Stephan Bodzin – A path to happiness

Credit: Kenton Thatcher

German version

Sometimes it really is all about looking at things from a distance that makes them seem better and suddenly much clearer. Energy that starts to flow and with increasing flow has a significant meaningful effect on things. For a thing that may be hard at first but suddenly seems to be so easy. This is how you could describe Stephan Bodzin’s 8-week journey to Trancoso, Brazil. This is where the Bremen, Germany native took a deep-dive into his unreleased music archive from which he picked his 25 favourite tracks. He then finalised 17 of them which will be released both digitally and on vinyl under the title „Boavista“ on October 8th 2021. After his last two critically acclaimed and fan adored albums „Liebe ist … from 2007 and „Powers Of Ten from 2015, this new release will now be his third solo album.

Again, Bodzin manages to tell stories and create musical images with every single track on the album. An evidence of Bodzin’s art that results from this and has always had an enormous significance: great emotions. Emotions that already start with the titles and continue to grow with the unmatched way how he performs these tracks on stages all around the world, living up to his reputation as one of the most gifted live acts of the electronic music scene. A couple of weeks ago, Stephan Bodzin burned his bridges in Bremen, only to rebuild them in Lisbon, Portugal. And right there, in the warm sun at the northwest end of the River Tagus before it runs into the Atlantic Ocean, is where we have met him.

Stephan, congratulations on your new album. Six years after „Powers Of Ten, „Boavista“ will be released which has a strong connection to your new home Portugal. How did this connection occur?

To be honest, I always wanted to call something „Boavista“. Either a song, an album or a book. But since I’m not a writer, it somehow fitted the album and even the title track. The name refers to an incredibly nice time I’ve had here in Lisbon in 2011 when we lived in „Rua Boavista“ for about 9 months.

What made you want to spend almost a year abroad?

A long period of boredom and weariness in Bremen so that one day we just got into the car. It was a FIAT 500 back then, jam-packed with my studio equipment, a few sanitary products and drinks for the road which is basically everything you really need (laughs). We kept this time in Portugal in the back of our heads ever since because it sure felt like a second home. And now we have made it our first home and moved here for good. Especially the pandemic era showed us how everything is finite and nothing in life can be taken for granted. That’s why I’m extremely happy to live in such a beautiful spot of the earth now.

The city surely has changed over the last 10 years. What particular moments have stayed in your memory from the time in 2011?

Countless moments like eating coriander straight from the bush in the market hall down at the Cais do Sodré where I used to buy fresh fish three times a week. Meanwhile they transformed the hall into the „Time Out Market and it became a spot for tourists but back then I used to love to stroll around the market in the morning. We also crossed the famous bridge to the Costa da Caparica almost every day to jump into the 15 degree cold water for at least 2 minutes. We would have loved to stay there longer but it was sometimes simply not possible, neither back then or now. Also, the fantastic restaurants and this impressive width here at the river mouth to the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, I have had the River Weser in Bremen but the River Tejo is still a bit more imposing and fascinating.

After spending all your live in Bremen you have now been in Portugal for around two months. How have the first weeks been?

That’s right, I have stayed in Bremen for 50 years and anyone who knows how to google correctly will notice that it might even have been a bit longer that that (laughs). And to be honest: I don’t miss a thing. It was nice to have a home base especially since travelling the entire planet took over such a major part of my life. And it was really nice to have friends and family united in one place. But during the pandemic and the lack of travelling we quickly noticed that the city is smaller than we thought and that there’s still so many great places left on planet earth that there’s simply no reason not to leave this place. We somehow had the feeling that we wanted to remain in Europe, though. This continent has loads of beautiful places but Lisbon is one of the southernmost metropolises, closest to the sun, with a mentality that mirrors all of this in a really nice way. Of course, the people here complain, too but always with a smile on their faces. In Germany people tend to frown, as we all know. And yes, bureaucracy here is even slower than in Germany and opening a bank account takes up to 4 hours instead on 4 minutes. But afterwards, you are friends with your band counsellor and invite him over for dinner (laughs). I know the baker around the corner on a first-name basis who after a few days handed me my double espresso without having to order it. From time to time we cruise up and down the Tejo in our little sailboat, nothing to posh but extremely fulfilling. This lifestyle is absolutely liberating and privileged and I’m so happy to become part of this mentality that I feel so connected to.

