Steve Bug is one of those artists that needs little introduction – as the head honcho of Poker Flat, he has overseen one of the most influential labels of the past 20 years, while as an artist, he has spanned the full spectrum of electronic music, from pounding techno to effervescent electronica and all points in between.
Having cut his teeth in Germany’s techno and acid house heyday of the early 90s, Bug’s love for a perfect groove is just a strong today as it was back then – having recently celebrated two decades of Poker Flat, he launched a new label Sublease Music in 2019, following that up with his sixth studio album, Never Ending Winding Roads, a year later.
The year 2020 also saw him launch his first podcast series, PLAY, which has seen contributions from Satoshi Tomiie, Anja Schneider, Ian Pooley, Cassy, Miss Kittin and many more.
His latest release is the ‘Back to 95’ EP on Aus Music, alongside Mr V, a tribute to the glory days of house music, which can be downloaded/streamed here. Also worth checking out is his recent release alongside longstanding collaborator Clé, Raving Butterflies – a classic acid stomper.
909originals caught up with him.
Hi Steve, thanks for talking to us. Your latest release is the ‘Back to 95’ EP on Aus Music, alongside Mr V. How would you describe the single?
Well it’s definitely house music with a rather classic touch to it. The main track, Back To ’95 is a piano house track with the potential to become an anthem, someone said. Ha ha.
The second track, An Ode To Wildpitch – well it is what you’d expect from a title like this. It’s an ode to the amazing Wildpitch sound created by DJ Pierre in the early ’90s. Both tracks just happen to turn out this way, without me having the intention to write something classical-sounding though.
But I am very happy with the result. And I’m even happier about the fact that the ‘Queen of the Berlin House Sound’, Cinthie, added an amazing remix to this package.
The spoken word lyrics on the track talk about seminal years in the history of house music: 1984 to 1990, 1999, 2003, and of course 1995. Are these periods particularly special for you personally?
The words are Mr Vs, so I don’t want to speak on his behalf, but to me personally 1999 was a very special one. It was the year Loverboy and Poker Flat became very popular.
At the same time, the sound of the late ’80s and the early ’90s laid the foundation to my DJ and producer career. So many great tracks came out during that period. It shaped a sound for generations to come.
It’s your first release on Will Saul/Fink’s Aus Music label. How did you come to work with the label?
I’ve known Will since a very long time. We’ve been playing various gigs together, as we even shared the same agency for some time. I also did a remix for Will & Tam Cooper feat. Ursula Rucker on Simple Records. Later, Will and Glimpse contributed a very nice acid tune to Poker Flat’s Forward To The Past Vol 2.
In the past few years, Will also helped me making a few decisions, being a sort of consultant for me. I have big respect for him, and I do love the label. When these two tracks came together, I felt they may fit for Aus Music, so I sent them over, and here we are. 🙂
I also wanted to ask about your recent release on Rejected, Raving Butterflies. Yourself and Clé have a longstanding production relationship, and we suspect you have been DJing for even longer. How did you first come to start working together?
It’s actually a funny story. I think we first met at a party in Munich that was held by people we both knew. At the time he was dating my ex-girlfriend, who he actually married later.
So, we got introduced to each other. Maybe we both even played together there for the first time. I don’t remember that part.
I knew he was a deejay at Berlin’s Planet Club, which at the time was one of my favourite clubs in Germany. I had been there many times, I used to drive down to Berlin to party there. I was already a resident deejay in my hometown, and soon after, I must have moved to Hamburg and starting buying equipment.
At one point I got invited to play at E-Werk, the follow up club from Planet. And through the years I had stayed many times at Clé’s and my ex-girlfriends place when I was in Berlin. So we got to know each other better and better, playing together at E-Werk, Tresor and other places.
In ’95 we started collaborating in the studio as well. Many years of friendship and tonnes of collaborations followed. Our friendship has even outlast Clé’s marriage! And with our upcoming EP on NuGroove, a label that for both of us has been a huge influence, it feels like this was always meant to be.
Production wise, what does each of you bring to the table – how do you complement each other?
Clé has definitely more musical knowledge – in the classical way. I, on the other hand, am very good with stripping things down, keeping it simple and make the beats drive.
But I think in general we make a great team, Clé has always loved the deeper stuff, and I mostly preferred the minimal driving tunes. Combining these two sides made us come up with so many great tunes. We’re actually back in the studio this afternoon.
For the past couple of years, you have curated the ‘Play’ podcast, which has featured mixes by artists both old and new. How do you select what artists you want to feature on the podcast?
I simply ask people I personally enjoy listening to. Before the pandemic, I used to do an event series called ‘Steve Bug presents Play’, where as well I invited artists that I personally like. During the first lockdown, I thought of ways to keep brining mixes to people, so I came up with the mix series, that I hope people enjoy, and maybe helps them discover artists they didn’t have in their playlists.
It’s always good to combine forces when it comes to promote mixes or production, since there is so much out there. As a label owner, a podcast curator, and a party promoter, I want to push music that I personally feel is worth it.
