Thomas Gold is the next name in tech house in the form of new alias AU-1 [Interview]
Tech house and Thomas Gold are not two things one would expect to see in the same sentence. Gold, whose real name is Frank Thomas Knebel-Janssen has produced a little bit of everything, but as of late, his fan-facing moniker Thomas Gold is most frequently associated with light, festival-friendly house. Only his earliest fans would know that he came from the world of tech house before catchy releases like “Alive” catapulted him into popularity. With the announcement of a new artist alias, Gold will be returning to his tech house roots after a ten year hiatus from the genre to focus on the music that makes Thomas Gold, well, Thomas Gold.
Knebel-Janssen came into popularity as the electronic music industry was gaining momentum internationally. This put him in a unique position as an artist who successfully navigated the industry’s transitions while also defining his own sound and style. Experimentation has always been a part of his musical journey, and as his Thomas Gold project gained momentum, he states that he produced everything from uptempo to downtempo, and from future bass to commercial-leaning house.
“Eight years ago if I would have gone from progressive house to “Magic,” they would have killed me.”
With the ripening of the industry came increased tolerance from his fans for experimentation. The producer explains that this was crucial to his career longevity: “The fans now are tolerant, and they accept what you are doing.” He also notes that, “it is good for a producer/musician to be able to change your style a bit.” Ultimately, being a producer is like any other job — doing the exact same thing for six, seven, eight years would have been incredibly boring and unfulfilling.
“I don’t want to copy/paste myself. I want to evolve my sound, within the limits of course, and according to what is going on out there….If you want to stay out there and be relevant you of course have to do a little more than that, and I mean doing tracks like “Begin Again” — I am happy to do those….So that is the Thomas Gold concept – still commercial and big room, but progressive house-inspired.”
Knebel Janssen’s key words, and why he has decided to launch a new tech house alias, is because the Thomas Gold moniker works for his productions ‘within limits.’ It’s 2018, and the producer is ready to do away with the limits and go back to the music that started it all for him. He has played the main stage at the biggest festivals and toured the world, and reflects that it is finally time for him to focus on things that lead to long-term personal fulfillment and daily happiness. The moniker he will be producing under is AU-1, and those who paid attention in science class will recognize AU as gold on the periodic table of elements.
“We were playing around with that name [AU-1], and we were like, ‘how could we give some hints?’ And the releases are done already . . . But this is all house and tech house. It doesn’t interfere or clash with Thomas Gold, and I will not mix up my sets.”
One of the reasons Knebel-Janssen was so inspired to kickstart his AU-1 moniker is undoubtedly, he states, living in Berlin. The techno scene is thriving in the city, and after a few local ‘tech heads’ heard his sound, they approached him about starting a record label as an offshoot of his new artist alias. The label has been dubbed Element 79, and an AU-1 track will serve as the first release on the label. One unifying factor between all of his AU-1 productions is that they are not commercially driven.
“But then this tech house and tribal house thing is something that is coming from my heart. Berlin is also very inspirational for this type of music. We have such a big techno scene and personally that is one of my favorite genres to produce and play other than the big room and commercial stuff.”
When reflecting about his new project, the producer advises he was always planning on launching a different artist alias — the question was just when.
“I have been planning this for years- to set up something separate than Thomas Gold. I kind of came from this type of music. Eight years ago I used to release on Toolroom, on CR2 Records, and I always wanted to go back to that sound or to create a separate project because I cannot fit this into the Thomas Gold format.”
Just because Knebel Janssen is launching his new alias and record label doesn’t mean the Gold releases will be slowing down anytime soon. The artist will be releasing a number of tracks in the coming months that will fluctuate from the old-school Thomas Gold sound, to radio crossover tracks, to tech and tribal house releases to kickstart his new record label Element 79. His newest release “Orinoko” is out now on Steve Angello’s SIZE records, which is the first of many things the producer has in store for fans in the months to come.
So let’s jump into it. You are launching a new artist alias- AU-1. How did you decide on this name?
AU is the symbol for gold. It means aurum, and it is on the periodic table. The one is just to make it look a little bit better. The good thing is starting with A, you are always on the top of a lineup. Thomas Gold is always at the bottom of the list.
Has this always been a plan of yours?
Yeah, I have been planning this for years — to set up something separate than Thomas Gold. I kind of came from this type of music. Eight years ago, I used to release on Toolroom, on CR2 Records, and I always wanted to go back to that sound or to create a separate project. I cannot fit this music into the Thomas Gold format. It took me a while to make the decision to do it — I started producing music for it a year ago back in March of last year. It took me a year to figure out my musical sound and what kind of sound I should go for. Of course, I wanted to find some labels first to pick the tracks. When Toolroom and CR2 picked the tracks, I was like, ‘okay we are ready now,’ so I made the whole thing official.
