Interview mit HardtraX

The exclusive interview!

HardtraX

Experience the exclusive interview with HardtraX!

Immerse yourself in the fascinating world of renowned techno artist HardtraX, who has been shaping the scene for over 27 years. In this exclusive interview, he gives us insights into his musical journey, the founding of "Dark Force Recordings" and collaborations with artists such as Jackhamma, O.B.I., and Dunkelkammer.

Learn more about the beginnings of "Dark Force Recordings" and the motivation behind this influential label. HardtraX also shares his perspectives on collaborating with other artists and how the creative fusion leads to unique tracks.

Discover the background to his 14th album "Es ist alles wie immer" and the significance of this musical collaboration with Dunkelkammer. He also gives an outlook on upcoming projects and the next album in the trilogy.

Be inspired by HardtraX's views on technological developments, his role in the techno scene and the influence of vinyl. Find out why the Fusion Club in Münster has a special place in his heart and how life outside of music influences his creative work.

An absolute must for all fans of electronic music and for those who want to take a look behind the scenes of one of the scene's most influential artists.

Stay up to date and don't miss this exclusive interview with HardtraX - one of the true pioneers of techno!

Beginnings and inspiration:

How did you first come into contact with techno, and what inspired you to produce music yourself or become a DJ?

At the beginning of the 90s in Germany, it was virtually impossible to escape the then new phenomenon of techno and the associated rave culture. The mass media reported everywhere about the latest trend in the German and international music scene, and so at night there were radio programs with the new rave sound, while during the day there were reports about major events such as the Love Parade or Mayday, as well as documentaries about the relevant protagonists of the rave scene on television. I absorbed these from the age of 10 because I was fascinated by how radically different and unconventional techno was. I found music that was based little or not at all on sounds from traditional instruments, which completely dominated other music genres, incredibly exciting. The use of synthesizers to open up completely new worlds of sound, and then controlling these machines with computers, was an incredibly interesting topic for me. Not least because I had previously bought my first home computer (a Commodore 64C) in 1990, after seeing various IBM-compatible PC XT models at the homes of other children's parents around 1988 and 1989. So computers and electronic music quickly became a central theme for me, although I initially concentrated more on BASIC programming and computer games than on techno music.

In 1993, when I was 12 years old, I bought my very first techno compilation on audio cassette while on vacation in France: "Tekkno Dance Party 6", released by Flarenasch. The A-side started straight away with the hard-hitting track "Terapia" by Ramirez in the "Hocus Terapiocus Mix" - I was once again very enthusiastic. My consumption of techno music increased exponentially and I began to delve a little deeper into the subject, buying more and more cassettes and CDs with my pocket money, although my Commodore 64 continued to be my daily focus after the last lesson at school. I also found great joy in the techno sounds from the C64 demo scene, which talented programmers coaxed out of the now legendary SID sound chip (and whose sounds are still used by many artists today).

Things got serious with the purchase of my Amiga 600 computer and the subsequent purchase of the larger model with AGA chipset and twice as much RAM (namely a whole 2 megabytes!). The Amiga's Paula sound chip was already able to process samples and by chance I came across a piece of software from my CD-ROM collection called "Protracker 3.11", through which I finally found out how to use audio samples effectively and arrange them into a real track with the tracker software by trying out and dissecting existing songs (so-called "modules", or "MODs" for short).

Tracker programs are structured differently from modern DAWs and appear to a layman more like columns of letters and numbers in hexadecimal, which flow from top to bottom as if in a scrolling Excel table... And indeed, this way of producing music is more like "programming" music, which is not surprising when you consider the scene from which these software tools originate.

Instructions? I didn't have any. Internet? That was still primitive, slow and hardly affordable, which is why I had no access to it and it was unsuitable for me as a potential source of help. I didn't know of any books on the subject either and I didn't have anyone I could ask about the subject. So the only thing that worked here was trial and error. In the end, I taught myself everything. Nowadays, of course, it's much easier to get started with music production and you can easily find comprehensive software and hardware solutions for any production approach, no matter how specialized. A number of YouTube channels deal with nothing else and tell you what you have to do and what you need to be able to get involved in the scene. It really has become a lot easier. The younger version of me wouldn't even have dared to dream of what is possible today.

