INTERVIEW & EXCLUSIVE Skatman ‘Hypnosis’ [Connected]

‘Back in the Zukunft’ introduced Berlin-based artist Skatman fully to the electronic music scene – with a sound that, as the EP title already suggested, is built around synth-pads, the so-called ‘back’ part, but is arranged and enriched with current sound aesthetics to make it ready for the future, the ‘Zukunft’ part. After the trendsetting EP and a few well-chosen remixes Aziz Haddad, Skatman’s real name, drops his debut LP, ‘Moments‘, on British label Connected. The nine-tracker depicts the artists’ preference for melodic sound compositions and reveals some of his musical influences and inspirations. Tracks like ‘Plastic Love’, which was hammered by Âme at Panorama Bar, and ‘Hypnosis’ unite this endlessly-seeming grooviness in a dark industrial ambience that Skatman masters so skilfully as the Berliner by choice has a reputation for managing the balancing act between different fields. As Scatcity label-head Skatman is always on the lookout for fresh music and as an artist he’s established a trademark sound within no time that fairly fits the label. Shortly before the album release the artist took a rather long moment to speak to Torture the Artist about his music, his long weekends at Berghain/ Panorama Bar, the Aussie-influence in his name and the hypnotic moments when wearing his extraordinary pants.

Torture the Artist: Good day Aziz! How’s Berlin treating you today? Set the mood of our interview with a track that generally grooves with your vibe right about now.

Skatman: It is very sunny here, a beautiful day. As I grew up in the sun, high temperatures like this affect my mood positively. I am feeling happy. I cannot deny Berlin is treating me really well today. A track that grooves with my mood right now would be New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle (Extended Dance Mix) one of my 80s favourites.

Torture the Artist: Most of us have heard that you have a new project coming out very soon. We’ll get to that a little later, but tell us. When was the last time you were in the studio? Have you taken a break  since completing that project, or are you riding on a momentum right now and would rather not pause for too long?

Skatman: The last time I spent in the Studio was actually today! It’s true though that after finishing my album and my next EP on Scatcity, it was natural for me to go less to the studio as I needed a break to regenerate my creativity and come up with fresh new ideas. I am also getting married this month so I guess I will need to have a break from the studio anyway. <laughs> I’m sure that after that I will come back in full power!

We always find time for the things we love, right?

Torture the Artist: You DJ, you produce, you own a label – not easy tasks to balance and handle. How do you manage your time between all aspects of your career? In the past year, which role took the most out of your energy? Do you plan on changing that ratio very soon?

Skatman: One thing you did not mention is that I have a full time job as a software engineer as well so yeah it is indeed very hard to manage all these together without cloning myself (laughs). Although, I managed to find a plan that works so that I am able to handle all these tasks without sacrificing one or the other. My weekly routine looks like this: work during the usual working hours then spend afterwork hours either by doing label work which is mostly just sending/answering emails and listening to demos or by preparing for my DJ-sets, organise/dig new tracks etc. Producing is something I really enjoy so I usually spend about 20 studio hours on weekends. I prefer it this way, as it gives me something to look forward to for the whole week. When I arrive at the studio on Saturday, I am literally hungry to do music. I have the energy to keep up as opposed to during the workweek. At the moment I don’t DJ that often, so it’s possible to keep this plan. If things change in the future, then I’m sure I will find another plan that works. We always find time for the things we love, right?

Later on I realized that some people might think of the other meaning.

Torture the Artist: Wow, man of all trades! Congratulations on the engagement, quite impressive to be able to sneak that in there. So, we’ve been dying to ask. Your moniker is quite catchy. What’s the story behind ‘Skatman,? Is this a reference to the late Scatman John and his music? What are other names you considered?

