Chopstick & Johnjon have come a long way since forming over a decade ago as a formidable production duo, DJs and label owners.
Based in Berlin, their soulful house style both on their revered Suol imprint and in their sets has been derived from a mutual love and deep exploration across house, techno, electro and hip hop. Known to their mums as Chi-Thien Nguyen and John B. Muder, they have mastered over the years the art of slowly, imperceptibly turning the House thumbscrews tighter and tighter until they have total command of the dance floor. Chopstick & Johnjon are consummate experts at bringing a party to the boil at 116 bpm as can be heard in the exclusive mix they have recorded for us here at The Night Bazaar.
Enjoy the music and read on to find out what the guys have in store for 2018.
Welcome to 2018. How was the festive season for you guys and what have you got in store for this year?
The festive season was excellent… we spent some quality time with our family which was long overdue! We were very well fed and observed our bellies grow bigger and rounder!!
As for Suol and what we have in store for you in 2018, we decided to open our doors for up and coming talents such as Kolja Gerstenberg, Snad & Carlo. We had a strict release schedule the past 8 years and were only able to release our core artist’s music. We will release more frequently and of course won’t neglect the music coming from our long time friends and artists such as Till von Sein, Meggy, Larse and Tender Games. It almost feels like a second generation been added to our Suol repertoire – “so fresh and so clean” as Andre 3000 would say!
At the moment we’ve also started to compile our annual “Summer Daze” and have already locked in some nice talents again. This compilation has grown from year by year and it’s overwhelming to see how the exclusive tracks are being received by our audience – again, a broad selection of musical styles is key to its success and we’re doing our best to deliver just that again!
Another change worth mentioning, we’ve completely renovated our offices and have more helping hands since end of last year. All of our content and output would not be as it is, if we didn’t have a backbone consisting of great minds in our office who are all eager and motivated to make things happen.
Last but not least, we’re going to start our weekly “Hello Monday” parties in may again at Ipse outdoor club. Last year was such a success and we’re happy to be able to continue this event series throughout the summer. We’re going to invite befriended DJ’s again and try our best to add intl talents to our line-up while they’re touring through Europe. So if you’re in Berlin in the summer on a Monday… you know where to find us!
How have the dynamics in your partnership changed over the years, especially since you released your debut album back in 2014?
It’s true.. we’re getting old.. and we’ve become like an old couple! We’ve shared so many moments together for over 15 years now.. from crashing on the promoter’s sofa together somewhere in Brazil, to going to a hospital emergency in Australia because of food poisoning. We’ve steadily evolved together and share a lot of similarities in life. Our debut album in 2014 was an exciting phase as we tried new things in the studio.. we’ve recorded pretty much everything that made a sound and tried to include into the process of music making. It still is a lot of fun working together and when we are not, you’ll most likely find us drinking beer and doing all kinds of shenanigans!
Berlin continues to attract a lot of talent with many calling it home. What is it about the city that suits electronic music artists above many other European cities?
The main thing is probably that Berlin is affordable! And still is compared to other capital European cities. Of course rent got a lot higher and gentrification is happening all around Berlin, we believe there is absolutely no place like Berlin still, that offers such subcultural and cultural diversity. It’s been more than 15 years since we’ve moved to Berlin and to this day, it was the best decision we’ve made. It was like finding many needles in the hay stack… needles being talents and artists and hay stack being Berlin. Almost all of our artists are from Berlin or call Berlin their home. And club wise, Berlin has so much to offer.. from the obvious clubs where all the tourists are, to clubs such as Heideglühen and Sisyphos, where there is a nice mixture of tourists and locals. Berlin caters to everyone.. there’s always something for someone to do in Berlin, and since last year, also day time parties on a Monday go on until the early morning hours.
Your grounding in house music came from exploring a lot of different styles of music in your younger years. Do you still draw on hip hop, funk and soul for inspiration every time you make a track or does some of just happen organically?
Inspiration really comes from everywhere. Hip Hop is still a big part in our musical journey and we still draw ideas from there, but it could also be a melody from a singer songwriter artist that struck us and initiated an idea in the studio…
Ideas and inspiration hit as from and in all walks of life.. that’s the beauty of “creating” and being able to convert visual or audible aspects into creativity.
Sometimes we classically just start of with a beat and let the drum sound characteristics lead us organically. Detailed hearing and imagining “what could be?” is a powerful tool… all this is driven be curiousity, which is an amazing asset in the creating process – if used right!
Your recent outing on SUOL consists of 4 tracks which were the result of studio jam sessions? Can you tell us a little more about the process and how you translated the jams to finished tracks?
Yes.. we took a totally different approach with our last Suol outing called “Momentum”. We were jamming with our gear, which were all synced with each other, and recorded every single track at the same time. For instance, we would record just the filter envelope and cutoff frequency of a sound and that modulation would then lead the arrangement. It was a fully intuitive process of working and we have to thank our friend Pablo for it, as he was the one who sparked the idea in the first place.
So if you have that information in the back of your head and listen to “What is house music” again, you’ll notice that the arrangement and chord progression is totally unconventional, but it surely works on the dance floor!
