Markus Schulz is arguably a legend in the trance scene. With over two decades of DJing experience under his belt, being an international star in the Trance community and fostering his own label, Coldharbour Records as well as his own artist management company, Schulz never seems to slow down. After a major year touring and developing new music all while running his label and management company, Markus Schulz sits down with us to the discuss the end of 2017 and 2018, his career over the years and talks about his upcoming return to Denver’s Trancegiving event!
So first off I have to ask, you’ve been in the dance music scene since the 90s and are coming up on almost 30 years as a DJ and major part of the trance community. What has been the biggest shock to you in where dance music has gone in the last 20+ years?
I suppose there are a couple of things. One would be the advances in technology and increase in the quality of production software. Back in the day you either had to buy a lot of hardware, at great expense, or hire a studio to produce a track. Then you had to spend money cutting around 50 acetates and pass them round to fellow DJs in the hope they will support it and someone in the record industry will notice. But now the means in which to produce are so accessible. You can be anywhere in the world with your laptop and be creative. The other huge change would have to be how enormous the scene became in the United States. It’s a phenomenon, and something I could never have imagined happening. I remember when I first moved to the US as a 13 year old, and during that time, hip-hop ruled the radio. Nowadays the radio is dominated and heavily influenced by dance music. And on the performance side, the US is arguably the envy of the world when it comes to the best festivals. The huge shows like EDC, Ultra, the Dreamstate events – they are absolutely spectacular and as a community we should be proud of how special these gatherings are. And this of course filters down into the lifeblood of the scene – the clubs.
What has been your favorite trend or new ‘style’ (or sound) to emerge from the electronic community in your time as a DJ? Is there any style outside of trance you have played around with and tried producing?
I would have to say the melodic-based techno sound. It’s crazy, because when I started doing the open to close solo sets on an international scale, I couldn’t have imagined this feverish excitement from my fanbase when it comes to moving out of the peak hour chaos and into the rabbithole. The connoisseurs would absolutely kill me if I classed myself as playing techno, but I do love those tracks where the melodies are very subtle behind the driving basslines and percussion. When my career began building internationally, I made the decision to have a European base as well as home in Miami; with the idea that if I had successive weekends playing in Europe, I would stay there and reduce travel. The place I chose was Berlin, and I think it has had a profound influence on me when it comes to the melodic techno style. My third artist album as Dakota is coming out soon, titled The Nine Skies. And to be honest with you, I don’t think I could have made it had I been living in Miami all year round.
Who are some of your favorite upcoming trance producers that you’ve been keeping an eye on? Do you have a favorite release from any of them in 2017?
If I could mention more than one, I would have to include the guy who for me is representing Canada so proudly with how his career is progressing, and that is Montreal’s Solid Stone. He was quite a broad-ranging producer a few years ago, but decided that the deeper progressive sound was where his heart lay; and he has gone on to become one of the biggest contributors in that genre right now. I’m really proud of how he’s playing an ever increasing role in the clubs through our Coldharbour Nights worldwide. The second installment of Solid Stone’s We Are One EP series is coming to Coldharbour before the end of the year, and you will have heard some of the tracks on the special Global DJ Broadcast Afterdark mix, as well as the recent World Tour from Stereo in Montreal. My current favorite from him would be Detox. I also have to highlight the UK brotherly duo Arkham Knights, who are really hitting their stride these days. Their sound reminds me of the kind of tech-trance that was prominent in Tiesto’s sets back when he was top of the mountain as far as trance fans were concerned. Their current single Gravity is one of the biggest tracks in my live sets all year long, and they have already fueled my current sets with their next tracks which will be coming out on Coldharbour early next year. They had a great time playing at New City Gas in Montreal back in January, so I need to get them over to Canada more often. And despite him not being an up and comer, I am absolutely loving the sound that Jam El Mar is pushing right now. His two tracks Four Full Moon Days and Three Full Moon Nights are ever present in every set I have played in the past couple of months, and I was also privileged to work with him on an updated version of his classic Jam & Spoon track Odyssey to Anyoona.
On top of being an international DJ and producer, you also are the founder of label Coldharbour Recordings, run your management agency SMG and have your own mix series Global DJ Broadcast. That’s a lot to manage, how do you balance it all while keeping a healthy lifestyle? How would you suggest other hopefuls take on this amount of work?
