It’s no exaggeration to say that Jonas Saalbach is one of our favourite artists of the past few years. Which isn’t just why we’re chatting to him today, but also why we hosted him on our mix series not so long ago! An artist who perfectly sums up the floaty electronica we hold so dear to our heart, Saalbach is a man who’s been on a real creative streak of late, with his latest longplayer, Headlights, a real treat for fans of the artist. An evocative and intriguing listen, it takes its cues from some of the globe’s leading melodic and progressive artists, and is every but as unpredictable as it is great and engaging. With the album set to drop, we figured it a good time to throw some curveball questions by him. And we’re happy to report he’s every bit as interesting to chat to as he is behind the production desk!
WWD: Hi Jonas, let’s start by talking a bit about your upcoming gig at E1. Will this be your first time plating the club? And what can patrons expect?
I’ve played in London a few times before and always loved it! But this will be my first show at E1. I’ve heard a lot of good stories about the club and will be playing a DJ set focused on my new album ‘Headlights’ as well as ‘Radikon’ releases and some other melodic gems. Hidden Empire playing right after me is absolutely amazing!
Speaking of, how Is it when you arrive in a new country and immediately go to play a club you’ve never been to before? Do you think it’s important to feel the atmosphere and know the room before you play?
I think the atmosphere depends not only on the room, but also on the crowd and the promoter. Also the decoration and the light can make the night special. For me behind the DJ booth, of course the sound in the room is important. I’ve had a few gigs where I wish I had done a soundcheck, but I really only do that when I play Live sets. Most of the time everything works fine, and then I need two or three mixes to know the club. And of course it´s also my job to create a good vibe.
WWD: Are you someone who soundcheck then? Or only when you can? And how important is it do you think to be considerate of the warm up acts etc?
I think the warm up is an extremely important time slot in the evening. If you are booked as a headliner, it is of course nice if the warm up DJ plays a bit smoother to be able to build up a nice tension curve. But I totally understand if you don’t play that often and then you get the warm up slot, that you want to play a bit more energetic. I just try to feel the atmosphere of the moment and choose the first song thoughtfully.
WWD: You’ll be playing alongside Hidden Empire at that one. Is this the first time you’ll have played with the guys? And will it make for a fun gig do you think?
This will be 100% a fun evening! We played together once in Amsterdam and had time for breakfast the morning after the show. The HE guys are super nice!
WWD: Obviously every artist has their own style, but who do you look to for inspiration musically? And from an electronic and non-electronic perspective?
Speaking about electronic artists that inspire me at the moment, it’s mostly my friends like Yubik, Dahu, Coeus, SKALA or Innellea cause we send new productions to each other and talk about it. But even more inspiring is listening to other genres. When I listen to music in a concentrated way, for example while jogging, an idea for a new loop always comes to me. It’s interesting to adapt an idea from a song of another genre like ambient or dub and interpret it into a techno-based loop.
WWD: Are you someone who generally believes politics and music are intertwined? Or do you think they are better left apart?
Yeah sure, it’s related. Music is a form of expression and allows people to make themselves heard politically. In our scene we are also dependent on political decisions, for example in which form clubs and festivals are allowed to take place or not. It’s also not uncommon to talk about political issues in the club, because it’s a good place to meet and talk to new people.
WWD; We’ve been listening to your LP, Headlights, on repeat. So first we wanted to ask, what’s the story behind the name?
Listening on repeat sounds good to me! Thank you.
I took the title of the album from Angus Powell’s lyrics. I found Angus’ music by chance on Spotify and wrote him a message on Instagram and asked for a collaboration. We had a video chat and thought about what could be a topic that would interest both of us. Angus is from London, but told me that he escapes from the city more and more often and goes into nature. That also helps him with inspiration for his music and for me it’s absolutely the same. To produce ‘Headlights’ I really had to leave Berlin and so I produced a big part of the album in a small bedroom studio in Gran Canaria. Somehow this theme of finding a balance in life is very important for me at the moment. In these tour phases you also need some peace and quiet, and I don’t find that in the big city anymore. You don’t get any younger I guess 🙂 Here are the lyrics from Headlights:
“Caught up in these Headlights I wait
Frozen as the sky breaks
Tied up by the voices I know
I need to learn to let go
So I run out on my old love
Take my self away
To a place where I can breathe
And be myself again“
WWD: You’ve been producing right now but I think it’s fair to say you’ve really embarked on a hot streak of late. At what stage did you decide to become a full-time musician? Was it a daunting prospect? Or are you a naturally confident individual? And does this album represent a pivotal part in your musical career do you think?
