You Are What’s Most Important! Groove Magazine Becomes a Community – the Interview
Since Groove came out back in 1989 with the original concept by Thomas Koch alias DJ T to launch a magazine for DJ charts, more than thirty years have passed. The magazine has succeeded in showing how multifaceted and thus varied the topic of electronic music is. It is not only the demand for information of the mature Techno and House generation that is served (after all, the thing has been going on for three decades now) but also the contemporary requirements of a young reader. By means of investigative journalism, Groove uncovers the universe of electronic music and club culture. At the end of 2018, the last issue of the Groove print magazine was published, and from then on, efforts were concentrated on the equally sophisticated online version to meet all the expectations which readers of the print version had before. The digital version of Groove has a new sense of freshness and all the advantages a digital issue with daily access can offer.
Today, I am talking with Maximilian Fritz and Alexis Waltz, chief editor of Groove Magazine – who at the time had reflected:
„But in the future, we can and must endeavour to break free from old frameworks.“
Alexis, you have been with Groove Magazine for many years as editor and journalist. Since when exactly? Are there still colleagues from the founding years in the editorial staff?
Alexis: Today, there are no editors from the founding days with Groove anymore. In the late 90s, when I discovered the magazine, Torsten Schmidt and Yannick Elverfeld shaped the journal. Eventually, I noticed in the credits/legal section that both of them were no longer part of the editorial staff. That was sad, of course, but I got wind of my opportunity. I sent them some record reviews, and Nick Höppner (who would later become the Berghain Resident DJ – editor’s note), simply responded laconically: That sounds rather good. So I started to write for Groove in 1999.
Max: I arrived exactly for the last stand. That is, in August 2018 for the last printed issues when the online magazine was launched. It was at the point when Thilo and Heiko left Groove and Alexis became chief editor. I started as a trainee and then made my way through internship to become an editor.
Alexis: After the 1990s, Heiko Hoffmann and Thilo Schneider had shaped the magazine for the most part, they were the editors for almost two decades. In the 90s, Yannick and Torsten were really the key figures. Later on, they founded the Red Bull Music Academy.
What are the new ideas and content with which the Groove online magazine has evolved from the scrapped print edition during the last two years?
Max: For the new online format, we have revised some content which is less relevant today. We also added new sections, for instance Track by Track in which we review tracks of importance for the history of electronic music, and this section has found much acceptance. We kept classic columns like My City (where DJs are telling the reader about specialties of their hometown – editor’s note) as well as an elementary part of the magazine, the Groove Charts, or the Newcomer column. A main characteristic (which is certainly an advantage over the print version) is that we can react immediately to current topics and can directly relate our point of view to the reader.
„Whether you are a subscriber or not: You will be able to register at groove.de and have exchange with others from the scene. The homepage will gradually become a gathering place for the international community where it’s all about the music and everything that goes with it – but without the coarse-grained noise of social media which gives us a tinnitus. But even that’s not everything yet, because we have big plans. We are happy about everyone who wants to support us in this.„Excerpt from the final print issue, commenting on the transition to the digital Groove magazine
Alexis: Of course, we could not simply continue with the pre-existing formats. A digital magazine is something different than a printed journal. There are many people who say that they used to read the print magazine every second month but the online website doesn’t work for them. DJs say they had read an issue on a flight completely. Others say: During the week I’m at work, sitting at the computer most of the time. On weekends, I don’t want to read Groove on the computer as well. On the other hand, as Max has noted, we can react and place comments much more quickly. News have become more important. It has a different quality. With that, we are attracting much more readers to visit the website than before. The features which we produce are placed within this context. Kristoffer Cornils, the former online editor who is now responsible for the podcast and whose footsteps I have been following in, has created many online sections of Groove.
On 2nd of June 2020, it was suddenly messaged on your website that the show must be paused. What happened, and what will the future of Groove magazine look like?
Max: This was simply due to the Blackout Tuesday memorial day, it had nothing to do with our own state of affairs.
Alexis: We, as the magazine, wanted to join the protest. For this one day, there was nothing in the web browser but the slogan the show must be paused.
Max: We have regarded it as necessary, especially as a magazine for electronic music, to show our solidarity with the cause of the Blackout Tuesday. By shutting off our online content for one day, we had not intended to draw much attention to ourselves – that is something we rather tried to do with earlier campaigns.
