Photo: Michelle Neorosa (Marlon Hoffstadt)
The recent death of Avicii could have been a wake up call even for the underground. The pressure that comes along with the already unhealthy lifestyle of a DJ, the constantly being watched at every move – is this not exactly what most DJs even from our relatively small scene have to deal with? Marlon Hoffstadt at least found it necessary to step on the brakes while his career was in full swing. Less bookings, more studio time and most of all more time for himself seemed imperative. This doesn’t mean however that the Midnight Themes founder has retreated himself completely – with his Savour The Moment parties at Berlin’s Salon zur Wilden Renate he promotes a party experience free of smartphones and the stress that comes along with it. Similarly, his contribution to our Groove podcast takes it slowly.
After the end of the Retrograde imprint, you’ve founded the label Midnight Themes in 2017 and have so far released two of your own productions. Why did Retrograde come to an end and which concept is behind Midnight Themes?
When we, Natureboy Gold and I, started Retrograde together, we both shared the same taste and love for music. We lived close to each other and together with my good friend and old flatmate Matteo Luis we formed a great trio. By that time I was searching for a new musical direction for my own productions and Matteo and Gerrit really helped me find it. Day in day out it was always about music, so it was pretty clear to give ourselves a platform to share our outcome with the world. We also fell in love with the idea to use my stepfather’s paintings for our artworks and everything went smoothly together. Besides running the label we also started hosting events at ://about blank. It takes a lot money and time to keep an event series and a label running. After a while, Gerrit started working full time in a marketing company and Matteo was more focusing on his Oteo project. Very soon we couldn’t handle all the work and pressure that came along with pressing records and doing events. So that lack of time and also the fact that pressing records is quite a pricy thing led to the end of Retrograde. We simply couldn’t afford it anymore. After the end of Retrograde I realized that I was not only missing the label work itself, I also missed the freedom that comes together with running your own label. You can release whatever you want, whenever you want and however you want. That’s why I started Midnight Themes. The name came from a Gil Scott-Heron lyric that said “Midnight is the first minute of the new day”. I really liked the idea of naming the label after this line, because it felt like I was about to enter a new phase in my life. The rest of the concept is easy: I will only release my own original productions on Midnight Themes. By the time there will be a few remixes from friends and maybe a few collaborations, but mainly my own productions. I am also studying journalism at the moment, so together with also running my own event series I simply don’t have the time to promote and support other acts and their music in the way they would deserve it.
In 2018, you’ve launched the Savour The Moment event series at Berlin’s Salon zur Wilden Renate during which you encourage your audience to not use their smartphones. Speaking after two of such events, have you succeeded in that?
Mostly, yes. Many people accept that ethos and stick to this “rule”. Of course I’m not running around like the phone police, checking that no guest is using a smartphone. But in general it feels like most of the people respect and like the idea of a phone-free environment. At least for a few hours. I also don’t want to force guests to not use their smartphones. I am using mine as well, especially when I’m organizing an event. As a promoter you need to be reachable, and you need to organize things. It’s also not really about the phone, people can still use it to call a friend or write a text. It’s more about all the apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Shazam. There is so much more to experience during a club night, especially in a club like the Renate, where we open all four dance floors plus the other extra rooms. Instead of losing yourself in the internet, looking at things that have already happened in the past, you should simply lose yourself in the present moment while listening to good music. All these apps encourage people to not communicate verbally with each other, in the real world, face to face. I also don’t like it when people take out their phones to Shazam a song. When I play and you want to know the song, you can always come to me and ask me for the track ID. Maybe we even end up having a nice conversation about the music, or we’re having a beer after my set. But to get back to your question, I can’t really tell if I have succeeded in that. The best would be if you simply come over to one of the nights, leave your phone at home and have a proper dance, laugh and conversation.
Savour The Moment’s ethos is “awareness”, one press release speaks of a “safe space” – does the event series also have a political dimension to it?
I think the overuse of smartphones and our addiction to digital media already is something political. Without knowing we’re getting trained to quickly react to short impulses instead of reflecting and thinking about the input. All these apps are only based on future or past events and so we’re more and more losing the connection to the present moment. It’s all entertainment, and like Neil Postman predicted so wisely: We’re amusing ourselves to death. How can we build a political safe space for all human beings without really observing our environment? I think awareness is the foundation of acceptance, unity and love. If I am not aware and caring towards my environment and all the other wonderful human beings around me I can’t offer them a safe space in that they can look, act, feel and simply be however they want to. At my events and also at Renate in general everyone is welcome. You simply need to be respectful, caring and open minded and very important: not judging. I think by trying to build a phone-free space and time we’re moving another step towards more acceptance and love towards each other. It also gives us a ground on which more political movement can grow on.
On a recent opinion piece by Resident Advisor’s Will Lynch on “the hazards of DJ culture“, you’ve left a comment explaining why, three years ago, you’ve decided to tour less and cited mental health reasons for that. What exactly lead up to this decision and how have you fared since then?