Effects were limited, as was space for sound samples or even available tracks (on the Amiga only four in number, with hard panning fixed to the left or right side - a limitation that could be circumvented by software such as OctaMED using tricks). These effects were also more like letter and number codes with hexadecimal values to change tremolo, pitch or volume, for example. Nowadays, this form of music production certainly seems archaic, complex and user-unfriendly, but at the age of 16 in 1997, I still managed to find out very quickly how to create my own house and techno tracks with trackers. All this with just my Amiga computers, a hi-fi system, headphones and the tracker software. As an adult professional, you would have had to invest at least 20000 Deutschmarks for a very small studio setup at the time, which is why I was actually super happy about the results I was able to achieve with simple means and without investing a lot of money as a teenager.

Sometime around 1997/1998, I founded a vocal house project called "The Hardtrax Project" on the island of Mauritius (where I lived for various periods at the time) together with a local DJ called Nicolas and a girl whose name I can't even remember now. The reason for the project name is easy to explain: most of the people around us thought that even electronic music at 125 to 135 BPM was way too hard, so it was clear what the group should be called. We recorded a demo tape with several house tracks using our very primitive, thrown-together equipment, but at some point the girl disappeared along with the only cassette we had. She never turned up again, the DJ lost interest in producing music and in the end only I was left behind. When I moved back to Germany and bought a then modern PC with 128 MB RAM, 30 GB hard disk and 800 MHz CPU for a horrendous 3600 Deutschmarks for new musical projects, I took up the old project name again, but changed it a short time later to "HardtraX" with a capital X at the end.

Live performances:

What experiences and memories do you particularly remember from your live performances in different countries? Is there a performance that you particularly remember?

Of course, the very first gig with which we tested the concept I had devised was a very special experience. It was at one of the very early parties organized by O.B.I. and Equinox under the name "Tekk-Tribe" at the end of 2002, at a time when there was still no real hard techno scene established in Germany as it was later known. At this very first joint HardtraX vs. Jackhamma live performance, we had initially conceived the concept as a mash-up act, in which we mixed together masses of edits with elements from many different techno tracks. But by the third gig, we were only playing our own material (including live versions of our productions, which had already become known through various vinyl releases).

This was followed by trips to various corners of the world, as our music was able to spread very quickly and widely, especially through the medium of vinyl. Back then, records were the only relevant way in the scene to draw attention to yourself as a producer, live act and DJ.

Over the years (2002 to 2018) there have been so many HardtraX vs Jackhamma live performances in so many places that it's really difficult to single out individual events. New York in 2005 was really interesting, Austria was great and the Iberian Peninsula has always been a personal favorite destination for me. Our Dark Force Recordings Label Nights in Münster, Belgium, France, Portugal and the Netherlands from 2004 to 2007 were also very important events for us as artists, as well as for the international awareness of our label.

Our last HardtraX vs Jackhamma live performance so far took place at Club Peleda in Vilnius, the beautiful capital of Lithuania. Unfortunately, the club was torn down afterwards, which was of course pure coincidence (we had nothing to do with it). The fact that the Sabotage Club in Dortmund was torn down in 2004 after a party with John from the Big Brother Container, Man At Arms, O.B.I. and us right after the event is also not our responsibility... There are just strange coincidences in life.

The special thing about our HardtraX vs Jackhamma live performance for us was always that we could combine the dynamics of a DJ set with the flexibility of a live act. In addition, there were never any agreements between James and me beforehand. I never knew what sound he would bring to our performance. Likewise, he never knew what sound I had prepared on my side and what I would put through the mixer next, so we always decided spontaneously (each side on its own) what we would incorporate into the live set at any given moment. The result was completely new sound combinations that we had never tried before, merging our works, our ideas and our sounds live on stage. Every set was full of surprises for each of us. We often looked at each other in the middle of the live session because we wondered how cool this mixture of sounds was again when we unleashed HardtraX sound with Jackhamma sound on the people at the same time. Many great transitions were created spontaneously on stage, which we would never be able to reproduce in exactly the same way again. But Jackhamma is also simply the artist with whom I have always understood each other almost blindly. There's no need for much explanation or agreement with him anyway, because the sound has always been a perfect match.

