• A conversation with the electro artist and friend of SOMA Labs. Interview by Thomas Lundberg.
It makes us happy to be able to say that Anthony Rother is one of our long-time Soma friends. In a very interesting interview on a variety of music topics, Anthony talks about how he got started as a producer and how it's different today for up and coming artists, sharing his viewpoints and tips along with his own experiences as a producer then and now.
How important is it for young producers and DJs to study the history of electronic music, to know the originators in different genres and to know the main influential labels in those genres?
As it is so easy to access information nowadays, I would recommend everyone to learn about the history of electronic music. The challenging part is rather figuring out where to start. The history of electronic music has been extensively documented, which means it will take a lot of time to familiarize oneself with everything. Perhaps one could begin by exploring the history of Detroit Techno and 80s Electro?
What are the best ways for young producers and DJs to educate themselves in today’s digital world?
I would start by reading the main articles about Techno and Electro on Wikipedia and then search for the mentioned musicians and labels on video and streaming services to listen to or watch their work. You will likely come across many cross-references and can intuitively follow all the interesting leads. It's a lifelong endeavor, so take it slowly. But never lose sight of your own path. History is valuable, but the present and what you, as an artist, create are what truly matter.
Do you remember when you felt that spark the first time? When you knew, or felt, ‘I want or I need to learn how to do this’.
At the age of 11, I acquired the Casio VL-1 Synthesizer calculator through a trade with a classmate. It was then that I discovered the fascination and love for music. When I played the first notes on the VL-1 Synthesizer, it became instantly clear to me that I wanted to become a musician. I didn't think about music genres, music theory, or other details. At first, I simply played melodies by ear.
Did you first feel drawn to DJing or music production?
From the very beginning, I wanted to become a musician. Being a DJ in the sense of searching and playing music from others was never really of interest to me. I always wanted to create music, compose, and produce. Being creative was my drive.
Was there a particular artist, label, collective or scene that first inspired you to start producing/DJing? Who were early sources of inspiration for you musically?
In the past, I was heavily influenced by the group Kraftwerk, film composer Jerry Goldsmith, and the film music of John Carpenter. However, these giants no longer play a major role in my artistic development and my music. Nevertheless, you can still hear their influences here and there.
When did you first discover a local music scene?
In the small town where I grew up, there was no music scene. Frankfurt am Main was about 30 kilometers away from us. During that time, we mainly listened to music from England and the USA. German music was not interesting to us teenagers, except for Kraftwerk and a few other German groups and artists. That began to change around 1986/1987 with german artists like Westbam, and in 1989, the international success of the group Snap created a boom for music produced in Germany. At least, that's how I perceived it at the time, and we started to orient ourselves around that.
What was the first music scene you felt you were a part of?
In 1994, I got to know Heiko Laux and his brother Bernie through my former colleague. They owned a small basement bar in the city of Bad Nauheim called Kanzleramt and ran the record label Kanzleramt Records. At the Kanzleramt bar, techno music was played, and it was there that I first came into contact with musicians and DJs who formed a creative community, all producing, listening to, and performing underground techno. And so, I became a member of this group and later, a part of the international techno movement.
Have we moved beyond regional and genre-specific music scenes in the age of social media and instant and constant global presence?
The era of social media has brought about many changes. Artists can now easily release and showcase their music. All information comes through social media streams, and music listeners receive updates directly from the artists they follow. However, both artists and music listeners are overwhelmed by the flood of music and music technology entering the market every day. There are no longer fixed structures for music production and marketing. Anything is possible. Nothing is predictable, and everything is decentralized. Power lies in the hands of many. Underground artists are now independent from the constraints and logic of the music industry. Anyone can release their art. It is also the era of the creative economy.
In terms of underground artists and the impact of social media, are we in a transitional phase?
Essentially, everything is one continuous transitional phase. From one to another. From here to there. However, nowadays, everything is also happening simultaneously. All music styles are available and present at the same time. The 80s never ended. We live and consume all eras of history. Never before have we had such easy access to the history of humanity in sound, image, and words. YouTube and the internet are the precursors to a time machine.
Traditional underground scenes tended to be staunchly anti-commercial, anti-capitalistic and anti-consumerist. How can today's underground artist reconcile that spirit with the modern need for a social media presence and digital releases?
By their works and deeds you shall know them. Capitalism is the system in which we all live and function. There are many excesses that need to be criticised, but I don't know of a better system. Today, social media is what radio, television and the press used to be. Where else should music listeners find out what we artists are doing, thinking or have to say? The only thing I see is the possibility to get in touch with interested people. Social media allows me to show interested people what I do. We seem to have to live with the negative effects. Anyone can put their opinion out into the world. Society has to evolve in dealing with it. I have hope.
You grew up as a musician and DJ in the ‘before time’ and are still very active today. What would be your advice to yourself, if you were starting off today as a young producer?
Don't listen to anyone and work hard. It was hard as a musician even back then. But the digital revolution has decoupled music from the physical medium. With dramatic consequences. The biggest problem is that the income from music has become economically precarious. Especially in the independent and underground sector. Streaming is certainly not the solution for this sector. The distribution of digital music and sound carriers is also precarious. The only solution I see is a withdrawal from the commercial distribution chains and a higher share in the sales of the distributors.
Did you learn to play an acoustic instrument when you were young?
I didn't learn to play an instrument, but I taught myself to play keyboard instruments. I am not a virtuoso, but my skills are perfectly sufficient for my music. Dilettantism follows its own rules. Passion and motivation are the most important things.
Were you a gearhead or were synths and drum machines just tools for you?
Equipment didn't play a big role in the beginning due to financial constraints. My first keyboard was a Yamaha PSS-680. I took it everywhere with me. You could see me on the street walking around with the original box of the PSS-680. At the time, this caused hilarity among my classmates, but for me it was really important to be able to plug it in at any time, anywhere, put on headphones and play. It was only later that the gear craze took hold of me, and it continues to this day. I am very interested in music technology, especially hardware.
Did you have your favorite electronic instruments which you stuck with for many years?
My current studio is a collection of equipment that I have been using for years. Over the years I have tried many Synthesizers, drum machines, mixers and effects units. My current setup is the essence of it. These are my favourites, and something new is added from time to time.
What was your first setup?
My first devices with which I could produce music were the EPS16+ sampler and its successor ASR-10 from Ensoniq. My first professional studio setup consisted of the following devices: the Behringer MX-8000 mixing console, the Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler, the Roland JD-800 synthesiser, the Ensoniq DP4/+ effects unit, the Shure SM58 microphone, a PC i386 with Cubase XT 3.0 and the Digidesign Session8. With this setup I produced my debut album "Sex With The Machines".
What sets apart PULSAR-23 compared to the classics, Roland TR-808 and TR-909?
The PULSAR-23 is a unique drum synthesiser that is at home in many different worlds. It can be used to create classic synthetic beats, but when you use its modular capabilities, Pulsar becomes a creative synthesis machine where your imagination is the only limit. Pulsar can also be used as an effects unit and offers excellent modulation possibilities. Pulsar cannot be compared to an 808 or 909. Pulsar is in a league of its own.
What has SOMA gear added to your workflow and productions?
Pulsar is firmly integrated into my basic studio setup and is always ready for use. I recently discovered Pulsar as an effects unit and used it to process my vocoder voices. I have used Cosmos to play and produce ambient tracks live. I have also used Cosmos as a stutter effect for pads. On my album "Dekatron" I recorded a complete track as a jam with Pulsar. The track is called "Pulsartronic".