The main problem for me was anxiety and being ill all the time. These days I am actually quite sure that all these illnesses came from my mental instability. And I am not talking about heavy mental problems. I am talking about average mental conflicts that many teenagers and also older humans have to deal with. This combined with heavy touring, drinking and sometimes even more than alcohol can quickly end up in stress, panic attacks and anxiety. It’s also important to mention that these mental problems all started to show up quite slowly and silently: After the release of my Shake That record on Play It Down and the later re-release on FFRR my whole life was only looking at the past and future. When you are having a bit of success and you’re busy touring with more than eight to ten shows a month, there is not much time left for self-care or timeouts. After touring on the weekends you still need to deal with the pressure of producing another “hit” during the week. Everyone around you tells you what to do and what music you need to put out, to build up your career and to reach the next level. Then, at some point, the first illnesses start coming, going and coming again. It’ a ping pong of being fine and sick, fine and sick and somehow managing to not cancel shows and other music-related deadlines. Ah, and please do not forget about the steady social media output you need to deliver. That was also a very big deal for me. It’s not easy to always post positive content on how much fun a show was, or on how fun traveling is. Sometimes it’s no fun, but I always had the feeling there was no space for sharing that with the public. What in the end led to the panic attacks was not the heavy touring. It happened a bit longer than one year ago, after finding out where I wanted to go with my own music. I realized that it was not the big success everyone else wanted me to go for, but when you do this kind of 180, the main struggle is not touring or the music. The problem is, that for everyone else, you still are this little kid that went the commercial way in the first place. With Retrograde, I finally found my own medium to spread the message and output that I really wanted to share. But actually, no one wanted to listen to it. It was really hard to somehow gain the attention of other DJs or even the press. After Gerrit and I decided to stop doing the label together it all kind of collapsed for me. And that’s where the panic attacks came in. It is important to say that I am not blaming anyone else for how my life as an artist evolved. If music is the thing that drives you but you are unhappy with what you’ve done in the past and the future is not looking too promising either – because no one is really paying attention to what you are doing – it is easy to lose yourself in anxiety and stress. And by stress I mean questioning everything you’ve done in the past and being super insecure with what you are doing in the present. What really helped me to get out of this loop – besides my loving girlfriend and my mother – was also that I started meditating. Together with the meditation I also started ask myself what I really want in my life. Not looking at objects, money and my ego. More looking at what I want from the inside. It’s really important for me these days to sometimes settle myself. It’s still a process and I sometimes feel like the anxiety could come back, but then I am trying my best to center my thoughts in the present moment. It actually feels like I am currently working even more than before but there is a different energy behind it. At the moment I am studying Journalism here at the HdpK in Berlin. I am learning so many interesting things and I am always trying to directly use this input for my events music and shows. Learning and new wires in my brain actually give me a lot energy and it kind of takes the pressure off the music.
In the comment, you’ve also mentioned growing pressure from within the music industry. Did your decision negatively affect you economically?
Of course. Deciding to go another way as the people around you expect you to go is hard. I nearly had no requests for about one or two years. Financially it was really hard for me from time to time. While friends went out to go clubbing, I sometimes stayed up really late to produce music and to reach out to promoters and clubs. You can’t just say: “Hey everyone, I decided to not go the commercial way, I wanna play with the cool kids now!”. The cool kids actually don’t care. (laughs) The “underground” scene is not as accepting as I was hoping by that time. And still today, I know there are labels that would be a good fit for my music, but they simply won’t release anything of it, just because I have this past where I released more “commercial” stuff. But on the other hand it’s also good to mention the positive effects that came along with the change. I am still really young and I just started to expand my knowledge. It gives me a lot energy to know that there are still so many days ahead where I can do what I really love. I am also honored to now work with so many talented and loving people. I can learn a lot from them and it really feels like I have arrived where I wanted to arrive.
Which measures do you think could or even should be taken to avoid putting touring DJs and producers in danger, both mentally and physically?
It feels like there is a lack of love and care for each other and for ourselves. That’s where we should be looking at. Instead of looking for a solution in the outside we should rather try to find it in the inside. I know this sounds cheesy and probably a bit childish, but these days I believe that self-care and reflection in form of awareness, is a main key to happiness. I think you can start this by simply asking yourself what you want want for yourself. And again I am not talking about objects. I am more talking about what you really want in your life. Do I really want to play ten shows a month, or maybe two or three a weekend? Do I really want to make fast money in a short time period or do I rather want to take it a bit easier now, looking at the long term. To be honest, you don’t need to play two or three shows a weekend. You have so many weekends left in your life, that you can easily play some shows a bit later. And if a promoter, booking agent, or anyone else is not willing to wait for another date, you maybe shouldn’t work with that person anyway. I also don’t see the need to wait for another tragic and dramatic end like the one of Tim Bergling (alias Avicii) before we start to gain awareness. We all somehow love to suffer and we also love to wait until something serious happens to us before we start changing. Why though? Maybe it’s time to think about new guidelines and a new ethos in our scene. These could focus less on objects, brands, money and more on health, care and love. And if you now think this is a naive or privileged view on a problem that is not easily solved: yes, it probably is, but you need to start somewhere and sometime. For myself I can only say that I’ve truly experienced that there is no stress and no anxiety when you love yourself and when you are aware of the present moment and your environment. Don’t stress out about postings on your social media channels, about keeping organic reach high, about losing fame or hype if you take a weekend off for yourself. Just do whatever drives you in a good direction. See everything as a process in the present moment and don’t look too much into the future. I hope this somehow answered your question?
