That DJ happened to be none other than Sven Väth, and from that point on the path was clear for a young Chris Tietjen. Starting an internship with Cocoon when he was in 8th grade, Chris Tietjen learned the ins-and-outs of a dynamic industry and was exposed to experiences that would forever shape his musical career. Filling in for Sven Väth at an Ibiza after hours is certainly up there…
Like much of Europe at the time, dance culture in Frankfurt was thriving, and as a result the next wave of artists began to rise. Through his passionate dedication to the music and culture, and under the guidance of Cocoon, Chris Tietjen was well on his way to making an impact in the global dance community. To date, Chris Tietjen has a plethora of releases on Cocoon, and continues to add to his discography with great releases on labels such as Atrakt Recordings, Serkal, and Moan Records, all receiving major support and playability from every DJ worth their salt in the industry.
Chris recently took some time to catch up with us discussing everything from his early life and internship at Cocoon, to his Techno Parents, and why shopping for vinyl is like going to an authentic deli. Enjoy his recent mix for Electronic Groove, and read the full interview with 6AM Group below.
For starters, can you please tell me a little about your early life before music?
Well, I can´t tell you a lot about my life before music as I was only 4 or 5 years old and I just started to discover our beautiful world. But before I got in touch with electronic music I was a young boy who loved skateboarding, painting graffiti’s, listening to German hip-hop, reggae or funk music, and spending as much time as possible with my friends.
What was your dream growing up? Did you always have a connection with music? When did electronic music enter your life?
When I was young I didn’t really think about the future and what my dream job could be, perhaps because I had a lovely childhood and I just enjoyed the time. My very first musical hero was Michael Jackson. I simply loved every song he made and still do! Later when I turned 12, I became a fan of reggae and German hip-hop. I got quite infected, probably because my friends started a hip-hop crew.
That was also the reason why I bought my first turntables. I wanted to be part of that crew, but I quickly realized that hip-hop DJ-ing wasn’t really mine so I started to buy some funk and disco tunes which became more and more interesting for me. When I turned 15 my mom asked me if she could introduce me to a good friend who is a really famous electronic DJ. I was open-minded so I said “sure why not”. And suddenly we went to a legendary techno club in Frankfurt called U60311 to meet nobody else then Mr. Sven Väth. That was the first time I got in touch with electronic music and the clubbing scene around. And it was so surreal – kind of like entering another world! I totally fell in love with the vibe and the atmosphere, especially when Sven was playing. I would say this experience was definitely what brought me on my current path.
In German schools it is mandatory to do a 2 weeks internship when you enter the 8th grade. At that time as I got more and more connected to electronic music, I asked my mom if she could arrange something with the management of Sven to do an internship in his agency. That was a fantastic time because I learned how things are done behind the scenes.
The working atmosphere was so familiar which really impressed me and I also had never seen before. That positive and warm atmosphere is exactly what motivated me to visit them 1-2 times per week, even after my internship has ended, just to offer my help and of course to absorb everything I can.
What were you doing while at Cocoon? How did you progress through the brand/company over the years?
Well, at the beginning I was answering phone calls, archiving old flyers, or doing inventory in the warehouse. But as everybody of the agency was working really close together, I also had the chance to get insight of all departments like Recordings, Bookings and Events.
After a while I got closer to Sven because his music room was based at the agency building and he passed by 2-3 times per week to listen new records and prepare his set for the weekend. As I couldn´t hide my enthusiasm for what he was doing I was allowed to join him a few times during his preparations. After a while he asked me if I could make a weekly “pre selection” of all vinyl promos he gets.
I was so excited primarily because of the amount of trust he gave me, a young guy, who just started to discover electronic music. Of course I wanted to do my job as good as possible so I often stayed longer at the office just to listen to the huge amount of promos week by week. The good thing about that, everybody at the office saw the ambition I had and also Sven paid my work with some promos he didn’t need anymore.
After a few years and an even closer friendship, the next task Sven asked me to do was to archive his whole vinyl inventory by year and label. A huge job for me as his record collection contained more than 10,000 records at the time, but it was a good practice to learn more about the history of electronic music and for sure I was proud of the level of trust he had for me.
What was your favorite part of the job?
Besides the tasks I did for Sven, the Recordings Department was really interesting for me – especially when we prepared the annual Cocoon Compilation, but I also had some really nice experiences working together with the event department.
I loved to help set up our own open air event called “Green & Blue” in Obertshausen, a small town next to Frankfurt were Sven was from. Every year during the days of the build up the site was reserved just for us and we were able to spend our breaks with jumping from the diving tour or playing soccer on the green! Hard Life!
How did these experiences shape your musical taste?
Well, I was 100% a Cocoon Kid in this time. I’d been working for the agency and particularly my Dj career started with the support and power of Sven and Cocoon. So of course my musical taste has been highly influenced by that. But around 2004 I also got really infected by the music of Ricardo Villalobos. The first time I listened to his music was a mix CD called “Taka Taka”, which had been released on Cocoon Recordings as well. For me – it’s still one of the greatest mix CD’s I have ever listened to. Soon I went to see him when he played at the club “Robert Johnson” in Offenbach and it didn´t take long until I got super inspired by his type of music.
In the past you’ve mentioned Sven Väth as a father figure to you. It’s funny because the whole electronic community feels that way about Sven, hence the nickname “Papa”!
True that, but I guess because of our personal relationship and for the reason, that he and his agency paved the way for me to be a professional DJ, it has a different meaning, at least for me. When I started to work for Cocoon and when I took my first steps in electronic music, I was only 16 years old and I still had to learn a lot about the business.
