Oliver Huntemann is one of the most experienced artists you’ll encounter in your exploration of techno. He’s been DJing for 34 years—since the age of 14—and has witnessed the evolution of techno, mixing, and production technology from his roots in northwestern Germany to the far reaches of the world. I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Oli at The BPM Festival right before his intimate back to back with Dubfire on the roof of Thompson.
Oli’s affable demeanor punctuated by a palpable understanding and passion for music is a combination we’ve come to know and love in many of the German DJs we’ve interviewed. His process is a unique intersection of technical and cultural. We discussed his origins in Bremen and Hamburg, and how he graduated from an area with just one DJ to making major steps as a producer. Like many of his contemporaries, Oli is primarily self taught. He’s from a generation of experimentation. Trial and error, ohne tutorials. That said, he continues to be adaptable. As you will read, his focus on technology in both DJing and producing reflects a sense of forward thinking that, coupled with his wisdom, makes Oliver Huntemann such a versatile artist.
When did you realize you wanted to make your life about music?
It wasn’t a moment; it was more like a process. I was very young. I’m 48. I started DJing when I was 14. Professionally when I was around 19. At that time there wasn’t an option to become a DJ or a techno producer. It was all new. So I went to the navy for six years. Also during this time I took my record players and my turntables, my 303, my 101, and made music on the weekends. My first appearance in a club felt like a movie, it was in a club where they played everything. Funk. Soul. Electronic was not so big at the time.
I overheard the boss tell someone, “he’s a mixer. You don’t have any chance.” Then afterwards he came up to me and asked, “what are you doing next week?” I said I don’t know. He said you know. You’re here. I still have this feeling—when I think about it I get goosebumps. It was such a special moment. At that point it became professional for me. Then I stuck with it.
Five years ago my mom still asked me if I want to start a serious job. She was kidding. I hope.
Did you teach yourself how to produce?
There was only one DJ in my city, Oldenburg, and he was able to mix. I saw it first in a movie, but I didn’t know how to. Then I saw him doing this. So I tried it at home. I totally freaked out when I made my first mix with “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” and “When Boys Talk.”
So I started with DJing, and then producing three years later. I failed all the time. I started playing guitar. I failed. I started playing piano. I failed.
Who were your top producers when you first got into music?
Laurent Garnier at the very beginning. And also as a DJ; he played so many styles. There was this electronic music before techno. Stuff like MARRS’ “Pump Up The Volume.” S’Express. I always listened to electronic music, even when I was a young kid. I was never this rock and roll or glam rock type. I started with electrofunk. With breakdancing, when I was around 14. I still have this vibe in my productions, a little bit of this Egyptian Lover in the basslines. I never liked rap so much. I was more into the beats and the 808 stuff.
Who are your top three producers right now?
Maceo is great. Stephan Bodzin is one of the best, in my opinion. I like Nicolas Jaar. Carl Craig, obviously.
Do you work on analog gear?
Not anymore. I have my old stuff, my 808, my 909, my SH-101, 303… like a museum. Sometimes when I’m working on an album I try it, so I connect my 106 and my Juno. But the technology is so good nowadays. It doesn’t sound digital, especially if you know how to work with it. I love the Arturia stuff. I’m was always dreaming of this total recall. It started with the first digital mixers. But it was not total recall because I had to set the gain and… then you’ve lost it already. It was like a dream. But now, bam, everything is on.
Some people say a good DJ can only play on vinyl. That’s not true. It’s about the music. It’s not about the working material. It’s how you handle it. I’ve seen so many boring vinyl DJs, but also so many good ones. I love to play vinyl. But time is going on. It’s not standing still. I want to know about everything. I’m still hungry to see the new technology, whether it’s for DJing or producing.
Tell us about your process when you first sit down in the studio.
I start with the bass drum. For me, it’s always important to have a good groove. And a bassline. Sometimes I use the basslines as a melody. Well, not really a melody, but more like a leading sequence. I sometimes have problems with melodies; they can become cheesy very quickly.
What track have you been most proud of in the last two years?
The most surprising track was “Schatten,” which came out three years ago. I had this feeling with this track. I loved it. It didn’t get very high in the charts, but then I saw people playing it. It was Anja Schneider. It was Solomun. Totally different DJs were asking me about this track. It was running and running over one year. This happens to me kind of often now. Currently. I have this remix out of Victor Ruiz’s “Nevermind.” It entered the charts around #50, but it blew up and blew up and now it’s peaking after its release in early December. It’s a little bit like my career, as well. It’s not coming and going through the roof, it’s more constant.
Tell us about your roots in Germany.
I was born in Hanover. I grew up in Oldenburg and Bremen. Then I moved to Hamburg. I had a standard childhood in a small city. It changed with the breakdance thing, that’s where I found my love for music.
It was just this feeling. I followed something. If I had thought about it carefully, I might have never become a DJ. Especially back then, when no one was interested in DJing. The DJ was the stupid guy who wasn’t dancing with the girls. Like a nerd. I never expected DJs to become like they are now.
What do you think of the superstar DJ dichotomy?
For me, we all belong to each other. Especially if you see these festivals some of the underground DJs would never play. Most people want to see something. I don’t need to listen to music I don’t like, but I respect everyone. There are people I like in all genres. There are assholes in all genres, and others are super nice.
What is the greatest set you’ve ever played?
I have some special moments. Love Parade in 1995. I was on this truck and we stopped in a tunnel. I dropped “House of God” and it was like… woah. Every year I have so many experiences. Last weekend I played in Melbourne at Let Them Eat Cake Festival. Then three hours later in Sydney at Space. Australia’s getting crazy at the moment. A lot of the stuff is going underground. Argentina is very strong at the moment, too. I was playing in Argentina at La Fabrica last year. It was like Berghain in the open air. 5,000 people. It was super cold, like 40º, but it was amazing.
What DAW are you using now?
Logic. Ableton is handy, but I use it more for special effects or DJ mixes. I have to say, if I were to start music now I would start with Ableton.
What would you do if you were a new artist now?
Tutorials are super important. What I can recommend is to reduce yourself. Start with one thing. If you know this synthesizer or program, you’ll be ready to start the next one. There’s always ways to create new sounds. I know so many people that have these huge studios, but they’re not creative. There’s always an excuse. The best producers I know have a basic setup, but they know what to do.
Many thanks to Oli, Emms Publicity, and The BPM Festival team for making this discussion possible.