There haven’t been many sightings of Solomun since the globe went into lockdown. No gigs, no live-streams, even. Turns out the Bosnia-born, Germany-based DJ/producer/label owner was working on his second artist album, Nobody Is Not Loved.
Released on Solomun’s newly-minted NINL label, the album comes over a decade after his 2009 debut, Dance, Baby. The new album, however, is not a project informed by the pandemic – rather, it has been in the works for three years. Created across Solomun’s three studios in Ibiza, Luxemburg and his hometown of Hamburg, the album features an array of collaborators from Jamie Foxx to Zoot Woman, Planningtorock and Isolation Berlin, among others. It explores a variety of styles across Solomun’s musical experiences from his formative years to the present.
A multiple award-winning artist who regularly tops DJ-ranking lists, Solomun has long been a cultish favorite for the late-night crowd with wildly popular branded parties like Solomun+1. Of course, he’s also recognized for his production skills and business acumen – the self-taught producer has had over 40 well-received releases since Dance, Baby as well as over 50 notable remixes. His Diynamic Music label, which he began in 2006 with Adriano Trolio, remains one of the industry’s more eclectic imprints.
Nobody Is Not Loved, however, showcases him as an artist. The album is loosely based around the concept of connectivity and communication through the inclusivity of music. The album brings together Solomun’s German side from which he gets his “structure, organizational thinking and rational behavior” with the “emotional Yugo-soul” in him for a balanced combination.
We recently caught up with Mladen Solomun to discuss his recent artistic endeavors.
DJ Times: How’d you get introduced to dance music?
Solomun: My cousin introduced me to it when I was 12 – he was 21 and already going to clubs. He brought me a recorded mixtape from the club where he knew the DJ. It was a revelation for me. The only music I knew was commercial music on the radio. This feeling was resurrected at my first club visit with electronic music at 21 with DJ Antonelli Electric in Hamburg.
DJ Times: When and how did you get started with DJing?
Solomun: When I was 14 or 15, there was a youth center, a German concept so you wouldn’t hang out on the street or get into illegal activities. There was a discotheque at the center every Wednesday from 6 to 10 p.m. For my generation, it was the place to be. I would use their vinyl and practice on their turntables. They saw I was interested in it, and one of the adults who worked there asked me if I would like to buy music for the club. Every weekend, I had 100 Euros to buy new music for the youth center. My own music collection was growing more and more as well. Whenever I had cash from small jobs or for birthdays or Christmas, I would spend it all on vinyl. I started DJing at 16 or 17. And then I took a long big break from it. My passion returned when I was at a party with melodic techno, a sound I had never heard before, which was just mind-blowing to me. I started buying vinyl again – CDs, too. I spent all my time in record stores, but only because of my interest in the music. I never planned on becoming a DJ. Somebody invited me to play at a birthday and that was my comeback after 10 years.
DJ Times: How is your approach to DJing different in a club setting to a festival setting to a residency?
Solomun: Inside or outside, day or night, huge crowd or intimate setting, summer or winter – all have an influence on the mood of the people and myself. Also, there is a different dynamic between a 90-minute festival set or an event where I play all night long. The shorter a set is, the denser it becomes.
DJ Times: Your Solomun+1, which started as a Pacha residency in Ibiza is an unusual one, especially considering its iconic venue. How did the idea behind it come about? How has it translated to other locations?
Solomun: The concept is explained in the name: Solomun +1. Only two artists, taking care of the night, together. We saw many events packed with amazing names, but each DJ gets to play for 60 or 90 minutes. I know from personal experience that is not enough time. The longer I play, the bigger is my chance to create something extraordinary. We want to give this opportunity to the guests. My guest plays first, then I play, and then we come together in a back-to-back. Over eight seasons in Ibiza, this has given me so many precious moments and memories. Pacha is a great home for Solomun +1, but the concept is universal and can be transported anywhere in the world, as it is not about the place, but about this musical journey. We’ve had Solomun +1 events in Berlin, New York, Tulum, Athens, Buenos Aires, LA, Lebanon, just to name a few.
DJ Times: What is your ideal DJ set up?
Solomun: It’s been the same for 10 years: four Pioneer CDJ-2000NXS2 players and a DJM2000NXS mixer, with two RMX-1000 effect units. Having four CDJs is very important for me to adjust my set on the fly. One of them, I mainly use to pick tracks and saving them in the tech folder. I see where the direction is going and I can plan ahead, focus more on the moment and the crowd, and not panic in case I suddenly get an idea that might work better than what I have currently selected. It’s very important to me to interact with the crowd during my set.
DJ Times: How is your music organized?
