While I was in Seattle I got the chance to speak with prolific German producer Uwe Schmidt, aka Atom™. Given his background and the interesting projects he has done, such as his Latin style productions as Señor Coconut, I was very curious what he had to say about his work and his observations on the scenes around him. He had plenty of input to share on the music industry and how he sees it developing without him.
How did you first get into making music?
I had drums, a computer and a studio and then I met some other guys who introduced me to a lot of stuff in the ‘80s.
This was in Frankfurt?
How is that scene now?
Now there isn’t any scene in Frankfurt. Everybody moved to Berlin by the end of the ‘90s. It was pretty much a coincidence that I grew up there and made music there when in the beginning of the 90s it became the capitol of electronic music. Then from ‘93 – ‘94, I didn’t see any progress. That was when I decided to follow my own label and move away.
How did you learn to play Latin music?
I think in general music has a lot to do with feeling it. There’s a lot of theory involved but it depends on the kind of music. It’s always good to analyze and think about it on a code level, but then you can actually do a lot just by listening to it and absorbing it. It’s like language. If you live in Spain, eventually you get a Spanish accent. That’s basically how I approached Latin music. Whenever I’m interested in certain things in a musical aspect, the first thing I do is listen to it over and over again. I was living in Costa Rica for half a year in ‘92 so it was my first contact with Latin music. When I went back home to Frankfurt I started to investigate a lot of things—from which period and time, which territory. It became my favorite so I went into depth with it.
How do you feel about the music scene in Chile?
I just wanted to go there and be alone actually. Europe is a very dense place to be in; there’s lots of media, lots of people expressing opinions and trends, and I was really tired about being part of that or being exposed to that without having a choice. Of course I got introduced to it and it felt like Germany had felt ten years before. This was ‘97 and to me it felt like ‘90 when I went to the first techno party in Berlin. I know how this is going to end. I saw it from a distance. Then record companies tried to pull me into this Chilean hype thing back in Germany. They tried to suck me into this “Chilean Wave of Electronic Music.” Some of them referred to me as one of the people who was important for them so suddenly I was pulled into another context. I wasn’t at all interested in participating.
Are there any changes you’d like to see in the scene with all this talk about media?
I think it stopped to exist the moment complex sampling was possible. At that point I stopped using the word “electronic music” because it was useless. With the downfall of the music industry what was left of a type of music that was more innovative or experimental shrank into almost nothing with the extreme overground or extreme underground. In general, if you look at all the crises in Europe and in the States, wherever you go there’s less and less interest [in art]. The surroundings become more conservative when it comes to art and so I think what we are in right now is some kind of big implosion of creativity. At the same time we have the Internet and millions of people doing interesting things, but how does that come to real life? It doesn’t stick and that’s the biggest problem. It helped to cluster the creative moment. To me it’s always been about individual creativity. I never wanted to be part of one of those clusters. How can that [individual output] be applied?
What is your focus as Atom™?
Some years ago I was classified as the guy with a million aliases. This went parallel with what’s going on in electronic music in general. We are in a different spot right now historically and I just felt it was useless to continue like that. I feel like we need something more unified and especially electronic music having been sold out and being broken into clichés I felt somebody has to focus. My idea is to bring everything musically under Atom™.
What type of equipment do you use?
I was using just a laptop for ten years. The idea was to reduce my set up in order to cause creative pressure basically. I think people are over run by options and have to follow the product cycle that Apple dictates. It’s a very questionable development and as a musician you’re tied to that because not everyone can afford five computers. You’re stuck with one computer and then technology goes on and you become incompatible to everything and you have to upgrade and you lose your songs.
How do you program your visuals?
I load the files in the laptop and they are triggered through the MPC. The MPC is controlling the visuals in real time. It’s a very tight system but the MPC is 17 years old and really clumsy to program actually. You have to be very focused on stage to not make a mistake but that’s part of the idea.
Atom™ performed at GAFFTA late last month, and there’s more to come from him. Lately he’s been working on collaborations he wants to take live, so keep your eye out and don’t miss him when he swings by again.
Photo credit: blog.kpex.org