That sure sounds great. Imagine friends coming over – what are your absolute must do’s?

Eating pizza at Casa Bodzin for sure because someone told me it’s pretty good there. Apart from that as before mentioned, cruising the Tejo in a boat, preferably at sunset. By the way, you can take an extremely nice walk along the Tejo since there’s fantastic settings either way – the bridge and the city on the one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The variety of museums here is unmatched and offers something for everybody. And of course, going out for dinner, going out for dinner and definitely going out for dinner. But please avoid Tripadvisor if you can. The „Casa da India“ in the city centre is a clear recommendation, incredibly honest and authentic. You should also approach a beach on the other side of the bridge because the Costa da Caparica offers miles and miles of stunning beaches. Watching the surfers as well as checking out the surroundings for example in direction of Sintra. Nightlife is supposed to be quite good, too but I try to stay away from that due to my job. The Bairro Alto is the place to be for everything bar related for 365 days a week even on weekdays. It seems that nature and the sea have had a major influence on your mindset.

You have had your most productive working phase for „Boavista“ in Trancoso, a really idyllic part of Bahia in Brazil, right?

It sure seems like this, yes. I felt completely relaxed in Brazil. There have been and still are lots of moments in my life in which I listened to unfinished material of mine thinking it was not good enough. That might be the reason I hardly release anything. It seems that I have always been told – maybe as a kid – that I was somehow not good enough. That lead to a certain insecurity and also tension. But these two months in Trancoso opened up a totally different side of me, completely detached from any expectations of the audience out there. This resulted in a fundamental relaxation and focusing that helped me finish the album. I did spend two to three weeks in the studio to finish the details, though but I basically finished the album there night by night with half a bottle of wine and the unrestricted view on the Milky Way.

What has been your main drive to do another album after 2015?

The urge to change something for me. The same as for my last album. Back then I just wanted to get out there and perform live and needed material for that and now I wanted to play new stuff. As a DJ you are constantly fed with new tracks and it’s hard to keep track of them. It’s definitely harder as a live performer. During the last months more and more „IDs“ of unfinished tracks made it into my set that at some point simply needed to be manifested on a record. The album launch took place mid September during the „Afterlife“ event in New York City and it was amazing. The „Brooklyn Mirage“ still is one of the if not the most beautiful location in North America. That’s why I was extremely happy to have had the chance to play the new tracks there first.

Well, a total of 17 tracks should be enough material for a live show.

Yeah, 17 tracks are five too much to be honest but I have become attached to all of them so I couldn’t leave one of them out again. And so there’s more content for the show, right. The older material just gets added as an encore at the end for those who want them and didn’t have enough by then (laughs).

All song titles – some more, some less – are based on a personal story. That’s why the song „Astronautin“ deals with your daughter having found her dream profession at a very early age, right?

That’s the story. And yes, almost every track title has a very personal background. My mother passed away last year. She has had a great life and just peacefully fell asleep. The moment I got the news, I was playing the piano. I captured exactly this passage and it fills my heart with joy that I now have the song „Rose“ in her honour on my album. It’s a great memory. Every time I play it, my mother is somehow very present. „LLL“ for example is dedicated to the three most important people in my life while „Earth“ is an homage to the fundamental elements of life like water, fire, wind, time, light but also the rotation of the planet. A lot of the songs also deal with natural scientific topics and you could describe the theme of the album as „Infinite Monkey“ based on the probability theory of the same name. As we all know, it states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type all of the books in the National Library of France – it’s just a question of time.

So, was this track something like an accident or lucky chance?

When listening back or clearing out songs in the studio, I often notice that I really like lots of single elements and keep them for later. And this title is somehow the result of many of those elements. There were just thrown together in Brazil. On „Collider“ it was the combination of a soft melody and a quirky bass that I really like. Two worlds collide, creating a feeling – somehow a pattern in my music.

How would you describe the differences between your three previous solo albums? It seems to be that you are by now able to play much more uncaged and free. At least, that’s how it sounds like.

That’s absolutely true. One day I just accepted that I am who I am, that I do what I do and that I can do what I can do. The result of that is of course uncaged and more self-confident. I’ve been asking myself if I could really produce an album with up to 20 tracks that all share a similar structure regarding bass lines and other elements. Shouldn’t it rather sound more sophisticated and more fresh? Of course the fact of the matter is that nobody ever listens to my tracks as often as I do, simply because I perform them all the time. Having mentioned the circumstances in Trancoso earlier, I managed to take a healthier step back from my music. And that’s when I realised that this clearly is my very own style and that I like it quite much. Meanwhile I’m living a much more relaxed lifestyle thanks to this insight compared to the one only a year ago.

