He's best known as a melodic house producer, but try and put Alex Niggemann in that box and you might have a fight on your hands
Visit Alex Niggemann's Soundcloud page, and you'll notice something quite unusual.
Where most artists are keen to avoid their music being put in pigeonholes, on Niggemann's Soundcloud you'll find all of his music, and the music he's released on his AEON label (est. 2013), handily grouped by sub-genre. So there are separate playlists for indie-dance/acid, house, melodic house and Afro-house. We've embedded one track from each list in this feature, so see if you can guess which goes where…
It's an approach that artists of the mindset mentioned above might find hard to comprehend – but it speaks to the sheer range of music that's come out of the 35-year-old Düsseldorf native's studio since taking his first steps into production in the mid-late 00s.
In the intervening years, he's become perhaps best known for his work in the melodic/progressive sphere. But as he explains below, it's not a tag he's particularly comfortable with… which is no doubt why his Soundcloud page makes a point of highlighting the variety of music it actually houses.
Read on to find out more about his new Electric Mariachi EP, why he's taking a break from touring, and what's coming up on AEON in the new year…
We're here today to talk about the new EP, so let's start with that! The EP features your original plus three remixes, so talk us through the tracks - how would you describe them if you had to review the EP for iDJ?
"It’s a single with remixes from two of the most talented producers at the moment in my eyes.
"The original of Electric Mariachi is hard to categorise. With its mixture of 80s drums, a Sequential/Moog bassline, vocoded robot vocals and some electric brass that reminded me of a trio of mariachis playing it, it’s a mixed candy box with a lot of different influences: from Italo, to modern indie-dance coming from Israel, to Mexican folk. I’ve been road-testing it and it works in warm-up sets just as well as in my peaktime sets.
"Rigopolar did two mixes of his version. He stripped some of the original to a more dreamy but punchy version using the FX, Moogs and robot sounds. The Extended Remix is the dreamy version driven by its arpeggios, while the Stripped Back Remix is a bit more functional and peaktime-oriented.
"And then Pional's remix is the version for later hours. He reduced the original to its melody and brought in a whole new mood, using the massive 303 bassline and groovy drums. It’s more house-y than the original version, but at the same time very dark and very playable in a club setting. I'm really happy with the entire package."
The hype sheet for the EP talks about it "revisiting" classic house and Italo influences, so tell us a bit about that. I get the sense you feel you've been put into the melodic box a little unfairly?
"I guess that’s true. I started my career being a classic house DJ. My releases in the beginning that gave me my first meaningful exposure were all house tunes, and until I made my biggest hit Materium everything that I did was house-influenced.
"Materium was the first one that sounded different – and during that period, the category 'melodic house' wasn’t even existing. As that sound became more and more hyped I got that stamp, yes! But I was always diverse. And that’s why I find it quite frustrating that people say I’m now doing something different. I'm just doing something different from what they expect – but I've done that for my entire career. I’m an artist who doesn’t like to be confined by boundaries.
You did, of course, do a mix CD for the Balance series in 2016… has that been a factor in the above do you think?
"Well, that CD was quite a mixture of everything as well – just a few of the tracks on it would reall fit the 'melodic' genre. I guess they were probably the best-known ones on there, but it also contained techno, house, indie-dance and even some breakbeat stuff. All very melodic, yes, but not fitting only one genre."
Which all begs the question… how do YOU describe the music you'd make?
"Diverse. Always searching for a new challenge and something I haven’t done before. I like a very broad cross-section of music and not only a specific genre. I’m also doing electronica, techno, breaks and house – and I’ve even been working on a new neo-classical project. It's just that I do these things under different project names, and not everyone knows that."
…and who were some of the people that first inspired you?
"I was inspired by people like Laurent Garnier, Jeff Mills, Derrick May and Ken Ishii in the mid-90s. Detroit and Chicago are definitely the biggest influence – that’s my background. Sometimes it was more house-y, people like Larry Heard, David Morales, sometimes more techno."
Back in the present day, the single comes on your own AEON label, but you still regularly release music on other labels. So how do you decide what goes where – which tracks you shop around and which you release yourself?
"First I produce music – without thinking about a label. The style of the track tends to depend on the mood I’m in during the process, or sometimes just by a sound that I try to play with during the production process. Once I have a few tracks done, I revisit and then decide which tracks fit on an EP together. Then I send the demos to the labels I think they could fit to."
What's going on with AEON generally? Six years deep, I believe… have you been pleased with the reception the label's had? What have been some of the highlights and lowlights in those years?
"Lots of highs! Since AEON was founded, we continually built up our profile and became a well-respected label by all kinds of different artists from any genres. We gave a platform to and nurtured talents like Denis Horvat and Speaking Minds in their early development. More recently we’ve been working with people like Kincaid and Joris Biesmans, who are big talents making their early steps in the scene. We see AEON as a family, where we help each other also, in regards to releasing on different labels and raising our artists' profile without claiming exclusivity.
"To be honest, there haven’t been real lowlights, except maybe the feeling that the label somehow got pigeonholed in one genre. We were put in the the same bracket as Afterlife, and although I respect them as a label very much, I think that AEON does things very differently… as our recent output, I feel, demonstrates. I believe we are one of the freshest and most forward-thinking labels out there."
If you could start the label over again, with all that you've learned in those six years – what would you do differently?
"Nothing: AEON is already my second label, and I made all the mistakes already with my first! In the meantime, we founded a sublabel called AEONIC, which will will do only a few releases per year that are more experimental, and another label for neo-classical and electronica. The experience we had with running AEON have helped a lot to make things easier and more thought-through from the beginning."
What else have you got coming up on AEON that our readers should look out for?
"There’s a lot coming. My release is the last in 2019, but we kick off 2020 with a various artists compilation. Then there's a new EP from Joris Biesmans with remixes from Benjamin Fröhlich and Phunkadellica, followed by EPs from Rigopolar, Kincaid, Speaking Minds, myself and many more. I can’t wait for you to hear some of this new stuff actually – it’s incredible!"
…and what's coming up gig-wise, particularly in the UK? And is there anything else going on with you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I’m taking December and January off touring this year, to be able to finally spent lots of time on production. In the last few years I didn’t really have too many releases, especially this year as I moved studio from Berlin to Rotterdam, so that took up a lot of time. But I’m set up now with an amazing new space offer looking the river.
"And then I’ll start touring again from February, with shows in Central and South America and then back to Europe. Looking forward to it!"
Words: Russell Deeks
The Electric Mariachi EP is out on AEON on 6 December - buy it here.