Interview: ORIGINALS…Mijk van Dijk
The Berlin techno scene of today owes a good deal of gratitude to Mijk van Dijk, who as well as releasing music under the guise of Microglobe and Marmion (alongside Marcos Lopez), was one of the instigators of the trance movement, with the compilation Tranceformed From Beyond in 1992.
Still making music to this day, van Dijk has recently turned the Microglobe concept into a label, and earlier this year rolled back the years at the epic ’30 Jahre Berlin Techno’ event, which is available to view at Arte TV.
909originals caught up with van Dijk to discuss his formative years in music, how he drew inspiration from the likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Thomas Dolby, and the early days of the Berlin scene.
Part Two to follow tomorrow.
Q. Growing up, what were your musical influences?
I grew up in Soltau, a small town somewhere in the nowhere between Hamburg, Hannover and Bremen.
One of my musical influences was the local record store. You could play early video games like Donkey Kong and Galaxian there and listen to the latest albums. In the early 80s, I enjoyed synth bands like Soft Cell, Heaven 17 and Depeche Mode and German bands like DAF and Fehlfarben.
I would listen to radio shows like Soultrain by Ruth Rockenschaub on NDR (German) and John Peel and the UK Top 40 on BFBS – there were British troops stationed in our area.
I discovered German Kraut Rock bands like Neu, Harmonia, La Düsseldorf, Guru Guru and, of course, Kraftwerk, through our local library because you could rent vinyl discs there.
I played bass in a funk band of small local fame, and although I could slap and pop the bass, I also bought a Moog Prodigy synth in order to play those phat synth bass lines I loved from Zapp, The Gap Band and Imagination.
Then I moved to Berlin.
Q. Was there a particular album or track that sent you on the road to electronic music?
The works of Prince, but also musicians like Jean Michel Jarre, Thomas Dolby and Matt Johnson (The The) made me aware of the idea that one musician can create music all on his own with electronics.
I loved Heaven 17 for making synth pop with an attitude and running one of the first proper artist-owned independent labels, BEF. Their lyrics were political and their image and marketing was smart and forward thinking.
I discovered a similar attitude in the works of Trevor Horn for Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Propganda, whose debut albums I absolutely adored. I found remixes and edits on 12” singles really impressive – the idea that you could remix any song any way you wanted, such as Frankie’s The Young Persons Guide to The 12”-Mix of Rage Hard, or Imagination’s Nightdubbing album.
So there were many influences really, not that one record that changed my life.
Q. What clubs, if any, did you used to go to back then, and what was so good about them?
In the countryside we had a village discotheque. After I had moved to Berlin in 1985, I would go to clubs like The Chic, a funk disco for mostly black G.I.’s at Adenauerplatz, and The Grex in Kreuzberg, where DJs played an eclectic mix of funk, wave, EBM and proto-house… Prince, DAF, Anne Clark, M/A/R/R/S.
With the arrival of acid house, suddenly the club scene exploded.
Q. When did you decide – ‘this is what I want to do with my life’?
Ha! At the age of 13, I had a friend in my home town. We would tinker guitars out of plywood, cigar boxes and rubber bands and would pretend to play them while listening to hard rock and glam rock like Kiss, T-Rex and Slade.
Back then, I told him that some day I’m gonna make a living with music.
After I moved to Berlin I wrote as a music journalist for city magazines like Zitty and !Hype and Germany’s first dance magazine, Network Press. Later also for the legendary ‘Techno bible’ Frontpage. But really I wanted to create music, not just write about it.
When my first records on MFS became popular and I got more and more offers for gigs in 1992, I decided to take out all the stops and go for it.
Q. You’ve been described in some circles as being one of the ‘founding fathers’ of trance – did you think you were creating a new genre with your early music?
When Cosmic Baby and I created the compilation Tranceformed From Beyond in 1992, we firmly could sense that we were working on something special, also due to the inspirational guidance of our visionary label manager Mark Reeder.
However, in those years, producers were treading on new ground with almost every new production. There were no rules or formulas yet and when you used a sample you would probably be the first one to ever use it.
In 1991, in Berlin, we still all wanted to go harder and faster, it was almost like a contest. I contributed with my productions on Low Spirit with DJ Tanith, on his label Bash Records.
But I had the urge to create deeper tracks on the path of melodic Detroit Techno by Kevin Saunderson (E-Dancer), Derrick May’s Strings Of Life, or Speedy J’s Evolution – tracks with pads and harmonies.
The term ‘trance’ was dubbed then for melodic, trippy softer techno. For me though, it has nothing to do with the music that was called trance some years later, from 1996.
Q. What led you to come up with the concept of the ‘microglobe’?
The project name just caught me, because already back then I felt that our planet was becoming smaller and smaller by the means of transportation and communication.
Techno records were being produced in several parts of the world and then mixed together in one club somewhere else.
Also, the conflict between East and West had vanished by the fall of the wall and in those first techno years it seemed like we were finally going towards a golden age of love and peace and understanding.
But there were also setbacks: the war in the Balkans, the war in Iraq. Refugees from the Balkans and other countries came to Germany and we got our first taste of xenophobic riots.
And I became aware of environmental issues. My first album, Afreuropamericasiaustralica, dealt with these issues. I wanted to put sense into techno, just like Heaven 17, Thomas Dolby, The The, FGTH or Prince did.
