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Monday 21st, January 2008
Bissen interview

We chat with enterprising New York based but German born trance producer Georg Bissen, the man described by Above & Beyond that "trance is very much still alive" about his diverse musical background and his explosive trance hits in 2007 such as 'Melting' and 'Quicksand' plus his plans for 2008.

Hey Bissen, on a scale of 1-10 how psyched are you at this very moment in time?

Hey. I’d say I’m at an 8 for 2007, and a 10 for 2008. I’m totally psyched about what 2008 promises to bring!

You came from nowhere in 2007 to really explode onto the Trance scene. What were the highlights of the last year for you?

Heh, I don’t feel like I came from nowhere, as I’ve been involved with music professionally ever since I finished college. It’s just that in 2007 I think I finally hit a critical mass where people actually started to know about me. So that was definitely a highlight of 2007—breaking through and all my hard work paying off to a point where at the end of last year, every week one of my tracks was represented on some of the major radio shows, at big festivals, or on the biggest compilations. Another personal highlight was getting married to the love of my life!

You were born in Germany but now live in New York. When and why did you make the move?

I made the move to the US about a decade ago for college, which was in Providence, about three hours north of New York. When I was done, I moved to New York on a whim, having some leads in the music for advertising industry and knowing that it would be a good city to get your feet wet and try to make it in music. I guess I got stuck, hehe. I love the city and really couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It truly is the greatest, most diverse and interesting city in the world.

You have had a somewhat unconventional route into dance music, through advertising, running your own advertising company. Go on, impress us with some of your clients.

I wouldn’t particularly say that my route into dance music was through advertising. Though I do try to relate the two in the day-to-day running of my company, the approach and how to break into the two industries are entirely different beasts. There are some overriding similarities to get into either industry—networking, promoting a product—that are true for starting any business, but overall the two have very little overlap, which is something I’m actually trying to change.

What my company “MetaTechnik” does on a business level is do music and sound design production for commercials and TV shows. But that has not paved my way into dance music. In fact, since I was so focused on setting up the company, that effectively delayed my entry into dance music. Ultimately, I started the company to be constantly involved with music and to give me a vehicle to enable me to pursue my passion for dance music, which is the overriding force that has always moved me. Over time, as dance music production has taken on a more important role in my career, the company now also acts as publisher, licensing agent and business partner to labels.

In terms of clients, we have worked with pretty much every major advertising agency in the US. We have worked with some of the biggest and most well-known brands in the world, such as McDonald’s, BMW, Intel, MTV, GE, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Calvin Klein... There is a full listing on my company’s website at www.metatechnik.com. It’s been quite a ride so far.

What is the advert you are most proud of?

That’s a hard question. I am always proud of my work in some way, no matter how large or small the project, as I always give 100%. Two adverts do stand out, however. One is the first national advert my company ever worked on, for AT&T. Watching it on prime-time TV, knowing it was being simultaneously watched by over 30 million people was very exhilarating and humbling at the same time. I still get excited every time I see my commercials on TV. The second advert I’m particularly proud of is a campaign we did for Miller Beer, one of the pinnacles of my commercial career so far. Not only did the music for this campaign come out especially well, in a style that is not necessarily my forte (Rock), but we also beat out some of the biggest and most established companies in the field and it really put us, as a company, on the map. At that point the company had been around for less than two years.

Your biography claims you have written and collaborated on over a thousand music projects. That is pretty staggering. What do these vary from?

That number is derived from many different sources, and is really not quite so staggering if all you’ve ever done in your life is music. First off, we have worked on close to 300 projects with the company alone. Each project will comprise of an average of about 2 to 3 pieces each, either to give a client more options, or because a project consists of more than one spot—oftentimes up to 3 or 4 spots. We have done all the music for a few TV shows, each with up to 60 pieces. On top of that, there are about a 100 dance tracks that I’ve written since college, plus a good 50 songs in collaboration with other singers (not all dance music, and certainly not all released). I started writing music when I was 5, started recording when I got my first synthesizer from my parents at age 14. By the time I went to college, I had written and recorded over 300 pieces, most of them crap, but sometimes I’ll still use musical ideas from them as inspiration for new tracks. Hopefully these pre-college pieces will never be leaked. In fact, I should probably burn those tapes, haha. I sang (awfully) and even rapped on some of them. My high school friends still tease me about that. I suppose we all come a long way…

Why have you decided to try your hand on dance music and why specifically Trance?

I’ve always loved dance music in all its forms. I don’t only write Trance. In fact, I write virtually every style of music—whatever the job requires. It’s just that now most people know me for Trance, as Trance always has been my first love and is what I mostly produce when it comes to dance music. But, I have some Minimal records out on Boxer and soon on Silver Planet (mostly with Philly producer Ben Camp) and there are some Progressive tracks that are coming out on RealMusic. There’s even a dance-pop tune that was released by Robbins here in the US (yes, that’s DJ Sammy’s label!).

