One of dance music’s most enduring characters returns to Melbourne for Future Music Festival
The first time I ever saw you play was in an abandoned factory in Basel, Switzerland, sometime in the 80s. You were playing really hard techno that night. Was that the music that got you into DJing?
Ha! I remember that night. It was very hot. But that was not the kind of music that got me into DJing. It was like this: When I was 16, I escaped from home and I hitchhiked to Ibiza, and stayed three months. This was the first time I really felt club music in a special way. The clubs were open-air, people were playing bongos, people were smoking joints, and everybody was doing this kind of hippie, freaky dancing. I was most fascinated by music that the DJs were playing, this eclectic mix of dub reggae, Italodisco, African percussion…and people were freaking out. It was my big inspiration. When I got home, my mama looked in my eyes and said, “What happened to you?” I had all this sparkling light in my eyes! I said, “I had this experience on the dance floor.” She said, “Why don’t you become a disc jockey?” And I said, “Yes, I want to be a disc jockey.” And that was exactly 30 years ago.
That’s the best advice a mom has ever given.
My parents owned a discotheque, you see, so it was quite normal that I would DJ. I’m sure they didn’t think I would be doing it this long, though. My mother gave me a lot of love and trust, and she helped to kick me into this world. And the rest is history. From the start, I always thought that this music – electro, house, techno – had the potential to be the biggest kind of dance music worldwide. But, you know, I had a huge pop career, too.
Yes, you were in OFF, of 'Electrica Salsa' fame.
Yeah, all through ’86, ’87, ’88, we were selling millions of records. But then I quit my pop career in ’89. The industry wanted me to change my music and to make more hits, to become more commercial. I said, “Listen, people, I’m quitting. I’m going back into the underground. I’m starting from zero.” Right after that was when I opened Omen in Frankfurt, and the Berlin Wall came down, and then the Love Parade started.… Everything started exploding at that moment. Good timing. I started getting my very first international DJ bookings at that time. But even then, we were still fighting to be able to play the music that we wanted to play, and to party the way that we wanted to party. For people today, everything exists already – everything is there, and they don’t have to fight for it. So it is quite comfortable for the younger generation. And they all want to be DJs nowadays, but I’m thinking that they want to do it for the lifestyle more than for the music.
Speaking of the lifestyle, you always had the reputation of being a bit of a partier. Is that still the case?
I have a very tough schedule. I’m coming to the end of a world tour, for instance, and then I have a ten-day break, and then I start a festival in Europe. I'm a father as well. And I like to play a lot of long, six-hour gigs. So the answer would be, yes, I still like to party – I just no longer can every weekend! But I still give everything to the people.
What keeps you going?
The most fantastic thing is to discover new music all the time. If I was playing the same music every weekend, I would have gotten bored a long time ago. But I have the opportunity to select new music every week, and it’s still a thrill to play that music for the people and to create something special out of that. It’s always a search for the magic moment, everywhere I play.
You still play vinyl, correct?
Yes! I like the physical part of it. I like to touch the vinyl, I like to mix the vinyl, I like to clean my turntable and so on. And we still have a lot of nice record stores in Frankfurt. All over Germany, we have good record stores, and good labels, and good artists. I really appreciate having that.
Can we expect another 30 years of Sven Väth?
I wish! Honestly, I never thought about where an end could be. I still like to share the music that I have discovered. Sharing is caring, you know?
Sven Väth plays Future Music Festival on Sun 11 Mar