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The Inner Voice of Sven Väth: reflecting on 40+ years of a stellar career

An exclusive Q&A with the iconic techno titan ahead of his headlining slot at Bali's Burning Beach Festival in December

  • Words: Mixmag Asia Crew | Images: Daniel Woeller
  • 30 November 2023

With over 40 years in the industry, Sven Väth remains one of the most charismatic and influential performers in the electronic music realm. His record bags, now larger than ever (especially after decades of digging), carry the secrets and possibilities of both the past and present vinyl era.

From starring in a documentary, creating a "soundtrack for space travel" and rubbing shoulders with billionaires and their gigafactories, being honoured by the Museum of Modern Electronic Music (yes, there is one!) and the City of Frankfurt for contributing towards its cultural life to celebrating twenty years of his own label, there’s very little left to the imagination when it comes to Sven’s experiences.

In short: he's legendary, to say the least.

The German artist’s career began in Frankfurt in 1981, where he quickly became a figurehead for the country’s techno revolution, mostly thanks to his Omen Club that opened in 1988, which had an exhilarating 10-year run. The venue hosted parties that were known to be sweaty, compulsive and eye-popping; the perfect formula for unforgettable nights. There was also Cocoon Club — a groundbreaking establishment with a futuristic design and an earth-shattering sound system.

Safe to say, Papa Sven knows how to take care of his dancefloor family.

From there, the world became his oyster. Fast forward to 1999 and Sven lands a residency at the infamous Amnesia in Ibiza via his highly-anticipated Cocoon parties, which resounded globally.

More than a purveyor of parties, his contributions expanded further with music labels like Harthouse, Eye Q, and Recycle or Die which served as archives for contemporary electronic dance music and ambient sounds.

The now iconic Cocoon brand transformed with time into a multi-faceted entity encompassing parties, a booking agency, and a record label, gaining prominence by featuring acclaimed artists such as Ricardo Villalobos, Dubfire, Richie Hawtin, Marco Carola and Luciano in addition to Sven himself.

Constantly traversing a plethora of sounds to cater to his family of friends, Papa Sven is showing no signs of slowing down as he adds another notable notch to his career belt by performing at Indonesia's biggest house and techno festival; Burning Beach Festival on 22-23 December.

Performing on the second night, Sven is joined by a stellar line-up of sonic accompaniment throughout the two days of the beachside festival, including Deborah De Luca, Stephan Bodzin, Melanie Ribbe and more at the picturesque Mari Beach Club.

But before that, let’s dive into the mind of the vinyl virtuoso himself. Read our exclusive interview with Sven Väth below.

Sven, it's been over 20 years since you last performed in Bali! Can you share with us some memories and impressions from your previous trip, and how excited are you to return?

When I spun records the last time in Bali the world was a different place: no Instagram, no Facebook, no mobile phones - just pure vibes and vinyl. My 30th birthday in 1994 was a highlight, envisioned as a small gathering, it evolved into a volcanic eruption of joy with an extra 100 jubilant souls joining the 40 friends I had invited. The locals were not just bystanders, they were the pulse of that unforgettable celebration. Throughout the '90s, I returned to Bali frequently, always finding it to be a deeply spiritual place that resonated with my body, mind, and soul. Now I'm thrilled at the prospect of returning and reconnecting with the island's ever-evolving spirit.

Besides the music, what makes Bali such a special place in your eyes? Any favourite activities, sights, foods or experiences you're looking forward to enjoying again?

Beyond the music, Bali captivates me with its hikes through the rice terraces, the breathtaking sunsets at Uluwatu Temple, and the profound cultural experience of the Kecak dance performances. There's so much more to this island that I'm eager to rediscover and enjoy once again. It's the blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and the genuine warmth of the people that makes Bali truly special.

Many consider you a veteran and legend in the realm of electronic music; in your opinion, how has the scene evolved globally over the past couple of decades?

To be seen as a veteran or a legend in electronic music is flattering, but I don't see myself as just a veteran. I feel more like a fine wine that has matured beautifully over the years, full of finesse and strength. My passion for music is as intense as ever, and especially in these times of crisis, I consider it a privilege to travel and spread good energy with my performance. Love is in the air!

As for the scene, if we can still call it that – it has indeed become mainstream in many respects. Yet, there remains a global community of music and rave enthusiasts with good taste, who know the value of what we've built over the decades and who continue to celebrate the true essence of electronic music.

