We meet the cratedigging German DJ behind the best-selling series of 'yacht rock' compilations
Fashions change, trends come and go, but the music, as Sterling Void once pointed out, plays forever on and on.
It's true: no music ever really dies. We'd be willing to be that if you look hard enough in your town (or the nearest decent-sized one, if you're a rural-dwelling type) you'll be able to find someone, somewhere playing medieval lute music, 1920s Delta blues, 80s hair metal or any other music you care to name. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that for every single genre, sub-genre and sub-sub-genre of music ever invented, somewhere out there there's a small band of enthusiasts keeping the faith and carefully guarding the torch for a new generation.
In the case of 'yacht rock', the soft rock and AOR that emerged from the west coast of the USA in the 1970s and early 80s, one such diehard is Berlin resident Marcus Liesenfeld, or DJ Supermarkt as he's more commonly known. Sure, the yacht rock revival that was spearheaded a few years back by the spoof 'rockumentary' series of the same name may have died down a little - certainly it's possible now to walk around the Montpelier and St Werburghs area of Bristol on a sunny afternoon without hearing Toto's sodding Africa, which wasn't the case in, say, 2010. But Supermarkt's Too Slow To Disco compilations, a mainstay of said blink-and-you'll-miss it 'scene', continue to sell by the truckload.
So much so that City Slang Records have just released Too Slow To Disco 3, which evidences yet more serious crate-digging on Marcus's part. Intrigued by his fascination with, and devotion to, this most maligned of musical genres, we just had to find out more...
The Too Slow To Disco sound/ethos could be described in many ways. But you're the man in charge, so you describe it!
"Too Slow To Disco is all about that luxurious, laidback sound of (mainly) white, bearded ex-hippies in oversized studios, with hordes of extra studio musicians, in the late 70s and early 80s on the west coast.
"It’s the moment they suddenly discovered black soul and jazz music. It’s interesting because, in the carefully written and played songs, you can hear on one side the coke-infected delusions of grandeur and oversized studio budgets, mixed with a humble, honest love of soul."
Tell us a bit about how, as a DJ, you came to focus on this particular sound? Were you playing other styles of music before? Are you still?
"I was a main-floor electro DJ for a long time, and this music was my remedy to fight the emptiness a DJ has the day(s) after a long, hard party night. It's like a cure, because I needed some warm sounds in my head and body on all those countless 'Sunday afters'. I never would have thought that this sound would actually end up being my (long-awaited) way out of 'serious' late night deejaying. Fun fact: I know that many other DJs also use TSTD for the same reason. Without prescription!"
Have you been surprised by how well the compilations have been received?
"In a way, I expected it to work well, but the actual interest in the compilations exceeded my expectations by miles. My whole life, I've always trusted in the idea that if I love something in music, then why shouldn’t other people start to feel the same, once they have the chance to discover a certain sound? But of course, who would have thought that you can say the words 'soft rock' and 'AOR' nowadays without getting beaten up by the music police?"
There's clearly some serious crate-digging behind these compilations. Is that done the old-fashioned way, hunting through boxes of old vinyl, or is it more a case of trawling Spotify and YouTube these days?
"It’s a combination. I used to spend my life in record fairs and fleamarkets, and found a lot of that west coast sound, even here in Berlin. I used to fall for the naivity of the artworks of these musicians, that actually were the last generation (pre-MTV etc) that were able to become successful without looking great or having a 'style'. But nowadays the way to find great tracks is YouTube and Facebook groups, plus the holy grail: Discogs! Not Spotify so much, or at least not yet."
Volume 3 is said to feature UK artists for the first time - can you tell us a little more about that?
"Too Slow To Disco is all about a sound that does something nice to your soul (and might make you dance, but very slowly). So if I finish a tracklist for a new compilation, I don't really care if the artists are true west coast musicians, as long as they embrace that sound.
"Vapour Trails were three British studio musicians, who went to California to record their album with the creme de la creme of US studio musicians in Larry Carltons’s legendary Hollywood studio, which explains the sound. And that Billy Mernit song is following me for ages now and it is just to good to be forgotten."
I can imagine the licensing involved in these comps is pretty arduous and time-consuming! Is that something you get involved with, or are there 'people' to take care of it for you?
"I do the detective work and then luckily City Slang Records, who are my partners in this, do the actual paperwork. It's a hard, sometimes very depressing process. But if in the end we finally unearth the right owner, plus a master tape by an artist that time has forgotten, it's worth all the trouble.
"Most of these tracks are owned by the majors, and I can tell you that one of the three still-existing majors is perfectly organised and enthusiastic in helping to find these artists and their recordings; the other two don’t care at all."
Can you just briefly outline what's involved in that process, for the benefit of those who might not know how it all works?
"You need to find the right owner and a master recording. If the record company that should own the rights doesn't find it in their computer ('computer says no'), then we have to find the artist or his relatives to tell them about the problem, so they can contact the label.
"These musicians have often almost forgotten about that album they released years ago that didn't sell well, but are very helpful and enthusiastic if they get my mails/phone calls. Well, that is after I convince them I'm not half the weirdo they think I am! Even if they became millionaires for music they wrote later in their lives - that happens a lot.
Are there any tracks you've really wanted to include on a Too Slow To Disco comp but not been able to for whatever reason?
"More then you would think. I've been trying to get certain tracks since I started with volume 1 years ago. If I can't find the musician, then I have no chance to include the tracks. #Sad!"
What else is going on in the world of DJ Supermarkt right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"There will be several TSTD fun side projects coming (one day), so I'm very busy trying to organise those at the moment. Plus - and this is one of the highlight stories of our last four years - the son of one of the musicians on TSTD2 actually found 25 reel-to-reel tapes of his father’s recordings in the basement that were never released due to heavy drug problems taking away his ability to play music. Fingers crossed as to what we find there!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Too Slow To Disco 3 is out now on City Slang Records. For more info, see the series website