909originals catches up with Tronic label head Christian Smith
Christian Smith has been making waves in the techno scene for around two decades now, founding his Tronic label in 1994, as well as releasing on a myriad of other imprints over the years, including Drumcode, Bedrock, Plus 8 and Symbolism.
The Swedish native is also very much a ‘man of the world’ – having spent most of his childhood in Frankfurt, Germany, it was his time in the United States and São Paulo, Brazil that solidified his love for electronic music.
Tronic is still going strong to this day, with recent releases from the likes of Axel Karakasis, Drunken Kong, Diego Infanzon and Frank Biazzi, while for Smith himself, his most recent release is One Giant Consciousness on Victor Ruiz’ Volta imprint, a melodic techno cut with a seriously trippy vocal. You can purchase it here.
909originals caught up with him.
Hi Christian, thanks for talking to us. Tell us about your latest release, One Giant Consciousness – how would you describe it?
It’s my typical style. Good amount of energy, some synth hooks, and I tried to use a cool vocal in an interesting way. I have played this one out for quite a while and have had much positive feedback.
Where does the spoken word vocal come from, and what sort of experience are they describing? We have an idea… 😉
I lifted the vocal from a documentary when a guy described his experience when taking an acid trip.
The release is out on Victor Ruiz’s Volta label. Is your approach different when releasing on other labels compared to your own Tronic Music?
It isn’t. When I work on music, I work on it for myself. I tried to please people before, making music specifically targeted to them. But to be honest I always got the best results just working on music that I feel at the moment, without any restrictions or goals.
To what do you attribute the longevity of Tronic – still pushing boundaries close to three decades on from its launch?
Passion, and not following trends too much. I also never released music to be successful or make money. Sure, making big releases gets you gigs, but if I had been in it for the money, my label would be way more commercial than it is.
I think they key to many things in life is to do what makes you happy. This is why Tronic is still around, and doing better than ever before.
I read somewhere that when you founded Tronic, you faced some resistance from distributors because it wasn’t strictly a ‘techno’ label or a ‘house’ label. What was the story there?
This was long before the term ‘tech house’ existed. I always loved house and techno and wanted to create a label that released ‘housey techno’. Basically techno that house DJs could play in their sets.
At first, I had some resistance but as soon as I had a big release out – Goldrush, which sold around 20,000 vinyl copies, the distributor let me do whatever I wanted.
How has your approach with Tronic changed from when you founded it?
It hasn’t. My basic rule is that If i like the track and play it in my sets, I’m generally up for releasing it. I also release a lot of new talent. I don’t care if you are famous or not – its the music that matters!
We saw a recent post on Facebook in which you remarked on some recent tracks “taking forever to finish”. Do you spend more time on tracks these days than you did in the early part of your career? And is that a good or bad thing?
It’s funny – in the past year, it took me a a lot of time to finish tracks. I finish 90% of the track in four to five hours, and then spend days making changes. Thankfully, I’m a busy DJ and can test the tracks out, making adjustments as needed.
But I’m happy to say that I made a few recent tracks and managed to finish them fast. I feel that the more time you spend on a production, the less inspired you become about it. The best tracks for me tend to be the ones that flow easily, and that I manage to finish fast.
What is the most essential piece of hardware in your production arsenal, and why?
My ears! The hardest part when producing music is knowing when something is good, and when to move on. With regards to gear, I do not feel that any specific instrument is essential anymore. You can do everything inside the box and still sound warm. Generally, I do like and use Arturia’s synth emulations.
Last year marked the 30th anniversary of your first release, Overdose, under the name Neuromancer. What do you remember from the time of that track’s release – what were you doing at the time?
I was a university student at the time in Washington DC. I was a hobby DJ since I was 14 years old, but started producing music in my late teens. I had a sampler, a couple of synths, and two effect units. Everything was very basic back then, but the passion was the same as today.
Techno was still relatively new at the time, and I always loved that there were no rules. You could do what you want.
You have been a longtime collaborator with John Selway, and indeed some of our favourite tracks of yours are Smith & Selway productions. When producing alongside John, what do you think each of you brings to the table?
John Selway is a classically-trained musician. I learnt an incredible amount from him when it comes to producing music. I generally always came in with the ideas and gave direction. Our collaborations worked out well because we have similar musical tastes, and appreciate each others contributions in the studio.
We still work together now, from time to time. I always enjoy working on melodic stuff with him, because he comes up with great and complex hooks all the time. Then my job then is to simplify them..! 😉
As someone who has lived in Germany, Spain, Brazil, the UK, Sweden (and maybe a couple of other countries we’ve forgotten to mention), do you think being immersed in so many different cultures has influenced your musical style over the years?
100%. I do not think that I have a specific ‘country sound’ in my music. I take inspiration from wherever I go. I am lucky to travel the world every year and pick up ideas from many different situations. But to be totally honest, most of the time when I start a track, I take inspiration from another label or song and it always ends up being something completely different.
What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
2023 will see many releases. I will have around six single releases and three remixes. It’s very tough out there, so now is not a time to be lazy. I will also do a lot of touring – travelling to Asia, Australia, North and South America, and of course doing many shows in Europe as well.
Finally, as you mentioned recently on social media, you are a self-confessed optimist – do you think this has influenced your production methods at all, or DJing?
Yes. I do not give up easily on anything! I think thats one of my positive traits. Just because something doesn’t work now, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work later!
[Thanks Christian for talking to us. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/officialchristiansmith]