In anticipation of the relaunch of Toolroom’s Techno sister label ‘Rhythm Distrikt’, we managed to grab legends; CJ Bolland and Tom Wax to talk about their forthcoming ‘Nein Ooh Nein’ EP and answer some questions about the duo’s prestigious careers and influence on the scene since its inception.
We’re all very familiar with your seminal releases on R&S in the early 90’s. You were so young when the ‘4th Signal’ was released. How did you manage to garner such an accomplished sound so early on? Can you explain your musical upbringing and your studio set up in the 90s?
I was surrounded by music growing up, records were always playing, and mum and dad never stopped singing. When I was 2, mum noticed I would get a boogie on every time ‘Doctor Who’ was on so she bought me the theme tune on vinyl. Then she got me Jean Michel Jarre’s ‘Oxygene’ album after I saw him live on TV and went ape. I was in awe of the sounds and wanted to create some of my own. Not an easy task on my Bontempi wind organ so I started doing student jobs whenever I was free to finance my craving for technology. In the early 80’s we had a small night club and mum was the DJ, playing mostly Disco and Funk; she would also delve into New Wave and Electro occasionally and again this got my attention. By this time, I had a nice little collection of synths and analogue sequencers and I would record stuff onto cassette tape and pass by my local radio station every Sunday afternoon and they would play it and we would discuss how it was made on air. I did this for a couple of years when suddenly I got a phone call from Renaat (R&S Records) saying he’d heard some of my music and would like to meet me. I’ll never forget him opening the studio door and seeing Emulators, Moogs, Oberheims and Eventides for the first time. Renaat and Sabine were bringing in artists from all over the world, all young kids like me but with distinctive sounds and direction. Just about everybody used to come hang out in the studio and we would share and compare vibes and ideas. Cisco Ferreira, Dave Angel and Joey Beltram were frequently around and had a profound impact on my musical spectrum. The occasional visits of Derek May, Juan Atkins , Ritchie Hawtin and heaps of others all left their mark. So, I was lucky to have been surrounded by so many awesome people and have use of an amazing studio.
How different is your current studio set up? Is there key ‘go to’ pieces of equipment that you still use in your production now?
Technology has moved forward exponentially since those days, but I still have a few Moogs and Oberheims to fiddle with. The main difference of course is the sheer amount of computing power today and all that insane software that comes with it. My laptop is like a hundred 1989 studios in one. It’s a great luxury to be able to jump from one track to another as many times as you like in a single day without having to re-adjust the mixing desk and all the outboard gear. Having unlimited compressors and effects, synths and sound generators. I love not knowing where I’ll end up whilst tweaking and you get to that stage very rapidly with a couple of mental plug ins. My favourite hardware synths at the moment are: Arturia’s Matrixbrute, Oberheim Two Voice Pro and my Minimoog Voyager XL. Soft-wise, I love NI Reaktor and the Arturia collection of classic synths. Sneak in a couple of 303’s and some TR8s mayhem and we’re off!
Your release ‘Starship Universe’; Was this a tribute to the Universe parties in the UK. You were a staple part of the ‘Tribal Gathering’ parties and of course Universe’s weekly Friday at Club UK. What are your favourite memories of playing in the UK around that time and where else did you play regularly around the world?
My fondest memories are of Club UK, Q Club and of course The Orbit in Morley, the raw energy was mind-blowing. Tribal Gathering took the whole thing to another level with dream line ups and mass attendance. So many great parties and stories where born in the UK in the 90’s. I travelled a lot and everywhere but apart from Old Blighty, I probably played Germany most. Most memorable nights were at Sven Vath’s The Omen (always a treat) and playing live at Dorian Gray Club in Frankfurt airport with Cisco Ferreira and Robert Leiner. I’ve always had a soft spot for Australia too and have toured many times, it was always hard work getting back on a plane home after that.
‘Sugar Is Sweeter’ was one of your more cross over records. How did this come about, and the remix that fueled a fledgling UK Garage scene from Armand Van Helden?
I used to love driving into London and tuning into the pirate radio stations, spinning Jungle and Breaks. At that time breakbeats were a very British phenomena and virtually unheard of on the continent. It was an interesting approach to creating beats and grooves so I started experimenting with it. ‘Sugar Is Sweeter’ was just an instrumental groove until one day Jade 4 u (Praga Khan, Lords of Acid…) popped by the studio to say ‘hi’. She listened to it, hummed along a bit and then from nowhere came this lyric. ‘I’ve gotta record this!’ I didn’t even have a microphone as I’d never needed one so we hooked up some headphones to the sampler input and used them as a mic. The distortion on the lead vox is not a fancy pedal or a flash 19 inch unit, it’s a cheap headphone set crapping, I love that FFRR then got Van Helden to do the ‘Armand’s Drum and Bass mix’. I still don’t know why he called it that because it isn’t. I think we got lucky too that he remixed Tori Amos the same week and the two sound similar so regularly got played back to back.
What have you been up to production wise over the last few years and how did the collaboration between yourself and Tom come about?
