“I always wanted to make music, and now I’m more than 30 years in the business…” 909originals catches up with ATB

One of the most industrious DJs and producers from the hypnotic world of trance, ATB, aka Andre Tanneberger, first broke onto the scene with the seminal 9pm (Till I Come) in the late 90s, which became a global smash hit.

Since then, the German producer has released a string of musical pearls, including Don’t Stop, Ecstasy, Let U Go, What About Us, and When It Ends It Starts Again, as well as a total of ten studio albums.

He’s just released a new single, Like That, which features promising Dutchman Ben Samama, and is available to buy/stream here.

909originals’ Emer O’Connor caught up with him.

Andre Tanneberger; willkommen in 909originals, wie gehts?!

Sehr gut danke! Sie sprechen Deutsch? Ein bisschen ja genau.

Can I start by asking how do you still manage to keep up the pace after so many decades in the scene, what drives your creative force?

It’s the love of the music, of course. You know, I remember when I was a little kid like – 7, 8, 9 years old – I started playing instruments. I was never any good or never good enough to play any instrument professionally, but I played a lot of instruments, just to convert my ideas into tones. I always wanted to make music, and now I’m more than 30 years in the business.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand all the changes in the music scene. When it comes to Spotify and all these things, it seems like algorithms are taking over. That’s sometimes hard to understand for a musician, because I want to decide for myself if I want to start with vocals or do an instrumental or whatever. But if you want to be successful on all these platforms, it seems like algorithms are trying to change the music. This is kind of annoying for me.

I try first to be myself, to do the things that I really love and in the end, hope that it fits with people who enjoy my music.

Tell us a bit about the collaboration on your new single, Like That. I know Ben is based in LA; did you have to work via Zoom, or did he come to Germany?

We weren’t able to visit each other because of COVID and all these things. He was the songwriter, so I sent him an instrumental and he wrote the track. So yeah, we figured it out, and now we have the result.

When you work with other artists, do you have a certain process you like to follow, or is it spontaneous?

Spontaneous things are always the best; that’s what I think. Normally I would sit in the studio and start to write some instrumentals, but sometimes it’s the other way around. You might get offered vocals and I like to take out all the music and just listen to the vocals – then I think about whether I can put something around it with my music.

Mostly, though, I start with the instrumentals and leave it to songwriters to put the vocals on top of it. I’m not really that good at writing lyrics, but I am good, I think, at writing melodies, so I try to give them some direction.

You’ve forged many musical alliances over the years. What was your favourite to date and why?

You know, I’m not really that keen on ‘what is your favourite’ type questions because when you when you talk about one of your favourite things, it seems like other things are not that interesting. When I’m asked ‘what’s your favourite song right now‘, I never answer that question, because there are so many good songs out there.

When it comes to the collaborations that I’ve done in the past, there really were so many interesting voices and characters. Some I want to work with again, but I also want to try something new. I have enjoyed all the collaborations I’ve done in the past, even if they were successful or not successful.

It doesn’t mean too much to me how successful it is, to have an interesting collaboration is more important.

That said, I do believe you came across your favourite voice on the planet, as you mentioned in a recent interview – a young man from Austin, Texas, named Sean Ryan?

Sean Ryan, yeah, his voice is unbelievable. If you see him, you would never think that voice is coming out of him. I’ve had him on stage as well in the past; I did some ATB concerts with live singers, and I still have goosebumps when he comes on stage. I’m pretty sure I will work with him again.

How did you discover him?

I don’t know – I think it was an Internet thing. I looked through some YouTube videos and I found him in front of the piano, just singing some songs. I was like ‘what the hell – this voice is really outstanding!’ So we contacted him, and did a song together.

Let’s go back to 9pm (Till I Come), which reached number one in the UK, Ireland and many other countries. I believe you called the track ‘9pm’ after you overran time in the studio creating it?

Exactly, yeah – it was the working title. Ha!

Can you remember what happened the night you made the track?

I had a date that night, and I wanted to show this girl how the studio works. I played around with some melodies and I turned on this guitar, and I played this melody. I think she was bored after 15 minutes. But then, I had the melody, so I was like ‘I have to work on this!’.

So I worked on it for half an hour, but then we had to go to the cinema – for the ‘actual’ date – so I saved the song under the working title ‘9pm’. The idea being that I would come back into the studio and finish it. I finished the track two days later.

When I sent it to some record companies, I thought nobody would be interested in buying this crazy melody, but then it started to get noticed. The funny thing was the track wasn’t my most successful in Germany – it got to number one in many countries, but in Germany I think it only reached number 13. I think the new version, Your Love (9pm) did better, actually.

Yes, the remake achieved 470 million Spotify streams and was remixed none other than Tiesto. I’m interested though – how many times can you ‘reinvent the wheel’ when it comes to tracks like this? Or, what do you say to critics that might accuse you of living off past glories?

