One world under a groove: An interview with Christian Smith

He’s the man behind the Tronic imprint, and has spent countless years tirelessly touring, spreading his sound across some of the world’s greatest festivals, from Dancevalley to Creamfields, and the best dancefloors on Earth, whether that’s The Arches in Glasgow or Tokyo’s Womb. And, in the studio, his cuts and reworks have graced organisations such as Renaissance, Bedrock, Ovum, Drumcode, and 100% Pure, all in addition to his own label, of course.

Needless to say Christian Smith‘s reputation precedes him as one of the world’s foremost purveyors of tough and funky house music, melded with soulful and groovy techno. It’s the type of career history that makes you stand up and take notice when a remix from the man in question of Underworld’s timeless classic, Dark and Long, drops into the inbox. We reviewed it here in late-August, and thought it a high quality redux, a bit of an anti-thesis to the whole ‘can’t touch a classic’ thing.

Elsewhere over recent months his A&R skills have been on top form, bringing us other Plain & Simple favourites such as the stunning remix package of that percussion-heavy Brazilian Wehbba’s 2010 LP, Full Circle. And, more recently, Dosem, a highly talented producer that bagged one of our Choice Cut reviews for his debut album, again appeared on these pages with the double A-side, Origin b/w Freed, a 12″ also released through Tronic.

This all comes at a time when the likes of Drumcode and H-Productions, two other labels run by prominent Swedish DJs, have been featuring heavily in our recommendations. As such we thought it best to catch up with Smith to say thanks for servicing us with so much great music this year, ask if there’s a Scandinavian renaissance afoot, learn how he keeps finding all these ones to watch, and ascertain whether or not his current home of Sao Paulo has had much influence on the tunes he makes and plays. Read on to hear how he responded.

Hi Christian, how are you today? 

Well it’s the end of summer so things have been pretty crazy. I just got back from Ibiza where I played for Carl Cox, so that was pretty mad. I can’t complain, though it’s been hectic and I’m looking forward to some studio time now.

The Underworld remix just dropped. How did they come about? 

Well I did a remix for Carl Craig last year, Atlas, one of his old tracks. And they got hold of the remix and really enjoyed it, got in touch with me and asked if I was interested in doing one of their records. I chose Dark & Long as it’s one of my favourite electronic tracks of all time. I took a chance and in the end it has turned out really well, I’m very happy with the results. I’m really pleased with the crossover support particularly, with people from Adam Beyer to John Digweed playing it.

How did you approach such a daunting task? 

One of the big misconceptions with producers these days is that when they hear ‘remix’ they think it means making a totally new track, just using a few parts of the original. That’s not the real definition, remixes came about in the 80s and traditionally kept the main elements, but put a new spin on it- your own personality as a remixer. That’s how I approach these classics, by leaving in what made them great, the melody and bassline groove, while reworking the rest.

Tronic has been scoring some big hits with us this year- not least thanks to Wehbba and Dosem. Presumably you’re happy with things? 

I’m very happy right now. But what’s really important to me is that I have a handful of producers that are good mates, and make great music. Like Wehbba, for example, is a good mate, Dosem again is a friend.

“Those guys are really up and coming, but what I love about them is that they don’t make what is trendy today. Right not what’s popular? Maybe tech house with snares. That’s great, I like it, but everybody is making it. These two have their own sound, and I really think you’ll be hearing a lot more from them.”

So, Wehbba’s Brazilian, and you’re based in Sao Paulo. Is the country having a big influence on you musically? 

No, not really. I think what still influences me is the music I heard when I was around eight, to about 12-years-old. For some reason all that has really stuck with me, early electro, funk, soul, disco, and I’m still trying to include some decent funk in what I do now- groovy bassliness and percussion, rather than wherever I might be when I make the track.

I really don’t think that just because I live in Brazil my music is going to start sounding Latin or whatever. What has had a huge influence was having a child a year and a half ago. As soon as my wife found out she was pregnant I had a crazy burst of energy, and since then I have made maybe 30 remixes and 15 releases or something. I hope this carries on because I love what I do and feel lucky to be doing it for a living.”

And life in Brazil is treating you well? 

To be honest it’s great, I love the country and I love South America. But I am contemplating moving back to Europe, because I play most of my gigs there and it’s like 12 or 13 hours on a plane each way.”

How is the scene where you are then? 

Brazil, for example, has a massive scene, but big does not necessarily mean good. In Brazil the general clubber thinks David Guetta is cool and underground, and I have turned up before and the warm up DJ has finished with a track by him. So you could say it has a long way to go in terms of education.

On the other side of the coin though Argentina is next door and has one of the best scenes anywhere in the world right now. And people there are much more knowledgeable, so you can play far deeper. Chile is also really up and coming too, though people don’t play many dates there, but then when they have an international guest on everyone goes crazy.”

Why do you keep moving around so much- did sticking in Sweden never appeal? 

It’s not really intentional. I really did think when I bought my place in Brazil ‘OK, now I have a nice apartment I’ll stay for a good while’, but like I said it’s convenience. But yeah you could say I get about- Germany, Sweden, New York. Who knows where I’ll end up next, though the plan is perhaps Berlin.

I like Sweden, but it’s a little bit provincial, and a bit too quiet. I don’t like the fact everybody is the same, and individualism, for example, is not something so much appreciated in the country. I need to live in a bigger city too. Berlin is a cool place, and now all the minimal hype has disappeared and house music thankfully came back musically the scene is great. Plus it’s a very liveable city.

The other two Swedish flagships- Drumcode and H-Productions- are also busy right now. Is your homeland having a renaissance? 

I don’t know. In the late 90s there was huge focus on Drumcode and Hybrid, those labels were massive and so was almost everyone from Sweden. Is that going to happen again? Probably not, because right now there are a huge variety of successful artists from Sweden, but they push their own brands, not nationality.”

So do you think this modern focus on brands in dance music is a good thing? 

I don’t think it’s a positive, or a negative… it’s a sign of the times. If you want to make it in this scene you have to work your arse off, and be great. So as much as you need to be artistic you need to have business sense. The people on top, like Tiesto or Guetta, they didn’t get there just from being talented. There’s a lot of strategy involved there, and the same goes for underground DJs. People like Richie Hawtin or Dubfire will spend days strategising on where they are going to do the next tour, how can they expand. It’s not a case of playing parties just for the fun of it anymore.”

Finally, in terms of your own potential plans for global domination, anything coming up in the pipeline? 

Well apart from the Underworld remix, which has gone pretty well, I also have a track coming out on Marc Romboy’s Systematic label, I really like it as it’s very bassline led, Detroit style stuff that you don’t get to hear all the time at the momentBesides from that there’s another release coming out on 100% Pure in November, I’m planning a release on Drumcode after that too, and I have another six remixes to get done over the next six weeks, so I’m really busy, which is great, because busy is good.”


Underworld Dark & Long (Christian Smith remixes) is out now on Tronic. Click here to see exactly what we said about the release.