2013 should be a vintage year for Timo Maas. Over the next 12 months, he’ll release his long awaited new artist album, Lifer, featuring Mikill Pane, Placebo’s Brian Molko, U.N.K.L.E’s James Lavelle, Katie Cruel and more; he’ll celebrate 10 years as a resident at DC10 in Ibiza; welcome new artists to his Rockets & Ponies imprint, help Cocoon commemorate their 100th release and continue to reinforce his reputation as one of German electronic music’s most colourful characters.
For a small town in Lower Saxony, Bückeburg punches well above its weight. It’s home to a helicopter museum. It was also where Bach spent the greater part of his life and where one can find the beautiful Bückeburg Palace, where Prince Alexander of Schaumburg-Lippe still lives. It is also the hometown of our hero Timo Maas, who is – somewhat unsurprisingly – buddies with the prince.
Has it really been 14 years since Maas’ music burnt itself indelibly on our synapses with the all-conquering remix of Azzido Da Bass’ ‘Doom’s Night’? Indeed it is. Or, as Timo chuckles: “The spot on the ass of my career!”
He is, of course, joking. The Maas remix made him an international DJ celebrity and propelled the track into the pop charts in both Germany and the UK, leading to remix offers from Madonna, Depeche Mode, Fatboy Slim, Muse, Kelis and many more. Maas and then studio partner Martin Buttrich had returned from the Miami conference in 1999 inspired. “We were so motivated, we started writing music off the back of these amazing memories and produced a string of things in quick succession, including ‘Doom’s Night’. A few months later all the UK garage guys picked up on it and then all the other stuff we’d done in that short burst of activity came out too. But with the success of this fucking record on the garage scene it blew up. This record changed everything!”
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Long before he charmed the pants of dancefloors worldwide, he was DJing back in his native Bückeburg and nearby Hannover from the age of 13. He’s been at it for over 30 years now. “I went from music lover and tape recorder to DJ for local occasions to DJing in local discotheques at 15,” he recalls. “By the age of 17 I was playing in clubs.”
Timo was present when the eruptions that created fissures in the club scene arrived. He recalls hearing ‘Pump Up The Volume’ for the first time: “When M/A/R/R/S came out it was the initial explosion. What the fuck is that sound?! Then I bought Phuture’s ‘Acid Tracks’ from my local store. What kind of trippy, weird stuff are these guys doing?” But many Germans were simply not ready for this brave new world. “Trying to play this sort of stuff in the clubs was difficult because the people didn’t understand it. They’d say play something from the charts, but don’t play this weird shit.”
As the German rave scene gradually extended is borders to include Hannover and its environs, Timo was one of the primary architects. Alongside raves, Maas held down a residency at a mixed night in the fantastically-named Men Factory. “The gay scene was still musically very upfront then,” explains Timo. “At the time gay clubs were dark and mysterious and I was playing things like Underground Resistance, Steve Poindexter, some really cool stuff.” When DJ Gary D heard him play in Hannover one evening, he invited him over to The Tunnel in Hamburg, then one of Germany’s leading clubs. “I went to Hamburg and drank Jagermeister with him,” he quips. “And the week after I was a resident with him there.”
The first stamp in Timo’s DJ passport came in 1995, with his debut appearance at the Lakota club in Bristol. ““I sent my first record out with a mixtape to promoters and two came back and invited me to play, one of them was the Lakota,” he recalls. “I had a residency there for three years through Leon Alexander who later became my manager. I was playing regularly with people like System 7 and Carl Cox and in the back room it was drum and bass guys like Reprazent.”
If ‘Doom’s Night’ blew up the spot, then his solo albums – and we are now on his third – are where he’s forged a reputation for brave collaborative choices and cinematic sounds. Although Maas has been widely described as a purveyor of techno, tech house or a whole load of other genre prescriptions, the striking thing about his music is the effortless ease with which it morphs chameleon-like from one style to another. His latest album, for example, runs from the almost Beatles-esque raga of ‘Visions’, which features the sitar work of fellow German Torsten de Winkel – the pair having been introduced by our old friend Prince Alexander of Schaumburg-Lippe.
For those that have followed the trajectory of Maas’ albums, Lifer contains yet more wildly divergent collaborators, from Brighton chanteuse Katie Cruel (now signed to his own Rockets & Ponies label), who weighs in with the haunting ‘Articulation’, the gritty rap delivered by Mikill Pane on ‘Grown-Up’, through to Placebo singer Brian Molko’s contribution to ‘College 84’, while James Lavelle delivers a primo vocal on the dramatic ‘The Hunted’. “This is the only vocal outside of U.N.K.L.E. he has ever done,” says Timo. “So I feel quite honoured. Out of everything on the album, I think it’s probably the nearest in sound to the old Timo Maas material, especially around the time of the Loud album. We’d never met each until recently when we played at a festival together and we realised we were mutual fans of each other’s work. Originally the idea was to produce a track together. But after he’d sent me something, I just said, ‘You know, I’d really like you to sing.’ And I absolutely love what he’s done. It’s perfect.”
This eclectic approach makes for a great listening experience, yet Maas insists he has also found room in his extensive club sets to play many of the tracks from his album. “Well, I do play certain tracks off my album, in fact I’ve played many already,” says Timo. “But it’s not just dance music, it’s also a way of expressing myself more with my production partner, Santos. I’ve never only produced dance music. It’s only my third full artist album, but I’ve always done this. I don’t pay too much attention about anything fitting into a genre. I love so many different styles of music and I try and interpret them in my own way. This is how it comes out.”
One sure measure of Maas’ studio success has been the vast array of games, movies and TV shows that have looked to his music to provide soundbeds and the appropriate atmosphere. “Well, we work with great sync-licensing people, but with all the albums it’s been the same situation. They are all relatively timeless and they have this cinematic quality. This is what the new album has in common with the first two. And, as a gamer myself, sometimes in the studio, you do think, ‘Wow this bit would sound amazing on a racing game!’”
Yet it is still his club work that informs and drives much of the desire in the studio. “I come from DJing,” he asserts. “For me it’s the connection to the world outside. It’s where I can experiment, where I hear about things, it’s just so important to what I do. How can you have a feeling for clubs when you are not going to them?”
Indeed. In clubs, as in the studio, there’s only one way to describe Timo Maas: lifer.