You see so many producers today creating these secondary alias’s so that they can produce what (it seems like) they actually want to produce. Once you build a name for yourself, the pressure must just be immense for you to be what all of these people want you to be. Is this the case?
Of course, if you have a certain project that is established and for a certain kind of sound, that could make it a little limited. But you really are not too limited now a days. I can change my sound for the Thomas Gold project. I went from uptempo to downtempo. I did some future bass, and now I’m going back to festival house, but it is all within the limits of what I could do. I was feeling some difficulty with how to put everything under that name.
That is the first thing, right? If you feel limited with your sound, and you have to stick to it to keep the name, you have those limitations. That is a reason to create a new project. Also, I am a music producer, and I love to produce different things. It really gets a little bit boring when you do the same stuff over and over again, so if you look back 6-8 years at how much I have changed my sound, it is because I don’t want to copy paste myself. I want to evolve my sound within the limits, of course, and according to what is going on out there.
But then this tech house and tribal house thing is something that is coming from my heart. For example, I love to attend these parties. When I go to Ibiza, I would rather go to see Luciano play than any EDM artist because I have seen them all so many times at all of these venues. Berlin is also very inspirational for this type of music. We have such a big techno scene, and personally that is one of my favorite genres to produce and play, other than the big room and commercial stuff.
It feels like the electronic scene is kind of at this weird crossroads right now where, there are those of us who started out electronic music fans, and as it got commercialized into pop. Then all of the pop fans became electronic music fans because they liked pop. Now one group has been converted and another group kind of feels alienated. Have you felt that with your fan bases or do you have an expanded fan base now because of this?
Not really. I see that I have a lot of fans from back in the day, like ages ago, and for example, when I released “The Chant” last year, I got a lot of feedback from old school fans of mine saying ‘yeah you’re going back- we like that.’ And this SIZE release we have next week- it is going back to a lot of the old school stuff.
I’m happy that the old festival house style is coming back and that a lot and people appreciate it again because EDM kind of killed the vibe a little bit. Everything had to be loud and big, and the drops had to be as aggressive as possible, and now it is going back to a smoother sound and more melodies. It is still clubby, but you can really feel it. Many DJs and producers are going back to that sound because that is where they came from, and they are repurposing it into a modern fashion.
We live in a time where the fans are very loyal and very flexible. They tolerate a lot of the stuff you can do. Eight years ago if I would have gone from “progressive house” to “Magic,” they would have killed me. Actually I have not gotten any negative feedback about that. The fans are tolerant, and they accept what you are doing, and it is good for a producer/musician to be able to change your style a bit.
You touched upon a record coming out next week on SIZE. We have talked about AU-1 versus Thomas Gold. How are you going to balance that now?
Yeah Thomas Gold is going to do a mix of radio crossover tracks like “Begin Again,” “Dreamer” or “Magic,” but in between I am going to release the 100% club stuff like “Orinoko.” It is a club track, and “The Chant” is a club track, and I am working on another one that I am going to play tonight which is like “The Chant” part 2. It is like a super clubby track with a little piano line in the middle.
I am going to balance those out because I want to do this type of club music. But if you want to stay out there and be relevant, you of course have to do a little more than that, and I mean doing tracks like “Begin Again”- I am happy to do those. I love working with singer-songwriters. Just a few weeks ago I had four people in my studio and we did a nice vocal session writing stuff for one of my next singles. I have a new commercial single coming out in eight or ten weeks from now.
So that is the Thomas Gold concept – still commercial and big room, but progressive house-inspired for some tracks. The also going back to my roots maybe with SIZE and Steve for “Orinoko,” and AU-1 would be totally different. It’s not commercially driven and I’m actually in the middle of setting up a label right now with AU-1, and it is actually in Berlin, so I am working with Berlin people on that with some tech heads. They are very known in the scene already, and they asked me if we could do this together because they heard my sound, and they were like let’s do this together, so I am super excited.
When is that going to Launch?
We just registered the name yesterday, so it takes I think from now to the first release it will be about six weeks. The name is Element 79.
So this is all periodic table focused?
