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Sonar Kollektiv: Celebrating 21 Years! Words With Jurgen Von Knoblauch

Hey, Jurgen! How you doing?
Good. Good to talk to you!

You too. Where are you in the world are you right now?
I’m on the East Coast, in Savannah, Georgia. That’s where I live right now. Really like in the bible belt. Lots of Gospel here! – so it’s quite an experience.

Sounds great! So, congratulations on the new comp. 21 years! Wow! Where did the time go?
Yeah, I don’t know actually! It feels like it’s still in front of me.

So, you guys formed Sonar Kolektiv back in 1997 but had obviously established yourself as the collective known as ‘Jazzanova’ I guess a record label was the next logical step?
At that time yes. I mean we started as a label in the beginning as we had this club with a lots of artists around and the surroundings of ours at that time, so we thought we needed to release a compilation to put all the tracks we collected on there, and in addition we also produced our own music as we’d not long founded Jazzanova, so yeah that was the start actually.

With you being so well known at that time then, was it pretty straightforward to engage those around you to send you new music for the label?
Yeah right, like you know, United Future Organisation, Gilles Peterson, Patrick Forge, through all these guys that we always had a strong tie to Britain and beyond. I would say to the Anglo-Saxon countries – so from Australia and so on – there came interest and at that time we got our demos through the post, so there wasn’t as much quantity as today. Yeah we really – like from day one – had this label co-operation with Compost (Records) and then Jazzanova-Compost Records. We got sent really good music, so Underwolves for example from Britain we released on JCR, and Koop from Sweden, these were really strong-records from the time – still are I think.

 

We also had our Berlin surrounding and Berlin was very famous for being a capital for Techno and not that Soulful at that time. I mean, everything changed of course but at that time everyone was like “What – you’re from Berlin, so where’s the Techno side?” And so on…
Of course we were influenced by that but we had a more soulful touch and organic touch to our music and we attracted people from Berlin as well to work with us and our label. Lets say a conglomerate, or collective and that’s why we called it ‘Sonar Kollectiv’
So yeah we had Dixon and he was partnering with us. Daniel Best, Stefan Rogall at that time and Daniel Grau, so there were lots of different people who had contacts, so we could attract many people. Even though people say there were a lot of releases you couldn’t compare it to today – it’s like, i mean it may be one 10th, or one 20th of what’s released today! Yeah, even to make decisions like who to work with, what to do and so on….

How do you see it compared to what it was back then, and how have things changed for you guys in the last 21 years. What are the fundamental differences?
You mean from then and now?
Yeah, how the scene was back then. Pre-internet, back then the value of word of mouth, people having to dig and look and find these things, where now it’s just at the click of a button and it’s all in front of you
Yeah so there was a lot more footwork, you had to go to a record store actually and not sit in front of your computer, that was the main difference. And also like, it wasn’t that scattered i would say with the music scene as today, for example, I think loads of broken beat artist they were just absorbing from other styles to develop and now whether it be dubstep, or drum n bass or house, even trap, it all has broken beat elements in it. So the opportunities were larger with the rise of the internet and people didn’t necessarily stick with what they started, so they were looking for other alternatives and opportunities. Now all the different scenes are smaller in general but the music business is much larger than it used to be in terms of styles – I don’t know exactly in terms of money – but in terms of styles and artists there’s a lot more going on now than I guess shall we say pre-internet.

The releases on the label cover a lot of ground in regards to variation of styles, i guess that’s reflective of you guys as a collective of music lovers?
Yeah definitely yeah and so for me I was very influenced by Acid-Jazz and also combining acid-jazz – I don’t know like Soul2Soul – and being…having this look to pop-music at that time, but also like looking for Jazz which I’d never heard before. And I could listen to the Worldwide show from Gilles and so on….so not only look in this area where I used to look!..but also…like go to a record shop and go to a rock section, and go to the reggae section and look for tracks which would fit into our sets, and I would say like everything soulful – doesn’t matter what kind of genre and is still is like this….when it comes to our releases and lets say our mindset.

When did you decided to move over to America, And was that a difficult period you as a group…for Jazzanova with regards to recording?
Thanks to the internet it doesn’t really matter where I live to work on what we do as Jazzanova and as the label. It was really a family decision, so it was not connected to my work! Maybe let’s leave it at that.

Fair enough. So there’s no way back to Berlin for you?
Well, it’s always on the list. It’s quite a few years now that we live in the States and I’m like going back and forth but that’s our task for the next year, maybe the next year or two, to go back. I really miss it. I really love the states, its really awesome, so many different things going on and it’s a very inspiring place I would say. But I often miss home and I do want to go back.

Yeah, I’m not surprised I do love Berlin is such a incredible city! So, how do you find America compared to the Berlin, or rather where you are in America?
I have some DJ things going on but at the moment I’m not DJing as much as I used to. I want to come back to that. But it’s really like a family thing which is my only decision actually, which keeps me home more most of the time. Yeah like. I stillprofit from what we were working on when we established Jazzanova in Berlin, so still my ties are there. I wanna keep it in a way like that. So, of course we will work with US artists as well, but it’s more like through the Berlin view! Ha! I wanna keep it that way!

