ART:CAST #25 & INTERVIEW Thomas Herb

Thomas Herb, one half of production duo SBTH and co-founder of Lossless, takes over Torture the Artist’s bi-weekly art:cast’s series and delivers an eclectic and profound mixture of deep and complex music smoothly switching between electronic music genres. The 2018 art:cast-opening could not have asked for more but allure Thomas Herb for this challenge. The Munich based DJ and producer, who is also involved with prestigious label Compost Records, has been a constant in the present and past nightlife evolution for more than two decades. This experience combined with Thomas’ skills to prepare extraordinary listening pleasures can be heard all through his 95 minute lasting art:cast. Additionally Thomas Herb spoke to Torture the Artist and delivers rather private insights into his mind, everyday life, his music and attitude towards general social matters.

Torture the Artist: Hello Thomas, where are you at the moment and what are you doing?

Thomas Herb: Hello there and thanks for having me! It’s an off weekend for me with no DJing, so I’m at home enjoying spending time with my family, going for walks in nature, relaxing and currently I’m sitting here with a glass of wine and giving one of my rare interviews (laughter).

Torture the Artist: You are the co-founder of Lossless, you also work for Compost, produce music with Mathias Schober under your moniker SBTH and DJ. How do you reconcile the different demands that come with every role?

Thomas Herb: That’s correct and yes, it’s a handful to deal with. But all of this didn’t come overnight, it was more like a natural and long-term progression. In some fields, it’s good to get into a certain routine with time, an example being the administrative office tasks. In my case, it’s also very helpful that most tasks are relating to each other. Having a flexible but well-planned timetable is very beneficial, so we can surely design a nice little pictogram here! Most of the DJ gigs are happening on weekend nights, and if you forget about the tiredness it then doesn’t conflict with the office days. Most important, however, is allocating the time to nurturing the ongoing love and passion for electronic music. Finding, playing, curating, contributing, releasing and sharing this music feels like a blessing for me, so these efforts are undertaken effortlessly.

Lossless is Mathias and I’s own label. It’s our playground where we’re giving the very best in making our vision of an electronic music label become a reality day by day.

Torture the Artist: What does your work at Compost consist of and how does it differ from what you have to accomplish for Lossless?

Thomas Herb: I’m happy to say that my field of work at Compost, albeit mainly administrative, is very diverse. I’m taking care of licensing the repertoire (for compilations, advertising, tv/films). I’m also licensing in the repertoire for Compost compilations (like ‘Elaste’ or ‘Future Sounds Of Jazz’ etc.). Moreover, there’s the processing of all sales data and licensing income, royalty accounting for licensors and artists, the mechanical royalty accounting to the GEMA society collecting mechanical rights in Germany. Last, but not least there is the sweeter side of the role. Depending on the style of music, Michael Reinboth – the Compost label head honcho, regularly asks for my opinion on the latest demos. We listen to and talk about upcoming music, potential remixers, and other A&R related topics. I’m tasked with contributing my input, being a sort of sidekick for Michael, synching with his ideas, visions, and the needs of Compost Records.

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Picture by Xavier Duquesne

Well, and Lossless is Mathias and I’s own label. It’s our playground where we’re giving the very best in making our vision of an electronic music label become a reality day by day. We’re fully in charge of the creative direction, the philosophy and methodology approach behind Lossless – it’s got our signature all over it. That’s a big freedom for us – however, we also take on the full responsibility of course.

Torture the Artist: Being mostly surrounded by music or matters relating to that field every day can be exhausting. How do you give yourself a break?

Thomas Herb: As mentioned above, I really love being outside in nature, having a walk and enjoying the silence, preferably with my wife and son. If I’m surrounded by my two beloveds, I can let loose immediately and make way for some new energy.

I cannot imagine ever having a clone of myself working for me and this artificial intelligence thing scares me a little.

Torture the Artist: Imagine you had a clone of yourself working for you. Which task would you assign it to simplify your life?