Haha yes- it just made sense. We were playing around with that name, and we were like, ‘how could we give some hints?’ The releases are done already. They are my own tracks, and it will either be two singles or an EP- I’m not sure yet. Then I am having a track come out on Strictly Rhythm. But this is all house and tech house. It doesn’t interfere or clash with Thomas Gold, and I will not mix up my sets. So when I play a Thomas Gold set tonight, I do not play any AU-1 stuff. That is the reason why I created the new project. So that I don’t have to force the music into one set. Because it is different worlds house and tech house versus the big room sound, so whenever I am going to play an AU-1 set, it is only going to be AU-1.
You spoke earlier about Berlin and how that inspires you with the techno scene. Is there a huge difference between the European & American scenes as an artist? When you walk into a club here (the US) versus there — is it a totally different experience?
Apart from the VIP and bottle service clubs, there is no big difference. The European scene has grown organically over the last 15 years. In the states, there is often a lot of money involved with big spenders, and you open up a bottle service club, and the money comes from the bottles. Then you can pay the high fees for the DJs. In Europe, it is more based around the music. People don’t even look at the DJs sometimes, they just want to be dancing. They don’t care who is playing.
Especially with the house music scene, there are of course commercial clubs like in Ibiza. This is the international standard. You can see the same in China and Indonesia for example. The VIPs are all bottle service, and it is all kind of similar to each other. If it comes down to the real clubber’s clubs with no bottles — for example, in Berlin, one of my favorite clubs — Watergate, you can’t even buy bottles there. It’s just by the glass, and there is no VIP nothing. But, I have seen this in America too. I played somewhere, I think in San Francisco or San Diego, and I can’t remember the name, but they went back from a super fancy VIP bottle service club. They took out the lights and made it only about the music. It was great. Great vibe there, and people accepted it.
People are ready for this here. You see clubs like Schimanski or Output. In the U.S. its evolving, but these clubs have been in Europe for over 20 years. And it is not about the festivals — the festivals brought the music to the States a lot. Because of EDC and Ultra, a lot of people could see what was going on and got educated by that. From festivals they then took it to the club. In Germany, we didn’t have these festivals. Now we have a lot of them. It was all about the small hidden clubs.
Do you have favorite?
I love to play here (New York) for example, and I played Ushuaia a few weeks ago with the NERVO girls, and it was amazing. So much fun. Then Bangkok has a good club scene- crazy people, but it’s good. Depends- there are many places.
What was the hardest thing about your job 10 years ago? And what is it now?
10 years ago, I would say getting my name established, especially here in the States. I will say it happened maybe eight years ago when I did this remix for Adele. That was my breakthrough here in the states because she would start playing it, and I got the attention of all of the bookers and promoters. Then my releases on Axtone and SIZE at the time helped. So that was my biggest concern at the time — to just get into the scene.
Now, well, I’m not really concerned right now. I’m enjoying what I am doing. I’m not under pressure anymore. I’ve played every festival in the world. I have been on every stage- Tomorrowland, Mainstage Ultra, EDC Vegas, EDC New York, and I have seen all of the clubs. I am actually happy, and I want to focus on being a happy person. Having a work life balance, being healthy, and making music. That is my main thing. I’m getting more into co-producing stuff with people- not like Ghost producing, but producing stuff with other people in Berlin, so I am building my network there right now. I just did, for example, a writing camp where we had 25 song writers and artists like me, and they had five days in the studios. I took two days with them. This was very inspirational, and it was fun. It is what I love to do — just producing music.
Who are your inspirations right now?
Back in the years, there were some people- Eric Morillo, Roger Sanchez, or the Swedes, you know Axwell, Ingrosso, Steve Angello, and the music they did at that time. But right now, there is no special person. I mean I get inspired by so many different things, like listening to a DJ set, but it doesn’t have to be a big name. Or I can listen to something on the radio, which inspires me to create something, so I am not following any special person.
Any big upcoming collaborations?
No collaborations- I’m not focusing on that actually. I really focus on writing with people and on songwriters and singers. There are so many talented people. For example, the next commercial single I am releasing is called “Real Love.” It’s with a- I can’t say the name yet- but it is going to be a feature, and he is very well known in the deep house scene, but the commercial deep house scene. He has a great voice, and it just happened by accident that we worked together. I get a lot of demos sent by my management and my publishers, and I picked that track, and I didn’t know who was singing it, and I was like ‘Hey, who is singing this?’ and they told me the name and I was like ‘ah, okay.’ They told him I was interested in doing the song, and he told them that he was up for doing the feature, and so it came out very nicely and easily, but this just happens. I didn’t plan on it.
Featured image credit: Robert Wunsch