It all began in Stockholm. Well, Sweden, but things always tend to focus on the capital, don’t they?
Geographical split hairs to one side, the Scandinavian nation rose to prominence with a thundering take on techno as the 90s left their midway point. Over the last decade and a half (or so) that kick-heavy sound has become a much-loved reading of the four-four blueprint, selling out clubs worldwide, while rarely shifting from the signature accents that first won it the attention of ears, providing a focal point refreshingly removed from London, Berlin, New York, Chicago, and Detroit.
Suburban dog-owner, player of epic sets, producer’s producer, or technophile. However you know Joel Mull one thing is for sure. Alongside friends like Adam Beyer, Jesper Dahlback, and Cari Lekebusch, he has been instrumental in the success of the Swedish entourage. And that’s whether he’s playing four hour sets, or crafting tunes for imprints like Kompakt Extra, Truesoul, and Cocoon.
His latest long-player, Sensory, marks a firm shift of focus back to the floor, a solid hunk of melody tinged tech that rolls and grooves past soundscapes suited to both festival and basement. It certainly made a big impression on us. As such we’re still hammering it out on the hi-fi, so thought it best to take things one step further by calling for a chat. We discuss the new album, why DJs should be allowed to perform for longer, and what it’s like when you need dance music in order to function as an everyday person. Read on if you want to know the details.
P&S: Hi Joel, how are you today?
Everything good in Stockholm?
“Yeah, I don’t live in the city any more, I moved out around four or five years ago. I lived in a part of the city where there was a lot going on, shops, and record shopping, people hanging out. A really nice place, it’s called Sodermalm. But I got two dogs, and having them in town isn’t the best idea.
“So we felt it was a good time to move from the city, and into the suburbs. It’s not so far, like 15 minutes or so into the centre. We bought an apartment too, so now it feels a lot better not to be renting, as we’re paying towards something.”
Yeah, it’s always better to have a mortgage in the long run
“Absolutely, it’s important. And especially as the guy who owned the building before lived in the building, and I was there for about 10 years. It was really awkward, the situation. So eventually I was just like ‘OK, I don’t want to pay this guy anymore’. But it’s good that we’ve left the city, we have this forest around the corner, where we can walk the dogs. It’s calm and easy. That’s a really good thing about Stockholm, in a way. We have a small scene going on, and there’s stuff bubbling under the surface, but you are able to disconnect from the club scene midweek. It’s a good balance.”
Sensory certainly connects with clubs, what was the thought process behind that?
“Well, my last album was very cinematic, in a sense. There were a lot of ideas and things I tried to make with the previous one that I didn’t focus on with this album. With Sensory I was more thinking about trying to get tracks I would actually play out myself. Because one of the problems I have had is with playing my own records in a club, which is really stupid in a way, as I make tracks for the dancefloor.
“But I always get bored of them easily, because I analyse and listen to the tracks too much. With this album it was easier for me because I also had someone to bounce ideas off- like my manager Rob, and Adam Beyer. So that was useful, as I am quite insecure about my music sometimes. They are two different things though, as the last album was more of a listening album, whereas this is straight to the floor.
“I think it’s also the thing with albums that you can over analyse what you want to do. It doesn’t have to be so complicated, but you make these big ideas about what you want to do, you want to make something special. I didn’t have all that, or the pressure to do a concept. But it’s also good with this album that I had the time. So there was no master plan, just collecting tracks that I would play and feel comfortable with.”
Away from your own productions then, after so long in techno, are things still inspiring you?
“For sure. Techno- the music, community, house nation, or whatever you want to call it- the big family- that’s always going to inspire me, and always has. It’s inspiring to meet new people, people making new music, and feeling that music is pushing forward, developing all the time through technology, through new faces, producers… it’s a never ending thing for me, always keeping me interested.
“Particularly techno and house. It’s something I can’t leave because it’s such a big part of who I am. The whole scene, going out clubbing, being in that nightlife environment, and that’s something that I can’t stop doing. I definitely feel a bit lost without it. For me, I’m a dancer as much as anyone else that goes to a club. I’m still out there dancing, and listening to new DJs. Once you’re in, you can’t step off, that’s the way it goes.”
Obviously, the ‘Swedish Sound’ has inspired its fair share of heads over the years. What are your thoughts on it all now?
“Our music! It’s such an abstract idea to be able to think of, you know. What we did back in the 90s, the Swedish techno sound that came out, we were really just interpreting the stuff we liked, all the guys from Detroit, Belgium, the UK, German techno… But it seemed to get a little heavier on the drums.
“It’s still amazing to think the tunes I make go out to people, and engage with them on the airwaves. It helped a lot that we helped each other, I mean, we were all doing individual things, but at the same time we were giving each other tips, and criticisms. It’s important not to look back too much though- try to keep it going forward. I think a lot of people get famous or whatever and lose touch after a while as they think they’re important. I don’t think any of us think we’re important; we just keep the memory of where it started, where it began, why we do it. And the energy.”
You’re known for delivering pretty long sets. Do people seem to be becoming less bothered about that these days?
“I think there’s too much focus on big names, who is playing, who will fit the bill, top this, top that, charts, who’s doing what. For me, personally, it’s about having somebody that can make you forget the normal day life for a while. To look at a good DJ, in my opinion, he should be able to play at least four hours and make a journey from that, with time to develop something and hypnotise people a little bit.
“There are a lot of DJs that don’t get the chance, or even just to do a warm up set and leave off for the next person. It’s all about having this festival, hands in the air, white noise scream. And that’s something that gets focused on too much, as oppose to going deeper. Really it’s about the party, but it’s also important to let people play and progress, two hours minimum, minimum. There’s a lot that has got lost over time, if you’re looking back it’s easy to be nostalgic and think people were more happy for what they got, and it wasn’t so focused on the DJ thing.
“One of the last times we had a Drumcode party we had the whole of Berghain and Panorama Bar in Berlin for ourselves. There were, I think, ten of us, no, no less, maybe eight or so. Anyway, we had 24 hours between everyone, so there was just so much time to do things. And there were still people packed inside at the 24th hour, asking for more. Those are the moments when you’re just like, ‘wow’.”
When playing live you’re a big Ableton advocate aren’t you?
“That’s right. Sometimes I link with Logic, but yes, Ableton, in the box. And when I DJ I use Traktor. I embraced the whole technology thing a while ago, because for me that’s a source of inspiration. If there is some new technology that I hear about, or see a You Tube video of a product, then I want to try it out and see what it is.
“That allows me to develop, and find new ways to make it interesting for myself. Instead of getting stuck with one format. I love vinyl, I have a huge collection. Which made it such a fucking ordeal when we moved apartments- it took me three days to move the records. So having this big archive is great, but it’s also nice to have everything on a hard drive as well. I love technology, I’m definitely a geek in that sense.”
Things must have been hectic with the album launch, what have you got coming up at the moment?
“Pushing the album… Most of my dates have been involved with that recently. Also I am working on a couple of projects with Cari Lekebusch. We have an idea we want to do which will involve us playing together a lot, and he’s focusing on the Hybrid nights too so I’m involved with a couple there. At the same time Adam is doing 15 years of Drumcode this year, so there will be a lot of parties towards the end of the year.
“Also there will be some remixes from Sensory, certainly Martinez and Funk d’Void, hopefully two remix packages from the album in total. And I’m also trying to have fun, feel it and push it forward. I’m feeling really inspired at the moment, there is so much good music, so many great DJs. It keeps you on your toes, and hopefully that won’t disappear.”
Joel Mull’s Sensory is available now on Truesoul. See what we thought of the album here.