Get to know: Christian Smith
A stalwart of the techno scene, Christian Smith has been producing and touring with his Tronic army over the last decade. Steadily building up his empire of emerging and established artists for an array of underground music fiends across the globe, Smith has secured himself a solid reputation as a long-running, dedicated artist while kick-starting the careers of developing artists through his Tronic label.
Learning the ropes in Frankfurt’s illegal rave scene before catching the attention of dance veterans including Sven Vath and Dave Angel with his early productions, Smith rapidly gained a loyal following before delving into his own project - the notorious Tronic label.
Twenty years later, Tronic is still going strong signing new and vibrant artists as well as tying in releases from deep-rooted producers like Julian Jeweil, Victor Ruiz and Kenny Glasgow to name a few. After a busy summer season touring with stints in Privilege Ibiza and Sonar, we spoke to Smith ahead of his return to Egg LDN on 28th October.
After spending your childhood years in Frankfurt, how did you get into DJing and production? Do you remember your first set?
I was a hobby DJ since the age of 14. I then became more serious about DJ’ing when I started entering DJ competitions like DMC. I spent much of my youth in Frankfurt, Germany as my father was stationed there as a pilot for Lufthansa. So I saw Sven Vath on a weekly basis long before he became an international superstar. I actually went to university in Washington DC to get a degree in International Business and Finance and it was during this time that I started getting paid gigs at illegal warehouse raves.
After being an Investment Banker in the U.S and hating life, I moved to Stockholm to study economics and it was during this time that I produced a bunch of records that got the attention of Carl Cox, Dave Angel, Sneak etc. Before I knew it I had booking requests for gigs all over the world. I remember the very first ones were for tours in Japan and Australia. It all happened really fast. In the span of six months, I went from having three to four gigs a month to eight to ten. So I decided to go for it and give music a chance full time.
You’ve just completed a summer of heavy touring with shows in Ibiza, Barcelona, Mexico, Germany and even Tokyo. Was there a standout set that remains a highlight for you?
This is always a tough question because all events are different and have their own magic about them. Of course for me, going to Japan is always top on my list as I am just totally in love with the country and its clubs. Barcelona is always like going home – as we have so many friends there, and Sonar was a great gig at a completely unexpected venue! I guess the biggest night of the year for me was Resistance at Privilege, Ibiza – being back to the venue this year with a packed out crowd. It was special.
What’s the underground music scene like in Tokyo at the moment? How was your experience playing in Japanese territory?
It’s really exploding at the moment. I think that’s apparent with the amount of artists now going to play there on tour. WOMB has been one of the best-known clubs in Tokyo and is really the only underground club in Japan which has a very long history, and it’s also the biggest with three floors. You can find parties every night of the week in Tokyo, and other venues are now becoming really popular including Vent, Ageha and Contact. I love going to Japan as the culture is unreal – it’s truly a very special place and the food – goes without saying!
Looking back over the last twenty years with Tronic, what was the most challenging aspect of running the label in the early days?
Teamwork has been crucial to the success of Tronic. I have a full-time label manager who runs all the day to day business things and she is fantastic! I am of course still heavily involved and decide on every song that gets released on the label. But I could never do all the work by myself now as I have a lot of different things going on the same time. I started the label purely out of passion because I did not want to be constrained to other labels wants and needs. Twenty years later and the label is the second biggest techno imprint in the world. It’s amazing because I never really aimed for Tronic to become a top-selling techno label. I just wanted an outlet where I can release music that I play in my sets.
What advice would you give to young artists looking to start an independent label?
Be prepared to work very hard! I think it's a good idea to get yourself established as an artist and understand every aspect of the industry before you go into starting a label. It’s hard to get the first few releases going and get momentum – you need to know people to ask to release on the label to give it some push. Also, it’s not cheap and there have been so many issues in the early days for us regarding distributors going bust. As I said, my team is essential – without a good team behind you, it won’t be the easiest of projects you can undertake. But saying that, after many years, we have got there and hope that many more labels succeed who are just starting up today.
What can one expect from a Tronic night and where can we experience such a night?
Tronic Nights have really been getting some momentum this year, we had our famous Sonar OFF week party back in June and despite having to change locations from the beach to a club the day before (due to license’s for parties in the city), we managed to sell out the club and the line-up was stacked. The aim of the events is to bring Tronic label artists together along with some surprise guests to some of the best clubs all over the world. We did an insane night at Privilege in Ibiza, for Ultras Resistance event – and next up we have the Tronic night at EGG in London and also an exciting boat party at ADE. Lots to look forward to and plans to expand take us well into 2018.
Your next LP ‘Synergy’ is coming out on October 9th and is compiled of fourteen solid tracks. How do you balance studio time whilst on the road and witnessing temptations that come with the life of a DJ?
Well, I am also a father and husband, so really, life has changed a lot when it comes to priorities these days. I love going to gigs and enjoy them as much as I did when I was in my 20’s but also, when they are over, I cannot wait to get home and spend time with my family. I am often away every weekend, so the week days I like to get out the house and be with the kids. When I produced Synergy, this was done over a year and in locations all over the world, as it’s all collaboration tracks so I worked with each artist in their studio, which took me to Japan, Barcelona and two trips to New York!
What was your frame of mind when creating the LP? Was there a particular theme you wanted to celebrate?
Well, collaborations I guess would have been the main focus / theme. I don’t think anyone has yet done an album totally made of only original collaboration tracks. Many of the artists on the LP are those who have released already on Tronic and who I also I have a history with. Drunken Kong from Tokyo released an album earlier this year and we did some tracks together for their LP, so getting them on mine was a given. John Selway and I have worked on some bootlegs in the past, which were all very well known and loved, so it was amazing to get back into the studio with him after all this time and bounce ideas off one another. Every collaboration on this album is different, and that's what gives it a little edge – techno to some electro with a little Harry Romero house thrown in for some groove.
What’s next on the horizon with gigs in London and future releases?
After Synergy comes out on the 9th October, we’ll be working on the remix package for it, which I expect will be out in early 2018. I’m looking forward to some exciting new names on that release. I also have an EP for Drumcode which should be out before the end of this year – they are the only other label that I now release on as I try and focus on releasing only on my own. As for gigs, things are crazy – ADE after London, and then over to Greece, Germany, Spain and then a few dates for another USA tour in December.