Gerd Janson is behind the label Running Back, one of 2009's biggest success stories, putting out unique releases in the vast domain of nu-disco, big room techno and house including the addictive, surreal ‘The Voice From Planet Love’. I could go on and on about how fantastic this label's releases are but really you're best off checking them out for yourself...after you've read about the man behind it all, of course. Gerd also finds the time to hold a residency at Robert Johnson, write for Groove Magazine, be a member of the Red Bull Music Academy team and do the odd remix too.
We caught up with him before his forthcoming appearance in Room One tomorrow night, alongside Âme, Henrik Schwarz and Marcus Worgull. And click after the jump for a rather lovely competition.
Hey Gerd, how’s it going? What’s been taking up most of your time recently?
I wish I knew. Then I could at least try and work out how this thing called time management might work. But other than thinking about that, I do fun things like writing, playing records and trying to put them out.
What can we look forward to on Running Back? Have you got many releases penciled in?
To speak about the up and the coming is always a hard thing for me to do. Some ideas turn into actual releases, others don’t. If you spill the beans too early, it might work as a portent for the actual outcome. Although it is safe to say that the next 12” is a recording by South-African hot shot Rezkar that comes along with a nice John Daly remix and some bonus beat action. Then there is a special two-part project by Rome’s very own Marco Passarani later this year, romantic disco trance by Databoy 78 that features a nice remix by Lexx, maybe another re-issue and most of all the first album release on Running Back. It’s by Zanzibar’s diva Mim Suleiman and escorted by two 12”s for maximum sound pressure. Quite a special thing for me, as it’s a bit removed from RB’s usual (if there is anything usual in its shilly-shally spirit) programming, plus produced by one of my heroic all-time favourite producers and Mim sings in her native tongue. Guess it is something like futuristic African beat music with a discotheque twist crossed with transmissions from outer space. I am nervous about it. Damn, now there are no beans left to spill, are there?
What is your first musical memory?
Next to the fact that I am still amazed by the absolute horrific taste in music that my parents still cherish, it is probably buying a 7-Inch of Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” from the Mad Max movie score. I was more obsessed with movies than with music as a little one and buying that platter was as close as a little boy could get to the thunder dome back then.
What made you start DJing? Did it run in the family or did you start through curiosity?
If it would run in the family, I guess you would find me in those clubs today that play country with German lyrics. It was more by accident and partially curiosity. After I got over the fact that the third part of Mad Max is a pretty bad movie, I was more and more interested in the different avenues of music. Now that I think of it, I came a long way from enjoying Modern Talking, Guns’N’Roses, Run DMC and C.C. Catch to being attracted to buying actual vinyl again by the records Chez Damier and Ron Trent were putting out a long time ago. Of course, an extensive educational training in underage clubbing and the various ways of wearing a Stussy hat came before that.
Describe your relationship with Thomas Hammann - how did you first meet each other?
Am I now supposed to describe him as a wonderful person and in all the sentimental ways I can imagine? He is quite a rum one as you British might say. Metaphors aside, he is probably the DJ I listened to the most and one of the best I have ever come across, if I may say. You know, he is of that rare breed that takes more pride in collecting records and in refining their art than trying to produce business cards. If someone plays for more that twenty years and is still able to do so with a evident dose of freshness…let me stop the love letter here. He used to be the resident DJ in a club I visited on a weekly basis, and as he always had to deal with my friends and me spotting glass-eyed for records, we kind of started greeting each other. It was only years later that I recognized that this was essentially his way of turning us into addicted customers of his record store.
You are a journalist yourself; do you think it’s more important to analyze music or to let it take hold of you?
It is always in the ear of the beholder. There are definitely people out there who feel excitement discussing the sound of a closed or open hi-hat or something. Me? I am happy that with a little bit of luck I am able to distinguish those two and think it is a bit over the top to debate about such details, but understand if a Benny Hill sample over a Mr- Fingers track won’t work for you. On the other hand, it is super cliché to deny every bit of intellectual approach and just talk about the nebulous "feeling." But that’s what counts in the end with music. Something can be done in the most articulate artistic and intellectual manner, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. Whereas something else that was done in a caprice or as a snapshot might be exactly right. Different strokes for different folks.
What did you set out to achieve with your label Running Back?
To reach No. 7 in the Resident Advisor label of the year poll. It worked!
You describe the label as revolving around 'close or far friends and their friends or friends of their friends' on your MySpace, do you think this is key to the success of running a label?
Not if your friends make shitty music or you are blessed with an equivalent taste. On second thought, there is even a market for that. That remark was made with a meta-level in mind and against the background a spreading bad habit. Firing your demo tracks without at least a certain level of courtesy and politeness or even the lowest common denominator in a musical sense is like a plague. Where’s your sanity and reason, kids? Needless to say it is nice to work with people in a way that exceeds a business relationship. There are so many different ways of running a label though. Just do something you like and hope that enough people like it so that you don’t have to place the overstock in your parent’s garage.
You’ve talked to RA about re-releasing ultra-rare records, do you think music should always be available to a wide audience or is crate digging and being in the know all part of the fun?
The records I re-released were actually never ultra-rare, but more personal faves, highlights, obsessions or things that I think were valid to be put out again in one way or the other. It would be a bit too easy to just look at the record stock market and base decisions on the fact which record is the rarest or fetches the most on the second-hand market. Leave that to the bootleggers. Saying that, I am a strong believer of the sharing and caring mentality. No one knows it all, not even the ones who do. And if you think so, try reggae for a change. One thing doesn’t exclude the other, as nothing is available all the time. If the question aims at that exhibitionistic feeling some people get, when they see that their favourite hidden treasure has suddenly been exposed, I have to answer in the negative. Happily I go and purchase a third or fourth copy.
What’s your biggest guilty secret record?
Like in a guilty pleasure? I never get an uncomfortable feeling with something I like. Not even from playing “Blue Monday” by New Order on a bank holiday in London. There are some people who want to excommunicate me from the church of DJs being allowed to play in London since that. I can go much further than that. Thou shalt not doubt.
Your compilation for Robert Johnson has just come out. How would you describe the club to someone who has never been before - what kind of vibe has it got?
Robert Johnson is pretty close to what I have always looked for in a club or liked about my favourite ones. Intimate, devoted, focused on the essence of music and sound, hence equipped with a decent sound system and usually gimmick-free. In an astonishing natural way it makes people listening, dancing and sometimes even raving to records they probably would meet with disinterest or disgust in another place. After all this years and albeit it is tried to be turned into a sanctuary, it is still one of the best places in the world to play music in.
And was this easy to translate onto a mix CD?
To translate the course of a club night with all its diverse moments and moods into 74 minutes is an impossibility of performance or a Herculean task, if you wish. All it can be is just a flash or a glance. We tried our best to use that flash in a comprehensible fashion. “Live at Robert Johnson” represents that and hopefully delivers insight into some of the records we enjoyed there over the years and for all the different reasons.
What are you looking forward to about playing here tomorrow?
A professional set up DJ booth with record players that work – believe it or not – is a rare treat these days. In combination with a signature sound system and a Bodysonic dance floor, nothing can go wrong. I heard “Blue Monday” kicks like a mule in there!
Oh and one final question, what’s your mother’s maiden name?!
Pardon me, but I would have to kill you and all those ladies and gentlemen trying to get an album deal after telling you. No blood on my hands, no.
COMPETITION:Being the generous soul he is, Gerd has given us a few copies of his phenomenal 'Live At Robert Johnson Vol 4' mix with Thomas Hammann (released last month). First three people to mail in get a copy - email firstname.lastname@example.org to see if luck is on your side.