Markus Schulz: 'I contemplated quitting the scene entirely'
Trance veteran Markus Schulz has been dominating the global dance scene for over a decade. Playing over 150 gigs a year and named America's Best DJ by DJ Times magazine in 2013, we caught up with the German-born producer to find out all about his career, his thoughts on the EDM scene and how he plays 12 hour sets without taking a bathroom break...
MTV: You started DJing in 1993, how do you think the dance scene has changed?
Markus Schulz: It’s almost unrecognizable, and there have been many highs and lows throughout the journey. Like society in general, the internet and social media has changed everything.
For instance, I don’t think I would ever have become an international touring DJ had it not been for the advent of online radio. When I started Global DJ Broadcast on an FM station in Miami, it was the guys who were running relays through their online stations that helped its popularity. Fast forward over 10 years later; and now we’re in the era of online radio, satellite radio, FM syndication and podcasts all co-existing with each other.
We can also examine the transition of production from hardware to software. You don’t need an expensive studio nowadays to produce music, and you don’t even need to have a record label deal to release music. Anyone out there who produces something that captivates the audience can become a star overnight, which brings around its advantages and disadvantages.
The biggest worry I have about the change of the scene, and the future of the scene, is helping to ensure that the art of DJing is preserved. There were so many people who sacrificed years to build the foundations towards what we enjoy today, but I still think that we need to educate the younger generation that this is art - there should be a journey and you should have the ability to react to the mood of a crowd.
MTV: How do you think your sound has evolved?
Markus Schulz: I think it has broadened more than anything else throughout the years, but everything has always revolved around the melodies.
If you analyse my career from the beginning until now, it has continually evolved at a slow pace. There has never been an instance of where I’ve suddenly woken up one morning and decided to do a complete 180 degree turn on my sound. There’s no substance in that.
The fans that have followed me long enough know that my complete spectrum of sound can be defined by the structure of my solo sets, and this could also be applied to my various production projects. The Markus Schulz material is the melodic, songwriting, anthemic peak hour side of me, and the Dakota alias allows me to experiment more with deeper, cooler club material that I can utilise in the warm-up portions or indeed the main part of my sets. And the New World Punx work with good friend Ferry Corsten; that for me is a throwback to the sound of the old rave days – harder and edgier. I like having these options on my palette to be able to progress moods and emotions throughout a night.
And having these options provide better preparation for the type of gig you play. Obviously with the festivals it is a short set time, so it’s full-on high energy with all your signature tunes, but with the longer club sets you get to explore and showcase the full spectrum much easier. I think that’s why so many fans travel long distances to attend the solo sets.
MTV: What have been some of the challenges in your career?
Markus Schulz: Every week is a challenge in all honesty! There is always that next big project to complete – the next production, the next album, the next gig, the next radio show – and there is the pressure to deliver something even better than the last.
The biggest challenge of all for me was at the turn of the millennium, where I was so badly burnt out that I contemplated quitting the scene entirely. I had been a weekly resident at a club in Arizona named The Works, and eventually the club closed and was turned into a parking lot. I needed to get away from everything, and made the really tough decision to leave my family and move to London for two years, where I lived on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton.
During the London sabbatical, my goal was to rediscover the magic in the music. I would go to see the big international DJs play at clubs like Ministry of Sound and Turnmills.
MTV: When you leave the stage after a 12-hour set, what are the first few things you always have to do?
Markus Schulz: Probably no surprise, but I usually go for a bathroom break! But of course the most important thing is to go down from the stage and thank the fans for supporting. You always have the most hardcore fans remaining after a long night like that, and I’ve consciously made the effort to treat them as friends.
Physically, it’s a huge challenge. Because of the demanding tour schedule all year round, you have to keep in shape and eat healthily. For the longer sets, I actually don’t eat much beforehand, and don’t drink any alcohol at all. This way, you basically sweat everything out of your system while you are jumping around on stage; and it makes a bathroom break less of a necessity.
You know, it’s actually really difficult to mentally switch off after playing a set that long. It goes back to what I said earlier about the art of DJing – when you are up there on stage, you are constantly reading the room, trying to figure out the next track that will best match the vibe. So when the set ends and you go back to the hotel, it takes quite a while for the brain to chill.
If the schedule allows, then sometimes it’s cool to stay in the city for an extra day afterwards. Getting on a plane to have to go again after a long set is always tough.
MTV: How competitive is the American EDM scene?
Markus Schulz: Oh it’s extremely competitive, ugly at times. The politics of the scene can be incredibly tiring, and to be honest it’s something I consciously try to avoid. If my only job was to show up and perform and entertain the fans, then I would be delighted.
Every DJ, and every team around the DJ, wants “that spot.” The right gig, the right stage, the right timeslot. Getting support on the radio is hugely competitive, and even as much as competing for interviews is an aspect too.
Because the scene in the US has exploded, the competition between the promoters is fierce too, especially now that there are more top-tier festivals throughout the country than ever before.
