Sven Makes Us Feel Like Dancin'
Monday, 25 February 2008
Sven Väth is many things. An electronic pioneer. A flamboyant party boy. The postmodern decadent. A survivor. Above all, he’s a music lover. And, as he takes an interview call, the extrovert German betrays his sense of humour, the hapless conference administrator bungling his name. “He’s introducing me as ‘Seven’,” Sven laughs afterwards.
Väth was DJing at the height of the New Romantic era. No doubt the Blitz Kids influenced his outlandish dress as he gradually morphed into the “techno nomad warrior from outer space.” Indeed, Väth claims to be among the first DJs to produce a record. However, he’s far from complacent about his longevity. “I’m 43 years old now and I’ve learned a lot of things in my life.”
Väth’s parents, who had fled Communist East Germany, operated a pub, complete with disco, in off-the-radar Obertshausen, yet it was at Frankfurt’s feted Dorian Gray club where Sven discovered hedonistic partying. Väth was an apprentice metal worker but, at 16, he chucked it in to travel, experiencing Ibiza for the first time. He began DJing, landing his big break at, yes, Dorian Gray.
Long before Väth presaged trance, he was a pop star. He fronted the ’80s electro group OFF (Organisation For Funk), relishing a hit with Electrica Salsa. The restless Sven, drawn back to the underground, eventually split from the outfit, allowing his cohorts Michael Munzing and Luca Anzilotti to launch Snap!. With acid house surging, Sven invested his OFF royalties into a club, The Omen, extant until 1998. As such, like Paul Van Dyk, he was pivotal to a musical – and cultural – movement in Germany that paralleled reunification, a movement that revealed a tolerant, pluralistic and, weirdly, eccentric Germany. “We showed the world that we can dance!”
In 2008 Väth considers himself part of a Teutonic musical heritage that stretches back to Kraftwerk and Krautrockers like Tangerine Dream.
“In a way, I think I followed the tradition and I have been honest with the music, but I transformed it for the dancefloor,” he says. “This is what many DJs and producers did in the ’80s.”
Väth developed his Eye Q stable. In 1992 he issued a cult solo album, Accident In Paradise, which confirmed his status as ‘the godfather of trance’. But as the music became ever commercial, hijacked by Tiësto’s posse, Väth staged a radical self-reinvention. He gravitated to techno, the ideological antithesis of trance, bonding with Richie Hawtin.
Väth devised a fresh club concept (and label), Cocoon, branding it with niche mix-CDs. Cocoon’s season at Amnesia in Ibiza is the stuff of legend. Arguably, Sven popularised techno on the house-obsessed party isle. Few superstar DJs have evolved as successfully – and that’s often because their fans (and purists) won’t let them. Yet Sven, as with disco veteran Francois K, is a stubborn rebel.
“I see myself as a pioneer, a raver and an entertainer,” he says. “I always get bored very quickly. I’m always looking for a new sound – something new. This is why I love travelling so much – it keeps me really inspired. I’m coming from the dancefloor. Dancing was always the most beautiful thing I could do for myself and for my body and my soul. Still today when I’m playing I’m always thinking, how can I turn the people on with my music and make them really fly and put them on a journey-
“The most fun I have is when I play new music. I always wanted to change.”
Väth is a leading exponent of minimal, a genre slower – and less hardcore – than ’90s techno. “It’s a little bit more funky – weird sounds, but still groovy, hypnotic, sexy, crazy...” What’s more, he emphasises, girls love it.
Väth’s personal life is even more colourful than his career. Sven has confessed to using drugs. He gave up cocaine early as it made him “aggressive”. Väth had a fling with a Dorian Gray bar staffer and the birth of their daughter, now an adult, was the catalyst for him to kick the habit. Rumours about Väth’s alleged bisexuality flourished when a video of him ‘snogging’ Hawtin appeared on YouTube. Sven has laughed it off. As it happens, he’s newly married. “I just had my huge wedding in Thailand exactly a month ago,” he says, “and I’m a happy man.”
Väth isn’t offended by the stories that circulate – and why should he be- They only validate ‘Sven Väth, the myth’. “There are so many stories about my party style,” he laughs, in his element. Some of the myths originate in Ibiza, where, last summer, post-Amnesia, Väth DJed for hours on the beach. “When people are seeing me in action – well, I told you I am an entertainer! I like it wild sometimes. I can’t keep that level that high every weekend, but I have my periods in the year where I’m quite wild, that’s very true.”
Today Väth is a respectable figure in Germany. He’s been a cultural ambassador for the Goethe Institute. Väth’s Cocoon club, which he built following his last Australian tour, encompasses two swanky restaurants. “I think I’m the first in the world running a club with a Michelin Star restaurant inside,” he says, proudly. It’s no ordinary venue. “I wanted to make a new statement for the club of the 21st Century.”
Väth is loyal to Frankfurt. He’s not intending to join the DJ exodus to Berlin. “For me, there was never a question of moving somewhere else, because I started in Frankfurt when I was 18 years old in this really beautiful discotheque at the Frankfurt Airport called Dorian Gray. This was the start of my career as a DJ. Every little thing, what happened from that point on, was happening here in Frankfurt.
“The city was always good to me. I always had the freedom to do what I want to do here. I never had so many competitors. I’ve always had my followers and the people who came to Frankfurt to enjoy what we do here. That’s probably why I’m still here. I love this city.”
Väth has recorded several albums, though none as important as Accident In Paradise. His most infamous, The Harlequin, The Robot & The Ballet Dancer, was lambasted for its pretentiousness in the cynical UK press. Aside from airing the anthem Springlove with electro maven Anthony Rother, he’s had a lull since 2002’s Fire. But another Sven Väth album is due – he’s collaborating with Rother and Roman Flugel (aka Alter Ego).
Meanwhile, Väth is anticipating Cocoon’s ninth season in Ibiza. Ibiza continues to mystify him. Everyone – from teens to 70-somethings – hangs out in clubs. “The hippies left a lot of good seeds in the ’60s and the spirit is still there,” Väth enthuses. Sven’s desire now is to create an environment in his Frankfurt superclub that will appeal to different generations. He’s determined to smash age barriers.
“I want to invite my generation to go clubbing again, because sometimes people think when they are over 30 clubbing is not their world anymore. They leave it up to the younger generation. But dancing is good for life – dancing is very important.”
WHO: Sven Väth
WHAT: Headlines the 3D World 900th Issue Party at Home
WHEN: Thursday 6 March