There are certain people in electronic music I’ve just grown to assume would always be associated with the trademark labels and brands they’ve become synonymous with over the years. Dennis Ferrer and Objecktivity, Josh Wink and OVUM, John Digweed and Bedrock, and of course, Anja Schneider and Mobilee. Right?!
Well, so much for assumptions. In August, news broke that Mobilee Records’ founder Anja Schneider had up-and-decided to jump ship and go off onto her own adventures. As a self-confessed A&R-nerd who spends more time darting down Bandcamp rabbit-holes than most people spend at their jobs each month, I was more than curious as to what the hell went wrong and who was to blame for forcing Anja to abandon her wildly successful label and the artists she worked so hard to help – many of whom would oftentimes become more famous and recognized than she or Mobilee. I convinced myself that it was some sort of coup.
Well, sometimes my imagination gets the best of me. Sometimes I forget that I too, like many of us, have been faced with tough choices when years of clocking into the same damn time clock, or singing the same annoying (chart topping) song and doing the same dance that goes along with it … just starts to get on our fucking nerves (to put it lightly).
Anja Schneider is a woman with class and respect, however, so her departure from the Mobilee offices in Berlin for the final time back in August was nowhere near as anger-filled as the type of exit I just described. Yet I, as many others in the industry and in her group of global fans and supporters, was still curious as to what went down. And so I had a chance to catch her for an overseas phone chat recently, to get to the bottom of the mystery and find out what happened, why, and where the revered DJ and producer was headed next, just weeks prior to the release of SoMe (released November 3), her first album in nearly a decade, and the launching of her own new label, Sous Music.
Hi Anja! Crazy times for you, huh? Thanks for talking with me on behalf of 5 Mag! How are you feeling as you embark upon this new direction, both in life and in your career?
Kev, thank you. I can say… exciting times! Everything is well. A little nervous, a little excited.
I can definitely understand that, especially making a big leap into an entirely different direction than you’ve been taking for the vast majority of your career. A direction which has indubitably led your career to where you stand today.
Yeah, but honestly if I wasn’t feeling excited, curious or nervous, something would be off. I need to be nervous right now. It’s like going into a big gig, if I feel like I am not nervous, something is wrong. It means I am not focused.
On the other hand, there are times where you can feel like you are too focused which can cause problems too, no?
Well, you can never be too focused. But sometimes when you’re too prepared, and feel like you need to do this, or that – you’ve planned too much, and then you can’t really look to the right or left. I need to be spontaneous.
With that said, I suppose we can talk about the elephant in the room, with regard to you leaving your now-former label Mobilee, a home you built for yourself and so many other artists, after so many years. The first question that popped to mind when I heard the news was whether this was a spontaneous move? Or was the discontent something that had been festering inside your mind for awhile?
No, actually when you go through these kinds of thoughts, of course [the departure] didn’t come on spontaneously. Honestly, we know I was the founder of Mobilee. Then I got Ralf on board, and he’s been a great friend, supporter and label manager for all these years. It wasn’t spontaneous. Since I considered Mobilee a collective, or a family, I of course didn’t want to disappoint anyone.
I didn’t feel happy there any longer. I wanted to challenge myself, so of course I planned this for a long time, but since it was such a family, I couldn’t just be like, “IT’S OVER!” I had to plan it as a long-term kind of transition. I tried to make everyone happy. I tried to find solutions for everyone. But of course, you know, you cannot make everyone happy.
For me, I felt we were in our comfort zone, we had our brand, our showcases, gigs, all of our releases, and we had success. Sometimes you feel too comfortable and you need to challenge yourself. Over time I found that the solution for me, personally, was to leave.
I can only imagine. One of the things that I personally have always looked up to you for is your A&R prowess, your dedication to cultivating a family and nurturing artists, making it a family. The idea behind Leena Music as an incubator of sorts blew me away. But artistic expression can be used in many ways, including word-play as far as titles. We have your album title, SoMe, the new label, Sous, and I even notice a connection between your former brainchildren, Mobilee and Leena, when you connect the two you come to Mobileena, which is essentially what sounds like “baby Mobilee.”
