Interview | Christian Smith Talks Techno, Tronic & Detroit

Let’s throw it back to a couple weeks ago, to downtown Detroit with music soaring from all sides, to smiles and dancing in the scorching heat, to Movement Festival in full bloom. The annual festival put on by Paxahau celebrates techno in its birthplace, while also welcoming a unique fusion of genres, from house to jazz to hiphop. (Read more about our experience at Movement this week with Hellan!)

On the festival’s Saturday afternoon, Christian Smith took the decks from a playful Lee Burridge and went straight to the essence of a striking techno set. Swift and hard hitting, his percussive thumps set the tone for the three energetic days to come. With a responsive dancing crowd, the Detroit river gleaming from behind the stage, and basslines as sharp as the surrounding skyscrapers, Christian made himself right at home, notably delivering a number of released and unreleased gems from his label, Tronic. Listen for youself below –

It was our pleasure to catch up with the Tronic label boss and talk to him about his experience with Movement, his role within the label, as well as today’s release of Synergy (Remixed), featuring remixes from John Selway, Harry Romero, Drunken Kong and Wehbba among others.

Husa Sounds: Hey Christian, thanks for chatting with us. Tell us about your experience playing Movement and what stood out for you on that techno-filled sunny late afternoon

Christian Smith: I was a bit nervous before I started because I arrived at the festival a few hours early to hang out, and none of the stages were playing any techno. Lee Burridge played before me with an amazing set, but it was 122BPM mellow house music.  I could of course adjust to the DJ playing before me, but I felt that was the wrong thing to do as I’m a techno DJ and this is a techno festival. So, I told my agent either I will clear the floor or its gonna getting rocking very hard very soon. Thankfully it was the latter 😉

Christian Smith and Lee Burridge at Movement 2018

HS: We know you’ve been at Movement many times, what’s your impression of the festival and space – as a whole and this year?

CS: I feel honored that they book me. It’s by far North America’s most important festival for techno and Detroit is the birthplace of techno as well. It always feels special to come back to Detroit to play for Movement.

HS: Any thoughts on Detroit’s unique vibe/energy/history as a musical city?

CS: I’ve been playing in Detroit since the late 90’s. It’s not a beautiful city, and has had horrible urban decay going on for the last few decades, but thankfully things are getting much better now. Musically speaking Detroit has always been a very inspiring place for me. I will never forget when I had a gig there in the late 90’s and Kraftwerk had a concert the same night. I went to see them play live, and saw all of the Detroit techno legends there. It was fun to see people like Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson act like kids when they saw Kraftwerk play. Afterwards they all came to my gig at Motor Lounge, one of the better clubs back then. Was a great experience.

HS: What was your most interesting experience of the weekend?

CS: To play in the middle of downtown Detroit next to the skyscrapers and get the fresh breeze from the river on my stage. The vibe was also amazing of course.

HS: Tell us about your next release ‘Synergy’ (Remixed) which is due out today? How do go about selecting artists for remixes?

CS: The selection process was very organic. I just worked on some tracks with people that I respect a lot, and like a lot personally as well, and that fit into my touring schedule. All these tracks were produced everywhere from New York, to Tokyo, to Frankfurt. As for the remixers I wanted to choose different names that I like a lot but that you might not always see on top of the Beatport sales charts. So I was very happy that Agaric, Oliver Deutschmann, Petter B, Zeta Reticula, and Shall Ocin agreed right away when I asked them to remix one of the tracks of the album.

HS: Tronic has a staggering amount of releases – what do you find the most challenging when it comes to label management?

CS: I have a full-time label manager that is doing most of the work when it comes to running the label and scheduling everything. I still decide everything musically, and artwork etc.  I would never let someone else choose the music on my behalf because that would be the moment that my label loses its identity.

HS: How involved do you get with your albums/EPs’ cover art?

CS: Very! (Laughs) it’s always a challenge to find good designers, but I am very happy with the one who works with us now. He has a good understanding of the music and the directions I am talking the label artistically. Artwork is very important when it comes to the image of the label.

HS: Another important date was Sonar, and your past Tronic showcase on June 15th. How did you go about curating this line up?

CS: Like the music that gets released on Tronic I also curate all the Tronic event line-ups. I always try to combine established with up and coming artists on each billing. I feel doing these events gives new artists a great opportunity to play at venues that they would otherwise not get booked in.

HS: What underground records, artists or labels have caught your eye recently?

CS: Really like Mark Broom, he has always been very consistent, and I love that his techno always has a raw edge of funk to it. I also really like Drunken Kong from Tokyo.

HS: What do you wish artists paid more attention to? What about audiences?

CS: I wish artists would pay more attention to the music they produce rather than the press pictures they make or the selfies they do from the gym. I know social media has become imperative to anyone’s success these days, but some people tend to barely make music and only market themselves with other things. I feel that’s wrong but to each their own. As for audiences, it would be great if they would listen more to the music with no preconceptions. These days hype is so powerful that you can control the masses easily if you have a big name or brand, and people pay to go ‘see’ an artist rather than listen to them. It should be about the music, nothing else.

HS: There’s an organic, instrumental quality to your branch of techno. Do you seek out that earthiness or does it come spontaneously?

CS: I just try to positive and release music that I am passionate about.

HS: Finally, when can we expect you in Montreal?

CS: I am way overdue [for] a return to Montreal. My agent is speaking to a few promoters now. Lets hope I can come back maybe in September when I’m in North America for a festival in California.

Synergy (Remixed) drops on Tronic today June 25th.  You can order it now via Beatport;

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Article and Movement Photos by Lola Baraldi

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