Roman Flügel is one of those guys who has been around so long and produced so many quality records that you probably have a release with his name on it somewhere. Recording under the names Alter Ego, Acid Jesus, Primitive Painter, Warp 69, and of course his own name, he has been a mainstay in the world of electronic music going on 25 years. With his most recent album “Happiness Is Happening” on Germany’s Dial Records, Flügel still proves his uncanny knack of delivering soulful techno music, showing electronics don’t always have to be cold and clinical. Flügel will be playing Sunday, Sept. 27th at the Decibel Festival, and we were able to take a few moments to discuss his past and future projects.
Thanks so much for your time! I was going through my dozens of records with your name on them, and was able to pinpoint your first release which was 1992’s Warp 69’s “Into Deep”. Do I have that right?
Yes, that’s right. We had two or three 12”s come out at that time, but that record was definitely the first thing I ever did. It wasn’t on my own, I also did it with Mr. Wuttke whom I continued to record with for the next 15 years.
Where are you from originally? Can you talk about a few records that inspired you to make your own music?
I am originally from Darmstadt which is about 30 kilometers south of Frankfurt where I still live. In terms of electronic music that inspired me, I always think about Underground Resistance and Detroit techno records for sure. Also the early Warp records which were very important for me. For instance, the first LFO album, as well as Sweet Exorcist, and going back to Detroit the early Carl Craig records were amazing.
I can certainly hear the Detroit influences on most of your music, particularly the Alter Ego stuff.
Before we named ourselves Alter Ego we had a project called Acid Jesus which was basically our first album. It was based on my early recordings which I did on my own, then re-recorded and sequenced it in Jörn’s studio on better equipment. When you hear the album now you can hear all of those samples of the music I was interested in, directly from those Detroit records I loved.
The Acid Jesus album was on Klang, correct?
Yes, the first Klang release ever!
Is Klang still around?
No, it’s not. There were four of us who ran the label, and we also ran a record shop as well. We ran the label for about 15 years and then stopped. It was about time — the internet was spreading fast, record sales were going down, and about seven years ago we just stopped the label.
I used to buy any Klang release religiously, much like your other label, Playhouse.
We ran three labels back then: Klang, Playhouse, and Onkagu. Onkagu was the first label, and we had an idea that we’d like to run a label for any specific sound we liked and would like to introduce to people. For instance, we were excited to introduce Ricardo Villalobos to many people via our Playhouse label, and Isolée as well. With Klang we had Farben, and we were able to release lots of albums and even more 12”s.
Speaking of Villalobos, you released a 12” as RiRom with him, yes?
Yes I did, that was the result of a weekend studio session I had with him a few years ago — we just spent a weekend jamming, and that 12” was the result which turned out very nice.
Do you prefer to be in the studio when collaborating with someone, or would you rather send bits and pieces over the internet?
I definitely prefer to be in the studio with that person. I’ve never had any exchange of tracks or sounds with anyone over the internet. I’ve had quite a few collaborations lately, actually — I did one recently with Simian Mobile Disco, and just last week I collaborated with Daniel Avery which was very fun. In these instances we just met in the studio, and that’s the way I like to do it.
Do you ever consider recording under any of your old pseudonyms again? Sensorama for example?
That’s a difficult thing to do, I think. Back then we had a very special chemistry which is hard to duplicate again and that momentum isn’t easy to repeat. However, Jörn and I never officially split, so I will never say “no”.
I always loved the more ambient albums you and Jörn produced as well, like the Sensorama albums, and the Primitive Painter album for R & S Records.
We certainly enjoyed more quiet music as well. It was a nice counterpoint to the hard techno that was more prevalent at the time. We didn’t quite get along with the harder, and for us, quite boring techno of the time, so we reacted by doing the opposite. That is why the first Alter Ego albums and Primitive Painter are so quiet — these albums had a vibe of “turning your back” on club music, however a few years later we changed that sound again with Alter Ego and produced some very club-oriented music.
Something about your newer music, like “Happiness Is Happening”, is that it does a great job of balancing minimalism with more melodic structures.