Label "Dark Force Recordings":

What was the motivation behind the founding of "Dark Force Recordings," and how has the label developed over time?

James aka Jackhamma and I wanted to spread our own vision of harder techno with a dark atmosphere, and vinyl was of course the only effective way to get our sound out into the world back then. Purely digital formats and distribution channels were still completely unsuitable for DJs in the techno scene in 2003. Even the first CDJ-1000 players from Pioneer DJ had only gradually become established at that time. Seeing two Technics SL 1200/1210 with a Pioneer DJ DJM-500 in the club was simply the standard. And vinyl was simply the fastest way to get our music around the world at that time. The records from our pressings went very quickly to far-flung countries such as Japan, the USA, Venezuela, South Africa, Colombia and Australia. 

I am still in contact with supporters from the very beginning from different corners of the world. But we were also lucky that our very first publication called „Evil Frequencies“ on Dark Force Recordings had such an immediate impact. DJ Rush from America included my track from the A-side with the same title on his mix for the cover CD of an Eastern European techno magazine at the beginning of 2004, which ensured that the record sold out in no time at all. This was the starting signal for further successes, which certainly included the event series "Dark Force Recordings Label Night", which took place five times between 2004 and 2007 in Germany, France, Belgium, Portugal and the Netherlands in cooperation with our event partners at the time.

Collaboration with other artists:

How does the collaboration with other artists like Jackhamma, O.B.I., and Dunkelkammer work in terms of creative processes and the creation of tracks?

Working with Jackhamma has always gone really smoothly, because our ideas of hard techno music have always been a perfect match. Especially the live acts with him were always a lot of fun for both of us, and traveling around the world with him for our HardtraX vs Jackhamma live gigs was just as much fun as the live sets themselves. The sound was always so good that we could trust each other almost blindly. And it was exactly the same with the (admittedly rare) joint tracks. It just went by itself.

The recent projects with O.B.I. and Dunkelkammer produced interesting results, mainly because we combined the influences and ideas from three minds - and in the end this resulted in completely new, exciting tracks that none of us would ever have produced if we had tackled such track projects alone. The German lyrics and recordings by Dunkelkammer in combination with the productions by O.B.I. and myself brought "Die neue Ordnung" and later a number of other successful tracks, most notably "Alles was euch bleibt" found worldwide appeal. I still find it surreal that this title inspired, among others, a group of young techno fans from Iran to organize a series of underground raves (always illegal in Tehran, of course), in which the participants risked their heads and necks each time if they were caught. Many young people from Iran wrote to me at the time to tell us that this work, with its hard, almost melancholy, but at the same time euphoric sounds and the dystopian lines of Dunkelkammer, had a strong influence on them. This is probably not least due to the message of the title, which in a country where many young people feel restricted and suppressed in terms of art and music, takes on completely different dimensions and has an even greater scope and somehow also tragedy.

27 years in the scene:

Looking back on your 27 years in the techno scene, which moments or milestones are particularly significant for you?

Oh God, that's such a long period of time in which so much happened... The fact that I came across Protracker as a music production solution by chance was a huge step that changed my life forever. My first production attempts in 1997 were nothing great in themselves, but that, along with my first experiences at raves in the late 90's, was the foundation for much of what happened in the decades that followed. The very first vinyl release on Plug'n'Play Records in early 2003 and the first record on my own label in December of the same year were also great moments that I will never forget. Both records are still framed on my wall today. The early days, when a real hard techno scene was just forming, were simply incredibly exciting. But that doesn't mean it's boring today. The fact that I have now become part of the 40 Plus faction and am still producing hard techno that is listened to by thousands of people worldwide is still fantastic for me. The enthusiasm for this music is still unbroken and I'm happy to see that there are many young people who are successfully active in the scene today. I would even say that overall things are going better than ever before.

Album "Es ist alles wie immer":

Could you tell us more about your 14th album "Es ist alles wie immer"? What significance does this album have for you, and how was the collaboration with Dunkelkammer?

After several HardtraX & O.B.I. featuring Dunkelkammer titles and a longer series of different HardtraX featuring Dunkelkammer EPs, "Es ist alles wie immer" (released on the label Definition Of Hard Techno) my first joint album with Dunkelkammer and the start of a trilogy that will end in December 2023 with our album "Es ist doch nicht alles wie immer" was continued on Dark Force Recordings. The next, final album is already in the works.