You’ve been ‘in the game’ – either DJing or producing – for around three decades now. How do you keep motivated to keep producing new music, in what ways do you challenge yourself? We remember seeing a recent Facebook post around ‘self doubt’…
The music itself keeps me motivated, sometimes it is like a healing session to me. I just love making music. But I don’t want to repeat myself.
It’s not easy after 30 years though, and sometimes from the listener’s point of view, the changes may be marginal. But for me, in the process of making it, something bigger has changed.
I’m also not looking to completely change my sound though. I mean, I already make various styles, and I love that. Maybe it’s hard to understand for others who try to put me in a box. But I simply love everything from soulful deep house to Detroit-y techno. When I’m in the studio I sometimes end up with house tracks, and sometimes with a rather melodic techno tune.
I want to explore, and I enjoy the process of making music. But that sometimes comes with self doubt, and weeks of not being able to come up with something worthy. It’s part of the process. Without it you can’t get better at what you do.
But it can be hard sometimes. Especially when everything else in the world looks bad, and it’s hard to find any inspiration. But even the worst creative lows come to an end at some point – so you may just have to sit it out.
Over the years you have covered a wide variety of genres, from soulful house to tough, 4am-in-the-morning techno. When you are embarking on a new project, do you have an idea of how the track is going to work out, or does it reveal itself during the production process?
Most of the time when going to the studio I have no clue what I am going to do. I just open a plug in, or turn on a synth and see if I can come up with something worthy, something that triggers me. It can be anything from a kick drum to a chord progression. Sometimes it’s an added effect that turns the track in one or the other direction.
Your Poker Flat record label is closing in on a quarter century of releases – how has your approach with the label changed from when you founded it?
In the beginning we were mostly looking to help friends release their music, build a family with a similar vision. Over the years, we obviously opened up to other artists from around the world. So the family tree grew over the years.
What has also changed is that artists are not sticking to one label, they are releasing music on various labels. Which is fine for us, especially if the music varies in style. Most importantly the music that we release has to fit in our vision, it needs to touch us, and that has never changed.
Poker Flat was one of those labels that was associated with a certain ‘sound’, certainly during the minimal years of the 2000s. Did that constrain you at all in terms of the music you wanted to put out?
We were associated with many different sounds. We were seen as a minimal label as well as an electro label – the early tech house sound was also something people would associate with us.
I don’t like to put things in boxes. It limits your visions. I don’t care if people call it this or that.
Especially nowadays, when digital stores file you under whatever genre, which from your personal view doesn’t make sense at all. At the end it’s all about what you like and what you don’t. If you’re a DJ and need a genre label to tell you what you like, you’re in the wrong business.
The year 2020 saw you release your first album in eight years, Never Ending Winding Roads, which you said in a previous interview was completed during the first lockdown in Germany. Are we right to presume that the pandemic period was a productive one for you? Did you find it hard to get motivated at times?
It was super productive, and it still is. The amount of projects in my 2020 and 2021 folders is overwhelming, and there is so much good stuff. It just takes time to finish all these. But there are a lot of releases lined up already, and I’m super happy with the results.
The interesting thing is, that in the first phase, when I produced the album, I was in a rather melancholic mood, which you can definitely hear in the album. But the longer this whole thing was going on, the more uplifting stuff happened to come out of me. I don’t know why that is, but obviously it did something good somehow.
But I have to admit, that I truly missed touring, and I’m happy that’s finally a bit closer to what it used to be before. I just hope I can keep writing uplifting stuff in the near future.
Is there anything about the electronic music scene that you think has changed as a result of the pandemic, or anything that you would like to have seen changed?
Many clubs and promoters, also artists disappeared from the radar – who knows if they will ever come back. It’s sad to see things go that have been playing a big role for quite some time, but that’s what it is.
On the other hand, there are no signs of changes in the festival business. There are probably a lot of contracts that needed to be fulfilled from when the pandemic started, but basically the line ups are still the same.
Many people hoped that this pandemic would change at least a few things for the better. That it would be more about the music itself, instead of ‘artists’ who are popular in social media for whatever reason. But even though that would be incredible to see, I doubt that this will ever happen.
Maybe we will see a smaller scene, that is more about music, splitting off from the ‘business techno’ culture with its mega events that attract the majority of people nowadays.
I think we need smaller parties and festivals for the electronic music scene to stay interesting, for those who don’t want to be a part of the mainstream, who prefer to be a part to something closer to a subculture. I still believe that “not everyone understands house music, it’s a spiritual thing, a body thing, a soul thing”.
At the same time, “‘Jack’ is the one that can bring nations and nations of all jackers together under one house. You may be black, you may be white, you may be jew or gentile, it don’t make a difference in our house. And this is fresh…” 🙂
Having that said, the world needs more love, peace, unity, respect and equality.
Thanks Steve for talking to us. Steve Bug’s ‘Back to 95’ EP featuring Mr V can be downloaded/streamed here.