Andhim on becoming turntablists, taco champions, and ‘superheroes’ [Interview]
Simon Haehnel and Tobi Müller, or Andhim as most know them, have just arrived in San Diego for the first leg of their West Side Story tour across the American west coast. The sun is setting, and a sense of anticipation is settling in as they await the “Tacotopia” dinner that awaits them. Despite the DJs’ hunger and fatigue from long legs of travel, they take a moment outside in the crisp weather to admire the sunset and address a nagging question: who’d they be like if they were actually “super?”
Their responses? “Mr. Fantastic – he’s a super smart scientist and he’s stretchy. This combination is key,” explains Simon. Meanwhile, Tobi gravitated toward the sea: “Aquaman – you can breathe underwater.” Quite the pairing, one might say. In a comic book world, the two would embody the words, “dynamic duo.”
Indeed, Andhim very much embody this phrase in real life, too. Their personalities are nothing short of complementary – one erring on the goofier, outgoing side while the other exudes a quiet, yet strong and witty demeanor. In a casual setting, Haehnel and Müller often exchange clever banter and crack jokes at every opportunity they have. Behind the decks, no matter the setting, they radiate a distinctive, beguiling energy and infallible musical chemistry spawned by years of friendship that draws everyone around them into their reality.
Aside from their mutual cheekiness, turntabling is what brought these unlikely personas together. Both Haehnel and Müller grew up during the golden age of hip-hop, a time during which the music had made it to all corners of the world – including their native city of Cologne, Germany. Because of this, Andhim were heavily influenced by the genre in their youth. “Twenty years ago or so I bought my first turntables,” Simon recalls of his beginnings with vinyl.
Simon eagerly awaits his tacos.
In fact, he and Tobi met at a turntabling competition in their native Germany. Simon’s future Andhim counterpart served as an intimidating competitor, having already carved a niche of his own at that time in both the German and international scenes as a professional of sorts. “I did competitions like DMC (Disco Mixing Competition) and I won the German championships three times – twice as part of a team and once solo, on European title, and one viceroy title at the ITF in the early 2000s,” Müller casually notes.
“Pretty impressive titles – I never won any!!” Simon adds. This of course is because he hadn’t really competed before, and thus seemed like more of an amateur in this regard. Yet, the two still grew highly off one another became instant friends over their mutual passion.
Both Simon and Müller were initially enamored with hip-hop not just because they grew up with it, but also because of the high creativity and general atmosphere during the music’s “old school” days. Tobi came to adore the way in which tracks were produced through the use of intricate sampling. Sampling in a traditional way remains a highly respected tenet of Andhim productions. Meanwhile, Simon savored the open-minded energy at events, where break-dancing and free-styling were the norm and attendees could bask in each others’ creativity.
Unfortunately, however, their love for the hip-hop scene began to falter, as production habits became more lazy and status obsession began infiltrating it. “I really remember coming from hip-hop parties which turned from very cool and old-schoolish, to all this dipset/being cool/not dancing/aggressive stuff. It changed so dramatically,” Simon recounted. So, they began their transition into the other genre of their past – electronic music, where treasured attributes of events that made hip-hop special for them still thrived.
I remember going to my very first house party at age 15 maybe, and everyone was just in a perfect mood – smiling, dancing. Beautiful girls, no fights; it was purely good vibes. This is where I thought, “Fuck yes – this is what I want!”
For Andhim, a key aspect of all music to them is the passion and positivity it can bring to people. The electronic music sphere is particularly special for this very reason. To those involved in it, parties represent idyllic places where they can be their authentic selves and get lost in a music-fueled escape from stresses of the real world. “The dance scene in general, whether it’s dubstep or jungle, or house & techno, is very special. People go into a club, which can be only a cube with no lights and just a cool sound system, and just dance for 2, 5, 10 hours. This is the most beautiful thing; you just go there on the weekends and you dance your bad vibes off!” exclaims Simon.
“It’s cool no matter if you’re high on drugs or sober. It’s always good, you know?” Tobi adds. “For most of the people, it’s all about dancing.” Both their faces light up as Müller proceeds to regale memories of an older man in the British scene who went to shows armed solely with multiple water bottles and his pedometer. Characters like these are what breathe a unique life into dance culture, after all.
Though the core of the electronic scene being a place where people could let loose and dance is will never shift in Haehnel and Müller’s eyes, that isn’t to say that the surface has been purely static over the years. Their first exposure to dance music came during their teen years, when DJing was just a hobby to most and grassroots gatherings and clubs prevailed. Right around the time that the two artists officially joined forces to conceive Andhim in 2010, the EDM boom had officially entered into full swing, and suddenly DJs assisting its commercial evolution were placed on a high-earning pedestal.