Skatman: When I was starting off my label, I was sharing an apartment with two Australians in Kreuzberg. In their slang ‘Scat’means odd/bizarre or f*cked up. At this stage of my life , I was clubbing a lot. Specifically going to Berghain/Panorama Bar almost every weekend. Sometimes I would go to work on Monday morning directly after raving there the whole weekend! That and some other crazy stories made my Australian flatmates describe me as ‘Scat’. They would also call Berlin a ‘Scat’ city because it is full of strange/crazy people… Voilá! You’ve got it. That’s the story behind both names. When I decided to choose the moniker I of course thought of Scatman John. I used to like him as a kid so the name is kind of a tribute as well… though it is not exactly the same, I switched the ‘c’ to ‘k’. <smiles>

Later on I realized that some people might think of the other meaning of the word which made me think about changing the name in multiple occasions but I decided to stick with it in the end, as I have a personal connection to it…

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Picture by Cherie Birkner

Torture the Artist: Your music production in a nutshell, boasts diverse musical and cultural influences. How did you get into the world of music in the first place? Who were among your greatest inspirations and role models and when did you decide to give a musical career a shot?

Skatman: Music has always been a part of my life. When I was a kid, my older brother would make me listen to some 80s and 90s records. First I started to play the keyboard, then the guitar. As a teenager I was in a rock band, doing covers for bands like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Pink Floyd… I finally discovered the world of electronic music when I started going to local parties. At that time the scene in Tunisia – my home country – was mostly minimal, which I found okay. But after hearing Dixon play in 2012, electronic music became an important part of my life. The music he played that night was so fresh for me, very deep, melodic and banging at the same time. That night opened my eyes to a whole scene that I was not aware of and which I eventually became a part of…

The other main event that notably influenced my sound is moving to Berlin and clubbing in Berghain/Panorama Bar. I learned so much about electronic music, its culture and its diversity. I understood that it is much bigger than just one ‘scene’. In fact, being open to other scenes inspires my productions. Panorama Bar has taught me that a DJ could play anything, as long as he transmits the right energy at the right moment. So coming back to inspirations and role models: I would say my biggest role model is not a person, but a club – Berghain/Panorama Bar.

Torture the Artist: You live in Berlin now, but it wasn’t always home. Where did you grow up? Tell  us a little bit about your hometown and why you decided to make the big move to the electronic music capital. Looking back, do you still think this geographical shift was necessary?

Skatman: That’s right.I was born in Tunisia, but moved to Abu Dhabi as a kid, because my father used to work there. So I pretty much spent my childhood in Abu Dhabi, teenage years in Tunisia, and now I live in Berlin. As you can see, there is no clear hometown for me. I was living in different places in different stages of my life. Berlin is my hometown by choice. I took the decision to come here, shortly after I started producing. I heard many great stories about the electronic music culture of the German city and I wanted to be part of it. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The experience of moving here changed my life completely. As a person, as well as an artist.

Torture the Artist: How do you feel about the Berlin nightlife and music scene? Did it take long for you to adapt to your new environment? What are some of your favourite spots in Berlin? Do you go clubbing often?

Skatman: As I mentioned earlier, Berlin is my hometown by choice. It didn’t take me too long until I felt fully integrated and a part of the city. The scene here is vibrant and extremely diverse. It has a lot to offer and I still discover amazing spots everyday. I am really grateful and privileged to live in a city like this. As for my favourite spot, I think you would have guessed it already by now… Panorama Bar! <laughs>

Although I did go clubbing excessively in my first few years of moving here, I don’t go so often anymore. I have much more responsibilities like managing the label, being a producer, DJ, work, private life, etc. Clubbing less allowed me to focus on other aspects of my life. For example now I go to the studio in the weekend, instead of spending Saturday and Sunday partying and the whole week to recover from it. Yeah, I am getting old, I know. <laughs> I still love to go clubbing from time to time though, as I feel it’s crucial for my continuous development as a producer. It’s a source of inspiration for me.

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Picture by Cherie Birkner

Torture the Artist: Last year, you released your EP ‘Back in the Zukunft, on your label, Scatcity. How long did it take for you to complete the EP. What does Zukunft mean to you, personally and artistically? Would you have been able to produce this EP if you had not moved to Berlin?

