Keeping Electro Alive: Supreme.ja on Recent Album Interstellar, and the Key to Producing Great Songs

Updated: Mar 6

Iconic German Electro artist Supreme.ja © G. Ortner

Supreme.ja, the German artist responsible for such 90's vinyl hits as "The Jive" and "To The Rhythm", not to mention more modern adaptations of his innovative sound like in the song "Electronic Tones", has displayed, for more than 20 years now, a keen and undying devotion to the exploration of the Electro sound that is truly unmatched.

Considered far and wide as one of the most influential artists to carry this style of music into it's 3rd rebirth at the turn of the millenium, having already accomplished the task of seamlessly bringing it into some of the furthest reaches of the thriving American 90's Rave scene with his powerful and versatile music, Supreme.ja has proven time and time again that he is able to craft and evolve his sound in such a way that it honors its roots, while keeping an open and curious mind to the inevitable progression of Electronic Music as a whole.

Here in this interview with Electric Kingdom, we get to speak with the artist about his new record "Interstellar", the ongoing COVID pandemic, and what goes on in his studio as he continues to craft some of the most interesting Electro out there. Let's begin!

Welcome Gotthard! I must say, this interview is seriously overdue. Thank you for taking the time to do it! Allow me to take a moment to personally thank you for all your hard work over the years, and to say you have been a huge influence on so many including myself. From Europe, to Florida and beyond, your music remains absolutely timeless, and has had such a massive impact on the scene for well over 20 years now. Hard to believe it's been that long already since "The Jive" came out!

Alright, let's get started with the interview. Who would you say are some of your key influences in getting into Electro and producing music?

My key influences are Miami Bass and Kraftwerk. They gave me the energy to start music productions.

So how old were you when Electro first broke out in the 80's? How did you first learn about it?

My first time was in 1984 when the Break Dance wave arrived in Germany. It was the total sensation in Germany. Rap music and Electro Funk have become indispensable here. The US Army was also stationed in Germany, and I had many friends there. Then I got the real highlights from the USA: 12“ import records! Even back then, I was thrilled when a track was produced with a 808. I had no idea what an 808 was, but I loved how it sounded.

At some point I was curious about how this music is made. I didn't know anyone who produces Electro Funk or what musical instruments are used for it. A friend said I should buy a computer and use it to produce music, so I bought an Amiga 500 with an 8 bit sampling module. That was the little introduction to the Electro world.

Nice! I have always been fascinated with the Amiga. That was the start for many from what I understand!

So let me ask: while your sound seems very influenced by the early days of Electro Funk, into the 90's with Detroit and Miami's rise into the 2nd wave of Electro, it seems impossible to have escaped the influence of the sound of heavyweights like Aux 88, Underground Resistance, or Dynamix II. How influential would you consider the sound of Detroit and Miami to your personal style?

A difficult question that is not easy to answer. My musical roots start in Germany, go through Greece, France, Switzerland and end in the USA. Kraftwerk, Enigma, Yello, Jean Michel Jarre, and Vangelis are my classic Electro parents. The rest is a mix of Electro Funk and Miami Bass. Claudio Barella and David Noller are the most important influencers for Miami Bass for me. So I tried to combine Classic "Deutsch“ Electro with Electro Funk and Miami Bass.

When I first heard of your music, it was in Florida circa 1998, not long after the release of "The Jive" and "To The Rhythm"; two cult classics in the South Florida scene back then. While not every locale in the world had this kind of inclination towards the Electro scene that we had back then, it was nonetheless kind of interesting the Electro hits that to many were merely thought of as Rave classics.

I can tell you from personal experience that artists like Shiver, Aux 88, Will Web, and of course, you, were absolute heroes in the South Florida Rave scene, yet by and large no one had any idea who you were as artists, or that this music was even considered Electro.

How influenced by the 90's Rave scene are you, and were you a part of it back then? Were you aware of your successes in Florida back during those times?

I was hardworking and produced more and more Electro tracks, but nobody in Germany wanted to publish that. At the same time, the rave scene was very successful and a friend said, combine these two musical styles. So I started to combine Electro with a little rave taste to a new sound. That was the beginning of the Supreme.ja project.

After I finished 10 songs, I recorded several demo tapes and sent them to German record companies. I had actually already given up hope that I would even get a record contract. But I was completely wrong. I signed two record deals with Frankfurt Beat Records (Drop Man) and Kosmo Music BMG (Supreme.ja).

Interesting, I didn't know you had another project back then. I'll have to check that out!

So from your own personal perspective, you have seen the music progress and perhaps even at times degrade, traverse the many ups and downs that at times may have felt like the music was being lost for good perhaps. But you have always remained as one of the most sought-after artists during many of Electro's rebirths so far, still to this day remaining as one of the true craftsmen of the Electro sound.

What's that journey been like for you? What has kept you motivated over the years, and where is Electro music headed you think as it continues to blossom into its 4th rebirth of the sound?

It's like swimming: if you don't move, you go under. That's how I see music. And I don't mean quantity, but rather quality. Develop something further, use new production methods and create new accents. And you could experience that with my last two albums! It wasn't about just releasing albums, it was about living up to a concept. That's why you can't find pure 100% Electro tracks. Music is like life. That's why the songs use all electronic facets in the guise of Electro Funk.

