Ayres. When the tracks started to come together, could you feel it was working and it was going to be big?

These are really very respected names and I’m very flattered that you associate these names with my record. When I put the tracks together, I wanted it to work for me, first and foremost. So it just felt good to me. I hope the listeners understand that as well. Over 20 years, I have simply done far too little with Flashbaxx, and therefore also achieved far too little. Based on the reaction to the first two singles, I could also see that literally no one knew who I was. However, I also found out how well my music was received in the scene, especially by musical idols that I`ve looked up to for many years. I`ve no sense of whether my music is big, or will reach many people. At the end of the day, I just want to prove to myself that my music is serious.

Brooklyn Love Boat is really quite exceptional, and Moods remix takes it to a whole other level. What did Moods do to the original, in your words?

My music is not necessarily DJ friendly, and that’s OK for me. I leave that job to the remixer. Apart from the fact that Nick has delivered a really great remix, he brings the DJ friendliness with his version.

How did it feel having Atjazz on board for the rework? Is he someone you admire or is that the stupidest question?

Oh Boy! When I wrote the email to Martin, I was really scared – “I hope he reads it, I hope he takes me seriously, I hope he likes my music and I hope he doesn’t think I’m a fool.” As I mentioned before, it was already important for me to find some acceptance in the scene… and Atjazz is definitely part of the scene. His productions are always 10 out of 10, and have really  inspired me as well – insanely good arrangement and great sound. I love his Sun Singleton remix. Not 5 minutes later came the answer: he thinks my music is great and would very much like to produce a remix. He’s just the nicest guy you can imagine… and when he sent his remix a few weeks later, it was like: “OK Stenger… this is what it sounds like when a legend produces it. You are still a child”. Hahaha. Joking aside. I’m happy beyond measure that he’s on board and with the joint single I’ve fulfilled another little dream.

What else is Flashbaxx working on that we should look out for?

After the release of Take Care My Friend, there will be more singles on NuNorthern Soul, with more remixes of the original tracks.. and then let’s see. There are still a few songs that didn’t make it onto the record. Maybe they are good enough to be released in 2023. Otherwise, you’ll hear from me again in another 10 years.

Flashbaxx`s Take Care My Friend is out now, on NuNorthern Soul. 

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