I probably made the decision to become a professional producer, Live Act and DJ three years before I got the first time little fee for gigs. It was during that time that I met Midas104 – I guess it was about 8 or 9 years ago. We were doing something other than music at the time and suddenly he had the first release ‘Eos’ on Katermukke, which was an incredible record! So he decided to focus on music full time, and that kind of motivated me to do the same. So I stopped doing what I was doing before and tried to live on as little money as possible to make room for studio time. I produced so much music and got better, but the years until I got the first bookings were also very frustrating, because having a dream and then making it happen is not a guarantee. But it is definitely worth it to give it a try! Something good always comes up. I am happy I went through this time and music gave me strength! Until today it was a crazy journey for me and right now I feel that this album and the fact that I’m releasing it on my own label Radikon is like a new chapter for me. I am very happy and motivated at the moment.
WWD: What would you say to producers considering the same? Do you think the likes of Brexit, covid etc make it harder than ever to break into the music scene?
I’m not sure if these factors make it harder to become a professional producer. I think it’s more that social media has a big impact on the scene and that’s the reason why so many are entering the music industry. Being an influencer and DJ is hyped! It’s not just about music anymore. But to get back to the question. If you really want to produce, you should try it out, but after all my experiences I can only recommend to always have a plan B as well. For example, you can also produce alongside a study or whatever. Maybe you have to skip a few parties with friends, but sometimes you just have to set priorities.
WWD; As a musician, do you think you’re ever truly satisfied? And do you make music for yourself? Or for other people? Or both? And do you feel like it’s something you almost have to do each day?
Well, it depends on the current production. After the first two hours of producing a track, I think, “This is going to be a hit,” then two hours later I hate what I’m doing and at the end I it´s mostly like “Okay – this is solid. I can release it”. Or I just close the session and begin again the next day. I think it’s important that your music brings you joy and that you are satisfied. I make music mainly for myself, but also for my fans. It sounds cheesy, but they are an important part of my motivation! I don’t produce every day anymore, because the label work also takes a lot of time, but at least 3-4 days a week I open Ableton.
WWD: Where does creation come from for you then?
I draw creativity primarily from balance. As I just mentioned, I like to go out into nature for example. Or go raving instead of just being in clubs at my own gigs. Everything can have a creative effect on me. It’s important to open Ableton when I feel the impulse, even if I’m already tired and would rather chill.
WWD: How conscious are you when producing an album that you want to tell a story? Is there a sort of underlying concept to the LP do you think?
For me there were three important points: first, the album should fit Radikon but still sound like me. Secondly, I wanted the listeners to enjoy listening to it in one piece and thirdly, that it is still playable for DJs.
WWD: Lastly, can you let us in on some of your favourite albums of the last few years? And what makes them great do you think?
Kutiman – Don´t Hold onto the Cloud. This album (I’m not even sure if it’s an album or an EP) has only 4 songs, but it’s 36 minutes long. What a trip! It’s a very laid back electronica album with dubby sound effects. The music relaxes me so much that I even meditated to it!
Dark Sky – Othona. A really well produced album. From electronica to breakbeat but also a bit clubby. All in all a melancholic atmosphere that I like very much. I would love to see Dark Sky as a remixer on Radikon actually.
Deru – 1979. One of the albums I have listened to the most. An ambient LP with amazing soundscapes and sound design. Somewhere I read that Deru played the whole album through a cheap cassette deck and re-recorded it. I think it’s absolutely crazy to do that, because you have a significant loss of sound. But it also has its charm. I hope the story is true 🙂