Nevertheless, I like Trance the best. What is so special about Trance, is that, in its best form, it’s unpretentious, melodic, but still groovy, and has, in my opinion, the most energy out of any form of dance music, even more than faster types such as Drum’n’Bass or Hardcore. Perhaps it’s because 140 bpm is your heart rate when you’re doing moderate exercise which releases the most endorphins in your body. Who knows.

I grew up listening to New Wave and early Dance when I got turned on to Trance back in 9th grade, with the “Behind the Eye” compilations on Eye-Q Records, which was Sven Väth’s first label. Those tracks are classics (in fact, “Orange Theme”, Superstring”, etc all stem from that time) and are the true beginnings of Trance. It was about that time I started going to raves in Germany, in abandoned warehouses or out in the fields. The music was just so absolutely different and beautiful, yet still so powerfully moving, that it kept me hooked. So, now I try to recreate those moments I first experienced years ago in my own music. I basically write what I would most like to hear on the dancefloor.

What producers and DJs influenced you?

I believe that we all influence each other. We all cross-pollinate. However, if you depend too much on your influences you become them without forming your own sound. Influences are only particularly important when you’re starting out and trying to figure out “how did they do this, how did they do that” and you’re trying to recreate something. So, in terms of early influences, I’d have to say, again, the tracks on Eye-Q Records (in particular Odyssey of Noises “Firedance”, and Ralf Hildenbeutel in general). Also, big inspiration came from New Order, Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys. I also draw inspiration from a lot of classical music, from Bach to Berg.

In terms of DJs, Trance DJs don’t often inspire me very much, although Paul van Dyk or Paul Oakenfold were on top of their game about 5-6 years ago. It’s the house DJs that surprise me again and again, in particular Luke Fair or Victor Calderone, in building absolutely smashing sets.

How do you manage to combine a demanding full-time job and producing music?

My full-time job is producing music, so it’s not really an issue. The technical aspects of writing an 8 minute Trance track or a 15 second commercial really aren’t that different. Often, as much, if not more, detail and effort go into writing music for a commercial as for writing a dance track. In the end, my workflow is determined by timing and economics. If there is a deadline for an advert, I’ll work on that first. If a remix needs to be done, and the commercial is due next week, I’ll do the remix. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that nicely, which explains why I usually work 12 hour days (much to the chagrin of my wife), and I am sometimes juggling five projects at the same time. But, in the end, I’m very happy with what I do, and am very blessed to be able to do what I love. Therefore, a lot of the time, it doesn’t even really feel like a “full-time job.”

You also DJ – is this a career or just a hobby?

I used to DJ a lot, especially in college, but I have mostly stopped at this point, which is more a matter of circumstance rather than choice. There’s not much opportunity to spin in and around New York, which is the biggest obstacle. But, in fact, it is something I am pursuing for 2008, and by the end of this year it should play a much bigger role in my career.

You have just released your biggest track yet, Quicksand. What was it like being signed to the world #1 DJ’s record label?

To me, it’s not too much about being signed to the #1 DJ’s record label, but rather being signed to a label that has the influence and economic muscle to really get a record off the ground. It helps that the label is backed by one of the most influential DJs in the industry, as anything that he pushes will inevitably sell. And the numbers really are quite impressive, especially in today’s climate. So yes, it has been a true blessing to be on Armada, and I was quite thrilled to have that backing. It is, for the most part, due to the fact that “Exhale” and “Quicksand” got signed to Armada, why I have made such strides in 2007 regarding my dance music career. The only drawback that comes with being signed to any label that is headed by a major artist and DJ himself, is that that label will never push you to be bigger than that artist, so it is a good idea to keep things in perspective and to keep your options open.

Quicksand has a very distinctive sound, combining classic euphoric Trance sounds with an almost stripped down feel, definitely an originality that has helped you stand out from the crowd. Do you think this is a combination of your German/US background or am I just talking rubbish?

Hmm, thanks. Haha, I think you may be talking half-rubbish. I never thought of “Quicksand” as “stripped down”, but I suppose you could say that. I don’t think it has too much to do with my US background, but it may have to do with my German background, since Trance originated there. Overall, I think, I try to bring back “true” or “classic” Trance with my music, the way it’s supposed to be—really moving people, energizing them, and, above all, making them FEEL good. After all, people pay good money to go to clubs on the weekends to unwind, relax and in some way escape some aspect of their lives. A lot of today’s Trance does not achieve that purpose, either because it’s too melodically self-important, or simply because it lacks any sort of groove. So, what I try to achieve is writing music that make great Trance tracks tick:

1) Groove—hence that “stripped-down” feel that you may be experiencing—a track with too much stuff in it will start to lack groove. This may also explain why my tracks always have a sense of edginess or feel “harder” than other tracks, even in gentler tracks like “Quicksand.”
2) Musicality—every track I write has a strong musical element to it. I try to write simple, emotional riffs, that are uplifting, yet have a bit of a “longing” or “dreamy” quality to them. That with a hard groove is a fantastic combination.