Q. What did the concept mean to you then, and what does it mean to you now?
I wanted to use vocal samples with sense and meaning – not just random words about ‘party’ and ‘ecstasy’ – and present it in a constant, conceptual mix.
This was also influenced by my work on Tranceformed From Beyond, and my experiences listening to albums like Welcome To The Pleasuredome or Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
I was very proud of my accomplished work and still am. My new label, Microglobe, will follow that path with vocal tracks. So I’m kind of going back to my roots now.
Q. How did the Marmion collaboration with Marcos Lopez come about?
I met Marcos at my publicist studies course at the Berlin university and knew he was a DJ.
My very first Microglobe single, High On Hope, on MFS, was a strange hybrid – techno at the beginning and at the end a lovely melody.
Marcos Lopez asked me for two copies to lengthen that final part in his DJ sets. I also had the intention to remix that track, so I offered him the opportunity to work on a remix together.
The result was the MDML-Remix on the High On Hope Summer Remixes EP. Since we had a lot of fun during production we decided to produce original tracks.
Q. What are your memories of the Berlin scene in the early 90s, and do you think that today’s scene has lost some of that magic?
In the early 90s, we were inventing everything – techno parties, techno music production, building a completely new scene. The music was new, black, polished chrome and came over the summer like liquid night, like Emmanuel Top’s Turkish Bazaar.
I recently remixed the tune 1993 by German electronic poop duo 2raumwohnung, I wanted to create a more instrumental remix but in the end I kept all the vocals, because singer Inga Humpe perfectly describes the feeling of that year.
Those were exciting times and each year felt like a decade. We were also a bit like a secret worldwide society, which everybody could join, if he or she shared our passion for music, party and community.
The Internet did not exist yet, and you had to be inside the scene to have access to all areas.
Now, aspiring producers know which equipment they need to produce our music, ravers know which clubs are hot and which are not, and our music is distributed by files and streaming instead of haptic media such as vinyl EPs and mix tapes.
So yes, a lot of the magic has been lost.
What’s also gone, I think, is the knowledge of how to operate old technology – a MIDI-based hardware studio, samplers with SCSI interfaces, DAT-recorders and so on.
But techno is still going strong and kids that join the scene today will probably still think that they are having the time of their lives… and talk about 2018 in 25 years like I am talking about 1993 today.
Q. What were the circumstances that led you to first go to Japan, back in 1994?
I met my friend and Brothers-in-Raw partner Toby Izui, aka Tobynation, in Berlin in 1993. We raved at parties, went for dinner and played DJ gigs together.
He played records from Japan by labels like Frogman and Torema, which I found very exciting.
Toby was the ‘techno ambassador’ between the German and Japanese scene, and gave his promoter friends in Tokyo hints of who to book and look out for: Sven Väth, Dr. Motte, Resistance D., myself. So I came to Japan for the first time after Christmas 1994 and a loving relationship between me and this country started.
It’s all written down here. My friends in Japan found this report such an exciting document of their own early years that they asked me to translate it into Japanese.
Q. Why do you feel such an affinity with Japan?
It’s a friendly nation. People are not aggressive but polite. Not self-centred but considerate.
Japanese history is like a fantasy tale. The present is a highly technological society, like a looking glass into the future of our societies. The food is amazing.
And most of all, I have many good friends there that I dearly love.
Q. You are a big fan of Manga – would it be fair to say that you are trying to do with music what Manga did with art?
That sounds inspirational. I have never thought of it that way.
Manga was a huge inspiration for me in the 90s, especially the works of Masamune Shirow, like Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police, Orion and ultimately Ghost In The Shell and Man-Machine Interface.
More than the anime, Shirow’s graphical works are full of cyberpunk philosophy, which had a great impact on me and my music. I was very proud when he agreed to design the cover artwork for my first best-of-compilation in Japan, the Multi Mijk CD, mixed by my friend Toby Izui.
That CD, maybe more than any other of my releases, unifies everything about Japan and myself.
Q. Why do you think people keep harking back to the early years of dance music?
A lot of youth culture movements have been started with or accompanied by music – Rock’n’Roll, Reggae, Hippie Rock, Punk, Mods, Ska, Wave, etcetera.
Techno was maybe the last music-related youth movement. That, of course, is fascinating.
I keep hearing very often from younger techno fans that they would have loved to have been old enough, or even born, to experience those early years.
The times were liberating, the parties were fresh and new and tracks from that time are still full of inspiration.
Q. If you could give your younger self (c. 1990) a piece of musical advice, what would it be?
Not much really. I would rather watch myself doing things back in 1990 with all that naivety and enthusiasm, and try to take that back with me to 2018.
Q. What is currently on the agenda for Mijk van Dijk – any new releases, events, tours?
I recently released the first microglobe EP, titled Peace 4 All. microglobe 002 is in the making and should be out in January.
microglobe very much leans towards the sounds and structures that people know from my music in the 90s.
On a darker tip, I also recently contributed two tracks to the first compilation of the reborn Force Inc.-Label, out soon.
I’m aiming to play more live shows next year and hope to bring them also abroad.
[Thanks again to Mijk for the interview. Further interviews in the ORIGINS series can be found here]
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