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Matthias Tanzmann on growing up in Berlin, ‘Momentum,’ and where Moon Harbour will go next [Interview]

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Leipzig native Matthias Tanzmann grew up immersed in electronic music. Entering into adolescence right as the Berlin Wall came down, he witnessed and participated in the boom of the rave scene in Germany as underground parties became an essential element of unifying the country.

Two decades later, Tanzmann has since risen the ranks from underground DJ to dance legend, launching his Moon Harbour label at the turn of the millennium and becoming a favored resident at legendary Circoloco parties in Ibiza in 2006. This year, he’s reached a new milestone, unleashing his debut album Momentum after years of club-driven singles. The album, which tells an emotive and entrancing story through various shades of techno and house, has already become a beloved addition to the Moon Harbour repertoire due to its ability to capture attention on and off the dancefloor.

Having recently completed his tenth residency at Circoloco, we caught up with Tanzmann during the San Diego stop of his Momentum tour as he prepared to take the stage at the city’s renowned underground club Bang Bang. We picked Tanzmann’s brain on everything from his musical evolution, inspiration behind his new album, to where where he plans to take Moon Harbour in the future.

Matthias Tanzmann

photo credit: SZ Photography

You were coming into your teen years at the fall of the Berlin wall, when electronic music truly exploded in Germany. Would you agree that this major event had an influence over your decision to make DJing and producing into your career?

I think it had an influence on my whole life, and my musical career was a part of it. When the wall came down, I was 12. Before that, I grew up in East Germany. When you’re a kid you don’t really see that you’re kind of “locked in,” or something like this, but when I was 12 and the wall came down, we suddenly had this freedom all around us, or at least it looked like it. Everything was more colorful, thrilling, and exciting. Then when I got 2-3 years older, I got into electronic music.  There were a lot of opportunities – especially in Berlin, which was very near, and also my city because there were a lot of abandoned places. You could host illegal parties/raves in industrial buildings. Everything was new and unregulated – it was a really interesting and thrilling time.

You celebrated your 10th consecutive year at Circoloco in Ibiza this year. Aside from cutting-edge underground talent, what gives the parties in Ibiza the most magic for you? Do you think it’s possible for this energy to be achieved in other cities as the party expands throughout the world?

I think where Circoloco came from is similar to to the 90s rave thing, because it was so small at the beginning. It started out as just an afterparty on Monday morning after Space Sundays with only 70 or 80 people; just those who knew went there. This was the same as 90s underground techno – nobody knew what techno even was back then. Right now, Circoloco has become such a big brand – commercialized if you will because it’s something that a lot of people know what their parties are. There are definitely some parallels to the beginnings, but I would say that now Circoloco is an established brand that can be carried all around the world, and it’s something that people will have an idea about. If they go to Ibiza once and experience it there, then they want to have it here [in California], the music is still the same here because you bring the Circoloco DJs. That’s why the whole thing is transportable to other places.

Let’s talk about your debut album Momentum. Did you have a particular story or message you wanted to convey?

It really just came from me just wanting to break out of the scheme of producing functional, dancefloor-driven tracks which I’ve been doing for so many years now. I have a background of what was considered to be “deep house” in the 1990s/early 2000s. I came from there, and then I made a lot more music which is like the groovy, tech house thing that I love to DJ as well. Then I got to a point where I was ready to do something else. I wanted to take a step away from the “DJ” kind of music and bring back the sound that I still love. It felt really good to be in the studio working on something else.

Do you feel like escaping these “functional” type of tracks refreshes you inspiration-wise, and for when you go back on tour again?

In a way, that’s it actually because if you keep focusing on one thing for such a long time, it’s difficult to motivate yourself, or to stay full-on interested and to bring that to the people. So you have to refresh your mind and remove your focus. This is naturally what happened when I was working on music for the album.

What sparks your most creative moments/inspiration to write music?

I sometimes feel like a boy playing with his toys when I’m in the studio – that’s it, really. If I can go there, close the door, lock myself in, and start playing with my synthesizers, etc. then I’m in the right mood. It’s playful, like the music that I’ve loved for more than 20 years now. Going through my old record collection inspires me as well. I can now pull out records that I bought 20 years ago. It’s crazy! You put it on the turntable and listen to it, and you might find a little sample or fragment that feels like you’re walking down memory lane. You take that, then you can use it for a new track and convert it into something new, all in the same cosmos of electronic music with a history that I’ve been with so long myself. This really inspires me; I feel really good when I can stay in my studio and just work on stuff, even if it doesn’t necessarily go anywhere.

That’s the other thing with the album – I wasn’t really forced to deliver at some point. I was just sitting there and playing around with sounds and ideas.

Moon Harbour turned 16 this year — what is the most gratifying moment of being a label owner whose imprint only continues to grow after over 15 years?

It’s really nice being where I am, but when you realize it all, it’s pretty crazy. I’ve always considered myself a young kid producing. Then I got my first label deal, and now all of a sudden twenty years later, I’m the guy with a label! I really enjoy being able to help other people in the sense of opening a door allowing them to make that first step in their careers. I’m always happy to give them their own chance to make their way to success in this industry; gratified, forsure.

As the music climate continues in a more digital direction, what steps have you taken to keep Moon Harbour afloat and durable for years to come?

Yes, we’ve been through this before, starting with vinyl only before a little bit of digital started coming, and then vinyl kind of died. We still do vinyl, by the way!

We have some partners, and a digital distributor who helps a lot with putting stuff in the right places. We’ve done stuff with Spotify and other similar sites that bring our music to a new crop of people who now use this type of media as their primary means of music.

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