Whatever ‘theme’ he focuses on, it turns to something profound. German producer and New-Berliner Roman Flügel‘s vita not only reads well, it reads like the history of electronic music – partly. The formerly Frankfurt resident founded or co-founded influental and important labels such as Ongaku Music, Klang Elektronik and Playhouse. Whether as a solo-artist or together with Jörn Elling Wuttke under their Alter Ego alias Roman Flügel delivered dancefloor music with a whiff of experimental and abstract wefts – never following a trend; detached from movements within the scene and surely from the mainstream. Roman’s sound and vision has always been forward-thinking yet with the right doze of rawness, a possible influence from living 25 years in Frankfurt’s ‘Bahnhofsviertel’ that unites both artist-essential characteristics. His latest and altogether seventh album is simply called ‘Themes’, was released on ESP Institute and contains 13 tracks numbered all the way through from I to XVIII. No track titles or at least no explicit ones to prompt the listener to create its own impression of it, to let its thoughts revolve around what’s most important in Roman’s life, the music! Torture the Artist was fortunate enough to speak to Roman shortly before the release of ‘Themes‘ and captured his thoughts on the subcultural development in his former hometown Frankfurt, societal aspects that have made an impact and make him furious as well as how he wants the album to perceived and further cultural and personal aspects.
I always enjoy the feeling that the music and the scene – which I’ve been part of for so many years – has become a worlwide phenomenon.
Torture the Artist: What ‘Theme(s)’ from your album should the reader of this interview have a listen to whilst reading this?
Roman Flügel: Well, it doesn’t matter at all really, which is fortunate. If you take your time reading, you might enjoy the whole album. Another option would be to read the interview several times, or you can just fast-forward through some of the ‘Themes’.
Torture the Artist: You just came back from a USA/Mexico tour; what impressions from it did you bring back home, how do you deal with those kind of tours and are you happy to be back home again?
Roman Flügel: I always enjoy the feeling that the music and the scene – which I’ve been part of for so many years – has become a worldwide phenomenon. The point for travelling DJs like me is to bring people together – even when it is only temporary – and to create a common experience for both, the DJ and the crowd. Of course, travelling between different time zones and countries is exhausting to a certain extent, but it definitely is something you can get used to. This is why I mostly travel on my own. I’m happiest when I come back home, where I’m surrounded by the people I cherish the most.
Torture the Artist: Speaking of your home, you moved from Frankfurt to Berlin; what was the reason to leave the Rhine-Main area?
Roman Flügel: It wasn’t forced, and neither did I feel any pressure to move. I lived 25 years in Frankfurt, and for quite some years in the area around the main station: the so-called ‘Bahnhofsviertel’, which has gained quite some national recognition over the past years. Frankfurt has become a modern metropolis and the city itself functions rather perfectly. The city is dominated by people who work in the financial sector, which means there is a lot money involved in that side of the city, but on the other side, not too much is happening with the subculture.
Torture the Artist: To what extent do you participate in the local subculture and its life?
Roman Flügel: With Frankfurt, there aren’t that many interesting locations for concerts or exhibitions for example, so I (and many other people I know) lacked the opportunities to participate in the city’s subcultural life. Those who try to get involved or even try to get something up, will most likely face several difficulties to find an adequate venue due to the city’s modernisation in the downtown area.
Torture the Artist: While your aforementioned problems affect Frankfurt, there’s almost an oversupply of subcultural life in Berlin. What possibilities with subculture do you find most important for you and how do you filter the offers you receive?
Roman Flügel: Generally speaking, culture is created by people, and Berlin is a magnet for many people who are involved with music, fashion, film, photography etc. Many friends that I’ve worked with over the years – for example Nadine Fraczkowski, Romuald Karmakar, Anne Imhof & Peter Kersten and David Lieske from DIAL – are all in the city. So there’s basically an automatic exchange. The possibility that a new band plays in Berlin, or a movie is played in its original version here, is distinctly higher than in the rest of Germany.
