Tronic boss Christian Smith and Brazil’s Wehbba made a collective musical statement when they joined forces three years ago and launched their Passion Over Fashion series. After co-releasing a bespoke selection of storming peak-hour techno tracks, the duo return this month with “Passion Over Fashion 2.1.” A Detroit inspired two-tracker boasting seismic cuts “Tungsten” and “Magnesium,” their joint effort out February 29 also serves as Tronic’s 200th release. Before unleashing their latest collaboration, the techno stalwarts sat down for an enlightening conversation about working together, analog vs. digital production and much more.
Christian Smith: We collaborated on Tronic’s 200th release, “Passion Over Fashion 2.1.” Explain to a person who might not know Tronic what the label means to you.
Wehbba: Tronic was always a big label for me since I’ve started to DJ professionally back in the early 2000s. It was also the first label where I really felt at home, where I could do my thing without any pressure, and it really helps we have a very similar musical taste. During the process of producing my first album, Full Circle, I really understood the importance of having a label to back me up. It only made me realize that Tronic was the perfect one for that role, since my music was influenced so much by it over the years, and it’s also an active platform that involves radio shows, events and showcases, always moving forward and looking for that next big step.
Wehbba: Three years ago Tronic had both its 100th release and the first Passion Over Fashion series. How do you think the label has evolved since then?
Christian Smith: It’s really crazy how the mechanics of the music industry has changed in the last few years. Back in the vinyl days a successful label would have a release every month or every six weeks. Now, however, all the big labels do a release every two weeks, some even weekly. This means that sadly a lot of good music gets overlooked as it’s a sea of music coming out every week. I think Beatport has 4,000 singles coming out every week! It’s crazy! But at the same time, these days to have a successful label it’s more than just releasing music. Since the 100th release three years ago, we have built a strong roster of artists that regularly release on Tronic. We have also started doing branded events from Tokyo to London and in many other cities. It’s a cutthroat industry and in order to succeed you must have consistent good releases, and a loyal team of artists. Thankfully, Tronic is stronger than ever!
Christian Smith: You have been making music for over a decade now and are in my opinion one of the best engineers in house and techno. Do you feel that making music digitally versus analog yields different results? I’d like to know your opinion on the “analog is better” hype.
Wehbba: I think it’s all about how you approach your creative process. For many years I was working pretty much 100 percent digitally, or “in-the-box,” and a lot of my most successful work was conceived that way, either for me or to people whom I’ve engineered for in the past. You can have an amazing sound just with plugins, having analog or external gear is not what will make the biggest difference, as long as you have a great ear. That said, I really do think working with hardware has many advantages, and can make you focus more on the musical aspect of things, since you end up having limited options, that forces you to be more creative with what you have. Also, when chosen correctly, hardware will sound better with less effort, which also helps maintaining the creative flow. I think that being able to achieve a good balance between both ways of working will go a long way, especially for us heavy touring artists, that don’t always have access to the comfort of our own studio to work on.
Wehbba: How do you approach your creative process? You have a huge solo catalog, but also collaborate a lot. Do you find any difference between these two ways of producing?
Christian: One very nice thing about collaborations is that you get instant feedback from the person you are working with, if something is good or not. I would say that’s the single best advantage. Doing solo stuff is also fun, but I tend to be a little more critical. I really think that a balance of both is good for any producer. Also, I have learned a lot collaborating with John Selway and you! So it’s always nice to see different perspectives and learn tricks for future solo projects.
Christian: Speaking of collaborations, we have done quite a few in the last two or three years. We also started the Passion Over Fashion series on Tronic. How would you describe our upcoming release?
Wehbba: I really thought we had something going with Passion Over Fashion. It was our first time collaborating on original work, rather than remixes, and not only it was a great concept, it was also a great way of maintaining our approach to re-creating things, but using it to creating something new instead. We had covered our “passion” for Detroit techno on our first run of “Passion Over Fashion” released back in 2013, but not to this more abrasive side of it, which both of us really appreciate, as was shown in our “Believe” collaboration last year as well. Both tracks are dark and edgy, but have a great energy, and portrait really well both of our current visions on making techno.
Wehbba: What is the main challenge for you when collaborating with me, or any artist, for a release on your own label? Does being the A&R have any influence on the process, do you seek out or try to impart that distinctive Tronic sound when working on music?
Christian: When I produce music I don’t really think about where the song will get released. In the beginning I always try to have a vision, this helps to get a track started, but most of the time it ends up being totally different. The “Tronic Sound” is just the style I have when I produce, it’s nothing in particular that I strive for. We all have our own sound, mine just happens to fit on my label. [Laughs] I really enjoy working with you because we often have similar tastes when it comes to selecting samples or creating melodies. We also have a very organic and complimenting workflow. I think the feeling is mutual otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of our collabs!
Christian: What are you working on at the moment? Also, do you have any upcoming gigs you are excited about?
Wehbba: I’ve recently moved from São Paulo to Barcelona, as you know, and this whole process has been really inspiring! I’ve been making a lot of new music in my new studio, and have many releases planned already for the first half of the year on Tronic (of course), Knee Deep In Sound, Systematic, GEM, MFF, Material and a few more to be announced. I have a pretty busy schedule for the next months, but I’m really looking forward to our Tronic showcase together in Berlin in April!
Wehbba: Is there anything we can already say about the next volume of Passion Over Fashion? What else do you have lined up for the next few months?
Christian: Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m sure we will make a few new cool tracks before the summer. We will have to decide if they fit within the “Passion Over Fashion” series then. With regards to my plans, I’m busy as ever. Besides flying like a mad man for my gigs, my weekly Tronic radio show is now syndicated on around 100 stations in 20+ countries. With regards to studio work, I’m also planning on some solo releases. And not forgetting expanding the Tronic brand by doing events all over, including Sonar, ADE and many in between.