Solomun: I’m using a USB stick and recordbox. The structure is pretty straightforward, three folders: warm-up, peak time, afterparty. I have a pretty good memory for track titles. Small note to producers who send demos: please always name your tracks correctly and include your artist name in the file. If it’s titled “new demo” or something, I can’t find it in my USB stick. The demo tracks are sorted by the weeks I downloaded them, same for new music. Then there are artist folders, folders for your own tracks, recent tracks that I have bought, folders for genres. No matter how organized you are, it is impossible to find the perfect structure, which is why you are forced to use your brain more, finding where that special track is that you just remembered. It’s like a maze, but that also makes it exciting. DJing is not AI. A bit of chaos never hurt anybody and sometimes produces some interesting results.
DJ Times: You’ve also been a club owner. How has your experience as a DJ informed your approach to running a club?
Solomun: As a DJ, it’s never wrong to understand what it means to be a promoter or club owner and all the hassle that comes with it. Promoters are often under a lot of pressure. You’re in a state of constant negotiation with agencies, with staff, with drink companies. It’s tough, but it’s also very rewarding when you see the crowd enjoys what you have created and then you know that you’ve made the right choices for the night. As owner of the club Ego in Hamburg, I remember well how important it is for the bigger artists to waive a big portion of their usual fee in order to allow these small beautiful and very special clubs to exist. This is why I do that as an artist, because I appreciate what these smaller clubs or festivals are trying to create.
DJ Times: Did the idea of doing an album come during the pandemic?
Solomun: The idea for an album, plus the greater concept of it, started much earlier than the pandemic. A few years back in London I saw this graffiti which really stuck with me: “Nobody is not loved” – no name or tag. I thought if I make an album again, that should be the title. Later, when I was deeper in the whole album process, the meaning started to transform. Only music itself would dare make a statement like that. Music loves everyone, no matter who you are, what you look like or what you believe. The first track that got me thinking about making an album again was “Home.” When I first made it I called the file “Album Track 1.” It feels timeless and represents a lot of what I like to listen to in a club. I was able to test it many times and at some point I thought this could really be the beginning of something. It was always important to me to tell a story with an album, not just release 10 dancefloor tracks.
DJ Times: This album has the feel of a DJ set. How was your approach to making an album different to producing singles and doing remixes?
Solomun: When I am producing a single or doing a remix, I am fully focused on the track itself. I’m thinking of all of its elements and how their arrangement will impact on the dancefloor, because the majority of these productions are aimed at that. With the album, I’m doing the same for the tracks, additionally trying to keep the whole record in mind during track production, as if the album was a single track and the individual tracks are its elements. It’s a similar process with a DJ set.
DJ Times: What is your signature approach to remixes, many of which are for very high-profile artists?
Solomun: I used to be very radical when it came to remixes. The only thing I kept was the vocal. I would strip it completely and listen to the vocal over and over again, until I forgot the original song altogether. That’s the moment you start painting a new track around those vocals, maybe shift the measure, drop some parts or chop them up. Every now and then that still happens, but I leave myself some more wiggle room and try to incorporate the original artist’s elements if I feel they fit. Sometimes I hear a track and I already like it a lot, then I just give it a bit of a dancefloor treatment and tweak a few things, so it would function better in a club.
DJ Times: Do you feel like you have more freedom with your singular edits than you have with your remixes? The edits are, in a way, un-commissioned remixes.
Solomun: Sometimes there are tracks I really love, but they are not traditional dancefloor tracks or they just don’t fit my set because maybe it lacks a break or a proper kick drum, but I want to play them so much that I create my own edit of it. That is freedom, in a way, because I could basically adapt any track into a dancefloor format. But oftentimes there are no stems or single parts of the track available, so it’s much harder to, for example, isolate a vocal part, which then, in turn, is a limitation. It has its pros and cons, but I really enjoy it.
DJ Times: So much has changed since the release of your first album. How was your attitude and approach different to over a decade ago in comparison to your first album?
Solomun: It was a completely different time back when I was making the first album. I was in the studio every day. I toured much less, too. On this album, I collected ideas over a much wider timespan, plus, I had a much more mixed exchange with other producer friends and the creative process had more entities than on the first album, where I worked everything out on my own.
DJ Times: What is your studio set-up?
Solomun: It’s pretty straightforward. Logic Pro is where the main part of the production takes place. Monitoring is super-important to me. For the last 10 years, I have been very happy with my Barefoot MicroMain 27. My sound interface comes from RME. I also occasionally use hardware, such as the API 2500 compressor or EQs from A-Designs.
DJ Times: What are the key pieces of outboard or software/plug-ins that you find yourself returning to again and again?