With 15 tracks in 95 minutes and long transitions, your contribution to our Groove podcast takes it quite slowly – which is unusual for an online mix. What was your idea behind the mix?
I actually had a different mix ready that I produced with Ableton and that I wanted to send through. It was a good mix but did not really feel like me or the way I play. My girlfriend – who actually always has a solution to my problems – then recommended to simply record it live when I played in Ingolstadt the other day. After I did that I knew for sure what to play and what not and also how to play it. So I went to the Black Room at Wilde Renate and recorded this mix. It’s filled with music that I play when I DJ live and it’s a bit faster, around 130 to 133bpm. Sometimes I like fast transitions but mostly I’m into long ones. Long story short: This is probably how it would sound seeing me play a DJ set in a club. It’s a bit cleaner and not as overdriven as when I play live but still it really sounds like me. I hope everyone will still like it, also if its not the typical online mix.
Last but not least: Where can we see you behind the decks in the near future, and what are your plans as a producer, label owner and promoter?
I am really looking forward to play FARR Festival at the Ransom Note stage in July. Also I am going to play a super cool Open Air Rooftop Party in London at Brixton Jamm on July 28th. Besides that I have a few Savour The Moment events coming up at Renate this summer and I am really proud of who will come over for these shows. I’m bringing a few Berlin premieres too: Breakwave, Object Blue, Working Women and DJ Clea – all on August 17th. I am also doing a few Savour The Moment Brunch Partys at Else club. It will be Saturdays, free entry and some nice food. While we’re at it, a big, big, big shoutout to the Renate team! It’s so much fun working with them and they put so much heart into everything they touch. Below is the full gig list of my shows and the Savour The Moment events. As a producer I am releasing a few records here and there this year. I’m about to drop two digital only remix EP’s on Midnight Themes in June and July. In August, I will release another record with the wonderful Ransom Note record label. Later this year there is another record coming up on Rawax and also on the soon-to-be-founded Mauke record label. Plus a few remixes here and there. Ah, and between studying in university and throwing events I am also currently working on an album that will be ready at some point in the future. Thanks a lot for having me! Peace and love.
Stream: Marlon Hoffstadt – Groove Podcast 162
01. Marlon Hoffstadt – Second Track (Eric Maltz Remix) (Midnight Themes 003.2)
02. Marlon Hoffstadt – Der Merowinger (Matteo Luis & DCHM Remix) (Midnight Themes 003.2)
03. Prime Minister Of Doom – Deep In Your Heart (All Possible Worlds)
04. Makam – Girls Night (Ostgut Ton)
05. Lapien – A Change Is Gonna Come (Rekids)
06. Celeda – The Underground (Saeed & Palash Addictive Trip Mix) (Star 69 Records)
07. K-Hand – I Can See (!K7)
08. HMC – Life Support Systems (Darkroom Dubs)
09. Marlon Hoffstadt – Future Potential (Rawax)
10. Sebastian Gummersbach – In Between Worlds (Marlon Hoffstadt Remix) (Mauke)
11. Frank De Wulf – People In Motion (Darkroom Dubs)
12. Private Press – Untitled (Technosoul)
13. Gesloten Cirkel – Charming (Murder Capital)
14. Marlon Hoffstadt – Cyclin Since 94 (Gramrcy Remix) (Midnight Themes 003.1)
15. Westbam – Beatbox Rocker (Mute)
Marlon Hoffstadt on tour
09.06.2018 Savour The Moment’s Party Brunch at ELSE (w/ Dj Gigola, Ennio, Zola, Elisa Elisa)
22.06.2018 Savour The Moment at Wilde Renate (w/ Neil Landstrumm, Lux, Samo DJ, Pablo Mateo and more)
28.07.2018 Jamm, Brixton, UK
07.07.2018 FARR Festival, UK
07.07.2018 Savour The Moment’s Party Brunch at ELSE
17.08.2018 Savour The Moment at Wilde Renate (w/ Baltra, Esa, Working Women, Breakwave, Qnete, and more)
18.08.2018 Savour The Moment’s After Party Brunch at ELSE