Alexis: We had to reduce our team considerably because of the Corona crisis, and we had to lay off two employees. A large number of our advertisers have cancelled their ads. For a while, it seemed as if Groove magazine would have to be discontinued, just as Spex magazine before. But we do believe that it is wrong to react to the Corona situation in such a drastic fashion. On the other hand, we have to admit that consumer behaviour is changing when parties and concerts cannot take place anymore for months. Music will be listened to in different ways, and people will experience it differently. The situation is volatile since no one knows when Corona will be over. Until then, it will remain exciting to see how everything will develop. But the fact that the situation is difficult also makes it interesting.
How would you describe the core content of Groove? Once, it had all started with DJ charts. Which readers do you want to reach?
Max: I think we found out that our target group is very diverse. I myself am under the impression that Groove readers are not necessarily teenagers. However, I do not want to exclude the possibility that we might want to reach them as well. The age restriction within the club culture stipulates that you can only visit a club when reaching the age of 18 – which of course does not mean that there aren’t any music lovers under the age of 18. In general, I would characterize the Groove reader as a person who is concerned with pop culture. I don’t want to assess our readership, but I would definitely say that our target group has a wide range – from classic ravers, Techno/House DJs or producers to music theorists who are all interested in the contents of Groove magazine.
Alexis: Obviously, our target group is enthusiastic about electronic music and club culture. Surely, not everyone who goes to a party occasionally is reading the magazine – those readers make up only a few percent. Our readers are people who reflect the music and the scene a little more and like to take up content in written form. And we have many readers who used to go out a lot and who do not want to lose contact to the scene now. Of course, we also want to reach the very young people in particular. Myself, I started listening to electronic music at the age of 15, 16, 17, and I think that’s actually the formative age – which is what you read in interviews with the artists as well. We want to remind the young generation of the qualities that a music magazine can have. But if we had readers coming only from one certain scene, we would find that boring.
I myself am a reader of the first hour, and I was fascinated by the versatility of the substance which results from the wide spectrum of the electronic music genre, such as the technological aspects for DJs and producers. Also your excellent articles about current events from countries which strongly influenced Techno House Music constantly provided fresh impulses for my horizon and my understanding of the respective culture and artists. What are the criteria which you apply for selecting your topics?
Alexis: Of course, we are asking ourselves on the one hand whether we believe that the musicians are good in some way and on the other hand whether they are relevant for the scene. These are the two main criteria. But of course, a topic can also be something that we experience negatively – yet in our opinion it would still be important and therefore correct to address the matter nevertheless.
Max: This is our approach for the news sector as well. It should definitely be a subject of current relevance, it should not spread any gossip or add fuel to flames of conflict.
Alexis: The context of the Groove Online Magazine varies from the printed format. For instance, the field of technology is one subject which we cover much less than in the print journal. Competition in the online sector is higher regarding the websites which are dealing exclusively with music technology. And it is also not feasible for us to check each and every device in a detailed test. Music technology had its place in the print magazine, but there are simply too many portals online concerning this field, that’s why this sector has become less attractive for us. Now, even more than before, we are interested in the point of view of the artists. We have a competence in this area that other magazines do not possess – for instance, when Dominik Eulberg talks about cable clutter.
Despite the countless clubgoers in the past, the internationally recognized club culture of Berlin had to fight for its existence again and again. The Corona pandemic and the resulting unexpected shutdown of all „dance-o-theques“ unfortunately gave the concept of club decline a completely new and bitter meaning. The consequences of the crisis cannot be estimated for the entire cultural landscape. Let’s look ahead: Even if an evening at the club demands exactly the opposite of social distancing, what opportunities does the team of Groove envisage for club culture? Which thoughts have crossed your mind regarding this issue?
Max: It has been stated several times in the past already. I see an opportunity for the whole thing to slim down in a healthy way. This would be the desirable development – having more emphasis placed on regional DJs and artists, and big international DJs becoming something special again. In my opinion, there is a bit of megalomania involved when the world elite is playing week after week in each and every Berlin club and you have to choose between six to eight clubs because they are all available week after week. Warning signals which have been heard for some time should be taken into account. A rethinking and eradication of the too commercial features of the club industry and a return to values would be essential. Take for example Bandcamp Day, where all proceeds directly benefit the artists. But I have my doubts as to whether this will really happen.