Thomas Herb: I must say this is a deep, nearly philosophic question. Do you remember the cloned sheep, Dolly? Honestly, I cannot imagine ever having a clone of myself working for me (or any other clone for that matter) and this artificial intelligence thing scares me a little.

I could, however, imagine having a real person working for me though if it’s getting too much one day – taking care of tax declarations and administrative stuff which is easily assignable. As these tasks don’t necessarily need to be handled by myself, it would be opening up more time for me to be creative.

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Picture by Xavier Duquesne

Torture the Artist: Which ideas and visions regarding Lossless have you been able to put into practice and are there any notable ones that have failed over the years?

Thomas Herb: Firstly, we only release the music we feel, love and believe in. Having a small but inclusive artist rooster, we dedicate effort to maintaining and nurturing the close bonds we form, therefore growing and thriving together. We’ve built a platform to not only release our own music but also co-operate with befriended labels such as Nuno Dos Santos’ SoHaSo for special releases. We always prioritise quality over quantity. Together with our graphic designer Paul Putzar, we developed a unique design concept with a high recognition value inspired by classic dance music labels as well as contemporary art and design. Muting The Noise, our distribution partner shares similar visions with us and therefore has been incredibly supportive and forward thinking.

Notable fails with the ideas and visions behind Lossless – not yet I’d say. But that’s just my humble opinion (laughter).

Discovering a potentially underrated track and making it unique, making it your ‘own’ is what makes it special for me.

Torture the Artist: How important, would you say, is ‘exclusivity’ for both the label and you personally?

Thomas Herb: Of course, it’s very nice to have tunes that you can road test months ahead of the release date (which nowadays is often due to super long manufacturing timeframes). I try to play out some scheduled but unreleased tracks from our label(s) and even demo material, but only if it resonates with me and it sounds good already. Sometimes I also play tunes I receive from befriended producers or labels because they trust in you and seek out your opinion on the release.

As for unreleased records forthcoming on Lossless, it’s of utmost importance to hear and learn how these tunes sound in the club and how they are received by the crowd. Having this kind of ‘exclusivity’ as a DJ is a nice side effect of course but doesn’t play such a big role for me personally. There are tons of super good, often underrated or overheard music out there – you just need to find it. This kind of exclusivity means a lot to me. Discovering a potentially underrated track and making it unique, making it your ‘own’ is what makes it special for me. Long story short, having and hoarding tons of unreleased tunes doesn’t make you a unique or better DJ in my eyes.

Torture the Artist: Name four tracks that best characterize Thomas Herb, accompanied by the reasons why.

Hardrive – Deep Inside (Strictly Rhythm 1993)

Hardrive’s ‘Deep Inside’ is a stand for my classic, US Deep House roots. This track’s never really left my record box – produced by one half of Masters At Work, Louie Vega, has all the right ingredients. It’s got a great groove, it’s in a way, stripped back, it’s soulful and it features this amazing vocal sequence by Barbara Tucker – chopped out of a recording session from her full vocal for ‘Beautiful People’.

Ame – Nia (Sonar Kollektiv 2004)

Ame’s masterpiece ‘Nia’ came out in 2004 on the flipside of their second EP for Jazzanova’s Sonar Kollektiv Label. For me, it’s one of those standout records that re-opened and re-defined the playground for deep house at a time when the classic US Deep House sound got lost in boring stereotypes and most of the dancefloors at the time were dominated by minimal or even electroclash. Records like this, but also tunes from the likes of DJ Gregory or Carl Craig were deep but evoked a certain rave appeal, built bridges and added something new and exciting to house music.

Joe Claussell – Drums Of Ju/Ru (Sacred Rhythm Music 2007)

Have I mentioned that I love percussion? Here’s a ten-minute tune from Mr. Joe Claussell –it’s a big, masterfully arranged journey. This gets me going on and on and on. I love it!