Over the last couple of years, you have branded your sound par excellence and the fans know by now what to expect from you. Would that be correct?

If you bought a Metallica album in a record store back in the days that sounded like AC/DC, you would have been disappointed. It’s like nowadays when you wouldn’t want to hear the sound of Charlotte de Witte on an album by Tale Of Us. Both great, both in their individual signature sound and both have their very own justification but at the end of the day, it’s two totally different worlds. Und that’s why a Bodzin album should come with a classic Bodzin sound, yes.

Between „Liebe ist …“ from 2007 and „Powers of Ten“ you switched from using Logic to using Ableton. The Moog Sub 37 played an important role six years ago. Back then, your trademark and now famous plexiglass controller has been in the final stages of its development with Tom Würzbach from Stuttgart.

Funny, how time flies. The Moog has been all over this album. I already recorded all the sounds for the album in 2020, except for „Boavista“. This song is yesterday’s news by now because the day of the production has been perfectly documented on the internet with an accidental video that went viral (laughs). And my controller is that popular by now that there’s already first replicas within the scene. It’s both an honour and extremely funny to me because I know that none of these replicas come even close to matching the workflow of my controller. My knowledge on all existing Midi controllers tells me that mine is the only one that turns a computer into a fully-fledged instrument. That’s what it was all about and it works perfectly.

Will there still be any adjustments to your current live set-up?

Yes, there will be some kind of reconstruction. Currently, I use the Moog Subsequent 37 on the right side and the controller right in front of me. Now I’m gonna add another tool that looks like a controller next to it and another synthesizer on the left side. Of course made from plexiglass, simply because I really like the look. With an additional semi-modular Moog Matriarch, I doubled my vehicle fleet so to speak. There will also be a Modor drum computer of similar size next to the controller. Modor is a rather small company from Antwerp who do quite crazy things in terms of percussions. I really used that a lot on the album. And of course, I’ve had it rebuilt in plexiglass (laughs).

When looking at your live show and performance, we couldn’t help but notice that your euphoria just keeps getting bigger and bigger over the years.

It just becomes more and more clear to me how much I enjoy to perform and even after all these years on tour, this euphoria just won’t decrease, that’s what I can confirm. This privileged feeling of standing on stage, giving as well as receiving emotions – this fascinates me weekend after weekend. These emotions cover all worlds in the process, from happiness up to sadness. A few weeks ago, I played „Rose“ to close the show and already had a few drinks. It was the first time, I started to cry during one of my shows simply because of the memory of my mother. So much, that I had to kneel down. All these emotions are part of my music that drives me every single day and that I want to keep doing for a very long time to come. And now I’m happy that I can finally share all this new content with the world around me. Again with the help of the incredible visuals by Daniel Rossa from Bremen who already put in fantastic work for „Powers Of Ten“ and will again bring the upcoming show visually to a whole new level.

The extremely colourful cover artwork of the album might hint at something rather multi-coloured.

The visuals to the last album have been rather reduced, using black and white imagery while I connect „Boavista“ to pure joy of life and use it as a metaphor for a perception of life, as the title tells us. This is completely positive to me. But „Boavista“ has many other meanings like a nice view out of a window is a „Boavista“, too since it simply means „good view“ in Portuguese. But everybody should have an individual take on it. To me, a good and clear perception of life, on the true essentials and especially on yourself, is extremely important. To me, „Boavista“ is like a path to happiness. And even though I prefer to wear black almost all of the time, I really dig colourful stuff and that’s why I had the deal with the designer to make the theme as colourful as possible. Chances are that the visuals will be first shown on November 6th at the „Printworks“ in London. And anybody who knows the venue, knows how predestined the walls there are for something like that. All Facebook headers we uploaded over the past weeks are part of the same cover artwork. And it’s from this artwork, that algorithms have been created for every single track, that I can modulate live on stage. Additional, well-known digital artists are currently working on face filters to promote the album which I’m really looking forward to. Music should also be a feast for the eyes.