The lyrics and vocal recordings on "Es ist alles wie immer" were all written by my old friend Dunkelkammer, whose lyrical works have a very strong influence on our joint tracks. The combination of his lyrics and his recordings with my production style always ensures very independent (and sometimes even unconventional sounding) results that have been very well received in the scene.

What I personally particularly like and what characterizes all productions with Dunkelkammer is that the often melancholic Dunkelkammer lyrics with their depth and power of words give my hard and very often melancholic productions even more weight. The gloomy character of our joint tracks is further enhanced by the lyrics in German. They often deal with topics that are not often touched upon in a party and club-oriented genre like industrial hard techno. "Der letzte Dreck" (played by many well-known DJs such as Kobosil, Amelie Lens etc.) is about hopelessness and the urge to leave everything behind, "Mit Vollgas ins Verderben" is to be regarded as social criticism, "Willst du mit mir gehen?" makes us collectively look forward to our inevitable downfall and titles like "Schlimmer kommt es nicht" are certainly self-explanatory.

On the inside of the cover card for the strictly limited CD of the album in a poison green and neon jewel case, you will find a rhyme written by me, which, however, cannot be heard in any of the tracks. A short poem about the heaviness of being and the failed pursuit of apparently unattainable happiness in a life that constantly brings us new lows full of pain. I found this lyrical outpouring, written by yours truly, quite fitting for our works.

As much as I loved the old rave sound in the 90's, I was also aware that all the talk of "Peace, Joy, Pancakes", "One World One Love", "Peace, Love, Unity, Respect" etc., while laudable in the foreground, was illusory and often considered a facade by parts of the scene, while behind the scenes there was a conflict or two brewing. Even in the early 2000s, I tended to depict other aspects that certainly wouldn't have fitted into the happy rave era of the earlier techno generation.

But in fact, every now and then there are other sounds from us, because we don't really want to stick to norms and just do what comes to mind and what we enjoy at any given moment. The origin of our title "Ich bin nicht süchtig" (I'm not addicted), for example, is a rather random idea that arose from a chat with my friends Jay and Dunkelkammer. Dunkelkammer and I had been sending each other photos of new acquisitions for our retro video game collections on a weekly basis, which at some point got so out of hand that a large part of the chat consisted solely of what video games, merchandise, handhelds and home consoles we received on a daily basis. At one point, I simply wrote under a picture of my latest acquisitions: "I'm not addicted." This was promptly followed by a comment from Dunkelkammer: "No, you're not addicted." Our buddy Jay came up with the idea that our "video game addiction" should be turned into a new track, which resulted in this title the very next day. Of course, it's only a supposed addiction. We are not addicted at all. Really not. We could stop collecting video games at any time. For sure. At some point.

On our follow-up album "Es ist doch nicht alles wie immer", the track "Du bist so kalt" features lyrics written entirely by me for the first time. "Scheißegal", on the other hand, deals with a topic that was very close to Dunkelkammer's heart and that he really wanted to address in his unmistakable manner. I wrote the chorus for it. All in all, I think it's just wonderful how much our work complements each other and how nice it is to combine hard, club-oriented music with depth and song character. I just love this unusual mix.

Outlook on the upcoming album:

What can we expect from your next album? Are there any special artistic concepts or changes in the sound?

The next album is already in the works and the title and concept have been finalized. So in 2024, in addition to a new solo album from me, there will also be a new HardtraX featuring Dunkelkammer album in CD length. This will ultimately be the conclusion of our trilogy, but we don't want to reveal too much about it yet.

Return of "Dark Force Recordings":

How did you decide to revive "Dark Force Recordings" after 20 years, and what plans do you have for the label in the future?

Our reasons for resurrecting our label are actually the same as when we founded it. We want to bring our own vision of hard techno to the outside world, but we don't want to focus solely on our own titles, but also on other talented artists who fit into the Dark Force Recordings concept.

In 2023, we relaunched in digital form and with a new visual concept in anime/manga style, with artists like Dunkelkammer, O.B.I., BLK BUG and RVLT on board. In the new year, we are moving forward with more artists that were supposed to be released on DFR last year, but due to some health problems and a severe loss of data, which I could only avert with a lot of effort, time and money, there were unfortunately unforeseeable delays. But the label is going full throttle in 2024!