I simply make the music I feel like, I don’t think much about it. I do love minimal techno, but there have been certain years where that music wasn’t too interesting to me, so I did something else. Sometimes you need places and records that inspire you, and buying records is essential to me. One of the reasons for the big comeback in minimal techno was the Berghain Club in Berlin. The Ostgut Ton people really had a vision about the sound, and suddenly you had a lot of people again who were interested in that kind of music which wasn’t so much in the foreground before then. For instance, this sound I really like, but usually when I’m sitting in the studio I come up with something else (laughs) because it’s just not the way I feel. I think this is why my stuff always has the more melodic structures, and also because I’ve played in bands. I sometimes feel like a band all by myself!
As much as I love minimal techno, your sound does remind me of 90’s techno in a way that it’s very rich and melodic.
Yes, that makes sense. I did grow up with this sound in a very intense way during that time.
Can you explain the difference between the electronic scene in Germany now as opposed to the scene in the early 90’s?
I think the main difference was that at the time we all thought the techno movement would be gone the next year — there was no reason for us to think this movement was going to stay. In the beginning it was a bit of a trend with acid house, and for some strange reason it all stayed and became its own genre that lasted. None of this was clear in the beginning. Nowadays everyone grows up with electronic music as a normal genre without thinking about it, it’s just there and present all the time. Back then we all had to build the foundation to make it more solid.
It’s always been interesting to me that Europe was much quicker to appreciate Detroit techno than Americans were!
Yes, that’s true. I also think it was about the unification of Germany at the time as well – the Berlin Wall came down around the same time period, and the East and West were able to appreciate the same music and come together which you can still see today. Also, the energy of the unification came through in the energy of the music and the overall political situation. Everything was new for all of us then. Something else important about the music was that it had no words which left a lot of room for interpretation. This made it very easy for people to adapt, and make it very powerful. In the beginning all of these aspects made it an amazing experience to witness all of this new energy.
I appreciate that you have been able to produce music from any electronic genre and own it in a masterful way as if it’s the type of music you have always done and been able to perfect. Another group I always associate with this idea is Global Communication who remixed you.
Yes, they did a remix for Sensorama in the mid-90’s.
They also did a remix for Warp 69. One of my favorites!
Oh, that’s right, they did! There was a license for an English label who asked Global Communication to do a remix for that one, I almost forgot about that! I guess this is why you work for Discogs! (laughs)
Speaking of which, how popular is Discogs in Germany?
Many people in Germany definitely know Discogs. Most people I know use Discogs quite a bit. I use it for research mainly — I don’t use it to buy or sell because I don’t have the time for it, but for research it’s fantastic because everything is on there!
When it comes to playing live do you mainly DJ now, or do you perform your own tracks?
For the past few years I only DJ live. For Decibel I will be DJing.
Any new projects or releases you can tell us about?
I have a new double 12” coming on the label Hypercolour which will be out in October hopefully, and other than that a lot of remixing. I just remixed DJ Tennis, and recently did a remix for John Talabot’s label as well.
Speaking of remixes, how do you feel about doing them? Do you prefer to spend time on your own productions?
I really enjoy doing remixes. First of all, I do a lot of remixes that contain vocals which I normally don’t have in my own productions, so it’s fun for me. I also just really like to mess around with people’s sounds which gives me a different perspective.
That’s interesting as most other artists I’ve spoken with about remixing tend to not enjoy it as much.
I think it’s good to always get involved with music other than my own. It’s very relaxing for me, as well.
Do you ever get odd remix demands? For instance, do you get anyone requesting an ambient remix instead of a dance remix?
(Laughs) It used to be more like that in the past. Nowadays people know what I’m doing and generally seem to want to be surprised without putting any expectations on me.
Are there any labels now you have involvement with?
Not at the moment, no. After Klang and Playhouse I needed to stay away from label work for a while because it became very intense. It was a fun 15 years while I did it, but also very stressful and at the end, quite dysfunctional, so I decided I’d rather stay away from it. These days you have to re-think what a label is because back then we were basically just vinyl oriented with almost no downloads. Back then you could always count on selling at least 1,000 records with nice sleeves, where nowadays I don’t know many independent electronic labels that sell more than 500 copies of a record.