Torture the Artist: Is the move to Berlin perhaps a start to a new musical era in your life?
Roman Flügel: That’s rather difficult to anticipate. Changes always lead to new thoughts or ideas, and they could become noticeable in the future. The essence or the being of a person, I believe, is rather more difficult to change though.
Torture the Artist: What would you say is the essence of your being and how is it represented or implemented in your music?
Roman Flügel: By that, the essence, I mean the array of emotions we are capable of, and the way you experience your surroundings – and that is something which is quite hard to change. I assume that everybody’s life is a mystery for him or herself, including the present day, isn’t it? So having that in mind, I believe I can’t really answer the question.
Torture the Artist: Where did you produce your album, and did your move have an impact on it, or do different locations generally play a subordinate role for your music and productions?
Roman Flügel: I think that most things originate from the ‘inside’. A move itself is not the most striking factor – but life itself is, which covers most factors. With the album, it was produced whilst I still lived in Frankfurt, in my little studio I had there.
Torture the Artist: Your album is called ‘Themes’; what themes did you communicate with the album, or what was your personal approach to the album, and should it be represented by the 13 tracks?
Roman Flügel: I did not want to evoke too many associations; that’s why I chose ‘Themes’ to become the album title. Consequently, every listener is free and detached from track titles and can therefore come up with their own name or interpretation for them.
Torture the Artist: Nonetheless, as an artist you have your own perception with what you would like to express, even though you don’t want to influence the listener totally. What would be a different feedback to the album or a track that you would appreciate?
Roman Flügel: While producing an album, it’s most likely that I have my own vision for it in mind, which I try to translate into a coherent album. But as soon as my music is available or played in public I concede any control over my music and leave it to the listeners and what they make from it. It’s way more fascinating for ideas to come through a review or a critique that followed the stream of consciousness that I had in mind while producing the album in the first place, rather than people following my initial approach. So an honest feedback from your side would make me quite happy.
Torture the Artist: What societal themes and issues have you engaged with lately and perhaps developed a different or stronger position towards?
Roman Flügel: The evil of today is flaunted racism. I cannot imagine that there is a bigger evil than judging a person by its heritage or skin-colour – and that makes me furious.
Torture the Artist: How do you face people who flaunt racism? Do you confront them, and what’s your approach to this?
Roman Flügel: Fortunately, I haven’t met somebody who has openly expressed racism when I spoke to them in person. But somebody who uses the outer appearance as a way to undermine another person has to be stood up against. This is nothing that is negotiable in this kind of situation.
It’s odd that in a place on Earth, which was randomly and eventually called Germany at some point in history, people have such a negative outlook of the future.
Torture the Artist: What would have to change at a societal level so that we can leave the current social climate (which is rather negatively shaped) behind?
Roman Flügel: It’s odd that in a place on Earth, which was randomly and eventually called Germany at some point in history, people have such a negative outlook of the future. It’s probably due to the fear of losing something. Maybe we subconsciously feel that our way of living is not only bound to ‘outer resources’, and this leaves people with an inner emptiness. A solution could be authentic sharing and participation with each other – instead of a consumerist society.
Torture the Artist: Coming back to the album, does the number ’13’ have a meaning in the context of the album, or is it a coincidence that you have exactly this amount of tracks on the album?
Roman Flügel: The number ’13’ is a coincidence. The musical content determined the amount of tracks on the album.
Torture the Artist: What was an outstanding moment – or maybe even the moment – when producing the album?
Roman Flügel: There wasn’t ‘the moment’ but there was a realization during the production process to reduce the amount of notes in order to come up with music that I find most suitable for myself. It’s like trying to meditate, when you aim to gradually reduce your constant thoughts.
I love straight dancefloor music and I’m always DJing to make people move.
Torture the Artist: Why did you not take into consideration the idea to produce a straight dancefloor track for the album, and to instead produce a piece of music that can be assigned to the Electronica/Ambient genre? Was that decision made on purpose to dissociate the music from the album to other productions of yours?
