With his discography stretching back more than a dozen years, Sam Geiser can rightfully be regarded as a house and techno veteran, having notched up nearly 30 single releases, one full length album, and a staggering number of remixes since his debut in 1998. Hailing from Bern, Switzerland, Geiser first appeared at the end of the 90s via a series of hard looping techno releases on labels of the day like Phont, Primate and Intec. Since then he has been steadily refining and evolving his productions, coming to the wider attention of the electronic music community with Detroit-soaked slices of techno like “The Afterlife” in 2006 and “I Cling” one year later. For a long time though, Geiser’s notoriety has also been known through his incredible DJ sets, which have placed the talented Swiss among the top touring jocks around the world. His ability to seamlessly weave his way through house and techno staples, fresh flavors, and exclusive edits was recently displayed on his Balance mix. LWE talked to the very affable Geiser about his start in DJing in Bern, why he favors the physical format of vinyl to digital music, sampling his dad, and a lot more besides. He also did us the pleasure of putting together our 112th exclusive podcast, which true to form is a glittering journey through some of the hottest techno and house on the planet supplemented with an array of his own edits and further sonic trickery.
LWE Podcast 112: Deetron (62:29)
01. The Loop Digga, “Sounds of the Studio” [Madlib Invazion]
02. The 7th Plain, “Seeing Sense” [General Production Recordings]
03. Pinch & Shackleton, “Rooms Within A Room” [Honest Jon’s Records]
04. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, “Pattern 3″ [Honest Jon’s Records]
05. Junior Boys, “You’ll Improve Me” (Caribou Remix) [Domino]
06. No Boundaries, “Modular Pursuits” (Dahpni Cwejam Dub) [Planet E]
07. Mr. Fingers, “Stars” [Alleviated Records]
08. The Mole, “Love Is The Way” [Haunted Music]
09. Floating Points, “ARP3″ [Eglo Records]
10. Life & Death, “Step Aside (Lightweight)” [Visionquest]
11. Rocketnumbernine, “Matthew & Toby” (Four Tet Remix) [Text Records]
12. Scuba, “Flash Addict” [Hotflush Recordings]
13. Boddika & Joy Orbison, “Swims” [Swamp 81]
14. James Blake, “At Birth” (Edit) [R&S Records]
15. André Lodemann, “Where Are You Now?” [Best Works Records]
16. Martyn, “We A You In The Future” (Redshape Remix) [Brainfeeder]
17. Ethyl & Flori, “Shelter” (Rolando Remix) [Secretsundaze]
18. Scott Grooves, “Detroit 808″ (Beats) [Natural Midi]
19. Omar S & Ob Ignitt, “Wayne County Hill Cop’s Part 2″ [FXHE Records]
20. The Reese Project, “Direct Me” (Marty Hardy Mix) [Network Records]
21. M.A.N.D.Y vs. Booka Shade, “Home” (Kollektiv Turmstrasse Interstellar Mix) (Edit) [Get Physical Music]
22. Little Dragon, “Thunder Love” (Mario & Vidis Redo) [Philomena]
23. Matthew Dekay & Lee Burridge, “Für Die Liebe” (Dub) [All Day I Dream]
24. Radiohead, “Bloom” (Jamie XX Rework Pt. 3) (Edit) [Young Turks]
25. Sepalcure, “Inside” [Hotflush Recordings]
Extracts of the following recordings are used in the mix:
Gang Starr, “Daily Operation (Intro)” [Cooltempo]
Sun Ra, “Space Is The Place” [Blue Thumb Records]
New Life Trio, “Empty Streets” [Mustevic Sounds]
Circle, “Toy Room – Q&A” [ECM Records]
Grain, “Untitled” [FatCat Records]
Growing up in Bern, Switzerland, what were sort of some of your first either clubbing experiences or experiences with electronic music that got you really interested in it?
We used to hang out at this little spot in our, like — I grew up in this village just outside of Bern and there was this youth club sort of thing, and we used to play hip-hop there in the beginning. There was this one guy who would always travel to London and stuff and get the new records. So he played me some of that Todd Terry stuff, some early hip-house stuff. I guess that was the first time when I heard something electronic or 4/4 beats-oriented. Yeah, but it wasn’t until this E-Dancer track that I always quote, the “Pump The Move” thing. That really, that won me over totally. That’s so good.
Yeah, and sort of how old were you at this stage?
I’m always trying to recall, but I must have been, like — it must have been ’93 or ’92. I’m not too sure about that. So I would have been 16? Roughly. 15, 16, yeah.
Cool, so did you get into DJing fairly soon after that?
Yeah, yeah. I was kind of a bedroom DJ for a while, and trying to imitate my hip-hop idols and stuff, trying to scratch. But I only had one MK1200, and had to do with the — first I just had a tape deck as a second leg, and then later on I got a belt drive, but the second one only got in when I was 16 or 17 or something like that.
