Check our exclusive interview with German/American International trance Dj & Producer, owner of Coldharbour Recordings and host of Global DJ Broadcast Markus Schulz, who recently released his new album “Watch The World”.
We talked about his career, how he started, his favorite clubs and music and more.
When and how did you start DJing? What kind of music did you grow up with? Which artists and styles inspired and influenced you?
I was born in Eschwege, Germany, and immigrated to the United States when I was 13 years old. My step-father was in the military and because of that, I would be continually moving “home” to various army bases around Germany, meaning that forging any long term friendships (in the days of no internet) was impossible.
That contributed to a difficult childhood, and my biggest means of escape from the outside world was listening to the radio. I developed a love for both classic rock and electronic influenced music, with the biggest influences coming from the likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, ELO and Manfred Mann.
After moving to the US, we lived just outside Boston, and I struggled to become part of the fabric due to a lack of self-confidence and little to no knowledge of the English language. So coming home from school every day, I would put my headphones on and listen to the radio. When it was cloudy, I was able to tune in to some college radio stations at night, where they would be playing more interesting electronic music. I’d be listening to DJs like Tony Humphries and Red Alert. So my fascination began there, and I was keen to study the music and the layers involved within a song, so began collecting records.
When did you decide to be a DJ full time?
I also developed a love for breakdancing, and found friendships with a common interest. We would make mixtapes and trade them with each other, and practice our moves with the tapes as the soundtrack. Eventually, this would lead to a big party, where we hired a hallroom in a hotel. The idea was that each of us would take turns on the decks, but on the night itself, everyone else got cold feet, resulting in me DJing the entire night. The hotel owner was watching, and was impressed enough to offer me a job.
That experience was liberating and pivotal in my life, because it made me believe that my purpose here on this earth was to entertain through DJing.
Just before turning 18, I left home and moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where after DJing in the top 40 clubs and burning out, transitioning to the gay clubs where I faced the challenge of playing music for people who knew their stuff, I was discovered for a club called The Works in Scottsdale, and held a seven year residency, playing every Friday and Saturday night. However, in 1999 it closed and I was so burnt out that I almost quit the scene entirely. And in an effort to rediscover who I was musically, I moved to London for two years, residing in a studio on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton.
This would prove to be the most important moment in my career. I regard London as the beginning of my career, and everything up to that point as learning. It was there where the Coldharbour sound was born, because I was surrounded by a vast array of producers who were making music in different styles, and I could take these influences into my own work. The most important mantra I developed was to make music I could play in my own sets, because if that work, other people could play my music in their sets too.
London was the turning point for me, and everything has been a slow climb since. After returning to the US I made Miami my home, and it still is home today.
Markus Schulz feat. Ethan Thompson – Love Me Like You Never Did
Describe your sound in 3 words?
Touching the soul.
What kind of audio production equipment did you use when you started?
Shortly after moving to Arizona, I where I got a job at a local studio running errands – basic tasks such as taking out the trash or making people coffee, and a lot of artists from A&M Records utilised the facility. During that time however, I was like a sponge – wanting to absorb knowledge and insight from people recording in the studio, including a certain CeCe Peniston of “Finally” fame, who I was privileged to work with on my Scream 2 album some two decades later. At night, when the studio was free, I had permission to go in there myself and experiment. I was trying to find myself, trying to find my footing, but at the same time, always chasing what other people were doing.
In the first decade of my production palette, I swore by ProTools, and didn’t particularly vary much from it. Eventually as software improved, I learned how to use Logic and Ableton, and both of those are utilised when mapping out initial ideas for productions today.
Now tell us about your recent album “Watch the World”?
Sure. It is another big moment, another career milestone with my sixth artist album Watch the World. The main theme of this album is that it has been built on the backbone of a personal adventure for me, diving in to the world of songwriting, where everything begins with a pen, a guitar and a piece of blank paper.
After completing the two Scream albums, I was at a point in my career where I wanted to evaluate and see where I wanted to go in the future. What was the next step to take me forward and make things more exciting?