The track is now 20 years old. In COVID times I had a lot of time to think about these things. I didn’t want to just do a cover version, but I felt that the melody was so strong – it had to be there for a new generation to hear.

You will always have critics, that’s the thing about music. For me, you have 9pm (Till I Come) and Your Love (9pm) – they are two different tracks, each with their own interesting thing. It’s not like I’m running out of ideas, I’m still creating a lot of tracks. I’ve don’t ten studio albums, and I want to do another one.

When I dug a bit deeper into ATB, I found that you have quite an eclectic taste in music with references to Enigma and Jean-Michel Jarre. Before you began producing and DJing, was it your parents that got you into music or was it a family thing?

Actually, it was my older brother. He bought a CD player, and some Jean-Michel Jarre and when he played it, I was like ‘what the hell is this?’ I love that ambient kind of stuff – in those days it wasn’t ambient, it was just electronic relaxation music, I don’t really know what you would call it.

Later, I started to go into clubs and I wanted to combine nice melodies with dance music. Whenever I do an album, I have two hearts – the ambient heart and the club heart. This kind of music brought me into it.

I’m really glad that I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of these guys that inspired me, like Enigma’s Michael Cretu, and I did a remix for Jean-Michel Jarre. For me, it’s special.

Do you still source music from new artists, and would you go out to gigs and concerts yourself?

These days it’s really hard, and normally I’m so often on the road that any time there is a free weekend, I really love to enjoy it with my family. When I’m at festivals or clubs I’m able to see other artists and this is for myself, to see what’s going on out there. But at the same time, I have my own style and I want to keep it that way.

There are way too many artists out there that want to sound like this or like that, or try to emulate a track that is successful at the moment. I could do the same, but I don’t want to do that. I’m more into doing something really outstanding with my own sound.

When you are travelling though, you tend to absorb different cultures and musical styles. I love to hear Middle Eastern vibes in the minimal techno I listen to. Which country or region has surprised you the most, musically?

That’s the thing, the world is so big, but when you are at a festival, it seems like everywhere is the same. It’s kind of a universal culture. When I’m in the US, South America, China or Australia, the crowd are the same – of course there are some countries where they are little bit more open to what you can play. But generally, it’s kind of a universal language.

You’re back touring the states now shortly and you’ve got a formidable schedule. It must be difficult for you to leave your young family now – what age is your little boy?

He’s now 17 months old. That’s the reason why the tour is scheduled to run for four weeks. I don’t want to be away from him for more than four weeks. Especially when he’s that age, you don’t want to miss those important milestones.

I have experienced so many things in life, and travelled the world, so I don’t need to go everywhere and do everything any more. I’m proud to have the choice between my private life and being on stage, and I can live with both very well. That’s very important – I love to be on the road, but I love to be at home as well.

What do you do at home to unwind?

Just living a normal life. First of all, I’m pretty happy that even through COVID, I had so much time with my family, especially when my son is that young. I’m happy to have normal, family time. I have my hobbies as well – we do a lot of walking – so that’s a good contrast to my day-to-day job.

While things are looking brighter, the pandemic is still around – are you apprehensive about touring in this environment, or how do you feel about it?

We should have trust in in the medicine, you know? I’m vaccinated, so I don’t try to think too much about it. I think it will everything will be good in half a year, and we won’t think about this anymore. We have to handle it.

Nobody knows where this will end, if it’s the end of the pandemic. Of course, sometimes you think about it, especially when you run into the crowd, which is something I try to avoid right now. In the past, I might jump into the crowd when I am performing, but I don’t do that now. I also don’t do ‘meet and greets’ with fans at the moment, but I’m hoping I will be able to in a couple of months.

So you’re just being a bit more careful?

I think I have to, otherwise it wouldn’t give a good impression. We have so many restrictions here in Germany, and if they see me and standing in the middle of the crowd, taking no care, so that wouldn’t be good sign. So, for as long as we have the restrictions, I am trying to be as careful as possible.

You have mentioned before that you work for your fans, so that must strengthen your resolve when you go out on tour?

I wasn’t on tour for nearly one and a half years, and I notice these days how important that is to me. I want to be back on stage and connect with the crowd – that’s why I’m making music. It’s the only way to get direct contact with the people that listen to your music. That’s why I love to be on stage.

Did you ever bring your family with you?

Yes. In my city in Germany, there is a summer music festival every year. It’s a free event for everybody, located in the middle of the city, and there are 3,000 or 4,000 people there every day. All my friends and family come along and it’s a special night.

We haven’t had the festival for two years now because of COVID, but it’s important for me to have my family with me so that they can see what I’m doing on stage. Even my parents come to see me. It’s different when you watch a video, or watch something on social media.

Thanks for taking time to chat to 909originals today, I really enjoyed chatting to you.

Thank you so much, it was good to talk to you.

[Words by Emer O’Connor. Like That is available to buy/stream here.] 🙂

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