For those of you who don’t know, Steve Bug is an internationally renowned DJ and producer who grew up in Germany’s techno and acid-house heyday spending his early days mixing in Bremen and Hamburg. Recognised as a multi-faceted producer, Steve dropped his very first productions in 1993 and the rest, they say, is history. Exuding a rich musical background, the German superstar released his debut album Volksworld via his very own Raw Elements label and followed it up with a slew of high-quality productions from himself and others including the likes of Vincenzo and Märtini Brös.
Following this, Steve founded his esteemed Poker Flat Recordings in 1999, opening his eyes to a darker yet totally funky and grooving sound which pushed him into new territories and possibilities. A decade since its inception, it is evident to see that Mr. Bug stands proudly as a figurehead for the hugely popular minimal tech-house sound that the label has innately crafted – his first Poker Flat album The Other Day is testament to this, providing musical diversity at its best. Since, the imprint has racked up an impressive catalogue and is home to some of the most versatile records within the scene including Dead Mans Hand and the ten year anniversary compilation All In.
Having released six LP’s over the last two decades, Steve returns to the soundsphere with an intricately inter-woven single called “Montafon” via his Poker Flat imprint. Nothing less than immaculate, the single showcases an urgent groove aided by a sublime synth line, drama-building arpeggios and snappy percussion. The track posses all the hallmarks of a peak time festival moment and would not look out of place in any club space. We caught up with Steve about his latest single, life in lockdown, Poker Flat and more…
First of all how are you? And what have you been getting up to recently?
All good here, hope on your end as well. I had some super nice gigs this weekend and I am working on several projects in the studio right now.
How have you found the last year and lockdown in general? What’s kept you ticking throughout the pandemic? We have read you are an avid climber!
At the beginning although it felt like an unwanted break from the crazy touring schedule, I actually really enjoyed the first weeks but then I started to miss touring, playing music, seeing other people, etc. So I focused on studio work. In the first lockdown I did a lot of sports at home and in between the two lockdowns we were able to go to he gyms over here. The second, super long ‘soft’ lockdown was harder but besides spending even more time in the studio and moving it, I started to go to a park nearby with some friends where there is an artificial bouldering block, climbing there in temperatures just above 0 degrees. This helped me to stay focused and sane.
Having released your Never Ending Winding Roads in 2020, how has the last year impacted your motivation and creativity levels as a producer?
As I mentioned, it felt great to have all this extra time. It was a serious creativity booster for me and that’s why I decided to work on an album. Never Ending Winding Roads was the last production I finished in my old studio. It was a great finish to 14 years there and after that I moved to a new studio. It took almost 3 months to accomplish the full move but the creative juices started to flow immediately. I don’t know if this is still to blame on the extra time or the fact that I am in a new environment, probably a bit of both. So I can’t complain, the creativity is here and I have already finished a lot of tracks with plenty of others in the making.
What are your views on live streaming and do you think it has played a pivotal role in keeping the electronic dance music scene connected?
Personally I am not a big fan of watching deejays play, especially if it’s a stream in rather bad quality from a deejays home. There have been some good streams in amazing locations, and I know that many people like these formats. I prefer to just listen to music instead. That’s why I started my podcast series Steve Bug presents Play where I invite deejay colleges that had played at my Play parties here in Berlin, or that were on the list for future events – people I personally want to listen to. But I did a few streams as well. It does feel great to mix some tunes either way.
The return of events has been welcomed with open arms by many. As a touring DJ, has it been easy to get back into the swing of things?
Here in Germany things are picking up a bit slower. Clubs are not open everywhere and many countries in Europe aren’t allowing clubs to open either, so it’s a rather smooth way back into touring. That definitely helps to get adjusted. But I have to say that the first few gigs felt a bit weird, with all the new music that you’ve never played to any crowd, so you didn’t get any crowd response before on any of the tunes you’re playing. This is when experience definitely helps!