The CEO of Cocoon Music Event GmbH and personal manager of Sven, Talida Wegener, confirmed my first internship request and has been responsible for me in this time. So she was my Techno Mama from the first day and after I got connected with Sven and he started to teach me things about professional DJing, he suddenly got the “Papa” part. So in the end I’m proud to say that these people are my Techno Parents and both of them shaped me to that what I am today
What were some of the most memorable things Sven taught you? Or maybe not only Sven, but what are the memorable things you’ve learned throughout your time in this industry?
Well, there are a lot of memorable things I learned from Sven and also my whole knowledge I have about the industry is based on the time I was working for Cocoon. But the most life overarching wisdoms are probably:
“Stay true to yourself and you will always find your way” and “the only constant is change”
In your biography it states that you once had to fill in for Sven in Ibiza! Is this true? Can you please share the story!?
Yes that’s true. It was one of my first Ibiza experiences in 2003, and Sven was playing the Cocoon party at Amnesia.
When the party finished in the morning, everybody was hanging at the parking area. Suddenly a line of cars were ready to drive somewhere together with Sven’s car at the front. When I asked where everybody is going, Sven told me about a private after hour and if I would have a car I’m invited. I just have to follow him obviously. We reached a beautiful finca of some Italians in the north of the island. They arranged a sound system at the poolside and Sven was playing all day long.
It was my first after hour of this scale, so you maybe can imagine how impressed I was. I didn’t know many people over there, so I felt most confortable to sit behind Sven and listen to his after hour set. Around 3pm, Sven suddenly turned around, gave me his headphones and said: “I’ve got to go to the toilette, please continue until I’m back”
I was simply shocked and didn’t feel armed for the task because I also didn’t know his records really well. Anyway, I started to play and after a while Sven came back to the pool area but not to take over again. He was listening how I played his records….That was definitely one of the most mind-blowing experiences I ever had in the past.
When do you feel you “got your break”, so to speak, as a DJ? And also as a producer?
I actually don’t think that I already got my break neither as a producer nor as a DJ. I started producing music in 2011 and it took a while until I really got into it. And still now, I feel like in the middle of a big learning process.
Also as a DJ, I wouldn’t say that I got my real break. Certainly I already had some great years with traveling around the world to perform as a DJ, which could give a feeling of big success, but I also know for myself, that without the power of Cocoon and the trust of Sven, I would not have all these great experiences and the chance to prove myself as a DJ in so many countries and different cultures.
Can you tell me about your early experiences as a DJ? What were some of the first clubs you played?
One of the first real techno clubs I have played was the U60311 in the heart of Frankfurt were I also met Sven for the first time. The club was an old subway station – dark and dirty but I loved the special underground vibe in there. People who visited this club where different then the rest of Frankfurt’s music scene and of course it was the place were everything began for me.
What was Cocoon Club like? Can you give me a little background on your experience there and how it influenced the Frankfurt scene?
The Cocoon Club was a real jewel of electronic music clubs in this time and still now. I’m pretty sure you won’t find a club with so much love for details, high quality artist bookings and a sound system planed by Steve Dash which can not be replicated
I have been resident Dj from the beginning till the end and hosted my own nights like “Next Generation”, “Loaded”, “HE”, or played the warm up or the end for Sven at his nights. When the club opened, the first couple of years were highly frequented by electronic music lovers from Frankfurt and environs but also from Japan, South America or the States. They came from everywhere and the club was on everyone’s lips. Unfortunately it didn´t take long until other smaller clubs had to close their doors because the scene of Frankfurt wasn’t big enough to fill the huge Cocoon Club (capacity of 1500 – 2000) and all the others week by week. Good for Cocoon as there was not much competition anymore, but bad for the scene, especially when Cocoon Club closed it’s doors.
Frankfurt’s clubbing scene was nearly down so we started to throw parties in different off locations again, and now after a couple of years I would say our scene is almost recovered and a lot of new clubs are opening their doors.
Do you have a favorite release, or one that is particularly special to you?
Well, not easy to count only one. Ricardo Villalobos first album on Playhouse called “Alchachofa” is definitely one of my all time favorite releases.
We really enjoyed your recent release on ATRAKT Recordings! What were the feelings you had when making this?
All tracks have been created in 2014 after I bought the Roland TR8 Drum Machine. I was experimenting a lot and I often combined the drums together with the Waldorf Synthesizer from Blofeld. After I listened to all recorded files, I realized that a few ones fit pretty well together so I started to do several arrangements. This EP is finally a result of all the experiments.
What do you think the significance of “vinyl-only” is these days?
I think “vinyl only” releases are one of the reasons why more and more Dj´s who usually played with Traktor Scratch or CDs in the last century are switching over to vinyl again. A new hype about Vinyl Dj’s was born and for sure I support that.
In my opinion, vinyl only labels compared to digital labels are more known for quality music because there is only a small amount of people who are just playing vinyl and if you don’t sell enough copies to break even, you can lose a lot of money.
For digital labels you neither have to invest much money nor can you lose a lot. There is no risk, so you can release what ever you want and if it doesn’t work, you can start something new. For me, buying music in a good record store instead of a digital website is like buying my food in a deli instead one of these mega stores. I do both but I definitely prefer to buy my stuff at a deli.
On the other hand, you can reach much more people if you do a digital release as everybody who has the Internet also has the possibility to listen and buy your music. That helps the musicians to get greater success for sure.
So at least it is something between which might be the best solution I guess…
Chris, thank you very much for your time! We look forward to seeing what you have in store for 2016.