I never stopped DJ’ing Techno throughout but wasn’t really inspired by the scene of the nillies to write new material and regardless I was having too much fun with my band ‘Magnus’ which I formed alongside singer songwriter Tom Barman (dEUS). The last couple of years however Techno is back where I like it and has got my full attention. I built myself a new den with plenty of knobs and feel the excitement like I did in the 90’s all over again. I’m writing Techno full time and have lot’s done so it’s time to get it all out there. I’m doing lot’s of collabs too, to be revealed in the near future. I ran into Tom ‘Wax’ at a gig we both played in Frankfurt in 2018 and as we where old pals and kindred Techno goblins I invited him to the studio, where fun was had.
You, yourself have also been extremely influential from the early years. An obvious classic being AWeX ‘Its Our Future’. You released on R&S also alongside seminal labels like Harthouse. Can you talk through some of your early productions and studio set up?
In the 90s when we created Microbots – Cosmic Evolution (R&S) or Arpeggiators – Freedom Of Expression (Harthouse Ffm) we just worked with Hardware and a huge mixing desk. We had to modulate all synth manually and arranged the tunes with Cubase on an Atari ST. We just had an Ensoniq ASR-10 with less than 20 seconds sampling time and the classics synth like a TB303, MC-202 or our rhythm master, the TR909! The ‘It´s Our Future’ track was produced in the less than 6 hours and was a massive success. We got the vocals from a standard Ensoniq sample CD and added them to our instrumental, where we sampled 4 TB303 lines and modulated the original 303 line live while recording.
Did you know Christian from back in the day?
We first met at the Mayday 2 Event in 1992 in Cologne, where we got introduced by R&S label boss Renaat! Then we saw each other at various events all over the years all over the world and we both respected each other for our music and characters.
How different is your current set up, and again is there ‘go to’ pieces of equipment that you use in your productions now?
At my place I work 100% digital with Ableton Live and a lot of different plug-ins! I use a lot of loops and samples like back in the days, but today it´s much easier to freak around with them and create something different from them. I love all the Arturia Synth Plugs and use a lot of Native Instruments VST synths, as well as some other weird unique plugs. At CJ´s studio we worked with a lot of hardware synth as well and got the best from both worlds – analogue and digital!
Your discography is massive with an impressive number of remixes and collaborations alongside A&R work for labels like Eye Q and Harthouse. Can you talk through your involvement here and name check some of your favourite collaborations and remixes?
At Eye Q/Harthouse I signed Cari Lekebush with his project Braincell back in the day and compiled the first ‘Behind The Eye’ Compilation for Eye Q. My favourite collaborations have been with Mike Dearborn for my release on Bush Records a few years ago as well as the work with my DJ friend from India Rummy Sharma with our releases on Tronic Music and BluFin. I loved to remix Jam & Spoon, Erasure and The Shamen back in the 90s and still love to do remixes, because it´s great to pick up the idea of someone else and transform it into my sound.
You’ve been a real advocate for Electronic music over the last two decades with your radio shows and your longstanding residency at Frankfurt’s ‘Dorian Gray’ club. For those who never attended the club, can you explain what it was like and its importance to the German scene? What has been some of your highlights DJing at the club and around the world?
Dorian Gray was the most prestigious club in Germany, opening in 1978 till the end of 2001! It was located at the Frankfurt Airport and had a soundsystem from Richard Long inside the main area, which was massive! The resident DJs were Mark Spoon, Talla 2XLC, DJ Dag Torsten Fenslau and myself. It was like my living room till its closing and the best club in the world. As a DJ I played around the world except South-America, where I haven´t been yet! The best place to DJ is Ibiza, UK and Australia and my best DJ gigs have been in Australia and Cape-Town.
Tom, you’ve released previously on both Toolroom and Rhythm Distrikt, but we’re very excited to kick things off again on Rhythm Distrikt with a two tracker from you both. Is this the start of more collaborations?
We’ve already worked on more new tunes, because we had a lot of fun together! So, you will hear more music from us in the future! New Tom Wax stuff will be released on my own Phuture Wax imprint and I´m also in the studio with Terry Lee Brown Jr. at the moment to create new music.
What artists are you digging at the moment, who should be keeping a close eye on?
I still love the tracks from Enrico Sangiuliano, because the sound and vibe of his productions are ace! The Techno scene is still ruled by a lot of established artists like Adam Beyer, Umek, Jay Lumen and others, so I wait for new talent that gets my attention. In my close musical surroundings I have acts like Tabis & Dawn, Dima Riva or Intensity Of Sound, which produce really good stuff.
Tell us something interesting that we’d never know about Tom Wax and CJ Bolland?
I sampled sounds from CJ twice in my productions! Once on an Arpeggiators track “Discover Your Innerself” and the second time I used the vocals from Sonic Solution “Music” in the track “Music Is The Only Drug” together with my partner in crime back in the day; Jan Jacarta. In 1995 CJ remixed a track of mine called “Thundergod” that I produced with Norman Feller aka Terry Lee Brown Jr. and his remix was outstanding for that time, because it was a dark breakbeat Techno monster. The remix was timeless and you can still listen to it, but back in those days, it wasn´t the current DJ sound and I couldn’t play his remix in my DJ sets.