So, it was sort of a “I have arrived” moment to hear Above and Beyond refer to “Quicksand’ as “Proof that Trance is still very, very much alive.”

Another American dominating the Trance scene (though he went the other way, from the USA to Europe) is Sean Tyas. Are you an admirer of his sound?

Ha, yeah, it’s funny how we switched continents. Sean’s a great guy whose work I very much respect. What I like about Sean is that he has a similar attitude about Trance as I do—take out the pretence and bring back the dance-your-pants-off, everyone-is-welcome attitude, that made Trance big in the first place and truly bringing people of all kinds together. What Sean can be credited for is breathing new life into an otherwise stagnant scene, by being recognized as the first for bringing back the beef. His production techniques of overcompressing kicks and snares, and sidechaining just about everything really pushed the sound of Trance forward, while structurally bringing back all that made Trance great in the first place.

What do you think of the current dance scene in New York and the US as a whole?

There are probably more dance music fans in the US than anywhere else in the world. In fact, in talking to labels, a lot of them sell most of their downloads in the US. Digital distribution has really succeeded in reaching every dance music fan in the US, who otherwise, because of geographic location, would never have had access to the music. The biggest obstacle with the US is that it is so huge, so there is no centralized way of bringing people together and making the scene much stronger than it is right now. Dance music these days is mostly associated with clubs, and those only exist in the big cities, making it mostly an urban phenomenon in the US. Overall, however, the scene is stable, but mostly dominated by big European names. One positive development, is that we’re slowly seeing talent doing gigs that are outside the top 10, or even top 100 in the DJ Mag poll.

New York, in particular, is neither here nor there. The scene has neither grown nor shrunk in the last five years from what I can see, though the faces of clubgoers may change. People will always go clubbing in New York, but it is mostly age-specific and a lot of people seem to outgrow it after they turn 25, which to me shows that in New York, and generally in the US, it’s not so much about the music, but about “going out.”

Do you have much contact with the dance scene in Germany and what is your view on it?

I have a decent amount of contact with the dance scene in Germany. I have quite a few releases on German labels and am in touch with many German producers. Trance in Germany quite simply sucks right now. For whatever reason, Hardstyle and Hip-Hop still rule the overground clubs, and the underground clubs are filled exclusively with Minimal. Dance music, for all intents and purposes, has completely disappeared from the German mainstream. Somehow, there’s a huge stigma associated with it, that is only slowly disappearing, but probably helped by the “cool” factor of Minimal. What I find really ironic about Minimal is that it’s slowly developing into what Trance used to sound like in its early stages. A lot of the Minimal stuff sounds like it could directly come from the pure-sample stylings off of a Harthouse or Rising High compilation from the early to mid-nineties. So in a way, dance music has come full-circle, and while Minimal is supposed to be looking forward, it is actually looking far back.

What upcoming releases do you have to tempt us with?

-Next up is another EP on Flux Delux, which includes “Sandstone”, “Alternate Reality”, and “Night Terror.”
-A track with Thomas Datt and Tiff Lacey that will come out later this year called “Take Your Time.”
-Silver Planet’s next record will be two collaborations with Ben Camp as “The Shock”, in minimal/progressive stylings, called “Electroshock” and “Aftershock.”
-RealMusic is about to release my progressive tracks “Glaze” and “Collective Unconscious”, the latter having received the Anguilla Project treatment.
-There will be a follow-up to “Quicksand”, and a follow-up to “Fly Away.”

-On the remix front, my remix of Auronsonic’s “Solar Breath” is being promoed on Fenology in January.
-My remix of Albert Vorne’s “Express” will see the light of day soon.
-There’s also a remix for Mike EFEX’s “Ordinary Perfection” as well as a remix for Matt Cerf & Jaren.

Where will 2008 take the Bissen sound?

Interestingly, late last fall I decided that I wanted to work with male vocals, as I have done so much work with female vocalists and I wanted something new. I had no idea where to even start looking, and at this point, somehow, I have 5 potential vocalists to work with, of which 2 are confirmed. So that’s definitely something to look forward to. Other than that, I will try to keep improving my sound, make the production even better, and most importantly, keep writing music that people can enjoy!

Finally, did you make any new year resolutions and if so how many have you broken yet?

I usually set goals for myself for the entire year. Since it’s only January, no, I have not failed to fulfil any of those goals yet. Ask me again in December!

Thanks for your time Bissen!

Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I’d also like to thank everyone who supported me last year, from buying my records to being a friend on MySpace. Without the fans, there’s no scene.


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