SBTH – Ribolla (Lossless 2016)

Well, might be a bit shabby smashing in one of my (co-) productions but I’m very proud of ‘Ribolla’ with its cosmic Italo twist. This tune also reflects that I can be a sucker for all things disco and leftfield. It shows that we are both aware and are inspired by the past without the need of glorifying it. Instead, we’ve put a contemporary stamp on the release.

Torture the Artist: What music do you usually listen to in your downtime?

Thomas Herb: Depends on the situation and surroundings, preferably electronic music in an album format although I try to avoid a clubby 4/4 BD. I’m in love with, for example, Keope’s ‘Tropical’ album or Kalabrese’s ‘Independent Dancer’. And with the right timing, I also enjoy dub/reggae or even some 80s guitar bands like The Feelies or Violent Femmes.

I’m quite certain that I would, at the least, take the same main roads again.

Torture the Artist: If you weren’t the Thomas Herb that Thomas Herb is at the moment, what Thomas Herb would you be, and what would you have done differently to get there?

Thomas Herb: I’m really happy with the Thomas Herb I am today, and I’m quite certain that I would, at the least, take the same main roads again.

Equality and mutual respect in all aspects of our lives, regardless of color, gender, sexuality or ethnicity should be granted by default in the modern world we live in.

Torture the Artist: Why are you a feminist?

Thomas Herb: I would say that I have a rather humanistic approach to life when it comes to meeting people. Equality and mutual respect in all aspects of our lives, regardless of color, gender, sexuality or ethnicity should be granted by default in the modern world we live in. But as long as that’s not the case, and unfortunately it seems we’re still far away, we need to take a stand for it!

Torture the Artist: Are there any artists whose music have left a lasting impression on you, both personally and musically?

Thomas Herb: Yes, of course, they are nearly countless because, for me, that statement applies to all the artists who have so far released on Lossless – Mathias Schober, Anthony Georges Patrice, Neil Flynn, Yokto, Love Over Entropy, Trikk. It also applies to all artists whose music I’m playing out in the clubs or listen to regularly. I need to feel in touch with the music, and if it’s touching me personally it also touches me emotionally and musically.

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Picture by Xavier Duquesne

Torture the Artist: When is your favorite time of the day to produce music?

Thomas Herb: When the magic’s hitting in and one thing blends with the other, naturally and almost automatically. That could either be in the morning but also well after midnight.

Torture the Artist: Speaking of producing music, what are you working on at the moment?

Thomas Herb: Mathias and I have some promising SBTH layouts from our last sessions in his Berlin studio and now we’ve finally just picked them back up again. We’ve fixed some timeframes for when we’ll be synchronising our studio time over the next months. We’ll also be working on an SBTH remix of a super promising new act which shall release on Lossless later on this year. So fingers crossed, the above-mentioned magic will be hitting in then (laughter).

Torture the Artist: Are there any milestones, or notable moments in the evolution of your sound?

Thomas Herb: Yes and yes. Being a DJ who plays electronic music on an ambitious level for over 20 years now, it’s apparent that I’ve gone through the development and evolution with the sounds I’ve been digging and playing out. Anything else would have been boring. I sometimes pick up and listen to my older recordings or mixtapes and realize that certain records stood the test of time and deserve some airplay again because they can be perfectly fit in a current set. But of course, there are also these other records you would never ever touch again. A notable moment for me was the time around and between 2005 – 2009 when house music really started to strike a comeback.

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Talking about production, both Mathias and I have a rich and broad musical background, so our music could take us many places, which is both exciting but also a true challenge. We try to avoid being formulaic in the studio most. So every new EP we finish represents a milestone for us.

I hope that people are open to going on this little musical journey with me.

Torture the Artist: What do you hope to accomplish with your art:cast?

Thomas Herb: I hope that people are open to going on this little musical journey with me. That they enjoy it, discover some new tunes they like and that many take the time and listen to the mix from beginning to end in one take.