So the last album from Jazzanova was ‘The Pool’. You are obviously are still active and in touch as a collective and as producers?
I travel there back and forth but it’s different. The focus of a different city in terms of family – it’s not that easy but I think I manage. But, yeah in terms of Jazzanova the focus at the moment is on the live band. I was always filling the DJ spots together with Alex but he’s DJing for Jazzanova much more than I do at the moment. The band are playing around, so of course the summer is the most important period, but they did just return from playing in Israel and of course for our birthday party in Berlin. There are enough engagements to keep everything going in terms of the live band

 

You were saying there is a lot of Gospel around where you are in the States, has that influenced your style of music?
Yeah, That’s what I can explore when I go to a record store. Of course there’s not a lot of records around but you have to dig deep and go to bookshops or all kinds of malls and so on and you find stuff. I mean I love that style and it’s very musical. There’s really still a lot of discovering to do. Any church at that time had made recordings, so there’s still lots to find and as long as I’m here I will grab the opportunity. There’s actually also one record shop called Graveface and the guy who runs the shop is also digging deep here and he has a great second hand selection in his shop, I can recommend that shop if anyone comes to Savannah, Georgia. It’s a lot of fun to go through the stock of Graveface!

Digging in churches in Georgia, that’s a whole other world of record digging, huh?!
It’s also like what we always did but it’s much harder really to find records nowadays.

You’ve mentioned there about the band being out touring, is that something you’re looking to do more actively going forward and off the back of the release?
Yeah, that’s a good question. We never actually thought of touring the birthday compilation, if this is what you meant?
Yeah, exactly
No, not really actually. Jazzanova as a band is keeping their thing and we’re working on originals for the summer, so there will be a plan to to release an EP and tour that then. We have been working on a new live show! The birthday party gig was actually the first gig with the new show in a way.
When’s the live show?
This week, 18th January, so we are intensively working on the new show and rehearsing and this is what we plan to tour with the new EP when that comes out in the summer, so that’s the plan with, Jazzanova. I will be more DJing more in the summer as well because we have this ‘Paz E Futebol’ compilation series and there’s a new comp coming out with a boogie inspired, Brazilian tracklist and that’s what I want to tour with Junior Santos, who is the guy who more or less compiled the compilation. The plan is to tour it together, Junior Santos and myself. Let’s see what we get together for that.
Sounds great! For people who haven’t heard the first 2 ‘Paz E Futebol’ compilations, I can highly highly recommend those, essential listening
Thanks. Oh, Alex has his ‘Homeless’ 4 track EP due, so he’s also strongly working on that to get that out. So, for the time being every one of us has his own thing as well but like the base is still Jazzanova, so that’s still quite precious to us.

Cool. So, As mentioned earlier i’ve been steadily making my way through – and I’m only about halfway through – this rather epic compilation! 60 tracks!!!
(Jurgen laughing)…
whose idea was it to put together such a heavy duty package together?

So yeah, for 10 years we did a compilation called ’10 years who cares’ and at 15 years we did ’15 years of Volxmusik, so there were bigger collections but yeah this one, we thought we would give a focus on what we did over the last 20 years more or less and then also a look forward into the future, so, that’s why maybe it got so extensive. We collected even more tracks and then we thought why leave it at a normal size and why not create a larger tracklist. I think it’s a cool experience to listen through it, like volume 1 from from 1-30 and then the same for volume two. it features what we did over the last 20 years and also what we will have in the near future. 20 years is a long time in the music business, so we thought ok lets say 60 tracks!

Its testament to the quality though isn’t it, Jurgen, that you can put that together and it still be very relevant. Lots of it we know already but there are a lot of new tracks in there that I’ve never heard before, it’s a mind blowing comp really!
Cool, thank you. I mean we still put a lot of effort in going through what we have, what we are able to release and whom we will work with. At the moment we have a nice collective of producers in Berlin. We just moved as well to a place where we have a production side connected to the label again, which is what we were missing since 2011 when we left our studio/office place, so the label was separated from the studio and now we have a place where producers can join in and use our – let’s say – infrastructure. It’s connected to the label and we have our radio studio as well, so its much easier again now to meet up. That’s a really good sign at the moment and the future looks bright lets say that!

So, are you going to be the nightmare of every postman in the world and put this out as a vinyl box-set?
Ah no. I would love to – but no, no unfortunately. I mean everything was quite late with regards to getting the masters together and yeah that’s actually also a big difference to let’s say 10/15/20 years ago when it was much easier to press up vinyl. Nowadays there’s a long queue and you have to wait weeks and weeks until you receive it and it’s a lot more expensive as well. You really have to plan the releases well and everything needs to be done much more ahead of time than before. There’s the idea to release something on record store day maybe a few tracks off the comp. There is one project as well we have which is ‘Sonar Konnekting’ where we bring artists together in the Jazzanova studio and work on special tracks. We have a few tracks lined up for a vinyl release but there’s this wish of doing vinyl releases and then the reality!

Are you actively looking for new artists then to keep things moving forward in 2020? We’re looking for a 50th year release in about 30 years time!
(laughing) Yeah, definitely we’re starting with that right away and we have things lined up. Inkswell is releasing a long player with us, then there’s a Pete Josef album coming out, which is fantastic and we’re happy to have that on Sonar Kollectiv. Theres a DJ called Zumo from Stuttgart, really really nice production. There’s also a band called Key Elements and I think Gilles already played a track on his show and that’s also due out. There’s a a lot coming up and yeah we’re always looking. I mean it’s hard to keep up with demos but we try to listen to everything we get.

 

Well, keep doing what you’re doing my friend, you all do it very well! I urge anyone not familiar with Sonar Kollectiv, or Jazzanova as a collective to check this comp out. It’s a very worthwhile starting point giving you proper taste of all the variations and all the different styles on the label
Cool! Thanks.

Jurgen, It just leaves me to say thank you very very much for your time, I’m super happy that this comp has been put out, it’s an absolutely killer piece of work. Congratulations once more
Thanks, thank you so much, it was really fun to talk to you

‘Sonar Kollektiv 21 Years’ is out now! http://www.sonarkollektiv.com

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