Adam Beyer talks techno’s evolution and why the genre will never sell out [Interview]
Adam Beyer sinks into his chair as he pours himself a cup of afternoon tea. It’s 4:30pm, and he’s sitting at a small, wooden table in a room just off to the side of the Waldorf Astoria’s opulent Peacock Alley. Today marks the second day of Amsterdam Dance Event, and less than six hours stand between him and his annual Drumcode showcase at the city’s treasured live music venue, Gashouder.
Despite his unwavering stare, he appears slightly weary — yet it’s hard to blame him. As a jet-setting musician, techno ambassador, radio show host, father, husband and label head, it’s easy to discern the life that Adam has carved out for himself: one that’s relentlessly active and, at times, trying. As he spends the remainder of 2016 celebrating 20 prosperous years of his venerated label, Drumcode, the revelation that he has accomplished more in two decades than most have in an entire lifetime dawns on him. “Right now I’m in a place where I want to be – where I strive to be,” he tells me with absolute pride.
Though Adam doesn’t expand upon what this ‘place’ entails, a wild guess might point to his superior positioning within the techno realm and the coveted ability to help sculpt the modern-day electronic music landscape. If anything’s clear, it’s that Beyer isn’t in it for hedonistic purposes, but rather for the cultivation of a living, breathing culture.
For the last six years – beginning with Drumcode’s 15th anniversary – Adam has regularly brought his world-class imprint to Gashouder to give electronic music fans a taste of proper techno. In 2016, the label and radio show have never been bigger or received more attention, with more than 17 million fans from over 53 countries tuning in each week to hear the latest Drumcode Radio Live. And that’s an achievement worth celebrating.
DA: Music played a significant role in your life, at what point did you know you wanted to take your career to the next level?
When I decided to make music, I already decided on the path of becoming a DJ. I started playing drums, but I was so young so that later translated into DJ’ing where I realized that was my thing. And I was only 11 when I started DJ’ing so my first record I had out was when I was 17. I started producing at 16. So yeah, I knew. I already had an idea of a career. I never imagined that the electronic scene would take off as it did because 1993 was different. It was all very new and exciting but there wasn’t much money or business in it. It was just, you know, you’re a kid, you identify with music and you just wanna do it regardless of, you know. I didn’t have any business aspirations back then. It was just my passion.
DA: When would you say music truly took off for you?
When it really started to take off was in ‘96 when I started my label, Drumcode. I did maybe 20 other records before that, under other names, you know – pseudonyms and experimenting. I don’t think I knew exactly who I was as an artist. It took me a while to find exactly what I wanted to do. But once I knew I started a label, I knew it was going to be techno, I had a blueprint for what was me. And as soon as I started a label and had a couple releases out, I mean I was already playing a lot around Scandinavia and Sweden but that’s when it really started to take off. That was sort of my business card for record stores and buyers.
DA: Most would consider you to be an ambassador for techno. In which countries do you see it coming up?
By now, I think it’s already pretty much existing everywhere. Maybe, I mean, it’s been good to see it develop in the US over the last few years. I came to the US for the first time in 1997 and it was good back then as well; there was a scene. But because of the EDM explosion and all that, I think techno came along a little bit on the tail of the whole explosion and a lot of people quite fast maybe started to dig deeper into electronic music. For the last three or five years I’ve been coming to the US and it’s been completely packed, shows have been amazing. It’s good to see the US really happening.
South America has always been very strong but I think even more territories are opening up. It’s just an expansion. A global expansion on all levels. I don’t think there are any territories – not that I go to anyway – where I feel that it’s new. I usually go to Japan and have been for many years but I don’t go so much to the other parts of Asia. I’ve been to a few places in China, Taiwan, Singapore…but it’s always been not difficult, but I never really felt like they completely get it. Hopefully it’s happening. I wouldn’t be able to say since I haven’t been for a couple years to be completely honest.
DA: Techno used to be much faster – around 140 BPMs or more – and now it’s slowed down significantly. Can you speak to the trajectory of techno?
When I started, in the early ’90s, the BPMs were about the same as they are now. Most of the records I bought back then were 126 or 128. Or, it was like, people were experimenting with Gabber and all these different kind of things, but that came slightly later. People want to test the waters and get more and more extreme. But it got to the point where it was all super fast and hard and relentless and I just felt like there was no where to go really after that.
And also, some of the parties I was playing back then, I can feel like aggressive elements. Like some places in Europe, you can feel that was not really the type of crowd I wanted to play for, you know? I’m more of a kind of – I love the house, the everybody under one roof –black, white, gay, straight. The more mix, the better. So as soon as I could see those elements, that’s when I decided myself, personally, to take a different route and go back to my origins and where I started.
