umami’s music has journeyed across a colourful music spectrum, releasing productions on labels such as Katermukke, 3000 Grad, Budenzauber, Sacrebleu and Boys Deep, aways thinking outside the box with their brilliant left-of-centre creations. With their brand new ‘RGB EP’ dropping on Favouritizm, we caught up with the anomalous duo.
Interview by Ratha Gud
Sam, Robert a big welcome to DMCWORLD… where in the world are you right now?
Sam: Thanks for having us! We are in Berlin right now in my studio room in Prenzlauer Berg.
What was the first piece of music you heard this morning after crawling out of bed?
Sam: So far I’ve been listening to a Sam Harris podcast episode on my way to the studio. I love listening to calm and well reasoned discussions about science and society when I don’t work on our tracks… so no music yet!
Robert: I listened to a mix we just finished just in case there are some mistakes I’ve missed. I like listening to our own mixes, I mean at the end of the day its a DJ set containing a lot of my favourite tracks of the moment, so I can’t got wrong really.
You’ve got a new EP on FavourItizm, what can we look forward to musically from the release?
Sam: You get two tracks which carry the two different aspects that we love about tech-house music. One is ‘RGB’, the title track of the EP, and while its definitely meant for the club, its probably even better for listening at home. It has some beautiful harmonies and the beat is subordinated to it, providing a context and habitat for the harmony to live. ‘Detail’ on the other hand is purely created for an awesome time on the dance floor, with a massive bass in its centre.
Robert: We’ve shot a video for ‘RGB’ with a friend of ours – André from Morphium Film, on the coast with a drone with shots of us lying in the water. He had the idea for this when he was in Ireland letting the drone fly over the coast while filming the waves. We tried it with our new track, which didn’t have a name back then, and André wanted to switch between black & white and the other basic colours and call it RedGreenBlue. So he didn’t just make the video but but named the track too!
You have a very distinctive sound, some would say a little quirky – to quote the RGB press release “special umami idiosyncrasy”. How would you describe it and where do these oddball creative moments come from?
Robert: Well, a little quirky is a good way to put it. We’ve always struggled with trying to fit in to the world of dance music and trying to integrate our creative output of melodies, harmonies and hooks. We are basically two people who aren’t made for doing dance music because we simply want too much! You have to have the experience and patience to give a beat enough space and room and not burden it with to many ideas.
Sam: In the beginning, when we started with umami, my main task was to open the ableton projects Robert had sent me and then delete tracks and shorten melody loops from 4 bars to 1 bar, for example.
What piece of studio kit is essential to your sound, what hardware do you use and how do you go about putting a new track together?
Robert: That would be the Prophet from Dave Smith. In the early days we almost always had a Tetra or a Mopho in there somewhere, so that typical Dave Smith analog oscillator sound is something we absolutely love for harmonies, chord progressions and lead sounds. And I have several Moogs in the studio
that I can’t live without.
Sam: My Neumann TLM49 is something I can’t do without. Maybe it isn’t as bright in the high frequencies as the more expensive mics, but it feels fuzzy, warm and clear at the same time.
Any new plug-ins you’d recommend?
Sam: They’re not really new, but we work with a lot with the usual suspects such as Fabfilter, Echoboys and Crystalizer from Soundtoys, Valhalla DSPs and of course, Autotune! I’m not the best singer in the world, but I really think that autotune gives my voice some kind of high frequencies that weren’t there before.
And it corrects the bad singing of course!
There’s also a debut album on the way too which we can’t wait to hear, does it differ much from your previous productions and will you be looking to perform live shows?
Sam: Yes it will differ because we don’t have to consider making every track DJ friendly. That seems trivial, but if you are touring as a DJ, you kind of loose sight of the fact that music isn’t always only created for the dance floor.
Robert: And its weird that this is our debut album considering we have been releasing music for almost seven years now, but we just never really had the patience until now. So its the first time we’re producing umami tracks without thinking about the dancefloor. That doesn’t mean its an pop or singer/songwriter album of course. We won’t go all the way and have like a verse – pre chorus – chorus structure, but some tracks will, for example, start with a pad or a melody, instead of a pure beat. Just these small changes in how you approach the track can give it a completely different mood.
Who would you most like to remix or make a track with?