Technological developments:

Which technological developments in music production do you find particularly groundbreaking or inspiring?

For me, it's definitely digital sampling. It changed everything for me. The ability to work flexibly with samples was an absolute blessing, especially in the 90s, which made it possible to produce your own music without extremely expensive studio setups. For me as a teenager in 1997, it was my entry into the world of music production, even if it was associated with the limitations of the time. But it was precisely this work with various limitations on the home computers available at the time and a less intuitive operation than with today's DAWs that required a higher level of creativity to be able to turn your ideas into sound - and creativity is certainly not a bad thing, is it?

Influence on the techno scene:

How do you see your role and influence on today's techno scene, especially in terms of the proliferation of sample packs and the promotion of new talent?

For me, it's important that the scene is constantly fed with fresh, inspiring sounds - and talented newcomers who incorporate their own ideas and/or perhaps even a completely new approach into their music productions naturally also play a role in this. Elements that make you think: "Hey, that's cool. I wouldn't have thought of that!" A new sound that is fun and inspiring. Ultimately, creativity and likeability on a human level are much more important to me than commercial benefit and marketing potential. Well-known artists would certainly sell much better, but at the end of the day it's about the musical aspects. Good music is and always will be good music, regardless of whether it comes from well-known superstar DJs or young people who have produced tracks on their computer in their bedroom.

The sample packs I produced, which are available from the company TLM Audio are aimed at the entire scene that deals with hard techno. What used to bother me about most sample packs was that although most of the sound collections from various other manufacturers were actually intended for harder styles within the techno scene, in the end they usually only contained samples that didn't actually include genres such as hard techno, hard acid techno, industrial hardcore, darkcore, doomcore or similar. There was a huge gap here, which we filled and which has now brought many other sample pack manufacturers onto the scene, who have followed us after a long period of hesitation. My sample packs have been used so often for some years now that I get paranoid when listening to sets because I recognize sounds of mine everywhere and all the time. Sometimes it happens that I think to myself: "Wow! I hadn't designed the sounds with such a context in mind. I would never have expected someone to use my sample in this way." And it's those moments of shock when I hear what creative ideas people come up with using my sample packs that I just love. I remember, for example, how I suddenly heard a distorted drum loop from one of my products during a break in a set, which was brought in as a build-up before the drop and then led to a completely surprising beat insert with a very imaginative use of effects. I think that's great. It's great when other producers knock my socks off with ideas like that based on my sounds.

Sound aesthetics and sound design:

How would you describe your sound aesthetics and sound design? Are there any particular elements or techniques that stand out in your tracks?

I still remember quite well how O.B.I. said to me last year after listening to one of my remixes that I turn even the most cheerful rave track into a hard, dark and melancholy title. And I think there might actually be something to that, although in the past there have of course also been productions such as "90’s Culture" or "XTC Rave", which I wouldn't describe as dark at all. However, I think that this mood and atmosphere describes my personal sound aesthetics in general quite well, and that also has an effect on my sound design.

Influences outside of music:

Are there artistic or non-musical influences outside of music that have influenced your work (e.g. art, literature, technology)?

Actually, pretty much everything around you is something that inevitably influences you. Every experience and every moment is a fragment of your life. Every influence is somehow processed by your brain, and what goes on in the world of your thoughts defines you to a certain extent and is thus transferred to the music. Life shapes your character, and this in turn automatically flows into your works.

It would explain it like this: The music you produce always reflects to some degree a part of what's inside you. The feelings, thoughts and ideas buzzing around in your head as well as everything else that inspires you, makes you happy, stirs you up, makes you sad, makes you euphoric, makes you angry, makes you laugh, makes you suffer, makes you excited or makes you think. All this and much more always flows into your music and you can hear it in every production. It is virtually everything you experience, hear, see, say, dream, etc. Your work inevitably brings your inner self to the outside world, making it audible for all the world to hear. What defines you also defines the music that bears your signature. That's what makes it special. It characterizes your personal musical style. It is a piece of your own story, which is about what is going on in your head and in your heart. At the same time, it is a story of all your impressions, influences and experiences - which have of course also been shaped by other people who are therefore also a part of it (for example, through their works of art that have inspired you).