So when I undertook a period of reflection, my mind cast back to the days of my youth, and the things I enjoyed. When I was at school, the one subject I excelled at was creative writing, and my teachers would always be encouraging me to try it as often as possible. However, even at that age, having fallen in love with music and listening to the radio, I was so determined to chase my dream of becoming a DJ, even at the expense of everything else.
When doors began to open for me on the DJ front, the next step for me was moving into production. And when you are at that young age, you expend all of your creative energy into the music – playing around with the synthesizers and turning the knobs. So my desire for creative writing began to fade away over time.
But now, having completed this album, on a personal level it’s very gratifying to me to delve into an interest that was there in my youth, but had faded away as my DJ career began. It feels like a flame inside me has been reignited. 17 tracks later, the Watch the World album is ready with amazing stories waiting to be heard by everyone.
We know you co-wrote the lyrics for “Destiny” and “Facedown”. Is that something new on Markus career? Or you wrote any lyrics in the past?
In the past I did write some, but my contributions were generally small. A typical routine would involve creating the music, sending it to a singer and asking them to write lyrics on top to compliment it. But delving into something so personal like Destiny was the catalyst into what Watch the World became as an overall piece. It came about because of my personal relationship, where you meet someone in your life that you never knew before, but felt destined to be inspired by them beyond belief.
I met Delacey for the first time during a studio session in Los Angeles, and I got into detail about the song, and the story I was trying to tell. When she sang it back to me, it was one of the most touching moments I have ever experienced. Collectively, we said to ourselves, this could be special. But when you’re in the studio, you just never know whether or not it will connect with a listening audience.
A year on from its release, and I cannot believe how deeply it has resonated and attached with the listening audience. The response to Destiny provided me with confidence to pursue creating an album with a primarily songwritten path.
What is different in this album from your previous ones?
It’s the songwriting foundation, and because of that, it’s musically the most rewarding thing I have ever done. What I have learned through this album process in particular is that if you have written a song that is great, then whatever music you surround it with, it will also sound great. That really hit home with me above everything else, and exploring that side with the acoustic versions was a very valuable experience.
What matters to me the most is that each song contains a message that I think is important for us as a community – words and stories which bind us.
You have a famous reputation for your marathon length solo sets, sometimes playing up to 12 hours at a time. How do you prepare for such a set?
Well physically alone, it’s a huge challenge, and you start thinking about how to properly train your body for the endurance from a few weeks out – like increasing the length of my cardio workout, cutting out alcohol and so on. On the night itself, I actually don’t eat much beforehand, and don’t drink any alcohol at all during the performance. This way, you basically sweat everything out of your system while you are jumping around on stage; and it makes a bathroom break less of a necessity.
And you can’t just do a set like that anywhere. It needs to be a special venue in a special city with long-lasting foundations established in the scene, meaning that everyone is on your frequency. Get it right and it’s absolutely magical.
For the solo sets, I try to imagine the overall night as three sets combined – you have the opening portion, where you play the deeper progressive grooves and keep the mood low; allowing the ambiance to slowly build as the crowd assembles on the dancefloor. Then you have the main portion which is the usual peak hour chaos and lighting, with the big tracks and hits that you would expect in an everyday Markus Schulz set-length performance.
And finally, when you have the room grooving in unison, then you enter the afterhours, or the rabbithole, where things get weird and trippy with various techno tracks and classics.
For the music itself, I’ll spend months in advance preparing; digging deep into Beatport and promos and on most occasions, I’ll be listening with the mindset of “this I’ll save for the solo set, and this one, and this one”. So when you slowly accumulate tracks like that over several months, you’re essentially putting together the building blocks of the set, and the graft in assembling what goes well harmonically can begin.
They are my favorite type of set to play by far. Once every couple of months, I’ll go all out in preparation, I need nights like that for my soul.
What’s your favorite club to DJ in?
That’s such a difficult question to just give one answer. I’m really lucky to have a lot of cities around the world where the fans treat me as one of their own. So I guess the best way is to talk about a few of them and give reasons why.