That's one thing. But the other side is that the music market has changed a lot. People don't buy music anymore, they stream the music. Streaming is a spoilsport. It has many advantages for 9 beetles a month, but the independent artists don't earn anything anymore. That's the truth. But I see our scene like the Jazz musicians. Most jazz musicians barely earn anything, but they acquired a musical culture. And that's how I see us Electro musicians, we all keep Electro alive!

Left to right: Debonaire, Dave "Scratch-D" Noller, Supreme.ja © G. Ortner

Perfectly said, very true! At the end our scene truly does revolve around the ethic we have towards the music, not the music or the fame.

Moving along, let's talk about your new album. You published "Interstellar" a few months ago, and I must say this one is truly your magnum opus! In my opinion your best work to date. Your attention to emotive depth, and the character of your compositions, speak to such a profound connection you have to music....and to the universe itself!

Which brings me to this question: what inspires your writing in general? What was the primary inspiration behind this particular album for example?

I can honestly say: it's curiosity. Producing an album is very long and hard work. At the beginning you start with an idea, and over time a concept develops. This gives the rest. The most difficult thing is to process the idea in a song. It should have a classic 80's arrangement, should sound like Electro, and it should also sound modern. It's really not easy, honestly. To this end, new music technologies should be seamlessly integrated.

Agreed! Alright, let's dive into some studio talk then since we seem to be heading into those topics. How does a track actually begin for you in studio? What kind of gear do you use these days? Have you acquired any new synthesizers since this whole hardware revolution began?

Short answer: less is more and the mix makes the difference. He he he….

My studio is very clear. I use Logic Pro X with various plugins, and a few outboard instruments. In the DAW you have infinite possibilities up to granular synthesis. And with the outboard instruments you can experiment with new sequences, rhythms, melodies, and vocoder phrases.

By the way, a song begins with the keywords mentioned. Sometimes it's a beat, sometimes a sequence or a vocoder phrase. It is important that you do not use a fixed rule. It's very inspiring. I've had the case that an effect was a trigger for a new song.

...I see our scene like the Jazz musicians. Most Jazz musicians barely earn anything, but they acquired a musical culture. And that's how I see us Electro musicians, we all keep Electro alive!

That's actually good advice, especially for someone like me who can be rather rigid at times.

So tell me then, having experienced a more hardware based approach back when you were getting started, to the inevitable progression to more computer-based recording and composition technologies that emerged, now back to hardware, but sort of as this hybrid of the two in many empowered do you feel as an artist in 2020? Is it easier to find motivation you think, or are we losing something essential in the technology? Are we oversaturated somehow?

Interesting question. In the years 2000-2010, the plug-in market exploded. More and more was published, instruments and effects became more and more perfect. But for a few years now the way has been going back to hardware. As already explained, the mix makes it. I love to make beats with the TR-8S, and play with a synthesizer with a few vocoder phrases at the same time. I record that in my DAW and edit the whole thing with Logic Pro X, and various plugins. But it can also be that I start in the DAW and then integrate the hardware.

But creativity does not end with music production. I also do sound design for instruments and effects manufacturers. I recently moved my kitchen into the studio and sampled plates, pots, glasses and cutlery. This resulted in sound and effects for musicians and filmmakers. If I do too much, I publish the rest of the presets on Audio Bombs.

If there was one tip you could give up and coming artists, what would it be? What does it take you to make a great track, and to make it as an artist out there?

Just two things. Creativity and Connections. That's exactly how I met Chris Vocoder. I was just blown away by his music and his creativity. We expanded the contact and rebuilt the project. If you want to get to know Electro on a new and unusual level, you have to listen to Chris Vocoder.

It was the same with Thomas MKII. A German Miami Bass veteran. 19 years ago he released a German Miami Bass CD with DJ Reckless. Then it was over. We met in 2020 and Thomas was working on the song Planet Bass. A German Miami Bass meets Electro Funk song. I did the production and mastering. The result was Thomas MKII - Planet Bass EP with Somatic Remix. One of the coolest German Electro releases in 2020. You have to hear that.

Anyone who has a cool song can seriously get in touch with me. Either you can exchange ideas creatively, or you can do a production together.

In closing, what's in store for the future for you and your label? Also, how are you dealing with the COVID-19 crisis in regards to your music, and playing events? Have you been heavily affected by this?

COVID-19 is a show stopper. We all have to go through that. At some point it will go on again and the subwoofers will pop again in the clubs. Trust me.

Musically it looks different. We're working on Chris Vocoder's new album. As soon as the lock down is over, Chris comes from Hamburg to Munich, and we finish the production. It will be a real Electro surprise.

We are also working on the new EP from Thomas MKII, (DJ) Somatik from Florida. And something of mine is also planned. Until then, everyone stays healthy and takes care of yourself.

Finally, I would like to thank you for this interview. It was a real pleasure for me to answer these questions. The Electro scene is as strong as we stick together. And that's exactly what counts.

Es wird immer weiter gehen, Musik als träger von Ideen! (Quote: Kraftwerk)

The pleasure is well Gotthard, and thanks again for your amazing music. It's a real gift to our scene!

Interviewed by: Santino Fernandez