Awakenings Festival 2020
Whether by accident or design, Henrik Schwarz’s musical emergence has been by the latter, far more scenic, path. As such, both his own productions and his experimental DJ sets are suffused with the very stuff of life: rich with experience; possessed of untold depth and stuffed to the gills with music’s one true elixir, soul.
In many ways it was ever thus: after his initial forays into DJing as a kid in his native southern Germany, playing stuff that was “hot at that moment” at school parties and such like, Henrik fell for the burgeoning acid jazz and rare groove scene that was so prevalent in his town of Ravensburg.
In turn, this opened his eyes, and ears, to the funk and soul records of artists like James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Cymande, a love affair that exists to this day. “Those artists touched me,” he says now, recalling those first virginal meetings. “I was never really into rock music, I think it is another form of energy that I don’t understand too well, but soul and funk was different, groove became my guiding principle.”
When the incendiary sounds of techno and house started to make their presence felt in Germany in the early 90s, Henrik, quite rightly, assumed these would be natural musical forms for him to incorporate into his repertoire. However, at first he didn’t understand these new strange machine-led rhythms; no matter how hard he tried or how many nights he attended. That was until the visit of one Jeff Mills.
“I think it was the jazz influence in his sound, the improvisation, the way he dropped records into his set,” he recalls. “There was a certain swing and freeness to the sound. From that night I got into it. Detroit techno became a very important thing for me.” It was this music which helped bridge the gap between his love of acid jazz and other beguilling electronica, and as a consequence he was a regular at nights in Ravensburg whenever the likes of Laurent Garnier, Carl Cox, Juan Atkins, DJ Hell, the aforementioned Jeff Mills, or any other techno luminaries, rolled into town.
By now he was experimenting making his own music using the basic computer software that was available at the time, and although he wasn’t releasing anything he would incorporate this music into his own DJ sets. When he purchased his first laptop towards the end of the 90s, Henrik realised that he could use this as another part of his DJ arsenal. Initially he used loops and effects alongside his records, until in the end he only used his laptop, creating music, akin to a live electronic jam, as he played.
After finishing his graphic design studies, Henrik moved to Berlin, where he still resides, and although he worked as a graphic designer by day, his musical explorations continued. Previously he had met Sasse from Moodmusic and passed him a CD containing his music.
Impressed, Sasse asked him to record for his imprint, and in 2002 Henrik’s mesmeric “Supravision” EP was released. Gilles Peterson immediately picked up on Supravision’s infinite charms, playing it on his influential radio show, consequently affording Henrik a vast audience.
Soon after, he and Sasse established a new label, Sunday Music. So called because Sunday was the day that Henrik made music, “I worked as a graphic designer during the week and Sunday was my only day off,” he explains, the first release, “Jon”, was another watershed moment in Henrik’s career.
By now his live sessions were informing his production process. His second release for Moodmusic, the mightily impressive “Chicago”, was never written as such. It was played and tweaked in the clubs and then released. This spontaneous method not only captured the energy of the music, it enabled Henrik’s cerebral approach to music to be given free reign.
“I like the complexity in music,” he admits. “I like to cut already complex things into little pieces, mix them with other complex fragments and create something new out of them. If you manage to find the right balance between extremes you might be able to create something new and beautiful.”
Having continued to release records on Moodmusic and Sunday Music, plus tracks for Innervisions (feat. Åme and Dixon), Diamonds and Pearls, Ubiquity and Zeppelin Records, Henrik’s unique remix abilities are much in demand today. Having transformed music for such a glittering roll call as Coldcut, Alex Smoke, Induceve, Alton Miller and Tosca, it’s fair to say Henrik is moving in the right direction.
This is confirmed by his next release. In October this year, Henrik will follow in the footsteps of Carl Craig, Stereo MCs, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation and Four Tet and release the latest in !K7’s seminal DJ Kicks series.