INTERVIEW Damiano von Erckert

While his love for music has made him travel around the globe, his true love brought him to Frankfurt, where he’s been adopted by the Robert Johnson family. Originally from Cologne Damiano von Erckert has hit the road almost a decade ago to spread his House-vibes to the people, in the clubs. Founding AVA.RECORDS to release exquisite material from himself as well as other artists who share a similar approach to House music, namely a rather deep one or/ and working with samples from bygone but still relevant tracks from the 1960’s to the 2000’s. However for his recent releases on Will Saul’s Aus Music and Live At Robert Johnson Damiano has left his musical comfort zone to challenge himself. Still the fashion-loving artists remained musically true to himself and delivered music as timeless and classy as the samples he once used. Now the far-traveled artists speaks to Torture the Artist about the past months in the pandemic, events and achievements that define him personally and musically, how he does not like things to be labled, the time with Ata and Flo from Robert Johnson during the lockdown and much more.

Torture the Artist: Hello Damiano, tell us something about your day.

Damiano von Erckert: Ciao ragazzi. I’ve been inside the Robert Johnson Club office here in Frankfurt since this morning. I’m about to continue my work on some new graphic design ideas and finish a remix for Cinthie.

Torture the Artist: The upcoming Lifesaver Compilation 4 – 21 – Dedicated to Andrew Weatherall, on Live At Robert Johnson is a dedication to the ‘punk of electronic music’ himself. For many, Andrew was and still is, a musical inspiration also he was a regular guest at Robert Johnson club. What’s Andrew’s (musical) influence on you?

Damiano von Erckert: He is without a doubt one of the key figures in Electronic Dance Music. Obviously he went much further than Techno/House which is what makes his work diverse and exciting. It is inevitable to be inspired by Andrew Weatherall’s discography and bio; his diverse approach and countless remixes have definately been part in my record collection ever since I discovered his music. Over the years his style has become more and more of an influence on my newer work as well… For sure.

Torture the Artist: Your contribution to the Lifesaver Vol. 4 is Let’s Hide Away, a rather housey take out of your feather and (musically) referring to tracks of yours like Housem III. When was Let’s Hide Away written and why do think it represents you best at an artistical level on the compilation?

Damiano von Erckert: I was aware of the project participants. This helped me to do something potentially different from the major part of the other tracks found on this compilation. It is a brighter and more of a sample-based house music track. The track was written here in Frankfurt, where I spent more time during the lockdown, at the beginning of the year.

The record opens a new way for me to express myself without much sampling from other sources.

Torture the Artist: Besides your contribution to the Lifesaver-compilation you have a three-tracker, Replica Material, coming on Will Saul’s Aus Music. What was your musical approach for this EP and would you say it differs from previous music you’ve released?

Damiano von Erckert: Releasing on Aus Music is a big honor and feels like an important part of my creative progress. The label’s history is massive and a lot Aus Musics artists shaped and are still shaping the scene in a good way. I’m glad to be a member of this team.

This EP is special to me because of many things. Firstly, it’s my first very own full 12“ record on a label outside from my own AVA.RECORDS. Musically, it is more electronic and is differently composed than previous records. It is still crucial to me that my music sounds a certain way: dynamic and warm.

The record opens a new way for me to express myself without much sampling from other sources, such as other records. I’ve always appreciated deep and avant-garde like dance music so It feels good to contribute this record.

Torture the Artist: How did working with Will and his Aus Music label come about and what’s your story?

Damiano von Erckert: Will and I met in cold Berlin in February / March, I think. It was at Cinthie’s “Elevate” record shop. We had a good talk and were exchanging thoughts about potential collaborations in one way or another. Will is a very humble and kind person, he is very passionate about music and the work he’s involved in. It is inspiring to be around people like him. We’ve kept in touch ever since the lockdown and I’m glad to be friends and to work with him.

Torture the Artist: One track for LARJ and three for Aus Music, when did you produce these tracks and when do you consider a track finished?

