Roman Flügel weaves conviction with irony
Dance music has always pivoted around the dichotomic relationship between flashiness and function: dancefloor darkness versus narcissism and desire, the track versus the transition, Amnesia versus Berghain. It places physical demands on its listeners, extorts and extols them, simultaneously denying them of agency while reaffirming their status as an individual. It asks you, implicitly, to chose between the two: to out yourself as a glam-addict charlatan hooked on glitz and hits, or to dryly, earnestly sew on a patch of authenticity without irony. We tend to pick sides. DJs tend to pick sides. Producers tend to pick sides. Isn’t it always more fun to straddle the line, though?
Roman Flügel does it. The Frankfurt-based producer/DJ co-ran the legendary cerebral house label Playhouse while simultaneously churning out big room electro grinders with Jorn Wuttke under their Alter Ego alias – the minimal and the maximal. He makes house music that can flit between streamlined crystalline clarity and troubled abstraction in seconds. Catch one of his deft DJ sets and you’re as likely to hear Blaze as you are Barnt.
“I still love to go to clubs. I think that if I lost interest in other DJs, then I’d lose interest in the music itself”
We spoke with the DJ and producer just days before his latest album Happiness Is Happening dropped. So, we ask, how does it feel to be on the cusp of that moment when one’s work is taken away from you and thrust into a world where authorial intention means nothing? “It’s the highlight of my year”, he assures us, “I had all the work done, I had the music together, the cover was done, we’d sorted the videos out. It’s a feeling of relief, certainly, but relief mixed with excitement because you never know what people are going to make of it. You can’t tell what comes next and I really like that.” Does he feel like there’s a sense of narcissism attached to the practice, this desire to put yourself out there in some form, some mix of the congratulatory and the flagellatory? “There is, yes. Making music or painting or writing or any art form is always an egotistical thing. You do it because it comes from inside, there’s that urge. I’ve always wanted to be creative and it was always music. Music was the thing that touched me most.”
Flügel tells us that this love for music began to manifest with the heavy teutonic fug of disco singles and Kraftwerk albums. Flash and function. He came of age during the acid house boom and has since been instilled with the belief in the transcendental possibilities of clubs. He still takes the odd busman’s holiday, describing Panorama Bar as “such a place of freedom, such a wonderful atmosphere”, and expresses an enduring passion for learning from his peers. “If I have the time, yeah, I love to go to clubs. I think that if I lose interest in other DJs then I’d lose interest in the music itself. They feed off each other. I’m still impressed by DJs. I played with Midland recently and he was great. I also really like Ben UFO, Joy Orbison and Jackmaster.”
There’s a sense of the nomad about house producers, drifting from label to label, release to release. The span of outlets who’ve released Roman Flügel’s tracks is a testament to his innate mutability; from Sven Väth’s Ibiza-centric Cocoon, to the heavily worked cut-ups of Clone Jack For Daze via Tiga’s aptly named Turbo. He seems, for the meantime at least, to have settled on the lovelorn Hamburg lads over at Dial. “When I decided to work with Dial, the labels I used to work with – Playhouse, Klang – were closing. I knew and liked the guys who run it. There’s an almost old fashioned feel to them; in the artwork, in their care over sound. They have a wide range of material in the back catalogue and that open mindedness is really appealing, it’s why I asked to work with them.” And much to Flügel’s credit, Happiness Is Happening sounds like a Dial record in the best way possible: it’s a record to walk with, dream with, subsume and love.
We glance at the clock, our scheduled interview slot is coming to a close, but we’ve got one more burning question – how does it feel being one of the few out and proud glasses wearers in house music? “Fuck contact lenses”, comes the reply.
Happiness Is Happening is out now via Dial Records.