Interview: Moe Nagasi
Thomas Hessler is a DJ and electronic music producer from Berlin.
How did you get involved with music?
I was six years old and my mom forced me into playing the piano. That lasted for about 10 years. In the beginning, it was really hard and then, later on, I really enjoyed it. When I was around I got into hip hop and rap, and the whole culture behind it. Three years after that, I went to the old Tresor for my first techno party. I had no idea what’s going on down there. My friends were already into house and techno so they kept telling me that I should just come and see what it’s like and that it was really special. Jeff Mills was playing and I had no idea who he was. My friends just told me that he’s the main man and he’s someone that I needed to hear and experience. That night changed everything. Afterward, I started collecting records and started to slowly get more and more into electronic music.
How long have you been collecting and been in this sphere?
I would say before I really started playing in clubs in Berlin – 10-12 years. I just did it as a hobby. I knew that I wanted to do something around music and that was always my goal. I wanted to just get out there and show my art. I did it for myself and worked on the side to earn money. Then at some point, I decided to really go for it.
What was your first musical memory?
For me, it was basically my father, because my father is a composer. He was always working on music at home and writing music. That was actually the first time I really got interested in it. As a little boy, I was playing around with synthesizers and stuff like that. At some point, he gave me a Korg synth and I had no idea what it is. And now I checked it again online and I so regretted that my mom sold it because I wasn’t interested in it after a while. And then I saw regretted that we don’t have that anymore.
What is your family like? And most interestingly, are they into your music and what you are doing now?
Yeah, my family fully supports it. In the beginning, it was a tough journey to get support from my mom’s side. But now they’re so proud and very interested in the whole culture. Every time I release a record, they get one record from me, and they are fully behind it.
What is your background? You went through music school, but in terms of electronic music production, how did that go?
I’ve had a few mentors, of course. When I started DJing hip hop some friends showed me how it works: how to pitch, how to fade etc.
So you’ve started with hip hop? It’s quite a big difference.
Yeah, I think it’s really important for a DJ to start with a totally different genre because the beats are more complex, the speed is way more different. To make good transitions is definitely more of a challenge than 4×4 kickdrums. It really prepared me for everything else.
Do you ever feel nervous before gigs?
I feel very excited in a positive way, but never nervous in a negative sense. Even from the very start. I’m all about perfecting my skills and abilities when it comes down to DJing and production. I’m more about quality rather than quantity. And so, for me, it’s just natural. I go behind the decks and I enjoy myself. I go crazy with people. I try to give them what I expect from when I go out to see a DJ myself. I’m truly enjoying it and I have no issues with anxiety.
What was your first gig like?
It was a trip to a park, the location was a small basement. When I started to play in clubs, it was about eight years ago, and at that time I was just uploading a mix of music that I like every month. A friend listened to it and he knew some promoter so he hooked me up with him. So I went there and played my first gig and it was like 50 people – a very intimate small space. The vibe was really good. Before that, I used to play at home for my friends at after-parties. It was so nice to finally hear all these tracks loud in the club and see people go crazy.
Do you have a favorite gig you’ve ever performed?
It’s hard to name one, so I’ll have to name two at least. The first one would be in Berghain, which I played after one and a half years after my first gig. That was a crazy experience because I used to go there for the first nights when the whole club just started working. It was always a dream for me to play there. I knew already which records I wanted to hear on that sound system. I played at 16 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon right after Len Faki. It was a 4-hour set and I will never forget it. I was so excited and so happy to play there. It was a big achievement for me personally because that place means a lot to me. The second performance, and maybe not everyone would say it was luck because quite a number of people would say I deserved it, but at that time it seemed like luck – I played the Bassiani opening it Georgia. Another artist was supposed to play and he had to cancel a few days before and then I got an email asking if I would like to play the opening gig for this new club. I had no idea what to expect and I knew nothing about Georgia. I flew over there, arrived at the venue, the guys walked me inside and it was pretty empty and they were just getting ready fixing the last bits of the sound system. They asked me what I thought about the venue and it hit me so hard and I told them: “This is going to be legendary”. I knew it would be a cultural institution for sure. I knew right then that it would become a place of magic. I played after one of the residents from 4 at night till 11 in the morning. It was so incredible, with tears, because the experience was so emotional.
How was the crowd?
The crowd in Georgia is very young and very open-minded. They research records, seek what is fresh, what is interesting, so you can really play whatever you want. You can really express yourself fully as an artist. That was magic.
What would be your favorite event as a guest?
That first party in Tresor with Jeff Mills. I was 19. Other than that, I had a crazy moment with Surgeon at Berghain, maybe 6-7 years ago. I haven’t experienced something like that for a long time when a DJ set drew me into the dancefloor and I was just crying. It was so incredible. There was something in the air that night – I was dancing like crazy with tears running down my face.
Who was your biggest teacher?
There are two people who really did a lot for me and without them I wouldn’t be where I am right now. One is a guy from Amsterdam who moved to Berlin. His name is Dave Ellesmere and he used to be in punk music in London way back when punk was big over there. He then went into electronic music. He launched a record label back then and found my tracks on Soundcloud, during that time when I uploaded stuff every month. He contacted me and told me about his record label and asked if I would like to release a vinyl on his imprint. At that point, it was a big step for me, because as a fresh artist you don’t have any contacts and you usually get pushed into digital releases. He taught me a lot and production-wise he knew that I had the potential and a musical ear, even though I lacked technique and gear knowledge. So he taught me a lot of things in that aspect.