Damiano von Erckert: I think the oldest might be 12-months old. All the ideas and the time of production were about a 7-month duration. Some of them were made while focussing on Aus or Live At Robert Johnson; others were very unchained. I have other projects in production coming up which were made in lively times, so they may also sound a bit different from what people might know me for. I consider a track ready when it feels right in the first place. This doesn’t happen very often which could be the reason why I don’t release a lot. Some factors guide me to become certain about my work, as it shouldn’t be boring or stiff. It’s not easy to embrace the limitation of House or Techno music, but it’s a positive challenge.

Torture the Artist: When listening to your productions it occurs to one that you have a preference for soulful or disco-ish samples/ music. Where does this preference originate from and would you say that combing those samples with your classy house music approach is your signature sound?

I’m still in love with that kind of sound but I like the feeling of me evolving and opening up to other styles.

Damiano von Erckert: I released my first records in 2011/2012 via AVA.RECORDS and they were pretty much linked to American inspired Deep House. Our records were played in clubs such as Panorama Bar or Trouw in Amsterdam. That felt really good.

It all changed a bit towards groovy sampling when I met Tito Wun aka Twit One, a well respected and fantastic musician. He’s well known in the German HipHop scene and also runs the fantastic record shop GROOVE ATTACK RECORDS in Cologne, Germany. That’s the time when I became interested in releasing more dance and disco-influenced House music records. My first album, including a Motor City Drum Ensemble remix, did the rest.

I’m still in love with that kind of sound but I like the feeling of me evolving and opening up to other styles. Right now my way of making music and my DJ sets are filled up with new additional vibes. It feels right and I’m looking forward to the future.

Torture the Artist: What kind of track would you like to produce that you have not?

Damiano von Erckert: I appreciate the music I respect and love, so I’m glad that I’m not involved in these projects. I’d just criticize it all the time.

Torture the Artist: Has there ever been a track of yours that you couldn’t enjoy as much as when you produced it, and why?

Damiano von Erckert: Probably most of them. I’m proud of some my tracks. The rest is like a holiday you really enjoy. Looking back to this time is just not the same as being there. Do you know what I mean?

Torture the Artist: Absolutely. What is a superpower you wish you had to use in the studio?

Damiano von Erckert: To play the piano. I mean real playing.

I’m searching for music produced in-between the 1960’s to 2000’s. That is still a priority for me.

Torture the Artist: In previous interviews, you refer to House and Techno music’s beginnings in cities like Detroit or New York and you also mention your father as a major source of influence on your musical-being. Besides listening to music from that period or records your father Stefan used to play, when he was a DJ, what’s literature you’ve binge-read to further your understanding of (dance) music’s history, and how important is it to you to know the past to produce something relevant in the present?

Damiano von Erckert: I’m searching for music produced in-between the 1960s to 2000s. That is still a priority for me. Of course, I do listen to new stuff and follow inspiring artists. As A&R at AVA.RECORDS that is part of my responsibility, but most music I listen to and play in my DJ sets is older than 20 years. That’s why my DJ sets do not sound super compressed with a too much heavy modern digital sound. If you want to hear the sound of that era I might be able to help with that. That is, whenever we can dance again.

The world of the Robert Johnson Club and everything which grew out of this environment is a cultural artifact.

Torture the Artist: What role does Ata and Robert Johnson take up in your life?

Damiano von Erckert: My amazing Love lives in Frankfurt therefore I’m spending a lot of time here. During the week, Ata (who does not live far away from ours), LARJ A&R Flo aka Hawkheimer, and I spent a major time of the lockdown together at Ata‘s home in Frankfurt. We became close friends and had good times. Ata is an inspiring figure and a giving person. I learn from his experience and I appreciate the time we share. I think the world of the Robert Johnson Club and everything which grew out of this environment is a cultural artifact. There are just a few of that kind in Germany I’d say.

The idea of the Robert Johnson Club and the few other German dance music institutions adds a high value to German culture and society and even if Robert Johnson Club is already 21 years old today it is still modern and needs a boost in attention and support from government sides. These kind of places are sources for inspirations to future generations and young guns.

Torture the Artist: Speaking of Ata, when and where was your first encounter with the Frankfurt-legend and Robert Johnson-founder?

Damiano von Erckert: In his own Bar, named AMP, here in Frankfurt in 2018.