Space in Miami is an obvious choice, because it’s where I’ve lived for over 10 years now. It was thanks to my weekly residency in the club, coupled with Global DJ Broadcast; that helped establish my name on a worldwide basis. Back when I was a resident I would be warming up for all the big international DJs, so every time I come back after travelling all over the world, the same friends and fans are there supporting me, which make the nights feel so special. When I was preparing for my solo set at Space during Winter Music Conference, I felt like a kid at Christmas. And I’m really fortunate to be able to do it again on New Year’s Eve this year.
Another obvious one is Prague, and that is primarily because of my close association with Transmission and the people, and how much it means to me on a personal level. But also because of the open to close solo sets we have shared together at the SaSaZu venue.
Montreal houses one of my favorite clubs in the legendary Stereo. It’s one of the few clubs remaining in the world that has that dark and dirty vibrancy; the innocence of clubbing. It’s a really intimate setting, and because Montreal is so unique with its clubbing habits, their peak hour is at 6am rather than 1am. I would encourage everyone to go clubbing in Montreal at least once, either at Stereo or Bal en Blanc.
London is another city where I have great affection, stemming from the two year sabbatical on Coldharbour Lane. It’s a pretty incredible story to go from being a clubber watching the big names at Ministry of Sound, to then become their international resident. I first performed there as a DJ in 2008, and after the first experience, they made me a resident to play there more several times a year. And because of that, you gain a familiarity with the crowd, and establish a trust to debut material in your sets before everywhere else. And because London is so accessible, it houses a large number of fans who travel in from mainland Europe to attend the nights.
Top 3 festivals?
Everyone mentions EDC in Las Vegas of course, and I think that does come with merit, because I feel that ever since they moved it to the Motor Speedway, the first one there was a real watershed moment for electronic music in the United States. It was the confirmation that this was the soundtrack of a new generation.
I mentioned Transmission in Prague in our conversation earlier; that one is special to me on a personal level because of how much it means to Europe in that Eastern European block. Not only do you have the Czech fans, but you have the Poles, Hungarians, Slovakians, Slovenians, Germans, and even the Dutch and British all united under one arena. And the special thing about it is that it’s just one stage, it’s not like a festival, and everyone who buys a ticket to Transmission is there to see you. And that’s without mentioning that it has the most spectacular visuals and lazers that make every other show envious.
Funniest thing that ever happened at an event?
This happened back in the summer of 2010, and actually happened before I even made it to the club or the stage to DJ. I had one of those crazy 24 hour stretches where I played 3 gigs in 3 different countries. I started playing the closing set at a gig in Barcelona; then it was straight to the airport for the Netherlands, where I played late afternoon at Dance Valley.
The final gig was in Glasgow, but there was a problem with my immigration papers when landing. So I ended up being detained at the airport – put handcuffs on and everything. Eventually the problem was resolved, but the delay meant I had to go straight to the club and perform. They didn’t let me keep the handcuffs.
Why do you think Las Vegas is becoming such a haven for club music? Do you think the Vegas music scene will change again, as in the past was all Hip-hop and now seems just EDM?
I think since EDC moved to the city from Los Angeles, it opened the gateway for clubs and rooftop parties to become a regular investment. That week in the city in June is absolutely enormous now – it is like a Summer Music Conference between parties, seminars, and business meetings. But if you consider Vegas all-year round – it has the climate, the accommodation and now it has the club facilities to be a major player in the scene worldwide.
The music scene will change again of course, because nothing ever stays the same. When I first moved to the US as a teenager, hip-hop ruled the world, and I could never have imagined dance music being the prominent genre for a generation in this country. But it has happened and the fans who embraced it should be proud, they have claimed their own genre.
What was the first record that you bought?
It was Zapp & Roger – More Bounce to the Ounce.
I bought it quite a few years after it was first released but it’s one I still value a lot today. Reminds me of my teenage years emigrating from Germany to the United States and getting into the breakdance scene.
Not quite sure if I can bust a groove to it as well as I used to though!
Favorite song of all time?
Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls.
It is such a beautiful track that touches the soul. One of the best basslines ever heard in a piece of music, and the pads are just mesmerising. When that saxophone hits, I just melt. I think it has been quite influential to a lot of people in the electronic world, it was so ahead of its time.
What advice would you give to aspiring Producers or DJs?