Roman Flügel: I love straight dancefloor music and I’m always DJing to make people move. But exactly – this would have changed the tone of the album drastically. For me, it was important to create a mood that works without driving, dancefloor-compatible elements and that does not push the track forward – like a present bass drum. ‘Themes’ is an album that is supposed to be detached from these restrictions, and it’s supposed to rather be something that creates – philosophically-speaking – a space within a space, so to say.
Torture the Artist: Who do you always show your music first?
Roman Flügel: People who are close to me tend to receive something at some point. Mostly, I collect a few tracks together first before I show them to others.
I don’t want to operate like a brand that creates its output strategically depending on customer feedback.
Torture the Artist: As an artist, you’re generally quite conscientious when it comes to your own music and receiving feedback. How would you like to be given feedback to your music so that you can adapt to it?
Roman Flügel: Despite self-doubts, you have to be convinced of what you do, otherwise you are working in the wrong occupation. Feedback on your own work always involves the danger that they can criticise your personal processes of creating. The risk that the musical output is not appealing to everyone is something you have to take as an artist. Personally, I don’t want to operate like a brand that creates its output strategically depending on customer feedback.
Torture the Artist: Your album was released on ESP Institute. What was first: the finished album, the label’s request to work on an album or was it rather a mutual process that lead to the album in the end?
Roman Flügel: I met Andrew Hogge a few years ago in San Diego at a festival. I had already been a fan of his label before and then he told me to let him know if I ever wanted to work with him. So when I introduced him to ‘Themes’ we agreed on it pretty fast.
Torture the Artist: What challenges did you find with the album, including the issues you might have encountered at a personal level, and how did you overcome them?
Roman Flügel: The musical, personal connection with an album is always of high importance for me, and this requires much listening and reviewing. Hopefully, I’ve achieved that since you only conceptualise initial ideas for a while. I think that I’m most happy when my music cannot be compared – or is difficult to compare – to others. Because of this, I always try to avoid cliches.
Torture the Artist: How do you maintain a clear head when things do not work out the way you wanted them to, and how do you deal with it personally as well as at a technical level?
Roman Flügel: Since nobody is a machine, everybody’s disposition depends on how you feel each day. This knowledge helps me a lot, even after having had frustrating times, to always perservere, and to never give up. Making music is not a competition, but an opportunity to communicate with yourself and others.
Torture the Artist: What artist or musician would you like to work with, and why?
Roman Flügel: It’s hard to name someone in particular. But it would be quite exciting to leave my usual field of activities and my cultural environment for it though.
Torture the Artist: Which field or genre would you choose?
Roman Flügel: Traditional Indian music and the connected world-view would be one opportunity I’d be interested in.
Torture the Artist: Some of your productions were released under different aliases of yours. You now just produce under your real name. Was there a maturing process within you personally to make this choice?
Roman Flügel: Releasing music under different aliases made it hardly comprehensible and understandable. It’s interesting to see though that many correlations for non-experts have not become clear over the time.It took me quite some courage to release albums and EPs on DIAL after the cross-over success of ‘Geht’s Noch?‘, which was the first track released under my real name.
You cannot reinvent yourself on a daily basis, otherwise you won’t become better.
Roman Flügel: Of course. You cannot reinvent yourself on a daily basis, otherwise you won’t become better. Following a routine is good when it doesn’t result in idleness.
Torture the Artist: What would you like to produce music for, and why?
Roman Flügel: Films would be tempting since music in this medium functions as an emotional amplifier.
Torture the Artist: Is there a specific genre that fascinates you, or a soundtrack that people should give a listen?
Roman Flügel:The soundtrack by Johnny Greenwood for ‘There Will Be Blood’ I found incredibly fascinating. So this one for sure.
Torture the Artist: Thank you for this interview and taking the time to speak to us, Roman.
Interview by Holger Breuer