While producing his own version of electronic music, somewhere in between techno and house, Rajko Müller better known under his Isolée moniker coincidentally created the very first microhouse record to reach club charts, garnishing yet another accolade under his belt. The German producer has been a music slinging machine for over two decades now, demonstrating innovation by consistently supplying cutting-edge music to various labels, as well as the discipline and cohesiveness to complete multiple albums, and his recent EP, Candy Apple Red, a return back to Mano Le Tough, Baikal and The Drifter’s Maeve label, shows that his talent has not lost substance nor luster. Though a rather shy artist, one who has managed to survive and thrive in the electronic music scene without having to dabble into DJing (though he does do live sets), Isoleé breaks out of his shell and shares his creative process, some technical approaches and techniques, his experiences adapting to and maintaining his sound and character within the fast-evolving world of electronic music, and talks a bit about the current crisis.
Torture the Artist: Hello Rajko. Where can we find you at the moment? What’s on your agenda for today?
Isolée: I’m sitting at home in front of my PC. It’s Monday and I try to get into the week after a short holiday trip last week. (Editor’s note: The trip was before the COVID-19 outbreak all over Europe)
My Inspiration usually comes from some sort of boredom.
Torture the Artist: You just recently released a well-received EP on Maeve, last 14th of February, congrats! Though you’ve worked on several remixes, Candy Apple Red is one of very few solo projects you worked on in the past three years, what was the inspiration behind this project?
Isolée: My Inspiration usually comes from some sort of boredom. It seems to me that people usually expect inspiration coming from some tremendous experiences or happenings the artist had, but it’s absolutely the opposite in my case. I start to be creative when I’m not really challenged by what’s happening around me, so I try to create something challenging by myself. I need to be in some good state of mind, not in a too extraordinary life situation, whatever it could be.
Torture the Artist: Perhaps, Valentine’s Day had any bearing?
Isolée: Not at all.
Torture the Artist: MAEVE18 is your second contribution to Mano Le Tough, Baikal and The Drifter’s label, third considering No Let on its first compilation, Heavy Rotations Vol. 1, how did you connect with Maeve, and what made you come back ‘home’ rather soon?
Isolée: I met the Maeve crew by chance at a festival in Switzerland. After my set, Mark (The Drifter) who played there as well asked me about a new track in my Set and where it would be released. I didn’t know Maeve and The Drifter back then by the way. I told him the track was not released and not planned to be at that time, he told me about his label and we exchanged contacts. I sent them this particular track, Pisco, as well as a few others and quickly they agreed to do the record. That was a great and easy start to do a record!
Torture the Artist: You’ve been making music constantly for over two decades, releasing music since 1996. How do you maintain the momentum and enhance your musical acumen and versatility, and manage to stay relevant through the years?
Isolée: The first EP was out on Playhouse in 1996 followed by a few others and, of course, Beau Mot Plage in 1998. My first album, going by the name of Rest, was released in 2001. Actually I have no recipe in making music, I think it’s personal passion and curiosity.
My studio set-up changes every once in a while, which is part of a creative process.
Torture the Artist: Can you give us a brief tour of your studio set up?
Isolée: My studio set-up changes every once in a while, which is part of a creative process I guess. Recently I came back to a smaller setup like in the early days. I’m getting rid of some heavy vintage gear. It’s important to have everything in my reach in order to work with it. So it’s better for me to keep it small. Right now for example I have sold a vintage Yamaha CS-30 and on the other hand I purchased a Modal sculpt. I came back to a smaller Mackie 1642 mixer and sold my old Soundcraft 6000 a while ago. I have a selection of new and vintage analog synths, some drum machines and few effects in the studio.
Torture the Artist: What’s the synth in your collection you work with the most and the best at the moment when producing music?
Isolée: The Synth that I always ended up using the most are the Roland Juno-106 and 60, though I slightly prefer the 106. But I think these days there are plenty of great new synths available in the market, since the manufacturers have really come back to straight forward analog synths with modern features like USB. Now wavetable synths are following. My recent purchases were the Korg Prologue and Minilogue which I really like a lot, but I also love the small size digital synths like the Modal craaft & Sculpt. That small format works better for me than I expected, basically because they leave you plenty of space on your table while easy to reach and therefore in use.