I have been asked previously if I think that everything has reached saturation point, but for me I welcome having the options for fans to pick and choose which events they want to attend. There are so many countries around the world insanely jealous of the events that are staged throughout the US and the talents they encompass, so sometimes we should take a step back and appreciate how incredible this period really is.
MTV: You migrated to the US from Germany at age 13, what do you think of the German trance / minimal tech scene?
Markus Schulz: It’s funny, because when I emigrated from Germany, it was just as the trance roots were being sewn via the likes of Jam & Spoon. But it was a long time until I returned to the country regularly.
As my career was starting to grow internationally, I made the decision to begin renting an apartment in Berlin, so that I could stay there when I had gigs in successive weekends in Europe; especially during the summer and Ibiza season. It has meant that over the past eight years in particular, I’ve actually been exposed to a lot of Berlin culture, and its techno roots.
Sometimes if I was flying from Berlin to Ibiza or vice versa, I’d be on board with the entire techno mafia; becoming friends with guys like Richie Hawtin, and taking influences from him as a result. I love spending time there, and a lot of my afterhours / rabbithole set preparation stems from my midweek stays.
However, one of my regrets is that I haven’t had the opportunity to play in Germany as often as I would like. I’ve never played in Berlin for example. It’s probably why I hold so much affection for the Nature One festival that takes place in Kastellaun every August, because the fans embrace me like it’s an annual homecoming.
MTV: Who would you love to work with and why?
Markus Schulz: I take a lot of my musical inspirations from classic rock – the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin – and also from the modern day bands like Coldplay and U2. When you listen to the melodies those guys make, it has that same magic and feeling that you could apply to trance. Even now, with multiple albums completed, they still hold as much interest for me as they ever have.
Lately I’ve been loving Lana Del Rey’s work. Her Born to Die album had a big influence on me over the past 18 months, so I’m really looking forward to her Ultraviolence album coming out this year. And since the start of this year, I’ve been listening quite a bit to London Grammar’s If You Wait album. Some of the remixes of their tracks have been amazing. Having the opportunity to work with any of them would be incredible.
MTV: What’s your favorite city to play in?
Markus Schulz: That’s such a difficult question to just give one answer. I’m really lucky to have a lot of cities around the world where the fans treat me as one of their own. So I guess the best way is to talk about a few of them and give reasons why.
Miami is an obvious choice, because it’s where I’ve lived for over 10 years now. It was thanks to my weekly residency at Space, coupled with Global DJ Broadcast; that helped establish my name on a worldwide basis.
Back when I was a resident I would be warming up for all the big international DJs, so every time I come back after traveling all over the world, the same friends and fans are there supporting me, which make the nights feel so special. When I was preparing for my solo set at Space during Winter Music Conference, I felt like a kid at Christmas.
London is another city where I have great affection, stemming from the two-year sabbatical on Coldharbour Lane. It’s a pretty incredible story to go from being a clubber watching the big names at Ministry of Sound, to then become their international resident. I first performed there as a DJ in 2008, and after the first experience, they made me a resident to play there more several times a year. And because of that, you gain a familiarity with the crowd, and establish a trust to debut material in your sets before everywhere else. And because London is so accessible, it houses a large number of fans who travel in from mainland Europe to attend the nights.
And Los Angeles also deserves a mention. I used to be really intimidated playing there in the beginning, because it’s a big music hub and the competition there is fierce. But it was one of the first cities that really embraced what I was about, and I’ve always strived to give them my absolute all when playing. It’s also home to my longest ever solo set, which I played on New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago.
So those cities, along with the likes of Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Montreal, Prague, New York, Toronto, San Francisco and Chicago would rank among my favorites. And if we could include it, Ibiza still holds a special place in my heart.
MTV: If you could be anyone else in the world for a day, who would it be and why?
Markus Schulz: I’m a huge basketball fan, so I’d probably like to be LeBron James for a day. Just to have his money and his basketball ability!
MTV: What’s the craziest fan moment you’ve ever experienced?
Markus Schulz: Haha, how long have you got?! As you guys may know, my track ‘Nothing Without Me,’ featuring vocals from the amazing Ana Diaz, has been christened the “stalker anthem”, and for good reason!
There was a girl who had gone to one of my shows in a city on a Friday night, and happened to be staying in the same hotel as me. So I was getting ready to head to the airport the next morning, and she spots me in the lounge. I tell her I’m heading to this next city to play on the Saturday night, and she’s like ‘oh that’s where I’m going, do you mind if I can go with you in your cab to the airport?’.
So I thought nothing of it, and off we went. Then I’m checking in at the airport and she’s right behind me. I overhear her booking the exact same flight on the spot, which was a bit weird. So we’re on the same flight and end up sitting beside each other. After getting off the flight, it’s ‘where are you heading now?’ So I say I’m heading into the city to stay at the hotel, and she does the exact same thing again, ‘that’s where I’m staying, can I go with you?’ And I was like hang on a minute, what is going on!
It turns out that her plan all along was to hopefully stay with me the whole weekend. Wouldn’t be the only stalker story I have, but there’s one for you to enjoy!
Markus Schulz's new album Scream 2 is out now.
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