Tobi Neumann is a self-confessed sound-freak. Absorbed in finding and exposing new music – his natural law is “you can’t really say why the art moves you, but it’s important that it does.” Professionally trained as a studio sound engineer, his inextricable relationship with electronic music has conducted a long and illustrious career. From making music for bands, commercials and score music for movies to production work with Chicks on Speed and his first appearance on the Love Parade 1996 in Berlin – its earnest experience like this that makes Tobi one of techno’s humblest players.
As a member of Germany’s most respected families, Cocoon, Tobi is used to be consumed by space and time in the onslaught of the club. From Amnesia to Panorama Bar to our disco at the fabric birthday last year – it was here where we last saw Tobi locked deep in our underworld for more than 24 hours, in what he describes as “more like a dream than reality.”
Ahead of his performance alongside Levon Vincent and Patrice Baumel (live) next Saturday, we checked in with the versatile producer to talk favourite movie soundtracks, technical innovation and why he believes record clubs are right on track.
Hi Tobi, how are you?
I’m doing great. I‘m just on the train on the way to the Netherlands watching the sunset in the West.
We last saw you at our 11th birthday... You were wearing a purple wig in a b2b set with Craig Richards....
Oh that was a fun night. Playing back to back with Craig was a great pleasure. I don‘t remember exactly how that wig ended up on my head, but it seemed to fit the moment - suddenly everybody around me was dressed up, the dOP boys in ballerina dresses, Judy as a queen… It was funny.
What was your time like at the birthday celebrations and are you looking forward to getting back in the disco with Levon Vincent on February 19th?
What a party! I think I was in Fabric for more than 24 hours - almost a Berlin performance. The last hours were more like a dream than reality – pure joy. To play with Craig after all those years of friendship for such a special occasion was also a big honor for me. Coming to fabric means coming to my London home to me. I always get excited to be there and get the chance to play with interesting artists together. I've never heard Levon before, but have heard lots of good things about him so I’m curious to hear his set.
You have a good family at Cocoon can you tell us about that why you started it and what it means to you?
A long time ago Sven asked me if I wanted to join the agency. I’ve been friends with them for a few years before that and it just seemed like a natural progression. When Sven asks you to join one of Germany’s most respected families you don’t say no, you say yes yes yes – which I did.
You were initially a producer for commercials and film soundtracks, can you explain how this started and your transmission into the rampant world of electronic music?
That’s my life story… something new is always happening, there is always a step to the next dimension. I evolved from sound engineering to music production, to working with bands, later making music for commercials, score music for movies, than producing Chicks on Speed, in the late nineties I started to DJ and BAM! Now I‘m in the techno-trap.
What's your favourite movie soundtrack and why?
I consider "A Fistful Of dollars" from Ennio Morricone to be a masterpiece. Michael Nyman’s score for "The Piano" is also a favorite of mine. They’re both very emotional pieces that stand all by themselves without even seeing the movies. They’re special and dramatic – they just stir something within me. Like all good music, you can’t really say why the art moves you, but it’s important that it does.
You participated in a four-year sound engineering course. How have these qualifications affected the way you create music in the studio & play in the clubs?
I would say so. I’m a bit of a sound freak which is one reason I still travel with records whereas all my colleagues fly around with laptops and Final Scratch or the like. I also lose whole days in the studio fussing around with new sound toys and acoustics so yes I’d say that having a formal education and experience does influences the way I play in a club and produce music.
I think that there were two pivotal moments that helped me connect my sound engineering background with the techno world - producing Chicks on Speed and my first appearance on the Love Parade 1996 in Berlin. Everything came together at the same time - a huge inspiration from techno together with my success in production.
How important is technical innovation to you?
Actually right now not so much anymore. I play with "old-school" Technics turntables and vinyl and use analog synthesizers and rhythm machines. I think that the access to easy-production tools, fast computers, and highly developed programs like Ableton Live do not necessarily really make the music quality better, but are certainly making more music. But don’t get me wrong – I love gadgets and enjoy technical innovations just as much as the next guy
What is your view on record clubs becoming the new book clubs?
You won’t believe it but I have been planning to do something similar in Berlin for a while now: A music listening afternoon or evening where we bring our favorite albums and just listen music together, no Internet, no computers, no cell phones - just pure music on one Turntable and one CD Player. I like the idea of slowing down again.
When I deejay and every second person on the party is checking his iPhone display every 2 minutes I always have the feeling that something got lost and that I‘m boring them as a DJ. I understand that everyone is busy these days, but you’d imagine that during our leisure time we would try to disconnect from the every day and give in to pleasure and indulgence.
Are you doing production work for any projects currently and what can we look forward to in the rest of 2011?
Absolutely! I‘m spending as much time in the studio as possible, but it would be too early for me to announce anything official now. My creative process is very demanding so when something is finished and I still like it after 2 weeks only then will I release it. Stay tuned, things are coming.