You have to entertain yourself in the first place if you want to entertain others.
Torture the Artist: Was there a particular year where you had to take a step back and reconsider your musical style and approach? Perhaps force yourself to hit a pause button?
Isolée: All the time it’s like that, not necessarily to hit a pause button, but you have to entertain yourself in the first place if you want to entertain others. And since I get bored quite easily or annoyed with music it’s a tough task.
Torture the Artist: In which year/s did you find yourself go through the most drastic transformation or growth, whether intentional or not?
Isolée: I think in the last few years there is quite a change which I cannot really name or define since it feels like I’m in the thick of it. It’s also a mixture of a change in my private life and in the music scene. For example, last year the agency that I was working with since the beginning in the late 90s shut down. I changed to another agency, which feels quite refreshing.
Torture the Artist: When was the last time you were entertained (musically speaking) and by who?
Isolée: I recently went to a Pampa Night here in Hamburg at a Place called Südpol where we really had a great night on the dance floor. We left at 7 in the morning. I usually don’t go out any more.
Torture the Artist: What’s the last thing that challenged you regarding both your personal life and your music?
Isolée: I think the answer is easy here: It’s the corona crisis, that we are just in the beginning of. This is definitely a challenge for anyone right now, everybody is concerned business-wise and personally. Most of what is the music-scene life is shut down right now. No Clubbing, no Festivals, all gig for artists and DJs are canceled, this will be a fight for survival for many.
People bring other talents here besides music.
Torture the Artist: What would you say are those major changes in the music scene, are there any changes you do not want or simply cannot adapt to?
Isolée: That’s not easy to say. The dance experience on a dance floor usually feels the same as years ago and I sometimes have the feeling that nothing changes at all. Though it has grown to a much bigger business and the way DJs present themselves has changed as well. In the early days of Techno a producer or a DJ didn’t really have a face. A producer like Maurizio was someone that no one had ever seen a photo of and there was only one interview given in years. This has obviously changed and it’s almost the opposite when looking at Instagram. People bring other talents here besides music. I’m kind of slow in adapting to things that I’m not interested in at first, but I’m not fighting it.
As I said before, I’m doing this Interview while the general culture life has been shutdown because of the corona virus. All of us artists, venues and cultural Institutions like clubs, festivals, concert halls, museums, bars, restaurants etc. are heavily concerned and have to fight for survival. Many things will probably change due to this crisis, and things like streaming all of a sudden have an even more vital importance and are a blessing in these times.
Torture the Artist: There are many manifestations of Isolee, despite the signature cuts. Do you plan on ever revisiting a past phase or state of mind, for artistic purposes? Would you consider taking in a bit of the old to come up with the new?
Isolée: I don’t fight the past at all, but I like when things at least feel new and up to date. I like it when sometimes you can hear music history and influence shine through in a new dress. I’m aware that I don’t do anything really new. Even when it sounds to me like I have done something completely different to everything I have done before, people usually recognize my style instantly.
I’ve never considered music as something to make a living out of, but at the same time it’s the only thing that I know I’ll always have a passion for.
Torture the Artist: Can you share with us how you got started in music in the first place? Have you always known that you wanted to do this for a living?
Isolée: I have always been seduced by music and I imagined having a band as a teenager. I started playing around with instruments at home, I never learned to play anything. With a friend at school we had some sort of electronic pop-duo that we were quite seriously involved in, at the same time it was always some sort of teenage dream. Honestly I’ve never considered music as something to make a living out of, but at the same time it’s the only thing that I know I’ll always have a passion for.
Torture the Artist: Growing up, who were among your musical influences? As a young Rajko during the formative years of electronic music as we know now, how did you find the gateway into the scene in which you ended up not only being a part of, but helping define?
Isolée: I think beside your favourite bands, friends and the environment you grow up in are important. In my case I had a few friends that influenced me a lot and introduced me to new music styles. I also liked to go out dancing. Growing up in Frankfurt I had a chance to see concerts, go clubbing, experience all kinds of music and dancing, what I always loved to do. To me music is something social even when you listen to it on your own. It connects you to others.