Alexis: The situation is stressful for the musicians. It is even more difficult for the clubs, some of them have to pay tens of thousands of Euros in rent per month, but they’re getting zero income. But, as Max has said, the scene has exploded in recent years. Except for a small setback in the early 2000s, growth has been steady over the last 30 years. With this turn of events however, there is hope now that the whole cosmos of club culture will dwindle a bit, that it will decommercialize – and concentrate its view on the essentials.
Groove Magazine also sheds light on drawbacks or deficits and discusses negative developments of the scene as well as populism. Is there a topic that has challenged you particularly and that you have encountered (or are currently encountering) with enlightenment and constructive journalism?
Max: I don’t know if that was constructive journalism. It probably wasn’t. I can’t say otherwise, of course I was extremely pissed off by the supposed demonstration for club culture preservation with rubber boats on the river Spree and the Landwehr canal on Whit Sunday. Overall, I would like to go back to the point I mentioned before: it is about the necessity that the scene has to interpret Techno Club culture the way it was basically intended first, which means respecting fundamental values such as consideration. And then, there are those musicians whose works get published today through streaming providers such as Spotify, but they do not receive the equivalent value or extremely little for their creations and efforts. There are numerous other cases, such as the DJ cult or equality. I have the feeling that electronic music culture, especially white electronic music culture, has in part seized the music of black people or marginal groups and does not scrutinize this. It is important to constantly draw attention to all these grievances and to report on them.
„I have the feeling that electronic music culture, especially white electronic music culture, has in part seized the music of black people or marginal groups and does not scrutinize this. It is important to constantly draw attention to all these grievances and to report on them.“Maximilian Fritz – Editor at Groove magazine
Alexis: That is one of the things which make working at Groove so exciting. We always have that tension between things we celebrate and things we criticize in a way or which are in need of improvement. But on the other hand, we are part of the whole club and music culture as well, and we are living on the scene, also financially. But I don’t think that’s wrong at all. It’s what brought our magazine to life. Then again, if we just wanted to make money with the whole thing, it would not work either.
In my past as a DJ, the single and vinyl presentations you curated have always directed me to new paths of labels or artists. I would not have found many good discs or AIFF if I hadn’t discovered them on groove.de or in the printed issues. Do you get feedback from the artists on how much they benefit from your work?
Alexis: Absolutely. I used to write many record reviews for the magazine, and I considered this aspect to be extremely exciting and important. With the digital magazine, the reviews didn’t go so well, and people gave us the advice that we should give them up. But we didn’t do that – because we believe the reviews are an essential part of what makes a good music magazine. You just have to present them in the right way. We get many promos from agencies. Soundcloud and Bandcamp are too unclear in my opinion. Instead, I like to get inspired by the selections of the record dealers like Juno or Hardwax. We also write directly to the labels and artists and ask them to send us their upcoming releases.
Max: I don’t think that Groove.de has served much as a stepping stone for artists in this country. But it is noticeable in almost every case when we ask artists for a release to review that they are generally pleased about our request no matter if the review is negative or positive. Sometimes it happens that English artists even feel honoured when they get a negative criticism. It’s a bit of an imbalance.
The renowned artist and Turner Prize winner Wolfgang Tillmans is contributing to the rescue of Groove Magazine with his 2020 Solidarity campaign by providing posters of his works and fifteen other distinguished artists, which you offer as a bonus gift upon subscriptions. Please tell me how did this lucrative offer for new subscribers come about?
Alexis: Wolfgang Tillmans has often been taking photographs of artists for Groove magazine. It began with Ricardo Villalobos in the year 2000 and went on to the cover with Arca a couple of years ago. For the final print magazine, he interviewed Miss Kittin. We have been in contact with him for a long time, and he appreciates the magazine very much – as we appreciate his work.
And then, in Corona times, he launched the 2020 Solidarity campaign through his foundation Between Bridges in order to support the whole scene – not only the club scene but also the queer scene and parts of the alternative art scene. We got into a conversation with him about that, and then we became a part of his campaign as well.
Many thanks for the elaborate information and for taking the time for this interview. I wish you lots of success!
Kay-Uwe Lenk*DASFAX | Techno Berlin