If you don’t already know about Gerd Janson – you should. The boss of the Running Back label is a man with many talents and one of the nicest, most interesting people you could hope to meet within the electronic music scene. A highly respected DJ and music journalist he has successfully steered Running Back through a decade of releases, curating a roster that has included Disco Nihilist, Jacob Korn, Mark E, Move D, Redshape and Theo Parrish. With a recent Deviation appearance under his belt, a new album from Lauer on the way and a four-hour set scheduled for Butter Side Up at Leeds this weekend, it seemed like a good time for Olly Chubb to run after him.
Tell us a bit more about Running Back. How did it start? Where did the name come from? I’d love to tell you a pulsating and profound story that led to its inception, but there really isn’t one. The truth is that it was always the pipe dream of a friend of mine who was quite active on the production side of music back then, and releasing lots of records as Glance on Stir15 or Siro on Klang. When I had some break from university (that went on for too long actually), we just did it. Ten years ago. Finding a name was the hardest part. In fact, I was ready to name it after the beautiful animal that is a penguin, but my partner vetoed. Another good friend of ours, and born American Football player, DJ Thomas Hammann, came up with the name referring to the player in the offensive backfield. We liked it, and being the cocky eggheads we were back then (dreaming about re-releasing house classics while praying to the Jesus icon that is David Mancuso), the supposed double meaning made it all the more appealing.
How has the label evolved over the last decade? Has the idea behind it changed? Is this where you thought you’d be ten years on? Of course, it has had its changes. First of all, my partner decided to run back a bit further and ended up somewhere near the Wigan Casino, trading his 12”s for expensive and collectable Northern soul 7”s. Also, it basically went from one release a year in its first five years of existence to about ten a year and from releasing music from friends who lived around the corner to releasing music from friends from all over the world. Except for that, not much has changed. I basically treat it like going to a record shop myself – within reason of course. Ten Years ago? Referring back to the cocky egghead, I thought I would be the dean of a university by now.
What were your influences growing up? What was it that first got you into electronic music? Believe it or not, it happened through the leader of the Boy Scout group I was in. I think I must have been 13 years old and growing up near Frankfurt am Main. It was one of the hotbeds for club culture in Germany at that time. Older teenagers where used to going to discotheques and even the public radio had DJ shows like the “hr 3Clubnight” with Sven Väth. Said group leader had such a tape with him while we were on a hiking excursion and I heard “Total Confusion” by A Homeboy, A Hippie & A Funki Dredd. Must have been ’91. That was it.
Was it always your intention to focus on being a DJ rather than a producer? As with everything I do, intention and focus are random factors. My intention was actually to become a music journalist because I liked going to nightclubs, dancing and collecting the records that were being played there. I thought if I could be of some use, it’d be writing about it, to hone my writing skills on my way to an academic or journalistic career. Being asked to DJ eventually happened through some friends who encouraged me to do it. As I think of myself as being pretty unmusical, I thought of it as a tough goal to manage and still do – let alone trying to produce music on my own. Holding some of those so-called producers in such high esteem is still a barrier to me. Not knowing how something is made can sprinkle something with magic. Looking behind that curtain can be sobering – which doesn’t mean that everyone can do it.
You’re a well-known crate digger and finder of hidden gems. Do you think it’s become harder to do this, and stand out, with increased access to information and music? Am I? There are people out there that I would consider that, but I either cheat or find things by accident. Even if I can spend hours and hours in record shops and at private dealers, I never felt the urge to go to a Ukrainian flea market to find outsiders of the communist system experimenting with custom made modular synthesizers. On the other hand, I like to have records that I heard somewhere and try to hunt them down. This leads us to the internet and that made everything readily available, accessible, but also opened up another can of worms. No matter how much you think you know, there is no end to that barrel of music you are interested in. You can spend your whole life with the various incarnations of reggae music alone. With increased access to information comes increased information without the time or ability to process it all. So it’s easier to get what you want, but it’s tougher to want all that you can get.
Tell us a bit more about your role with the Red Bull Music Academy. What made you want to get involved? Working as a music journalist made me want to get involved. I always looked upon the project from the historians and storytelling perspective and described it as the life of a music journalist compressed into two weeks. Also, it has never been done in a market crier kind of way and from the very first moment tried to give a broad perspective whilst paying respect to innovators, forefathers, and successful, as well as over-looked, yet important people alike. And I got asked to join the team. How can you say no?
I saw you play at Plastic People last year with Ben UFO… Do you enjoy playing in the UK? How do you think it differs from playing elsewhere? The nice thing about playing in the UK is that people accept quite a broad range of music. They seem to have a certain goodwill regarding the freedom they allow their DJs and like the odd pop moment, which is crucial to the survival of a cheese ball like me – unless you play New Order’s “Blue Monday” at a car park rave that is.
What do you think about the electronic music scene in the UK? It probably is at its most exciting state for a long time. You have invented music with bass! Seriously though, there are all these new kids, throwing the rulebook out of the window, citing rave and house classics while rising like a phoenix from dubstep. Then there is the disco scene that has been steady and happening since people like Harvey, the Idjut Boys or Nuphonic illustrated in the nineties that there has been dance music before house. You have a vivid indie scene, mavericks like James Holden, Four Tet and Floating Points, shops where you can get all of that at the same time and still a new genre every month.
Which artists or labels are exciting you at the moment? It would be obvious to cite American hotbeds like 100% Silk and Not Not Fun, the L.I.E.S. empire or King Midas aka Todd Terje, but the truth is that it’s too much too mention. I cannot remember when there has been a better time for record shopping than today. Old and new music alike, long lost classics and unclassics, good looking and sounding dudes like Kindness and geniuses like Maurice Fulton, Theo Parrish, Morgan Geist, Sound Stream or Pepe Bradock still making records with no end in sight. What more can you ask for?
Gerd Janson will be playing at Butter Side Up this Friday in Leeds. Full info here.
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