By Duke Shin
“I remember, I spent, I think, five hours in a record shop…oh what was its name? [Gramophone Records, natch]. I was in the back office and had, like, a pile of records a meter high, and I spent the whole day there listening to every single record, and I had to ship records back to Germany because it was too much…”
It’s not surprising that Alexander “Ali” Schwarz has fond memories of Chicago. As the elder half of fraternal electro-house duo Tiefschwarz (along with brother Sebastian “Basti” Schwarz), Ali’s first love as a DJ was the American deep house coming out of New York and Chicago. Speaking excitedly in a thoughtfully accented German accent, Ali continues his recollection.
“I was actually in a club called Red Dog at the time, and we loved it so much that we named our second club in Germany—that I was also running—Red Dog. So we kind of have a relationship with Chicago and [its] house music.”
Long-time fans of the Teutonic twosome’s music have witnessed Tiefschwarz’s gradual musical evolution, from their soulfully deep earlier releases on labels like Classic Recordings, to their newer electro- and minimal-influenced compositions. But besides the most discerning of dancefloor enthusiasts, 2005’s electro-aping club smash album “Eat Books” was likely the first taste of Tiefschwarz. The album boasted two high-profile vocal contributions from Matt Safer (The Rapture), on “Warning Siren,” and Tracey Thorn (Everything But The Girl), on “Damage.” Both tracks heated up dancefloors around the world, and Tiefschwarz’s popularity grew as they galloped in on the electro-house horse they seemed to tame so easily.
This new popularity fortuitously set up their next two commercially released mixes: a 2006 contribution to the highly respected Fabric series, and “10 Years of Tiefschwarz—Black Music,” released earlier this year on their own imprint, Souvenir. While the former continued to showcase Tiefschwarz’s current predilection towards electro and techno influences, the latter provided a more introspective journey, bridging classics from Raphi Rosario and Ron Trent with current hotshit producers like Sebastian Tellier and Donnacha Costello.
“That’s what we love—we love to keep it open, we love to program,” Ali explains. “We love to develop our sound, and the last thing [you] want to have is to be bored by your own music. We always try to develop our style and our sound and work on it and keep it open. It’s kid of like a journey—it’s kind of like a DJ set.”
And like the Zhou Brothers conjunctively painting a giant canvas, the brothers Schwarz always work together, whether a DJ set or production and remix work. “When we are playing tours or bigger venues or festivals, we always tag-team, one or two records each, kind of like to give the people the appearance that we’re playing together.”
But doesn’t always working together, and with family no less, just not work out sometimes? “We are human beings, we are family, and of course we have disagreements and we have arguments and it would be strange if not. But what we’ve learned over the years is to communicate and come to constructive… We wouldn’t be still here together if we couldn’t do it. It’s never a ‘Fuck you! And Tiefschwarz is finished!’”
And together Tiefschwarz has recently looked back over their shoulders to the road they’ve already traveled, working with legendary house imprint Strictly Rhythm to release “Strictly Tiefschwarz,” a mix featuring classic U.S. house. “For us it was kind of an honor… We kind of concentrated on the stuff from 1990-93. To keep it really undergroundy, we didn’t choose all the big hits like [from] Armand Van Helden and George Morel and all these people.” Ali is also proud of Tiefschwarz’s remix of Phuture’s classic “Rise From Your Grave,” which is also available on Strictly Rhythm.
Looking ahead to the future, Ali refuses to crown any new acts as the next big thing, stating that technology has made success possible for anyone. “We receive tracks from people you never saw in life, and you will probably never see, from Siberia or deep down south in Chile and I have no idea—it could be the most amazing track! And maybe this guy is 18 and just bought a laptop! It’s basically democratic. Everybody has the same ability so it’s much easier to make music sound proper than it was twenty years ago, so it’s a very interesting process we’re going through at the moment… The only thing you need is the right filter and the right connections.”
As Ali pontificates further, he exudes a sense of accomplishment with a hopeful eye to the future, without losing sight of the present. He mentions the Tiefschwarz side project Ichundi (which was the first release of Souvenir Music), and definite plans to do another album, but beyond that? “We’re still dreaming about what we can achieve and have visions about Tiefschwarz… [But] I love that we don’t have any future plans or projects in mind.”
Yet even still, Ali again takes aim for Chicago. “How’s Smart Bar?,” he asks. “Have they renovated?”
Tiefschwarz with Common Factor at Smart Bar, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-0203, on December 7, 10pm-4am. $10 before midnight, $15 after.