Looking back, are you glad to have come up in that time where DJing back then, especially, was quite different than it is now in terms of everything was vinyl based and there was such an emphasis on learning how to mix and become a DJ in that sense?
Yeah. First of all, you had to learn the basics of how to beat match, and it was a technical approach in the beginning, you know? So I think that’s really helped me to go through that sort of school, and I find it rather — I find it too bad that these days, anyone can just start DJing and can match records, without having any experience or anything like that. I also think that in terms of music selection and stuff, that doesn’t really help because, you know, it’s just too easy. You don’t have to work on it, you don’t have to practice. You can just get started on the fly, and I think that sort of experience, it shows that that’s really missing for some of the DJs that are starting out.
So when you started to produce records, was that a natural evolution for you? Were you thinking at all in terms of having a career as a DJ and perhaps as a producer, that had to be the next step?
It wasn’t really like a business plan or anything like that. It’s more like I was just intrigued by the idea that I could do this sort of music that I liked so much myself; and because a friend of mine had some equipment the obstacles weren’t so high because I didn’t have to buy equipment and stuff. So yeah, I could use his equipment and he taught me some basics of Cubase, and we had a Juno-106 as well. So that was pretty much it, though. We just started fooling around with it, and later on when I opened a record shop, I also made some money, finally, and was able to buy some equipment for myself: a sampler and a little mixing table. It kind of took off from there and also through the record shop that I used to own, I got to know this guy Stefan Riesen, who used to run Axodya Records back in the day, and he runs Morris/Audio now. You might have heard of that?
Yeah. But him and Marco Repetto were kind of the pioneers of techno in Bern, and so he gave me the opportunity to release a track on his label. So that was the beginning, pretty much.
Oh, cool. What was the name of the record store that you owned?
It was called Tronix.
OK, cool. Excellent. And how long did you have that for?
Just two years, I’m afraid. We didn’t go bankrupt, but it just didn’t pay off anymore. We had to close.
Okay, so in terms of your own productions, I know a lot of your earlier material was hard looped techno. What equipment were you using?
It was mainly this setup: the Juno-106, I actually could take it over from my friend because he eventually became a, how do you say? A PC pro. Like, he got hired by a company and got this major job and stuff. So he gave me the Juno-106 and I bought this sampler I told you about, the Yamaha A3000. And so it was mainly samples and then a bit of the Juno-106, and that was it.
So I noticed through your discography that, obviously there’s been a growth and evolution in your sound and that sort of thing, but also distinct changes in the way you’ve made music. Is that just you growing as a producer, or is that an equipment-based thing as you got better equipment?
Well, I think the equipment’s always just a second step. You can do anything with any equipment, pretty much. You kind of need some sort of basics, but you can do so much with just a sampler, or just a Juno, or whatever you have at hand. I think the music evolution is more a sort of natural progression, if you want to say that, because over the years, you’re always into different sorts of music and I think it’s normal that you are influenced by anything that you listen to, that you’re exposed to. And yeah, so I think the musical evolution more comes from outside factors, whereas the equipment, it’s just a way to enable you to make what you have in your head. I always try to get as close as possible to what I have in my head. But sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, you know?
Yeah, yeah. Because having heard your records over the years, there’s definitely been shifts in your styles and that sort of thing, and you know, in the last few years especially, you’re really embracing house music more, I guess as you’re getting a little bit older, maybe…
[laughs] Maybe that reason too.
Maybe it is, you know you feel like making something a little bit more mellowed out sometimes. And even on your EP for Jerome Derradji’s label, Stilove4Music, making really deep-house records.
But I used to make kind of jazz-influenced stuff ages ago already on Compost Records, I don’t know if you know that.
I had another project that’s called Procreation.
Oh, OK. I didn’t know that.
So yeah, I always had that side as well, but I think these two production approaches, like, the more musical side and the more heavy, beat-oriented, loop-style techno kind of stuff, kind of came closer together, and yeah, you can maybe, sometimes you can hear it in my beats still. There’s still a lot of pumping beats, but now it’s more melodic and slower in tempo and stuff. So I guess the two projects just came closer together over the years. When you release a record, there’s always one or two years before that in terms of, you’ve already been in the process of changing over, but the people then think, “Oh wow, this record is so different,” because they didn’t really realize the evolution that you go through in your studio. Because, yeah, they only see when it’s released.
And I guess especially when you have — like a few years ago you had some huge tracks that did really well, almost crossing over, and I guess for a lot of people, there will be these spikes where people suddenly take notice of you again if they haven’t heard from you in a while.
That’s true, yeah. They might have been unaware of me for two, three years of whatever, and then my record is doing well again, they are surprised that it’s changed so much.