Skatman: ‘Back In the Zukunft’ was my first EP as ‘Skatman’. Obviously, it was really important to me, as it introduced me and my sound to the public. While working on the EP, I produced around 15 tracks that ended up in the trash bin or abandoned in my hard disk, before producing the actual tracks. Releasing tracks from Ivory, Aaaron and Nandu on my label before, has raised the bar really high. So every time I would finish a track for the EP, I would decide not to include it, as they didn’t meet the quality standards that I hadset for myself. The process of finding the tracks that I am satisfied with, took me longer than producing the tracks themselves. I would say that was about 6 months.

The title ‘Back In The Zukunft‘ was a hint to the electronic music scene, which is nowadays filled with nostalgia for the 80s and 90s. With the EP, I tried to offer this retro vibe with a futuristic touch. Thus it is Back In The Zukunft or Back to the future in English. The name being a mix between German and English comes from my life in Berlin, where I speak both languages interchangeably everyday.

I personally love having deep conversations about theories of our existence.

Torture the Artist: ‘Zukunft’, ‘Meraki’, ‘Psyche’ – there are plenty of introspect in there, and deep. Would you consider yourself a psychology enthusiast? Where did you draw the inspiration for making these tracks? 

Skatman: On the one hand, I personally love having deep conversations about theories of our existence, the universe or human psychology. So probably the names are inspired from these kind of subjects. On the other hand, what plays a big role in creating the vibe of the tracks is that I transfer the mood and emotions I had at the moment when I did the track. This just happens automatically and is not necessarily an intention. What I did choose on purpose though, is to create a retro vibe mainly influenced by trance and synth wave.

Torture the Artist: You’ve offered some remixes for Ivory and Several Definitions, how do these projects come about. Is there a particular criteria you use in agreeing to assume remix duties? What are some tracks you are dying to give a Skatman reconstruction to? 

Skatman: No, there is no specific criteria. The whole idea behind my ‘Reconstructions’ was and still is to reinterpret tracks on my label, which I could imagine differently. That was exclusively for Scatcity until Several Definitions asked me to remix one of his tracks. I really liked the track so I decided to give it a go. There are many tracks that I would like to give a reconstruction to at the moment. ‘Not a Chance‘ from Nandu on Exit Strategy would be a good example.

Torture the Artist: What’s a track of yours you could imagine getting a reconstruction and by who?

Skatman: From the tracks that are already released, I really can’t imagine any remix of. I just like them and am used to them the way they are. Some tracks from my upcoming Scatcity release, I could imagine though being remixed by artists that I really like at the moment. I will keep the names secret for now, as one of these reconstructions might see the light in the near future.

I was in the clouds.

Torture the Artist: We’ve heard your tracks being played by some of the most influential DJs in the scene. Where were you when you first heard a DJ you admire play one of your tracks? What was your reaction?

Skatman: It’s always a great feeling to see artists that I admire playing my tracks. For me, it’s a confirmation that I am going towards the right direction. Watching this on a video online is amazing already, not comparable though to an experience, which I was lucky enough to live. Kristian from Âme playing my track ‘Plastic Love‘ in Panorama Bar at 9am with me being there and dancing was absolutely mind blowing, I was in the clouds.

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Picture by Cherie Birkner

Torture the Artist:Back to your latest project. I guess we can spill it here. You just recently made something for StereoMC’s highly-appraised Connected label. How did the idea of producing an album come about and why didn’t you release it on your very own label?

Skatman: There are different styles that I love and like to produce. The idea behind the album was to present this wide range of inspirations in one record, which wouldn’t be possible with a 3 or 4 tracker EP where I would usually aim more for ‘Bangers’. An LP just gives me so much more freedom in the sense of what to release. It is also a very nice experience to do an album where the tracks do not necessarily have the same style but are connected somehow.