Torture the Artist: A while back you asked Ata what three projects define him as an artist. What’s a project that let you musically and personally mature to become the artist you are now, and why?

Damiano von Erckert: My imprint AVA.RECORDS including my companion Juri aka Jürgen Rataan. Secondly, my first Album called Love Based Music and a track called Housem III.

Torture the Artist: AVA.Records’ last release dates back to the end of 2019, have you put the label on hold due to the pandemic and when can we expect new music to be released on it?

Damiano von Erckert: No, it is not really on hold. It’s simply not easy to find music we really want to release. We’re trusting our guts and following this intuition. Two records are coming in DEC/JAN. One produced by Dogpatrol containing a Marcellus Pittman remix and the other one will be a new series I’m going to start. Some edit like tracks.

My time living in Paris has shaped my understanding of design when it comes to mode.

Torture the Artist: What’s a (creative) field you’d love to contribute something aside from DJing and releasing music?

Damiano von Erckert: I’m very much interested in fashion. My time living in Paris has shaped my understanding of design when it comes to mode.

We are fortunate to not only have music but a lot of multidisciplinary opportunities to engage with.

Torture the Artist: Which artistic frontiers would you like to cross?

Damiano von Erckert: That’s not easy to answer. I’d like to think that my interests in different genres and fields of creation differ quite quickly. Again respecting and appreciating the limits that comes with making music is important. Nowadays I feel very accepting of these circumstances and have a positive view on that. We are fortunate to not only have music but a lot of multidisciplinary opportunities to engage with.

Torture the Artist: Are you ‘loved-based’ in Frankfurt or what’s the reason you swapped your home in Cologne to one in the ‘bank metropolis’?

Damiano von Erckert: After I left Cologne in 2016, I went to live in London for six months, after that, I lived between Cologne and Bordeaux, then nearly two years in Paris. In 2018 I left Paris and moved to Berlin and have been living there ever since. Yes, I am also love-based in Frankfurt.

It is not very authentic nor clever to abuse and commercialize the messages and the basic idea of House and Techno from its founding time in a way that the message is overheard but the sender is perhaps more in the foreground to earn even more money. 

Torture the Artist: Is it possible to be commercially successful and still be considered ‘underground’ or does one thing exclude the other?

Damiano von Erckert: I think it depends on everyone’s individual definition of what “underground” means. Is it about authenticity and if so, what is it? Is it about losing face when you make money from music in any way? I think it’s completely exaggerated and unnecessary to fly around the world with private jets just so you can play 1 or 2 more shows during the weekend to earn even more of the big money. I think it is not very authentic nor clever to abuse and commercialize the messages and the basic idea of House and Techno from its founding time in a way that the message is overheard but the sender is perhaps more in the foreground to earn even more money. These tricks have been used for the last 10-15 years and it is unhealthy to our community.

I would like more fairness in our scene too. Unknown and lesser-known artists have almost no chance to earn money with their work and musical message. Several times I had the impression that self-marketing and capitalist skills pay off more than the music itself. I don’t want to paint anything black and find myself in the middle here. I think it’s legit to make more money than other artists if someone has worked hard for it, if it is her or his true passion plus if the person has had the necessary luck. It is just as important to take responsibility and make sure that everyone has the same chance. This is especially true for the actors in the scene with great influence. So if you ask me what my definition of “underground” is … I don’t have any because I feel many of these terms are labeled. I want to break free and try to inspire others to do what they feel and what drives them to do good. I don’t have to belong to something in a classical or political sense for that.

Interestingly, it’s always the same people who are in focus.

Torture the Artist: What grievance within the electronic music scene does the pandemic reveal and how can it be overcome?

Damiano von Erckert: Who is really privileged and who is not. Some artists still make money doing DJ shows and parties. Interestingly, it’s always the same people who are in focus. Before and after the pandemic. I guess there’s not much to do than being patient and not lose hope for better times. I trust the people when it comes to realizing that there are things not right and others that are good. I think we all feel when things need to change.

Torture the Artist: What’s your contribution to a better world?

Damiano von Erckert: To keep creating love based projects.

Interview by Holger Breuer