Markus Schulz started DJing in the early 90s. His first gigs were in America’s gay clubs, as they were the only places he could get away with playing truly underground tracks. From there he moved into the Las Vegas rave scene which was embracing the German techno he was digging at the time. The crowds may have been a fraction of the 30,000 people he plays in front of now, but during those years he perfected the craft of DJing and developed the trademark deep, dark sound that would become an alternative to some of the overly fluffy trance of the time.
Markus was soon one of the genre’s most respected names, and in 2005 he launched Coldharbour Records, now almost at its 100th release and which has launched the careers of many a trance producer. His latest album, ‘Scream’, was championed on Mixmag’s trance pages, and this winter he’s set to play five dates at the epic Stereosonic festival, Australia.
Congratulations on the 'Scream' album! Are you happy with it?
Yes, very much so! I’d already tested a lot of the tracks in my sets, which is really important for me as I like to know they work for the dancefloor.
When you first came onto the scene you were known for championing the deeper and darker side of trance. Has that changed?
I’m playing to much bigger crowds these days, often thirty thousand people, and so my music has had to adapt and evolve to cater to that.
Is it a downside to your success?
Not at all, because it still has my touch to it. I’m very happy with the music I make and play; I never feel like I have to do something I don’t want to do.
I heard you play ‘unicorn slaying tunes’?
By ‘unicorn’, people mean tracks with really fluffy melodies. I don’t do this; I’m more into square waves and pitch bends. Somebody tweeted a while ago, ‘Markus Schulz: the unicorn slayer of trance.’ I retweeted it and it trended. Then people started showing up at gigs with ‘unicorn slayer’ T-shirts. When I played at Avalon in Hollywood there was a giant life-sized unicorn with a gogo dancer on top!
At Electric Daisy Carnival you were told to stop playing because of the dangerous wind, and you had to play on a Love Parade-style float...
It was interesting because it wasn’t just trance fans. It was a mixed bunch from all the different stages that had closed.
Did you have the appropriate records?
I’ve been playing for a long time in all types of challenging situations, and I knew the vibe I needed to play. It worked out really well.
You said that it reminded you of the old rave scene in Las Vegas?
Yeah, there were loads of really vibrant raves on the west coast. I’m talking around 1998. There were, admittedly, only about 2,000 people at these events, not like now when you’ll get 250,000. It was a really cool scene, especially because everything was so raw and primitive. Not a lot of production, you just had a stage, some generators and speakers. It made for a really magical time. And I think that’s what was so cool about the EDC experience. It was just me on a trailer with a big Funktion One system.
You’ve been DJing long time now...
Oh yeah. And you know, there really is a true art form to DJing, and simply rolling out with a one-hour set of the Beatport top ten is not it. Some ‘DJs’ tour the world with a hour and a half pre-recorded set because they’ve had a hit and have been ‘forced’ to learn to DJ. It’s vital that people like me, and you guys at Mixmag, don’t let the art-form be forgotten.
Music aside, do you have the whitest teeth in dance music?
Perhaps! The cool thing is my dentist is young and attractive, so I don’t feel scared when I have an appointment. In fact, I go at any excuse!
Speaking of young and attractive, we saw your video for ‘Do You Dream’. We were wondering: couldn’t you have found a girl with bigger breasts
[Laughs] She’s a very sweet girl whom I’ve known for many years, a model in Miami. Her name is Cindy, her stage name is Rubber Doll and she’s been quite the topic of conversation since the release of the video last year! If you come to Miami you’ll see her on billboards; she’s become a sort of cult icon.
Tell us about KhoMha, the young Columbian DJ you manage.
He’s absolutely incredible. Every track he has sent me is better than the last. I’ve always wanted to take on some young guys to help them achieve their dreams and KhoMha is perfect for this.
Despite your absolutely perfect English, you’re actually German?
I was born in Germany but I moved to the US when I was thirteen. I still speak fluent German, but my vocabulary only goes up to the age thirteen, which means that in interviews in Germany I must come across as a bit stupid!
If you were to move to Germany where would you live?
I have a place in Berlin; as a city it’s very artistic. Frankfurt would be a better city for a DJ because it has a better airport – you can fly anywhere in the world. But I love the vibe in Berlin, even though the music style is not mine.
Berlin can be very snobby, can’t it?
Oh my god, yes! If it’s anything more than a kick drum, a high hat and some weird effect it’s considered selling out.
Are you looking forward to seeing your pal Ferry Corsten soon?
Yes, we’ve bonded really well because we’re both in the same situation. We forget about all the politics and bullshit that happen in the scene.
It’s true, at some gigs these days you come across PRs and managers who seem to have forgot that dance music is meant to be fun...
That’s what almost killed the scene. Most of the time DJs get along well. But when management gets involved, there’s sometimes friction. There are loads of minimal DJs I’m really good friends with – you’d be surprised! Our managements never clash, you see? It’s almost a shame that your best friends in the DJ scene are not from the same genre. That’s why the bond that Ferry and I have is so special: we are in the same genre with no clashing.
People can become really nasty about certain little things that DJs themselves probably wouldn’t be that arsed about…
That’s how the scene has changed. But there are still lots of positive things: namely, the new kids discovering dance music and bringing so much energy and
passion and love for the music. Everything is so fresh to them, and that kind of new energy in the scene is really addictive. I remember the first time I walked into a club and saw the dancefloor and the lights and smoke, I was like “wow!”
Markus Schulz plays Stereosonic Festival Australia on the following dates: Sydney November 24, Perth November 25, Adelaide and Melbourne December 1, Brisbane December 2. His album 'Scream' is out now on Coldharbour Records.