The most important rules are to follow your heart, and try to make something that sounds unique and identifiable. If you examine the entire electronic dance music bubble, it’s a copycat scene. One person produces something in a style that’s amazing and groundbreaking, and if it’s successful, then you have a hundred copies of the same thing within a week.
So for anyone starting out, identify who or what inspires you, and study their music. Study their DJ sets and how their built, and do the same with their productions. And the best way to make your own sound unique is to take certain influences from multiple DJs and producers, and create a hybrid of them that you can call your own.
To go back to the absolute turning point of my career, and that was during my period living in London around the turn of the millennium. During my days in Arizona, I was always chasing – chasing whatever big trend was happening, or what I thought was happening at the time. And that was a large reason why I was feeling frustrated. I wanted to succeed outside of Arizona but I couldn’t because of chasing.
As soon as I settled in London, the key component hit me – I need to make music that I can comfortably play in my own DJ sets. If I can play the track in my own sets, then other people can play it in theirs as well.
Carve out your own path, and you could become legendary.
If you could choose a place to live where would that be?
You know, I have been living in Miami for almost 15 years now, and it is the city I have lived the longest throughout my life, so to be honest, I wouldn’t swap it as home for anywhere else. There is this beautiful vibe you feel just living there. It’s got all the European tourists that come, as well as the South American influence, so you have an amazing clash of beautiful people and cultures. The people here are just passionate; they love to celebrate life.
After leaving Arizona and my two year sabbatical in London was coming to an end, and yearning for a move back to the United States, I had to decide where I wanted to call home. I knew that if my career was going to take off internationally, I needed to be on the east coast in order to cut down on travel length to Europe. And having a preference for warm weather, Miami became a natural choice.
I actually also have an apartment in Berlin, where I stay if I have gigs on successive weekends in Europe. I love its eclectic vibe, and it’s nice to have that contrast between the two places throughout the year.
What do you do in your spare time?
I don’t get a lot of free time as you can imagine, but my main interest outside of music is sports, mainly basketball, baseball, football and soccer. I mainly follow the Miami Heat NBA team, so I try to catch as many games of theirs as possible, either at home on television or using NBA League Pass on the laptop while on the road. I play a bit of basketball too as part of my workout routine; it’s great for cardio.
With all the craziness of life on tour, I try to take one Monday every month isolated away from any electronics – no laptop, no phone, just a day to decompress. Those days are vital just to refresh and avoid burning out.
What projects are you currently working on and what can we expect from you in 2016?
With the album now released, the next step is to move into an A&R role and begin to compile remixes, firstly for the next single package, Love Me Like You Never Did, and long-term for a remixed version of the album.
There are also some projects left over from the Watch the World album sessions that I would like to revisit, with the prospect of finishing some and turning into full blown tracks. And I am keen to get some big melodic trance instrumentals going as exclusive material for my sets heading towards the busy summer and festival season.
But the immediate future is successive tours across the US and Europe to promote the album’s release. I hope everyone immerses themselves in the stories and finds something to resonate with.
How important to you is social media?
It’s vital. It has transformed our lives completely, so it’s hugely important to embrace it and make it a large component of your output, especially because it is the easiest gateway to connect yourself with your fans.
I utilise all of the popular ones in different ways. Recently, with the Facebook Mentions facility with live video, I have started doing some spontaneous live broadcasts from nightclubs where I am playing, and the response to that has been enormous. Twitter of course is useful for relaying the tracklist during the Global DJ Broadcast radio show, and Snapchat can get quite scandalous while on the road. But I embrace them all.
Where we can follow you?
Website – markusschulz.com
Facebook – facebook.com/markusschulz
Twitter – twitter.com/markusschulz
Instagram – instagram.com/markusschulz
Snapchat – snapchat.com/add/markusschulz
YouTube: – youtube.com/markusschulz
Soundcloud – soundcloud.com/markusschulz
Vegas or Ibiza: I love both for what they represent.
Quote: Theatre of the Mind
Movie: Smokey and the Bandit
Travel Destination: Keywest, Florida
Drink: Grey Goose vodka with cranberry juice
Actress/Actor: Tom Cruise
Sport team: The NBA’s Miami Heat