Thank you for that. And yes! You are right! That was the plan (naming Leena), exactly! I loved my team, we had family. So it was very heavy, and very difficult decision. I feel like it was coming to a one-way street. I reached everything I could reach with Mobilee, and we achieved a lot. Then I started to feel pressured, because it was becoming more about keeping a business alive, like a job to me, which brought me into a pressure situation, and that’s not what I want to feel. I want to feel free. I felt like I had to release every track that I felt like could be in the charts – even though I would never play these tracks as a DJ – and as an artist, I just couldn’t handle this anymore.
So It was quite heavy, because I loved my team. And it was difficult, because I was the one over fifteen years saying, “We are family!” And suddenly everything was about me? But it wasn’t just for me. Some of the artists recently have come to me and said that it’s been good for them as well, and helped them grow. So I feel like in the end it was good for everyone in the end.
Makes sense! And it seems as if it will. Just quickly, I want to jump back to a comment you made a moment ago. You mentioned feeling pressured with Mobilee to release music to hit the charts that you would never play? Can you elaborate on this a bit further?
Because when you have a whole business running, you have people working for you full time, etc, it means you have to measure what a successful label is. Which today, means making the charts. You have to sell music, and often this goes against your artistic intuition. So of course, I wanted to play different music, I didn’t want to play a lot of what was being released any more, and I don’t want to just play the top 10 anymore, you know?
To put it simply, it sounds like you simply want to “do you…”
Yeah, I want to go a little crazy. And of course sometimes you have to make business decisions, and sometimes you have to make artist decisions.
So, moving on to what’s coming up for you. You’re launching your new label Sous and debuting the label with your first album in almost a decade. With a name like Sous, are you taking with you the same A&R and family ethos that you left behind at Mobilee?
With Sous, honestly, I have no plans, which gives me the freedom I wanted. So right now I’ve got my album, and hopefully I can have some remixes from some of my favorite artists. But we will see.
So you want to keep it simple, rather than eventually build exactly what you left behind?
It’s really time to focus on myself and establish myself again as an artist.
That’s totally understandable and respectable. Moving on to SoMe, I had the pleasure of listening to it this morning when I woke up, and it was lovely. A lot of albums these days seem to have this formulaic, nearly concrete format, where people go left field and have “x” amount of ambient or reprises, or focus on some sound that’s very different from what you hear from the same artist if you hear their regular output or go out and heard them live. SoMe isn’t one of those albums. It’s one of those albums where every track feels like it could easily work n the club.
Yes! Well I am a club kid! [laughs]
Indeed you are! [laughs] So, was that the plan then? To release a club-focused album?
Actually, there was no plan. I was waiting nine years, and then I felt it was the right time, but I never had that concept album idea, I just wanted to do something that reflected my life and my experiences and all of the places I’ve been over the last twenty-plus years.
A lot has happened in that time. I had this span of drum and bass, a span of trip hop that I went into, and then the ’90s techno type tracks which are like “Night Out” or “Got Me With A Bang,” which has a nice acid theme. So it was actually traveling to my past. I’ve always loved melodies, I always have been a little lighter with the sound, so it was clear to me that I should do it the same way. To me it would be absolutely stupid to now make some experimental concept album. So (the album) is absolutely a reflection of my history, my past, and of what I like.
So, I guess you’re saying you like the clubs?! [laughs]
Yes! I am a club DJ, I love to DJ, so I wanted to do an album for the people who feel the same way I do. But, the album I feel can be heard at lunch time. Maybe in twenty years I will be at a place where I can do a concept, abstract album and I feel that way sometimes, but right now I feel like it wouldn’t be honest.
Are you planning more production work moving toward now?
Yes, yes. lots of things are planned for 2018. I can go to the studio with my engineer anytime now!
Well, I know you’re busy busy, but I just wanted to ask about your process when doing an album when it comes to vocal tracks, as quite a number appear on SoMe, including a big collaboration with Stereo MCs. How do you approach these collaborations? Do you feel your message is important in the lyrics or do you give the vocalists free-range on what direction they go?
For “Sanctuary,” the vocals came completely from Rob Birch and it was just an honor to work with him. For one of the songs on the album, I gave lyrics for, and for some of the tracks the vocalists didn’t want to be named.
Do you ever feel like you wake up in the morning (after leaving Mobilee) and feel you’re missing something? Or has the transition been that easy?
[laughs] I am even more busy now than I was before! I have a mixing and mastering studio now, we are doing workshops for kids and much more. It’s quite crazy!
Anja Schneider’s SoMe LP is set to be released on November 3rd, distributed by k7!