Sam: Rampa! I love his sound! Its really sticks out in this ocean of same-sounding tech-house releases. And I really like the organic feel with the percussions and the synths. His remix of “Who Am I” is one of my favourite tracks of all time.
Robert: I don’t know, Daniel Steinberg? I always love his stuff.
What’s been your biggest challenge in your music career so far, what challenges do you currently face as djs and artists and what needs to change in the industry?
Robert: I think our main challenge right now is to get people to listen to other aspects of our music. We started out in an environment where gypsy house and electro swing were cool and trendy. So a lot of people who got to know us back then think that’s the music that we are all about.
And then in the period after that, when everybody was sampling pop songs into deep house, we had pretty succesful edit too. So people who got to know us then think that’s our main thing. And once people have associated your name with something, they never disconnect this first attribution unless you do something really breathtaking that makes them reconnect with your art.
Sam: The thing is, what we’re trying to do now on this album, is in part what we did before we even had our first release. And that is trying to create wonderful melodic landscapes and hooks, that have a dark edge but still lift you up. Music that could be the soundtrack for an epic sci-fi drama or something.
Robert: Another thing about the dance music scene, at least in our experience, is that it is all branching out in different directions and getting fragmented. Not that dance music hasn’t always been about a lot of genres, but the commercial success of deep house has made it less cool for the core
group of people who used to feel special about it. So a lot of people try to find the next thing that isn’t as mainstream, for example the Berghain style techno or really really slow beats. And fragmentation can lead to less diversity when people start to only listen to a very niche subgenre while ignoring
everything else that doesn’t fit in that sound category.
What top 5 tracks are top of your set list right now?
&me – Avalon
Simone Liberali – Moove Ya
Jiggler – Stairs
Jan Oberlaender & Bartos – Break The Stone
Stereo MC’s – Changes (Adam Port Remix)
Everyone’s inboxes are flooded with promos these days, how do you source your music for your DJ sets?
Sam: I don’t even bother to listen to promos so much anymore. I just buy the tracks on beatport because there I can browse through the recommandations from all the artists I like. And then listening to sets on Soundcloud from artists I know have good taste.
Robert: I mostly try to listen to almost everything thats released in the deep and tech house on Beatport. The pro is that I often find stuff that I like that isn’t played by everybody else. The con is that it takes a lot of time to even skip through such a big pile of music.
Sam: Yeah I think the insane amount of stuff that is being released is an unsolvable problem. It means that good music by definition has to have really good promotion to cut through the noise. It won’t get heard on its own merit so to say.
What events / festivals are you most looking forward to this year?
Robert: One thing we are really looking forward to is the Because We Are Friends Festival. It’s smaller, more intimate festival where a lot of friends and people we know are playing. And its the gig where we want to try out our new live set for the first time, so….
Sam: Lets hope it won’t be legendary for its failing drum machines, mic feedback and awkward silence!
What’s the maddest thing you’ve seen or experienced out on the road?
Sam: Ok so this story is really true. We played live in a club in small city in northern Germany and I was just singing live with a microphone on stage during one of our tracks. Then this guy comes crawling, yes literally crawling so the people in front of the stage wouldn’t see him, up behind me from the back of the stage. Then he pinches my legs like he wants me to know he has a question and I just stare at him angrily because I am singing and it is a bit difficult to talk and sing at the same time! So I sing my part while he kind of just waits there on the ground. And when I’m finished I lean down and ask him “What?” and he holds up is hand with a tiny piece of paper and asks me “You want some LSD?”.
Your best classic album of all time is?
Robert: Depeche Mode – Music For The Masses. That was my starting point for creating music and I would probably be somewhere else creatively, if that album hadn’t existed.
Sam: 50Cent – Get Rich Or Die Trying! My personal top ten of most heard tracks in my lifetime, if you could somehow get those stats, would probably mostly just be tracks from that album!
Finally what’s coming next from uamami?
Robert: Well, we have the album, but we only have the name, “In Exchange For Everything” and the first single “RGB” and everything else is still work in progress. But apart from that we both have solo projects that we are working on whenever there’s free time.
Sam: So basically never.
Robert: You never work on it because you’re lazy as hell and play computer games all day! I have my solo album almost ready!
Sam: The name of his solo project is “HELMS” just in case anybody actually wants to check it out.
‘RGB EP’ will be released on July 24th on Favouritizm