I opted to release the album with Connected instead of my label mainly because I wanted to disassociate Skatman from Scatcity, Even though both projects are born the same day, I don’t want to limit one by the other. I like Connected as a label and I find that they deliver great quality music, so when I sent them the LP and they said they wanted to sign it, I did not hesitate a second.

The goal of releasing the album is to showcase my vision and my influences as an artist, it is like an art gallery or an exhibition.

Torture the Artist: In a recent interview with Robag Wruhme he said that he’d probably not release or work on another album again, due to fact that most tracks/ songs are neglected on an album and in this course a single would get way more attention. To what extent to do you agree with this statement?

Skatman: I don’t completely agree with this statement. The goal of releasing the album is to showcase my vision and my influences as an artist, it is like an art gallery or an exhibition. For me, it is rather the album as a whole, that should get attention rather than every single track by itself.

Torture the Artist: Why won’t we ever forget or neglect a single track from your album?

Skatman: Have you ever went to an art exhibition and afterwards remembered and liked every single piece? Probably not. So what I want to say is, most likely people will forget or neglect some tracks of the album, which is totally fine. For me it is enough, if few listeners really feel it.

Toture the Artist: ‘Plastic Love’ has already gained massive support from Âme as Kristian played it at Berghain/ Panorama Bar. Was this the surrounding that inspired you in the first place to come up with a track like this? Where could you imagine the track being played at best?

Skatman: One of my ‘rituals’ is that when producing a track, I imagine it being played in Panorama Bar. It sort of gives me a feeling whether a track actually works. So yes, that definitely inspired me to produce this and other tracks that I made. Another funny ritual is that when I finish a track I try to dance to it. If it makes me move, I consider the track as good. If not, I know that I have to change something or even start all over.

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Picture by Cherie Birkner

Torture the Artist: Great method there. ‘Hypnosis’ musically catches up with ‘Plastic Love,’ but can be distinguished by its tremendous (hypnotic) break. Is this the ‘Biggie’ to ‘Hypnotize’ your crowd and what – in your opinion – shall your DJ-sets move your audience to feel?

Skatman: Either in my productions or DJ-sets I always try to carry the crowd through special moments. I start to build-up for the one moment and then the next one and so on. These series of moments make a party memorable and different. I need to make my audience feel something which could range from euphoria to melancholy. How this feeling is transmitted to the crowd is different every time. It could be an’epic’break or a completely surprising drop after a fairly long part ofa hypnotic repetitive groove with subtle changes. These and other techniques help me offer my audience the experience that I want them to feel.

Torture the Artist: It’s your first time releasing tracks on another label other than your own, does this entail a major shift in the course of your musical career and sound? What can we expect of Skatman in the following years

Skatman: As I mentioned, I wanted to separate my two projects Skatman and Scatcity, so that they can grow independently. I see this as natural development and not as a major shift in my musical career. In the next years you can expect of Skatman to release in other carefully chosen labels that I can associate myself to.

Producing is the introvert in me.

Torture the Artist: Why do you prefer producing over DJing?

Skatman: I wouldn’t say I prefer producing over DJing, I love both of them. Although each practice is completely different for me. Producing is more a personal experience, every track that I produce has something from me – either an emotion, mood or even dance moves. I would say that producing is the introvert in me. I receive my energy by spending time alone in the studio and expressing myself through music. DJing is the extrovert part of me. I gain energy from sharing records with the crowd and by trying to carry them somewhere with the music. So for me both are complementary as they give me a balance. They are like Yin and Yang.

They are a mixture of casual and elegant.

Torture the Artist: Which pieces of clothing in your wardrobe could you wear pretty much every day and what does it reveal about yourself and maybe also your music?

Skatman: My black pants, that for some people look like jogging pants. <laughs> They are a mixture of casual and elegant, so I can wear them at any time and for any occasion. It might reveal versatility in my music. Not sure what it can reveal about myself, maybe that I am lazy and I like to wear comfortable clothes all the time?

Interview by Marie J Floro