You featured CeCe Rogers on the opening track of the EP. Was the decision to include his vocal on that track derived from the jamming sessions?
At one point, when we were almost done arranging the track, we felt the urge of a vocal in it. As we have a ton of a cappellas on the hard disc, we just wanted to “try” how it would sound with a vocal, so we quickly browsed through the a cappellas and came across CeCe Rogers vocal. We loved it right away and didn’t even try to get someone else into the studio to record vocals. So we got in touch with CeCe Rogers and he was up for being featured on our playback right away! That was for once an easy task to clear the rights, and we’re very pleased and happy with the result!
With Techno enjoying a boom time right now do you think that great house music can be sometimes overlooked?
Most definitely… but for us, it has always been house and there will be a time again when house will get its right recognition again. It all moves in cycles if you look at the history. I remember when minimal was a huge thing here in Berlin and we were really getting into slow house at that time… and then suddenly slow house was a thing too so we were lucky. It’s just natural that one genre might get more attention than the other. We’ve been into house in all its forms for over a decade now and it just feels right and makes a lot of fun producing house music.. so we don’t feel any need to change that just because Techno has a boom at the moment.
What have you got coming on SUOL?
As mentioned above, we’ve added a few new talents to our roster and they all bring some fresh sounds to our repertoire. Snad is up first with a very fine release “Home Away From House” on Suol… then Carlo will be releasing his EP “Tres”, after that Kolja Gerstenberg and Schiggeria’s “Saver Flex” release will see the light of day. In between we have our core artists such as Meggy releasing her new EP “TIMES”, and we’re releasing our new annual compilation “Reviewed 02: Till von Sein” which Tilly Jam is compiling and selecting. He has 3 exclusive tracks in addition, too. Of course, we have our 6th “Summer Daze” compilation which will include not only exclusive tracks by our Suol artists again, but also from our friends such as Tuff City Kids, Jimpster, Atjazz, etc.
What releases have you guys got coming up and what are you looking forward to most this year as a duo?
We’ve been busy with recording tracks end of last year and have possibly enough material for an album soon. After we’re back from our January vacation, we’re going to hit the studio again and keep on jamming and recording. I’m sure we’re going to release an EP before the summer and end of the year again. Also, we’re planning on touring again in the US and South America as well. Asia is planned again but not yet set in stone.
What are the main challenges to running a successful label in 2018?
The main success to running a label successfully is to know your capabilities and even more importantly, know your limitations. We realized that in 2010 after running 2 labels. So for Suol, we decided to get some friends on board who have more organizing skills than we do. We are taking responsibility for the content on Suol, and have great friends working the back office. There are now 6 people in the office excluding ourselves and they are the true heart and soul of Suol. They show up everyday and run the daily business and without their efforts and help, we would not be where we are at the moment. Every single person in our office has a specific role and have their own responsibilities, which is really motivating for them. Also, the most important thing besides surrounding yourself with great thinking minds, is the general set-up of your label.
Get the best partners for what you have in mind with your label. I remember, at some point when we were just setting up our label, we had probably 5 meetings a day for weeks… we even flew to various cities to meet potential partners. It was all worth it though and we’ve stuck with our set-up since founding Suol in 2010. What we’re trying to say is, take your time in meeting all potential partners and don’t make vast decisions. And don’t let yourself down if being turned down by distributors, publishers etc. If they don’t like your music, then they are the wrong partners to begin with anyway.
Where are you most comfortable? In the studio or behind the turntables?
John has started out as a DJ before he got into producing. He has played parties since a very early age.. starting at someone’s birthday party to debuting playing clubs. It just comes natural for him to play records and having the right selection and transporting the vibe onto the dance floor. On the other hand, I have been always making music, basically since I was 4 years old. It started off by writing simple piano melodies at that age, but when I was 12 and was gifted a sequencer (Yamaha QY-10), my whole world had turned upside down. I have spent days and nights in studios since then and have been experimenting with sounds and machines ever since. I went through all producing stages.. from micing proper instruments to signal flow to testing all kinds of reverbs etc. I’m a total tech nerd and feel very comfortable in the studio and can talk for hours with other engineers about a signal path or mastering philosophies etc… I learned a lot by going to workshops as well. There are some great producers and engineers who offer these workshops and I can only emphasize in looking over their shoulders, it’s how you grow and learn and become better.
But nowadays, I would say that we both feel very comfortable on each “side”, but maybe a tad more comfortable with what we’ve started with. I love DJ’ing and John loves producing music but if I had to choose, I’d probably stick with being in the studio and john would probably stick with his first love which is behind the decks.
You have recorded a mix for our Night Bazaar Sessions. Can you talk us through the mix and what our readers can expect to hear?
We have a lot of good music coming in from our artists at the moment that inspires us a lot, so we wanted to create a mix that shows the direction we as artists and the label Suol is going at the moment. So we sat down and listened to a lot of new and old music to put this together and it was a very refreshing experience. There is one upcoming track by Meggy hidden in there, that will come out in a few weeks … let’s see if you guys find it 😉