Your career spans many eras of electronic music — acid house, techno, trance and beyond. How would you describe your personal musical journey and evolution over the past 40+ years?

Over the past 30+ years, my musical journey as a DJ has been a diverse exploration through the realms of electronic music. My sets have always been a curated mix of tracks that not only get people dancing but also include experimental sounds for those special moments.

My approach to DJing is about crafting a journey that can last — sometimes my sets go on for 12 hours or more! I've never lost my thirst for discovery or the pioneering spirit to search and find new sounds, which has kept me pushing the boundaries of music all these years.

As someone who was there right at the beginning of the house and techno revolutions, what does it mean to you to still be inspiring new generations of fans and DJs today?

Being part of the genesis of house and techno revolutions and continuing to inspire new generations of fans and DJs today is incredibly fulfilling. The enduring need to dance and connect collectively with music is a powerful testament to the purpose of our music, and it’s something that will never cease. It’s beautiful to see that there are no age limits to this experience and that fresh impulses are constantly emerging, especially from the younger generation. This exchange across ages keeps the scene vibrant and evolving.

If you could go back in time, is there any one iconic party or event from electronic music's history that you wish you could relive?

Choosing just one legendary party or event from the history of electronic music to relive would be a true challenge because there are so many. I am deeply grateful for all the incredible experiences I've been privileged to have – from unforgettable club nights, events at extraordinary locations, to the Love Parade, and the vibrant scenes in Goa, Ibiza, Detroit, New York, Miami, Bali, Berlin, Frankfurt, Germany, Paris, Switzerland, London, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Australia, Italy, Sao Paulo, Tel Aviv, Mexico, Beirut, and Singapore just to mention a few. Each of these places has etched a memorable beat in my heart.

When it comes to your music, where have you been drawing inspiration from lately as you continue to push boundaries?

Lately, I draw inspiration from a variety of sources, but mostly it's the travel through different cultures, the diverse music I encounter, and my own emotional state that fuel my creativity. My latest album, 'Catharsis', emerged from a deep yearning I felt during the pandemic to reconnect and unite with my people. This longing drove me to record the album in 2021, channelling that desire into music that pushes boundaries and explores new territories.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming DJs/producers just starting out on their journey in electronic music?

My first piece of advice to aspiring DJs and producers would be to make sure they can actually dance themselves! :) Being a DJ is quite trendy these days. But the real question is, why do you want to DJ? Is it because you have something to communicate through your music and the talent to captivate people on the dancefloor? Or is it rather the desire to be famous and the centre of attention?

Each individual needs to find out for themselves, but the truth is, it takes passion, a musical ear, and sensitive antennas to pick up on the crowd's mood to truly entertain people. You must be honest with yourself and also have patience, as success doesn’t happen overnight.

Every record tells a story, what record tells yours?

The record that tells my story would be one filled with longing for love, freedom, and peace. It would also encapsulate the liberation experienced through dancing, the ecstasy found in collective revelry, and the soaring feeling that makes us realize: We Are One.

Speaking of…how many records do you have in your personal collection?

Last year in Frankfurt, the MOMEM — Museum of Modern Electronic Music opened its doors. I had the honour of being the first exhibition with my personal life's work, curated by my friend and artist Tobias Rehberger. Among other items, my record collection was also on display, featuring about 45,000 copies, all of which I have played in the past.

What one story will you never get bored of telling?

The story I'll always tell is that it's worth listening to your heart, and even when things seem out of reach, it's worth believing in yourself. With willpower and positive thinking, you can set things in motion. This has proven true for me, starting from when I began my journey as a DJ at my parents' disco at the age of 16!

Are you more interested in drawing upon the past or changing the future?

Honestly, both. We are the sum of our experiences, and from them, we can forge visions for our lives.

Last but certainly not least: what can Burning Beach Festival attendees expect from your show on the Saturday night closing set? Can you give us any hints about your track selection or sound?

I'll be bringing good energy to Bali and will try to connect as deeply as possible with the crowd. As for my musical selection, I must say, be ready for surprises, as I love to improvise. I'm looking forward to seeing all of you! See you on the dancefloor!

Tickets to Burning Beach Festival at Mari Beach Club on 22-23 December are available here.

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