Markus Schulz needs no introduction as he's a trance legend and label boss that has been regularly slaying his Canadian sets for many years with no signs of slowing down. What has changed is how prolific he's been in the studio lately with his consistent output of trance and vocal driven songs, encapsulated in his latest Watch The World (Deluxe) release. With a show coming up in Ottawa this week and another in Toronto at Rebel next week, EDM Canada caught up with Markus Schulz to discuss his elaborate prep that goes into his Stereo sets, his latest album, and much more.
You got to play in Toronto and Montreal for two of the biggest festivals in Canada last summer - how did they go?
They went really well. It was the second year for me doing the Dreamsfestival in Toronto, and the first doing Ilesoniq in Montreal.
I was really glad to be able to do Ilesoniq, because a schedule conflict knocked me out from being part of it in 2016. And in Toronto, not only was the main show great, the afterparty at Uniun was incredible. The beauty about afterparties in general is that everyone has been to the festival earlier that day and heard all the big peak hour tunes, so rather than just playing the same tunes again, you have the chance to deliver something completely unexpected. So I approached it with an afterhours vibe, playing a lot darker and more rabbit hole-like.
Both cities are very special in my career story, and I remain thankful to have the opportunities to keep coming back and adding a building block towards a legacy in each with every visit.
You recently released a 2 hour snippet of your Montreal open to close set at Stereo - how long did that gig last?
It was ten hours! I started at 2 am and played all the way up to noon on Canadian Thanksgiving Day. We put two hours of it out through the Global DJ Broadcast World Tour, but I am still continually receiving requests from everyone to make the entire recording available. Santa might have to check that everyone has been a good boy or good girl first...
Stereo remains one of the greatest and most unique clubs in the world. There really aren't that many clubs in the world which share the same characteristics as Stereo and remain open today.
"I'll spend months in advance preparing; digging deep into Beatport and promos and on most occasions, I¹ll be listening with the mindset of "this I¹ll save for the solo set, and this one, and this one".
You are one of the only top DJs that still do open to close sets - how do you keep your stamina throughout the set? Does it take a lot of planning to plan out such a long set, do you do a lot of "crate digging" beforehand?
The DJ life in general has a lot of pitfalls, and the only way you can survive on a demanding tour schedule is to be sensible and look after your body.
When it comes to preparing for those marathon or open to close sessions, it¹s physically a huge challenge; as well as a mental one. Generally you start thinking about how to properly train your body for the endurance from a few weeks out - like increasing the length of my cardio workout, cutting out alcohol and so on.
On the night itself, I actually don¹t eat much beforehand, and don¹t drink any alcohol at all during the performance. This way, you basically sweat everything out of your system while you are jumping around on stage; and it makes a bathroom break less of a necessity.
For the solo sets, I try to imagine the overall night as three sets combined - you have the opening portion, where you play the deeper progressive grooves and keep the mood low; allowing the ambiance to slowly build as the crowd assembles on the dancefloor. Then you have the main portion which is the usual peak hour chaos and lighting, with the big tracks and hits that you would expect in an everyday Markus Schulz set-length performance.
And finally, when you have the room grooving in unison, then you enter the afterhours, or the rabbit hole, where things get weird and trippy with various techno tracks and classics.
For the music itself, I¹ll spend months in advance preparing; digging deep into Beatport and promos and on most occasions, I¹ll be listening with the mindset of "this I¹ll save for the solo set, and this one, and this one".
So when you slowly accumulate tracks like that over several months, you¹re essentially putting together the building blocks of the set, and the graft in assembling what goes well harmonically can begin. And because the solo sets are generally reserved for special cities or clubs, there is more of an emphasis on getting your own productions fine tuned and being ready to unveil for the first time, along with making special reconstructions and mashups.
I will say however that the one gigs which prepares more specific preparation towards a solo set is for Stereo in Montreal, because you¹re starting well into the middle of the night and playing well into the morning.
Your latest release is massive, 34 tracks. Can you tell me how you put together "Watch The World" Deluxe?
The deluxe album was gradually compiled almost as soon as the original Watch the World album was released.
Many of the extended versions of the original tracks were never released as singles, so they finally got their platform to be showcased. And over a period of around 16 months we started figuring out and recruiting the people who were best suited to remixing specific tracks. A lot of them would have lived exclusively in my live sets for a while, sometimes even up to a year; so when the time came to assemble the deluxe album, they were added to the extended originals.