HardtraX

Techno as a lifestyle:

Do you see techno more as a music genre or as a lifestyle and cultural movement? How does this influence your approach to music?

Counter question: Which music genre is not also associated with a lifestyle? Music is life. Music is culture. And this has undoubtedly been true of techno since the genre was conceived. Just take a look at how many people around the world have been captivated by hard techno - and after all, this is just one of many sub-genres within the techno movement that has been around for decades. There is now even a generation who can claim that their parents (who may even be my age) have been to techno parties. That didn't exist in my age group, which now belongs to the 40+ generation. Back then, there was a lot of backlash from older generations, who didn't understand the new sound at the time due to a lack of personal connection, and therefore were happy to deny that techno music was a cultural movement at all. That's definitely different today.

Favorite club or venue:

Is there a particular club or venue that you consider your favorite place to perform and why?

For decades, my heart has been and remains in the Fusion Club in Münster. An almost legendary institution that has been and still is a reliable venue for lovers of harder sounds for most years. Of course, the club's program is much more diverse, but I've always been particularly interested in the harder techno parties. The fantastic thing about the Fusion Club is that after so many years and despite many changes over the years, it has lost none of its charm, character and appeal. I've played in many countries over the past decades and experienced great parties and festivals with great people, but Fusion Club is simply the club I think of first when it comes to techno and good parties.

HardtraX - Fusion Club Münster (November 2005)

Experience with vinyl:

Does vinyl have a special meaning for you, and how do you see the renaissance of vinyl in the electronic music scene?

At the time, vinyl was simply the medium to bring techno out into the world. There was absolutely no alternative. Selling digital formats, for which nobody would have paid anything anyway, was unthinkable back then. Not to mention streaming. Suitable players for club use of digital formats didn't exist back then either. This left vinyl as the only option, which was joined by the compact disc with the introduction of the CDJ-1000 as a serious professional CD deck with a better jog wheel and finer pitch resolution.

From 2004 onwards, I myself played almost exclusively with CDs, which was simply because vinyl was extremely impractical to handle in comparison. It was also much easier to test new in-house productions in the club with CDJs. However, with our label Dark Force Recordings and the label Plug'n'Play Records, which was taken over by Sinclair, we pressed records for many more years, which went all over the world. I myself could never part with the techno records from my youth for nostalgic reasons and hoarded all of them. In the end, I kept every single one of these records and I now own a record player again so that I can listen to them from time to time. Just recently I came across a lot of hard techno white label samples again, some of which I had only listened to once or even never before.

A look back at beginnings:

When you look back on your beginnings as a DJ or producer, is there anything you would advise your younger self?

Of course. In case there is time travel and my younger self is reading this interview by looking into the future: Buy a lottery ticket with the additional number 7 for the May 12, 2004 draw and pick the numbers 5, 7, 13, 23, 28 and 38!

Advice for aspiring artists:

What advice would you give to young and aspiring techno producers who want to follow in your footsteps?

Take the time you need, because first impressions are often crucial. Launching your very first own production directly onto the market may seem very tempting, but without a good dose of self-criticism and a high level of self-claim that is absolutely necessary, it can end unfavorably. Quick success should not be the goal and bought fake likes and clickfarm followers are not the solution. I also say hands off ghost producing! If you don't produce your own tracks, you're missing out on a lot of fun and possibly building the foundation of your career on lies. It's up to the man (or woman).

Thanks to HardtraX

We would like to thank HardtraX from the bottom of our hearts for the great collaboration and fascinating insightful interview. His passion for the techno scene and generous willingness to share his experiences made this interview a unique experience.

HardtraX, your commitment to the music, your inspiring insights into the beginnings of "Dark Force Recordings", as well as the deeper layers of your creative processes have not only inspired us, but certainly also our readers and listeners.

We appreciate your openness, enthusiasm and the time you spent on this interview. Your contribution to the techno scene is invaluable and we look forward to following your future projects and achievements.

Thank you, HardtraX, for this unforgettable interview and for continuing your musical legacy!

With deep respect and musical appreciation,

@M8_Sound

"Support. Share. Unite!"

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