Torture the Artist: Why ‘Isolée’?
Isolée: It’s a long time ago and an old story. <smiles>
Torture the Artist: Did you experience any obstacles or setbacks breaking in into the field? Have you ever thought of a plan B, if a musical career did not work out?
Isolée: Yes, I did sometimes think about a plan B, but I never came up with a proper one. It’s not self-evident to me to rely on a music career for ever, I did often wonder how well it worked out for me, when I started making music there wasn’t really this kind of a “job-profile“. But it’s not a sure thing.
Torture the Artist: Not only did you make it into Wikipedia, but the global encyclopedia also credited you for creating the very first microhouse record to reach the club charts. How do you feel about this? And how did you learn to master the art of “microhouse”?
Isolée: I used to have an ambivalent relation to the term of “microhouse“ because I liked myself being seen as someone making electronic music between House & Techno. I wasn’t interested in creating another sub-genre. But nowadays I’m happy being seen as part of an era that was even given a name. I think Microhouse is just what happened when I was doing my own version of House.
Torture the Artist: Perusing your socials, previous interviews, biographies, a lot has been said about you as an artist, and your art, your personal life has been kept rather private. Does music occupy your life so much that it is your everyday or did you intend to keep both personal and artistic aspects of your life as separate as possible?
Isolée: Actually I’m more of a shy character who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight so much as it might appear when someone is making music and plays live in clubs. What I liked about electronic music is that you could dive into it in your bedroom studio, then put it on a record. I didn’t do this because I wanted to go on stage, the idea of going on stage frightened me first, and still does sometimes. In my everyday life I don’t strictly separate work and private life, I think everything is related in some ways.
I’m sure I’d be a great chef.
Torture the Artist: Yet we are sure you have non-music-related hobbies, can you tell us something else you are actually good at or which you love doing? Hidden talents?
Isolée: I often have short time special interests. <smiles> It happens. I dig into point&shoot photography and I start buying used classic cameras. I like to do sports and started to play squash a few years ago, unfortunately I often have lower back problems that hinder me from playing, like right now. I love food and cooking, I’m sure I’d be a great chef. <winks>
Torture the Artist: Back to music, which track of yours do you feel most connected to at the moment, in a personal level, artistic, or both. Why?
Isolée: The recent EP on Maeve is the record I feel connected to the most right now, basically because it’s the most recent and represents the most actual feeling. It’s also one of my records that I’m very happy with when finished which is not always the case.
Torture the Artist: You do not DJ, you only do live sets, you’ve confirmed this in the past. What is the reason behind this decision and has it been easy sticking to it? As more and more producers opt to DJ than not, do you think you would ever give it a shot?
Isolée: It’s not that I don’t want to DJ in any case. It’s more that I have always been too lazy to give it a serious try and especially to listen to this huge amount of new music coming out all the time. I think the main difference between a DJ and a producer/musician is that the first focuses on new releases and music done by other people, while the second focuses on making his own music, and both by itself can be a fulltime occupation when doing it with passion.
Torture the Artist: Do you believe that playing live sets makes you more aware and hence, more connected with your crowd?
Isolée: More than a DJ? I have no idea. Being connected to the crowd depends on the venue, the situation of the DJ-booth or stage, the crowd and the soundsystem. You never really know what makes the magic happen… sometimes it just doesn’t.
Torture the Artist: Can you share a particularly memorable gig that touched you and inspired you to make music? Where were you, what were you playing, how did it make you feel?
Isolée: Honestly I don’t have one such memorable gig to tell a story about right now, there are really plenty great ones, but usually I forget about it after a while.
Torture the Artist: Looking over the years, music enthusiasts and connoisseurs, dancers and artists alike, have been able to rely on you for consistently innovative and high-quality music, what can we expect from Isolée this year?
Isolée: I did focus on the recent EP and have nothing concrete prepared to follow, but I have an album on my mind to come next.
Torture the Artist: Thank you for taking your time and this chat.
Interview by Marie J Floro