You have a new single about to drop called “Montafon”. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the track and how you would describe it?
I’ve always liked deep house as much as Detroit techno and everything in-between so I don’t write just one style of music. I haven’t figured out yet if it is to keep myself inspired, or if it’s just because I have all these styles in me but it was always hard for me to define my own music or label a certain track of mine. To me “Montafon” is just an amazing track that has a lot of drive, beautiful sounds, and a nice build up. It somehow reminded me of a beautiful hiking trip in the Montafon area with peaks and long ways up to the top, being surrounded by powerful nature. But that’s probably just me!
What was the creative and production process behind the record?
As things come mostly naturally when I write music, it’s hard to describe the process. But I definitely remember that I had some problems with the arrangement, I couldn’t decide which direction to go and which sounds to bring first. Also the bass sound was quite different before. The whole track was deeper somehow until I send it out to a few people to see what they think. With the given feedback, especially the one from Hannes Bieger, I started to work on that bass sound which I think I readjusted and recorded at least 12 times before I was happy. But it did change the track to a more energetic version of the older ‘demo’ version and I think it fits quite well. At least I am super satisfied, and I hope people will like it as well.
The track is releasing via your very own Poker Flat imprint which has been around for over two decades. Can you tell us about the origins of the label and the philosophy behind it?
At the start I just wanted a home base for my own music and to support the music of some friends that had a similar vision when it came to productions. But we grew quickly into a pretty big family and the label got lots of amazing feedback. The focus always was to release quality music that I personally like, no matter if it is trendy or not. I love tracks that have a strong connection to the roots of house and techno, but add something modern to it. It seems that I have a hand to pick rather timeless music, but I can’t explain why that is.
When you founded Poker Flat, did you have any idea it would be in the position it is today?
Of course not. We ran Raw Elements for about 4 years before we started Poker Flat. I don’t think we had a vision at all, apart from releasing great music. Looking at our back-catalogue I am happy to see that there are so many tunes, that still sound fresh, and are definitely playable today. It’s like watching your kids grow, with everything that comes with it!
Do you have any tips for someone starting up a record label in this current climate and how do you differentiate/ stand out from other imprints?
That’s the question of all questions. But let me ask you this first, why does someone want to start a new label when there are endless labels around? If you’re producing music that doesn’t fit on any of these labels at all, then it probably make sense to start a label of your own, because you already have something original and if your friends make similar tracks, it makes even more sense. If none of this counts for your music release it elsewhere because trying to set up a label for something that exists hundreds of times already makes your job super hard. You will probably be noticed faster, and with less stress if you choose to release your music on a label that already releases tracks similar to yours. Once you’ve released a few tracks you can probably get an ear at an even bigger label with a similar sound, so your profile will grow.
What I am trying to say is that there are so many labels out there and if you don’t have to tell anything new to the people it’s probably the best not to start a label at all.
We know you are a dedicated disciple of vinyl and wanted to just get your thoughts on the direction of the music industry particularly in regards to digital streaming services like Spotify?
Well, that’s another story. We thought digital would kill vinyl, or illegal downloads will kill the music industry. It didn’t but streaming may be a much bigger threat. I mean isn’t it funny how Spotify looses millions every year even though they only pay the artists super small money per play? The general idea of streaming may work fine for Netflix since they use the money they earn to produce their own shows. But when you have to pay royalties to others, the model becomes not so interesting anymore. Even when you only pay small shares. At least for artists and labels streaming only makes sense when you’re in the top playlists that millions of people listen to. But that also means the whole idea of digging in the crates is basically dead. I don’t think streaming is helping the music industry, especially the independent labels and artists at all.
Finally, are there any exciting projects or details coming up that you can share with us?!
As I said I am working on several projects, but unfortunately I can’t talk about them yet. Just keep your eyes and ears open!
“Montafon” is out September 17th via Poker Flat Recordings and available to purchase on Bandcamp.