I think that tempo, since the pulse of a human being is about 65 or 70, it’s kind of double beat and so that 128, 130, 126, really strikes a chord in humans on a more subconscious level and primate level. So I think that’s the BPM that you can dance for longer.
DA: What other trends do you see in techno, and where do you see it going in the next 10 years?
I think the interesting thing now is that it used to be trance, like you say. It used to be one thing, and then the next thing took over. Minimal trance took over ten years ago, then tech house came, that became really big. And all these subgenres that used to be small back in the day all had their peaks at different points but now, I kind of feel this, since it’s gotten so big and diverse, I see a lot of different trends going parallel.
So I don’t think there’s going to be one, specific trend. I think there’s more room for a lot of different subgenres and styles to coexist if you like. And I think that’s a good thing. That’s the way it has to go. It just keeps growing and people are getting more and more educated and more and more they find their own sound that they love and their own DJs. In terms of production, it keeps getting better. It’s hard to predict what will come and what will happen. For me anyway.
I always love looking at the future and I think that’s one of the secrets with Drumcode. Although, there’s a theme to the label from start until now. We never really get sentimental, we don’t look back too much. We always try to find new things and move on. Take influences on what’s going on.
DA: What do you think it will take to bring techno to the next level of international visibility?
I don’t know if it’s meant to go to that international visibility. For me, I’m not really concerned about that. Once it does, if it does, there’s always going to be techno that doesn’t, because that’s what techno is. There’s always underground and super underground, which is just not meant to be mainstream. It’s too, maybe quirky or nerdy. Call it what you want. But it’s really quite self-indulgent. Not so much me these days.
I consider myself being one foot in both worlds, which I love. I love to be diverse and I don’t like to pigeonhole myself anymore or put myself in one bracket. I’ve done all that for years, and I feel like I’ve expanded and I’m trying to have a positive view on the thing whole thing all the time. And not judge and not be too elitist about music. But there is a techno element. I don’t think it will ever surface in that way. I mean, you see some records getting bigger now than they ever would years ago that would probably be related to techno. It’s always been in a good place.
That’s why I love techno. A lot of other genres are kind of limiting because of their own sound. If you look at dubstep, it came, it had a hype, and then it almost disappeared because it has to sound in a different way or people take it and rip it apart and make something completely commercial out of it. And then the people who created it feel like they are being ripped off and they start doing off. That’s not really possible with techno, I don’t think. It’s such an open pallet and can be so many different things.
DA: As Drumcode hits its 20th anniversary, can you give us a broader look at your A&R strategy?
It’s quite a long process these days because it’s gotten so big and there are quit a lot of people who want to become a part of it because we’re doing the parties, we’re doing this, we’re doing that. It’s a combination and it usually happens in different ways with each person. I think quite often it starts with me playing music from that particular artist when they’ve been releasing somewhere else. They see that I’ve been playing their music and they come to me, say, “I see you’ve been supporting my music, do you want to do something for Drumcode?” or something like that. Usually I take a year or so to get to know them and speak to them, listen to stuff. If they don’t have a really good track record already, like new guys. Though I’ve got a couple new guys already. Quite new guys.
I think chemistry is important as well. I don’t just sign things for the sake of it. I need to speak to those people for a long time, and I think its’ important that people are of a similar mindset. And we usually are, that’s what the beauty of music is. You meet people who are similar to yourself, listening to the same thing in a way. They all inspire me a lot and I’m super grateful for having them. And I think that’s why people stay and continue their work. We do so much because we treat our artists really well. We have fair agreements, we don’t tie people up. It’s very much like a family affair.
DA: Tonight’s show in collaboration with Awakenings is also quite special, as it’s part of a five-day series at Gashouder. In what ways does this specific venue bring Drumcode to life, and how has the experienced evolved throughout the years?
I think the Awakenings Gashouder thing that we do – it’s been four years. Before that, we did smaller venues as well. It’s been the most important venue and party both for us and me personally because I’ve kind of been a resident there for 18 years. I brought my first Awakenings party there in ‘98. I’ve been playing several shows every year since, I’ve done all the festivals, I’m the only one who’s done all the festivals.
Rocco the owner is now one of my best friends. It’s meant a tremendous thing. It symbolizes people who are doing one of the best techno parties in the world and our music fits perfectly in that environment. It’s been an ongoing evolution on working together and becoming stronger. We’ve shared all these amazing parties and moments. I think the brand Awakenings now, being so big, brings me and the brand altogether.
I would say it’s one of the best techno parties in the world. You have Berghain, Gashouder, Fabric, there’s a couple of places, and this is one of them. This is one of the biggest venues that has been around for so long.