Maas appeal! Techno-master Timo jets in for a set at Nasimi Beach
With a decade-long residency at one of Ibiza’s most notable clubs and a propensity to shape shift sounds in ever mutating sonic experiments, DJ and producer Timo Maas has a key role in defining the underground zeitgeist.
Not many DJs or producers manage to score as big a hit as Timo Maas’s remix of Azzido Da Bass’ Doom’s Night and then go on to even bigger things in the ensuing years. But that’s exactly what happened to this West German, because after that dancefloor-slaying, UK chart climbing and cross-genre hit, he has gone on to record a number of high profile, collaboration-heavy albums that have helped define the zeitgeist. As well as that, he is a wise and experienced selector who has played every type of event and most major countries at least once in the course of his 20-year plus career.
Before underground notoriety and a travel schedule to rival the richest international playboys, though, Timo had to learn his trade on tough local circuits in his German hometown. Aged 17 he got his first set of decks and by the early ’80s he was already playing out, but mainly at friends’ parties. Eventually he began to get gigs around Germany but was limited to playing commercial Top 40 records. Around 1992, the local rave scene really took off around Timo and he found himself happily submerged in the new high-tempo techno that was all the rage.
Before long he was performing all-techno sets and was getting something of a reputation for doing so outside his usual circles. As such, in the mid ’90s, Timo was installed as resident at Hamburg’s famous The Tunnel club and eventually began getting gigs around the UK and Europe. The rest, as they say, is history, though you could argue those formative experiences had a lasting effect on Timo, because even to this day he is occasionally found dabbling with chart hits, namely when remixing the likes of Madonna, Kelis and Fatboy Slim.
Having established himself as a DJ of some repute, Maas’s production was the next thing to put him on the map. Starting out in the mid ’90s he had a slick, funky and heavily percussive techno sound that came on now long forgotten labels like Phuture Wax, 3 Lanka and Planet Breakz.
as well as being a master craftsmen of direct dancefloor dynamite, Maas has also got a reputation for his wide ranging and ambitious studio albums.
“It’s about working out musical ideas that will not find the right platform as a single,” says Timo, when asked how differently he approaches album and single production. “It depends on how much you limit yourself. For example, at the time of the album I had the opportunity to work with someone from a different background and we collaborated on the first track on the album. He’s a professor of music who studied jazz and played with very important people like Whitney Houston and many others. I like this way or working: I like to hang out with these musicians and let unexpected genres collide and see what the result is. If it’s fun for everyone then we can listen back and say, ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting.’ I like that experimentation and not knowing what the result is going to be.”
In the past Timo’s albums have featured high-profile collaborations with international stars such as Finley Quaye, Neneh Cherry and Placebo’s Brian Molko, and his latest one, Lifer, released last year, is no different. “I have always been diverse on my albums,” he says in crisp English. “With Lifer, again I tried to break from expectation and take in a wide spread of musical influences, from ’70s prog rock feelings to deep house basslines and things like that. I try not to limit myself, especially when I work with my production partner Santos. It’s always important to look further and more left and right than people expect.”
Across the course of the 11-track LP you will find oriental washed ambient, trippy house, sleazy hip hop, wonky tech-house and more besides. The guests include Mikill Pane, Placebo’s Brian Molko and Katie Cruel but also, interestingly, James Lavelle, founder of seminal ’90s label Mo Wax and a member of alt dance act UNKLE. It’s Lavelle’s first ever vocal for anyone but his own band and is something about which Timo is understandably proud.
“UNKLE was always an early attempt to combine dance with alternative,” explains Timo on the hook up. “I was always listening to their early stuff and was a big fan. [James] has done amazing music in the past but I never met him until a few years ago, and then when we met at some festival I immediately told him, ‘You’re my hero! I’ve been following you since forever and I just wanted to say how much you have done for my understanding of music.’ Basically, he told me exactly the same about what I did with techno in the early days. He said it had always been an influence on him and we agreed we had to try to work on something together.”
There’s no rest for an artist still as energetic as Timo, though, and following on from the expressive and expansive LP came a new single for a label with which he has become closely associated, namely My Favorite Robot, in Canada, but also a new EP featuring a track from the Lifer album in the form of Tantra. It’s a storming single with rainy, teary-eyed melodies and comes with a slick official video. More importantly, it also comes with an on-point selection of remixes that include Hypercolour’s bass inventor Tom Demac and famed Canadian vocalist/My Favorite Robot member, James Teej. Of course, the single landed on Timo’s own Rocket & Ponies, the label he runs with friend and production partner Santos, and has done for the last four or so years. Largely releasing Timo’s own music, it has also championed the likes of Adam Port and Mutant Clan, the duo of Timo and Sante Pucello, and has become a respected outlet in the process.
Last year brought up another notable milestone for 44-year-old Timo: it marked a decade for him as resident at one of underground house and techno’s most mythologised clubs, Circo Loco at DC10 out in Ibiza. Citing it as “a very unique experience that makes me very proud”, Timo initially played there three years after the club first opened, then soon after had the opportunity to become a firm part of the family.
“I’ve had some of the most amazing moments of my whole DJ career over there,” he says with genuine enthusiasm in his voice. “It’s fascinating and interesting what the guys behind Circo Loco create year after year. They basically grow stars. They are strongly focused on their strange but wonderful residents and the people who play there because they really believe in the talent. Look back at past years and some really important and strong DJs have played there, like Matthias Tanzmann or Loco Dice or Seth Troxler – people who have their own following around the world all went through DC10. Ricardo Villalobos is another great example; he played the opening party in 1998 and at that time no one knew about him. Now he is definitely one of the top and most sophisticated DJs worldwide.”
Timo says his residency at Circo Loco allows him to play with more confidence because he knows the crowd there are open to a much more diverse spread of music. “If you do only what you want then it sounds honest and strong. I have so much respect for the guys that run it because they gave me a platform to develop my sound and be honest to the sound I really love. The crowd is always open minded so it doesn’t matter if you play certain tracks, as long as you play great there’s always a good response and great feeling there as a DJ. You can explore a different side of yourself.”
Playing for Plus Minus Sessions at Dubai’s Nasimi Beach this weekend, Timo is sure to serve up the same tasty sonic treats he has been doing for two decades. By no means is he tiring, though, and before speaking of a desire to work with David Bowie in some capacity, he goes on to talk about yet another album that is already in the works. “It’s more dancefloor orientated but I can’t mention any names. An official announcement will come soon so keep an eye on social media, that’s all I will say.”
Nasimi Beach, Atlantis, The Palm. Taxi: Atlantis, The Palm. Friday, 2pm to 3am. Ladies free and blokes Dhs100 before 7pm. After 7pm, it’s Dhs150 for all. nasimibeach.com