Yeah. With that in mind, have you ever thought, you’ve been using the name Deetron for so long and people change their names so they’re not always associated with their past, have you ever thought that that would help you in terms of certain releases so people don’t think, “Oh, this is a Deetron track; it’s going to sound like something I may have heard five, or six, 10 years ago”?
Yeah. I mean it could be to get people to listen to the tracks without, like, a pre-mindset or something like that because they expect the Deetron-whatever sound, or whatever it might be. But I think in recent years, definitely since the release of the album [Twisted] in 2006, I kind of went left and right in terms of styles. Like you said, the Jerome Derradji release and lots of vocal remixes for Osunlade and stuff like that. Tt’s also like [when] I listen to music, I can’t really just listen to one genre or I couldn’t make music in just one style, you know. It wouldn’t really be attractive for me so I think people have to get used to not expecting too many similar things coming from me.
Yeah. I know a lot of producers I’ve spoken to, no matter how they start out, whether they are making very hard techno or whatever sort of style, at some point it seems they want to embrace more of, I guess, the musicianship behind production. Do you ever use organic instruments or anything like that?
Yeah, just guest musicians, really, and my father plays the double bass; he’s a classical musician in the Bernese Symphony Orchestra, and he plays some jazz also so sometimes I sample him. I had Paul Randolph from Detroit, who you might know of, I had him play the bass line for a new track, which is coming out soon. So it’s just guest musicians. I’m working with a clarinetist at the moment as well. I find it really exciting to work with other people, also with vocalists and musicians and stuff. It kind of broadens my horizon, and gives a lot of input as well.
So when you’re working with other musicians like this, have you already thought about the part that they’ll play? Or are you just asking them to jam on top of what you’ve got already?
It really depends. Like in the case of this bass line track, I had the bass line written already, like the basic sort of bass line, I wrote it on — well, I played it on my piano — but I just needed a good bass sound so I sent this over [to Paul Randolph], and he played it for me. Pretty much similar, but then he did some licks and adds and stuff. He made it much more lively. But in other cases, I just send the track over and tell the people to do whatever they want to. And then when I get the stuff back, I edit it. I edit the stuff and add effects or whatever.
In terms of your career to date, I’m sure it’s gone through many different points of growth and things like that, but for you, with your understanding of music and your abilities as a producer, what would you say have been some of the defining moments for you in your career?
That’s a bit tough to say, but the first EP that also worked really well for me and I think finally I had found the sort of style and sound was the EP I released on Intec, and that was in 2001, I think. There’s this track on there, “Don’t You Know Why,” that Derrick [May] picked up on, and Jeff [Mills] and stuff so it got played by a lot of people, and that was really good for my profile as well. So I think that was kind of the first step that I made. And then in 2006, the Twisted album, that for sure. I was really working a long time on that, and when it finally got finished, I was happy. It did considerably — it did pretty well. And in recent times, there’s been remixes that I’ve been particularly happy with. Like the one I did for Ezel, I don’t know if you’re aware of that. It’s on a sub-label of Yoruba. A guy called Carlos Mena runs it. And yeah, that’s pretty much it.
I actually just discovered your remix you did for Miguel Migs recently, which is really incredible. How did you come to do that or how did he approach you?
Well, he must have heard some of my remixes and just sent me an email. I really like the vocals because they’re really sweet and soft and soulful. I really wanted to add a bit of a kick to it so I did this rather rough bass line with a Roland JX-8P that I have. I think some people were surprised by the really heavy kick drum, but I made a point to do a really, really heavy kick drum, just to give an, kind of an anti… antidote? To the really mellow vocal kind of things.
With remixes like that, when you’ve got someone who’s produced a straight-up house record, knowing that you can make a house track or a techno track, do they come to you and just give you free reign to do whatever you like, or does the original artist ever say, “This is kind of the thing we’re looking for”?
They kind of try to give you instructions and stuff sometimes, but I ignore it, pretty much, because they kind of know what sort of remixes I do, so they sort of know what to expect, in a way. And I found it funny that they mention certain tracks that they really like and stuff. They try to push you in a certain direction, but I don’t get influenced by that at all. So far no remixes have been turned down so I’m lucky from that point of view. [laughs]
Oh, that’s good. Can you tell us a little bit about your Balance mix that you did, incorporating digital and vinyl into one?
At my gigs, I always play vinyl and I also bring CDs, and the thing is I make a lot of edits of tracks at home and vocals and a cappellas and stuff, so I really wanted to show that side of DJing as well. It’s like almost sort of a production sort of approach to DJing, and I really wanted to showcase that on one of the CDs. With the two-CD format it was just perfect to have a strictly analog mix and a digital mix, you know? And then for the vinyl mix, I even cut the exclusive tracks on dubplates so that it’s really vinyl only, and that was really fun to do, as well.
So basically, when you play CDs is that because of these edits you’ve made and perhaps new promos and things like that that you’ve got?