And on top of that, there were also two brand new originals as part of this project. I had started working on New York City (Take Me Away) with Adina Butar just before the sessions for the original album were wrapping up, and it was a small thing we had done together for the Watch the World album tour in New York. But because it was so popular with the fans, not only from NY but from other cities that I was playing it, we went back into the studio and turned it into a full blown song.
The other exclusive original is a 14 minute instrumental piece titled Luce Prima, which was made for my set on the main stage at Tomorrowland for their Daybreak Session this year. The idea was that I would bookend the set with this track as the opener and the closer, and what you hear on Watch the World Deluxe is that effort combined into one track.
What's next for Markus Schulz? Any new update on your Dakota project? I'm assuming you're taking a break from albums for a while.
The next album is coming quite soon actually! It will indeed be the new Dakota album titled The Nine Skies, and it is based on the live show of the same name that was showcased at events such as EDC in Las Vegas and Transmission in Melbourne this year. The music presented is within an overall journey - where we begin as lost souls, and encounter the nine steps in life towards enlightenment.
You will be familiar with three tracks from the album already - the singles Mota-Mota (with Koen Groeneveld), Running Up That Hill (with Bev Wild) and In Search of Something Better. The next single comes out on November 13th, and that will also be this year¹s official theme for Transmission in Prague titled The Spirit of the Warrior. The set in Prague is also going to be filmed for DVD, which will be part of a special limited edition package for the album.
The Nine Skies has been a deeply personal project. I always describe the music I make as Markus Schulz, such as the Watch the World album, the live sets, Global DJ Broadcast and so on, as being for the fans - the people who mean so much to me and resonate on my frequency. But with this Dakota project, I needed to do this for me. I needed to look deep inside of my soul, travel through troubling waters and suffer through tears in order to make this show a reality. I can¹t wait for the world to hear the final product.
And as well as that, I recently finished a mix for the next installment of Talla 2XLC¹s legendary Techno Club CD compilation series, which will be coming out in the German market on December 1st.
You've got upcoming gigs in Toronto and Ottawa this month. How will those shows differ from your festival and open to close sets?
Rebel in Toronto on the 17th is going to be insane, because it¹s going to be alongside close friends Cosmic Gate, as well as Jason Ross who has made grand strides himself in recent years. And Barrymore¹s in Ottawa will be great too; I had such a fun time playing there before. Of course Toronto and Montreal are always going to be big time shows, but I value coming to the likes of Barrymore¹s in Ottawa and Beta in Waterloo because there is a lot of gratification in playing for the fans in those intimate environments.
Toronto is going to be a big event, so having the unheard Dakota tracks from The Nine Skies will be important material to showcase. And with Ottawa, it will be a case on reading the vibe of the crowd on the night; reacting to how they are feeling and taking them on whatever journey they desire.
It will be my final shows in Canada this year and I¹m determined to go out with a bang, because the country has been very good to me throughout 2017.
Who's an up and coming producer that fans should keep an eye for in 2018 and why?
If I could mention more than one, I would have to include the guy who for me is representing Canada so proudly with how his career is progressing, and that is Montreal¹s Solid Stone. He was quite a broad-ranging producer a few years ago, but decided that the deeper progressive sound was where his heart lay; and he has gone on to become one of the biggest contributors in that genre right now. I¹m really proud of how he¹s playing an ever increasing role in the clubs through our Coldharbour Nights worldwide.
The second instalment of Solid Stone's We Are One EP series is coming to Coldharbour before the end of the year, and you will have heard some of the tracks on the special Global DJ Broadcast Afterdark mix, as well as the recent World Tour from Stereo in Montreal.
And I also have to highlight the UK brotherly duo Arkham Knights, who are really hitting their stride these days. Their sound reminds me of the kind of tech-trance that was prominent in Tiesto¹s sets back when he was top of the mountain as far as trance fans were concerned.
Their current single Gravity is one of the biggest tracks in my live sets all year long, and they have already fueled my current sets with their next tracks which will be coming out on Coldharbour early next year. They had a great time playing at New City Gas in Montreal back in January, so I need to get them over to Canada more often.
My thanks to Markus Schulz for this amazing interview. Markus is coming to Ottawa this Friday at Barrymore's, and on Friday, November 17th at Rebel with Cosmic Gate. Click on the links for more ticket information.