Do you think it’s easy to find a mentor like that nowadays for beginning artists?
It’s not hard I would say. You just need to find someone who doesn’t have a big ego and who is willing to show you some tricks. It’s not rocket science.
The thing in Ukraine it’s difficult with music in the sense that not everyone has the ability to actually make music just because of the financial aspect.
Even with that, you don’t need that much money. Even now I mostly work with a laptop. I don’t have a huge studio and I don’t need that. If you have the ear for it and you learn about the craft, study the records, then it’s not necessary to invest that much money. I also share all the knowledge I have and I’m not afraid of that since I’m not losing anything. To get back to the question, the second really important figure who helped me in what I’m doing is Marcel Fengler, who also became a close friend of mine. He gave me the trust in what I do and released my music. He taught me a lot of really fine differences when it comes down to production.
Do you have any rituals when creating?
I like a little drama in my life and that’s when I write the best music. If you listen to my first productions then they are quite dark compared to what I do now. Back then I was in a really dark place, and you can hear it. Now it’s a bit more melancholic with small melodies, but I always try not to go over the edge of cheesiness, I always try to keep it classy. I’m careful about that. So yeah, a little drama or emotional moments in my life spike the creative process. That’s when I’m most creative. Other than that, I don’t need substances or anything like that.
So it’s always something that comes from the inside.
Yes, it’s about life. For example, in the summer, when everything is super smooth, I don’t write good music. Mostly, it’s during autumn or winter when I do the best work.
Okay, then what is the enemy of creativity in your opinion? Apart from the summer season.
Success money-wise and comfort. When I have 6 or 7 gigs in a month then I’m not very creative. I have to struggle a bit to get the most out of it.
How do you approach your sets?
I have my favourite selection of intro tracks and outro tracks and then, of course, every DJ has a secret weapon, but apart from that, it’s all from scratch.
How did you come up with your secret weapon?
I definitely have a few tricks and people come up to me and ask what was that.
Do the visuals play a significant role for you in your work?
Yeah, the whole setting is really important. I don’t like it too dark nor too bright. It needs to be minimalistic and subtle.
What was the most significant decision you took in your life?
To really pursue music. It was a big risk money-wise. It’s still sometimes a roller coaster to make a decent living with my art. I don’t actually believe that money should come in the first place but you’ve got to make a living somehow. So yes, I fully decided to follow my heart and create music and release it.
What is the most magical thing about the night for you?
Every time when the sun goes down, I feel less stressed. I feel more focused on the important things and I get this wild energy.
What’s the most ridiculous or annoying stereotype surrounding the night culture in your opinion?
Nowadays, especially at the moment, there is a lot of negativity in our scene, from a lot of really good artists, some established some less established, and you have this negative undertone. I’m not really a big fan of focusing on any negative things. I try to focus on the positive. For me, there’s nothing annoying about anything because I’m really thankful and I feel blessed that I can do what I do. And that’s the best thing.
Is there a documentary you could recommend?
I’m so focused on one thing in my life that I realize that sometimes I forget. Not forget even, it’s just hard for me to find words for all the things that come into my system.
Some recent things you’ve seen that you liked maybe overall?
Actually I went to the cinema to watch the documentary ‘Klimt & Schiele. Eros and Psyche’.It was really a ground foundation for a lot of things we do nowadays. A lot of free-thinking. It was a really special time they had in Vienna until the whole conflict started and people had to leave the country and had to run away from the nazis. I would also recommend the documentary about Tresor. It’s definitely a piece worth watching for everyone who’s into music.
What is the most unexpected track in your personal playlist?
I would say The Doors ‘LA woman’. I really love that vibe and I’m into it for about a year now.
How do you overcome your own demons?
Discipline. There’s no other way for me and without discipline, I can’t defeat those demons.
If you could have a conversation was any historical or famous person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
You have deep questions. If someone on a date would ask me this I would fail. I would like to talk to Egon Schiele. I think he was a maniac but it would be interesting to see and to hear what were his visions and his ideas. He has a lot of darkness and a lot of cruelty in his art. So I would like to know more about him.
What is power for you?
I think it’s social intelligence, mostly. If you have that then you have a lot of power over people. You can use it in a good way or in a bad way. That’s up to you.
What was the wisest thing you’ve heard recently?
Well, I don’t want to sound too self-centered…
Maybe it’s just something that is always in your head and you hold on to it. You just know that it’s the right thing.
You have to stay true to yourself and to your beliefs and never back down from that. And by all means, don’t change the right perceptions and ways you perceive life. Of course, changes are important sometimes. We all learn and we never stop learning.
What would you say is the best thing about getting older? Is the idea of growing older scary for you?
No, not at all, I’m not scared of that. As I said, you never stop learning and that’s the best thing about it.
What makes you feel like you’re living life to the fullest?
Everything that comes with it: love, friendship, pain, happiness. I completely throw myself into everything and I don’t try to push anything away. Which is contrary to discipline. I try to find a midway to approaching things.