Speaking of imagery: In our last interview in 2015 you said: „I always follow a feeling, a visual, my mood. When this is not given, it won’t make any sense to enter the studio.“

In order to finish something, I really need an advanced idea of an image. It needs to move smoothly over an edge and then it will take its course, most of the time. When this doesn’t happen, I sometimes spend days in my studio doing nothing, record one melody after the other without ever finding my focus. But I knew that I had limited time in Trancoso with the good flow in that location. So there was a clock ticking in an otherwise completely free situation. Therefore it was my biggest goal to finish one track a day. 25 days, 21 tracks – almost did it. After all, the image was there almost completely, I just needed to do the finishing for the final 17 tracks.

While lots of popular artists follow one career in their lifetime before it becomes quiet around them, for a lot of fans – me included – you have started multiple careers so far. After using crazy pseudonyms in the 90s, the last two decades have particularly been shaped by an always recurring Stephan Bodzin who seems to grow and grow in wave-like fashion. What’s your take on this?

To be completely honest, I believe this is a result of being afraid of failure. I have never thought about not being successful as an artist, neither at 18, nor at 28, 38 or even 48. At 18 I said this is my path and I’m gonna walk it, no matter what. I never did that with brute force and never at the expense of others – I’m not even morally capable of doing that. But all my life, I always did what was possible to me and I will continue to do just that. Not only to accomplish something as an artist but also to be successful. It’s all about the balance of accomplishing your artistic ambition while expressing yourself musically but also be successful with it on the other side. This is the mix that shapes this soup in which I have been moving in ever since. It’s always been the same petrol that fuels my motor and it’s always been the same motor that walks the fine line between art and commercial acknowledgement. Authenticity plays a huge roll in this because you simply cannot do it without it. We already graced artists’ biographies with terms like authenticity back in 2010. Not because it was hip but because it’s the key after all. It’s what I am and what I do. Paired with my family background, with my father who wanted to establish himself artistically almost a bit too hard as a steel sculptor, musician, photographer, painter, writer and who was not always rewarded with the deserved upgrading in return – I have sometimes blamed things I was lacking in my childhood compared to my fellow kids on art.

So, you had to change your general view on art first?

Definitely. It took quite a while until I found my way to both express myself artistically and be successful and happy. I believe it really worked out in the year 2000 and the following years. For many people this was when my first career happened but it was really my second if not the third one when you include my theatre career. It was only in 2002 or 2003 when I finally found the happy medium of success and being myself. And I have consequently followed that path ever since. I’m a firm believer of the theory that art is non-existent without an audience. That’s why art and commerce are indispensable to each other. Of course there will be people who will cry out in shock but this is the way I see it. If I can’t sell my art, I don’t think I have created art in the first place. It’s not about reaching the biggest possible audience but a big enough audience that is interested and that in my case is fun at a party or a festival.

Authenticity seems to be indispensable in that case. Still, there’s lots of artists who indulge in authenticity but just won’t be successful. What are the other crucial factors from your point of view?

I guess an harmonic understanding on the one hand. Topics like „How to create a harmony“ or „What will raise the hair on your arms or bring tears to your eyes“. That’s why Hans Zimmer in my eyes, is where he is today. He’s obviously not a brilliant piano player or is super capable of arranging an orchestra. But he just knows what note has to be in what place and even more where the note should not be. It’s not that I can do everything and that’s a poor comparison, don’t get me wrong. But that’s what it’s all about. Doing things at the right time or not doing them at all which to me is the far greater art. Finding the perfect bass line to all the other gimmickry and to perform the whole theme well, I believe that this also plays a very important role. For me, playing live is not work and I can’t think of a show that was hard or not good, even if I tried.

Good were also the remixes to your original tracks so far. Innelea already very successfully re-interpreted „Boavista“. What’s next for you in this area?

There will be around 25 remixes from friends that will be released as an official remix album in February. I can’t wait for that especially because the list of artists who agreed to be part in this is absolutely crazy.

Both albums will be released on your own label „Herzblut“.

The label itself is inactive because I’m not active as a DJ anymore since 2015 and I’m simply no A&R. The last release is from 2018 from my wonderful wife Luna. But since it was extremely important to me to have a preferably independent platform for these two release, we will exclusively re-open the label and shut it down again in February. Who knows for how long…

Good point. Will you release another album?

My studio in Lisbon is being arranged right now. Let’s see what happens. (laughs)


From FAZEmag 116/10.21
Text: Rafael Da Cruz
Credit: Kenton Thatcher