I think it’s the drive and desire to live out your dreams. Undoubtedly, the most difficult aspect of the job by far is the travel involved – the amount of time spent at airports, flying through multiple time-zones, jetlagged so much that your body clock is completely upside down, but at the same time you have to gather yourself and deliver an A-grade performance, because the fans are paying their hard earned money to be entertained as best as possible. I play around 175 gigs a year, with maybe even up to 300 days away from Miami. With a tour schedule like that, you have to be disciplined towards your body too – eat sensibly, take advantage of the gym facilities in hotels and don’t go too crazy with alcohol. One of my golden rules is never to drink during a DJ performance. I guess the easiest way to approach things is just to take things on a day-to-day basis. When you are entrenched in the work, it doesn’t really feel like a massive deal. But every little element plays an integral part to the full presentation – Global DJ Broadcast is an important testing ground for new material to filter into the livesets (and with a weekly deadline), Coldharbour Recordings is the outlet for showcasing the upcoming talents, and acts as the fulcrum of my sets, and Schulz Music Group is the platform to help deserving people strive towards their dreams. One of the tricks I have utilized over the past few years is that once every few months I will have a “switchoff” day – usually a random Monday after being on the road. During that day I’ll turn off the laptop and turn off the phone, and generally try to decompress. If I can get one of those days in without distractions, then it’s helpful to recharge and get back on the grid again.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice on any of your business / music endeavors, what would be the first thing you’d want to let yourself know?
It’s difficult, because what happened to me back when I was starting out would be a very different situation today. When I was trying to establish myself as a DJ while living in Arizona, it was coming into the mid 90s. There was no everyday internet access. To me, I think of my actual career beginning during my time in London, and all of my time before that as learning. During my days in Arizona, I was always chasing – chasing whatever big trend was happening, or what I thought was happening at the time. And that was a large reason why I was feeling frustrated. I wanted to succeed outside of Arizona but I couldn’t because of chasing. As soon as I settled in London, around the turn of the millennium, the key component hit me – I need to make music that I can comfortably play in my own DJ sets. If I can play the track in my own sets, then other people can play it in theirs as well. You have to make something that represents your heart and soul. That to me is the most important. So it took me quite some time to reach that point, but at the same time the learning process, making mistakes; guiding people through a musical journey all night in a club – they all helped lay the foundations.
You’re gearing up for a performance in Denver for Trancegiving on November 22nd, so in the spirit of the US holiday what would you say you’re most thankful for?
It would undoubtedly have to be the fact that I am one of the very few lucky ones who gets to do what they love for a living. People ask me very often – what would your job be if you weren’t a DJ, and I honestly can’t give them a proper answer, because I genuinely believe that I was put on this earth to entertain people through this medium. There are so many talented people in this industry who don’t make it or catch that essential break, meaning that they have to give up their dream and secure a different job to support themselves and their family. So I take absolutely none of this for granted. For some in the scene, their goal is to get in, make their money and get out as quickly as possible. But for me, I want to keep doing this for as long as my health allows. It could be all over tomorrow.
Do you have any crazy stories or memories from playing in Denver previously with your long history in the city?
I think it was during one of the Thanksgiving Eve shows. I arrived at the venue early, so went around exploring for a while before getting focused on the work later that night. I went downstairs and there was this rock party going on, and I got sucked in to the vibe! The DJ was playing music from bands like The Cure, and had I not been playing that night, I would happily have stayed there all evening. But I do love playing for the fans in Denver, especially being asked so often to perform on Thanksgiving Eve at The Church nightclub over the years. I think I have spent more Thanksgiving mornings in Denver than my hometown of Miami in the past decade!
With 2018 approaching swiftly, are there any goals you really want to accomplish in the upcoming year? Did you accomplish your goals for 2017 or are there any that you plan to continue pursuing in 2018?
You know, this year has been so unbelievably busy that I haven’t really had time to reflect on everything that has been achieved. My main goal was presenting The Nine Skies as Dakota, both as a live show, and now as an album, which I can tell you has been finished and ready for release soon. The Nine Skies at Transmission in Prague on November 25 is going to be filmed for DVD, and will be part of a special album box set. As Christmas approaches, I am preparing for the annual Global DJ Broadcast Classics Showcase. I have worked really hard with those special themed shows this year – the four seasons series if you will – comprising of the Classics Showcase, the all-vocal trance mix In Bloom, the Sunrise Set for the summer, and Afterdark for the rabbithole and Halloween – because I want those to be really special collectors’ edition sets for the fans to keep forever. And New Year’s Eve will be approaching soon, which means another open to close solo set at Avalon in Los Angeles. So much to get done before 2017 is over, including Thanksgiving Eve in Denver of course. And for 2018, let’s just say I have been working on that already…
Keep up with Schulz as he prepares for what is guaranteed to be an amazing 2018, and if you’re located in Denver this Trancegiving season, make sure to check him out at The Church Nightclub on Wednesday, November 22nd.