Yeah, because I think the last time I got a promo on vinyl was, like, five years ago or something.
Yeah, it’s sad; you don’t get them anymore.
[laughs] Yeah, it’s really sad, but I’m happy to buy any vinyl, and usually when I get stuff on promo and it’s really good stuff, I play it, as long as it’s not released on vinyl, from CD, and then I usually buy the vinyl as well. The advantage of playing vinyl, as well, is that nowadays lots of releases are coming out just vinyl exclusive, and lots of people who are playing digital are not really aware of these things. I find that a really big advantage as well. But the main point about me, the reason why I play vinyl is the kind of physical approach of vinyl. You can grab it, you have a cover and everything. It’s just because I DJ quite quickly, I change songs quickly and stuff. It’s easier for me to find the right records to play and stuff. Even with the CDs I get confused sometimes, finding the right tracks.
Yeah, definitely. There’s just that thing of flicking through the records and knowing which track you’ve got.
Yeah, it’s amazing. I’m trying to think if someone could come up with an iPad app for Serato or something that could have the record box feel, but it could never the same.
Yeah, not quite. At the moment are there any really interesting projects you’ve got on the go? I mean I know you’re saying you’re working with a clarinetist at the moment. But yeah, have you got any other — ?
Like more concrete stuff that’s about to release, you mean?
I actually finished this track with Andy Butler, finally, which I was working on for a long time. It just took much longer than I expected because it took a long time for him to send the vocals, and then I kind of had them sit around on my computer for a while because I was working on so many remixes last year. And I finally got to finish it two weeks ago. That should be released fairly soon. I got Jamie Jones for a remix as well and Ripperton. But that’s going to be, I don’t know how and when exactly, but it should be before the summer and on Music Man. And other than that, not too much concrete stuff. There’s remixes coming out this week, I think on Hot Creations for an act called PBR Streetgang. And another one, I’m working on one for Candi Staton, if you remember her.
Yeah, Defective licensed a track of hers so I was quite surprised. And I’m doing a remix for that.
So is this a new track of hers?
I think it’s an old-ish track. It’s a house track, basically, and yeah, I can’t really find it on the internet. It’s called “Hallelujah Anyway.” In terms of lyrics, it’s pretty gospel-ish, as a lot of her stuff is. But the vocals are so good. I really had to do that one, and I’m doing another one for this act called Noir from Norway. He had this big Solomun remix last year you might have heard of. And other than that, that’s pretty much it.
Well hey, that’s quite a lot to have on your plate. What about album-wise? Is that something that interests you, to do another album?
Yeah, for sure. I just keep, I kept announcing it and delaying it so I’m really careful with that right now. I just don’t say anything about any album anymore. It will be released at some point, but I really can’t say when.
When it happens, it happens.
That’s it, yeah.
Actually, you’ve got so many remixes you’ve done and I’m sure you must get hit up to do remix work so often, do you ever find that that gets in the way of doing your own tracks? I’m not sure how producers generally feel about it, if they’re happier doing their own music or if they’re quite happy doing a hell of a lot more remixes.
Yeah. Well, it definitely gets in the way for your own productions because it’s always like you give a track away, sort of. Most of the times, anyway. You have a starting point, that’s why I almost only accept vocal remixes right now, because I need something to work with. If you give me a techno track to remix, it’s like there’s not even a point, really, to do a remix. I’m more tempted to do stuff that has vocals or like Candi Staton or anything like that that’s a little bit more across other genres, so to speak. I did so many remixes last year I did hardly any of my own tracks. So I really want to change that this year, and that’s why I just — I get remix requests on a daily basis, but I can’t do any more. Because I still have two to finish right now, or three. And at the same time I want to finish another single and stuff. You know, I don’t work extremely fast.
In general how long will it take you to produce a track?
It really depends. Maybe, I would say between one and two weeks until it’s really finished. Because I start with something and then it doesn’t really work out, and I change things, and I let it sit for a while, take it back, and then finish the arrangement, or I keep adding stuff. And then I mix down still with an analog mixer so every time I change the settings I sort of have to start over again. It’s a long process.
So sometimes you end up scrapping everything that you’ve got just because you’ve got one new sound coming in or something as well.
Yeah, that’s totally how it is. I make a new sort of bass line, and everything else doesn’t fit anymore so it has to go.
Nice. Now what can you tell us about the mix that you’ve done for us?
Yeah, well, there’s quite a lot of this sort of — I don’t know how to describe it, but there’s a lot of UK stuff on there. Like Scuba and Floating Points and that sort of stuff, but it’s essentially, it’s techno and house, I think, but with this sort of influence that I’m really interested in — this stuff coming from the UK. Really like Joy Orbison and all these people. It’s just sort of a fresh sort of touch to techno, I think, which is really welcome.