Solomun: I’m a big fan of the Output plug-ins, but I also use the Komplete Bundle from Native Instruments. For the sound processing, I mainly use UAD plug-ins. I use Roland Juno-60 for warm pads and fat bass… Prophet 5, polysynth and arpeggios like I used on “Night Travel.” All in all, I am not a big tech-nerd. I talk to my colleagues about stuff and I have experimented with some gear, but to me, hardware is in the first instance a craft, while creative processes are something else: a spark, momentum. Even many of my geekier tech friends or colleagues who have collected much more gear over time are going back to smaller set-ups, which is much more effective. It’s nice to have a lot of stuff, but you can also get lost in too much equipment. This is why I try to keep my studio set up as minimalistic as possible and focus on a few essentials.
DJ Times: Were there particular sounds and sound sources that you found yourself returning to for the album?
Solomun: Most of the sound sources were software. The bundle from Arturia, but also the plug-ins from u-he, especially Diva. A couple of percussion sounds also came from Teenage Engineering OP-Z.
DJ Times: Do you work on your own or alongside an engineer or co-producer?
Solomun: I usually work on my own, but for this album it had to be a little different. The working process with a real band like Isolation Berlin is much more elaborate. For such a creative process, you need someone who connects the people and holds it all together. One person, whom I have to give the most credit to is Jakob Grunert. Jakob is a highly creative person whose opinion I value a lot. He has been very inspiring and supportive during the whole journey of the album. Jakob brought Moritz Friedrich aka Siriusmo on board to support me in this project. Moritz is one of the best electronic-music producers I know whom I have admired for years.
DJ Times: You have a wide range of collaborators on the album. Did you create tracks with them in mind?
Solomun: I generally start making instrumentals with someone specific in mind. There were some people I have dreamed about working with for such a long time. For some tracks, there were general text ideas floating around, for others we had finished lyrics, and for a few we let the artists roam freely. Planningtorock is an example of that. “Tuk” was initially inspired by a Rosalía vibe and aesthetic. We got in touch with her management, but it didn’t work out because she was in the middle of her album. Also, in a very short period of time she had gotten extremely famous and that didn’t fit very well anymore. I want tracks with crossover potential, but without very huge names from the mainstream world drowning out the track. ÄTNA, whom we were recording a different track with, did a freestyle on the “Tuk” instrumental that blew us away, so we chose to go in that direction. Jamie Foxx on “Ocean” is an exception as he is a world-renowned actor first and foremost, not a singer. I would haven’t worked with a big-name R&B star on “Ocean.”
DJ Times: What was your thought process in having non-English vocals?
Solomun: Coming from Bosnia and growing up in Hamburg in the ’80s and ’90s, we were listening to lots of different stuff including new wave and post punk. It was a long-time wish for me to make a song that incorporated this sound. I wanted it to sound authentic and the only way to do that was for the vocals to be in German. English vocals sound amazing, but German ones do have a slightly different charm and character to them. Tobias [Bamborschke] from Isolation Berlin wrote these beautiful picturesque lyrics for the track that are incredible: “I bite as hard as I can/Into the cool flesh of the night/Drink her air/And breathe her power.” That’s the English translation, and it doesn’t even come close to the German original.
DJ Times: You might be one of the only artists who decided to launch a label during a pandemic. What went into this decision?
Solomun: We were talking to a few labels to see where we wanted to release the album. The process took a long time and there were lots of great proposals, but none of them felt quite right. We decided to create a new label for this project to strip off from the expectations and connotations that album might have. I have my own core team on it whom I have been working with for years and who have the same vision as I do. It was the most liberating step we could have taken for this.
DJ Times: How is NINL different from the Diynamic label, which is still going strong?
Solomun: Diynamic has always been focused on the dancefloor. NINL will focus on bigger, album projects. The idea is to be open to a broader set of genres. We are looking for are projects that tell a story.
DJ Times: Tapping into your audience has become a cornerstone of survival for artists during pandemic. Have you done that during this time?
Solomun: To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve retained such a good connection with my audience. It was a very confusing time for everyone, myself included. I didn’t really know how to check in for a very long time. I thought about doing a live-stream over and over again, to give me and the people out there some joy and hope, but I decided against it because I don’t believe that digital can replace analog. I like digital possibilities if they complement or amplify the analog world. But if they are supposed to replace the analog world, I can’t go along with that. I can’t imagine playing music without feeling the people, their reactions, their needs, their vibes, without the fusion.
DJ Times: What technology changes have you embraced during the pandemic?
Solomun: Besides the obvious advancements in music and DJing technology and the perks it brings, the personal, human connection is something I could not live without, which is why I have been hesitant with things like live-streams and VR. There is a difference between making a mix at home and for doing a live-streamed DJ set. For the mix, I would thoroughly prepare, dig through my tracks and then mix, and maybe do another version if the one I thought of initially didn’t fit, and work it out on my own. A DJ set for me is an immediate interaction with the crowd. To experience this energy together with the crowd, that’s something no VR can give you.
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