“Nowadays, kids think, ‘Ok, I want to become a DJ to get women and fame,’ and all this stuff. They’re right; it’s a real business nowadays and so professionalized,” Simon asserts. Tobi vehemently nods his head at this observation, quipping, “I think it’s strange to have this as a reason to start doing music.” He draws a historic parallel: “It’s just like back then when people started picking up the guitar to become rock stars.” However, he still believes that, “ for the most part, people don’t start going into music because they want to make money.”
These turntablists-turned-super house missionaries fall into the latter category. “When we were starting out, we were just kids having fun. We never actually thought about going on stage, or whatever,” Simon says. Their love for the scene as a place for them to express themselves creatively and connect with others has always been most important. “I’d rather have no money but stay creative,” Tobi adds.
This notion is precisely what feeds into their long-term success as artists. Members of the underground scene quickly noticed and resonated with their passion, hard work ethic, and ingenuity. Andhim’s come up was swift, yet completely organic – within a year of starting they were being hailed as some of Germany’s hottest newcomers. Six years later, they became label owners with ever-increasing tour schedules.
Another key element behind their success is their incredible humility. “What is important is to worship everything and be aware of how special it is, what we do,” Simon begins. “It’s special to have the opportunity to create music and to connect with, or even have fans – even to travel.” A gleeful glint lights up Tobi’s eye as he ecstatically interjects with the next item on their agenda: “We’re about to have a taco eating contest!” He would go on to be the sweeping victor that night, a testament to reveling in every moment catalyzed by following music.
“When you’re always thankful and you stay grounded, this is also a key to success. In this case as well, people appreciate it when you’re a normal person and you can talk to the people that come to your show.”
Andhim care deeply about their followers. Their faces give away their gratitude as they speak about their fortunate position in life. They do all they can to connect with fans, frequently revealing glimpses into their lives through social media and serving up regular doses of comedy with their unique humor and “everything goes” mentality. Andhim stay put for a considerable time after their San Diego set, for example, beaming as they engage the audience in light conversation and offer plenty of photo opportunities.
Furthermore, Simon and Tobi want to put their best foot forward musically, and on their own terms. Their desire to do so led to Superfriends, their label which officially came to fruition in 2016. The launch meant that not only could they connect with their consumers swifter and more directly, but more importantly, it provided the essential freedom needed to build up integrity for their brand.
“Nowadays it seems a lot of producers are producing for the wrong reasons. They’ll try to produce sounds and tracks for a specific label so that they’ll be invited to their Ibiza residency or whatever. Or they try to release on another label which they like, then create music that will fit to that certain label. You start getting into this process where you produce not for how you feel, but how you’d like to see your music.”
Playing an additional role in the leap into label territory is of course having full control over their work. “We’re always working so hard on our career – from cover, to video, to music – everything. In the end, when you release your music with another label, you don’t even have the rights to your own music,” elucidated Simon. He recalled times where he and Tobi would try to upload previews onto YouTube, only to have them blocked due to label politics. Tobi echoed this sentiment: “It’s our creative playground. When we have some stuff finished that we want to get out, we can do it. We only work for us. We can do what we want and are free.”
“With our label, we make the music that comes naturally. Whether it’s techno, house, ambient, hip-hop, or whatever, we can go out and say ‘that’s good music,’ and release it. This is the best part of it – being totally independent.”
Bringing their career together is “super house” – the crux of their artistic vision. “It’s more of a feeling; it doesn’t have to to be our songs. Our sets are a mixture of sounds. Sometimes they’re happy and positive, and sometimes they’re deep,” reiterated Tobi. “We didn’t want to be categorized, so we made our own category,” notes Simon. They focus on fostering the carefree ambiance they remember from their younger days at each show through their music, and ultimately, only Andhim can intuitively express what super house is. Their name and their vision are inextricably linked.
The super house ideology is one many people, including their peers, are eagerly getting behind. In 2014, they were one of the few selected to play alongside Deep Dish for their legendary reunion. More recently, their debut Tosch EP for Superfriends attracted a range of talented volunteers for remixing duties, including Roman Flügel and Acid Pauli. “That they trust us, and are willing to remix for a super brand new label meant a lot to us and showed us that we’re on the right path,” Simon divulges. “It’s not about music or Beatport sales, it’s about the quality and the love of the music.”
During their performance later on, looks of focused contentment play across Andhim’s faces. The audience is fully under their super house spell, enraptured with their chemistry and grooving along with the duo as Simon and Tobi enjoy themselves behind the decks. No one can tell that they’ve just come from a long day of travel, little sleep, and a sizable taco dinner. Instead, attendees feed off the infectious, enthusiastic energy emanating from the duo. Simon and Tobi make the large, open air space feel intimate and homey as per usual, demonstrating to onlookers yet again why they are held in such high esteem among the global dance community. Settling into their newfound autonomy, the best is undoubtedly yet to come for Andhim, who truly are a super pair.
Words by Christina Hernandez; Photo Credit: Myles Heidenreich