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Interview: Manuel Fischer on Zurich and the labels Ozelot and WHITE

“I’m always grateful and happy when I play, so if this happiness can seep into other people’s moods, my mission is complete”

Johannes Diboky

Few artists have their hands in as many pies as Manuel Fischer, as far as distribution channels are concerned. But for someone as talented as the Swiss tastemaker, that’s par for the course. Fischer, the mastermind behind Ozelot Ltd and WHITE record labels, arrives in Hong Kong to play a set at the Social Room. With a resumé that includes sets at the Basel edition of Boiler Room, it’s a guarantee that Hongkongers will being a top-notch talent at the decks. We speak to Fischer about growing up in Zürich and about the labels he’s involved with, including his last release on WHITE and new label Ozelot Limited.

When did you start DJing and who is your biggest inspiration?
I started DJing when I was 16 or 17, so it’s not a classic ‘I bought my first turntable when I was 11’ story.  I started as a drummer and as a bedroom producer before I made my first DJ mix.

As for my biggest inspiration, it wasn’t an act. It was actually my dad, who is the coolest guy on earth. He used to produce Italo disco, next to work as a music producer for films, and it’s always great to have a discussion about the Roland 808 with him. He hates the 808 sounds and he tells me ‘they are so overused and boring. Why do you use them all the time son?’

How did growing up in Zürich influence the music you produce today?
Zürich is an amazing town for electronic music. It’s very small, but there are a lot of great producers. Here we definitely have our own ‘style’. It’s not Berlin and it’s not London or Paris. Here you can have three days of constant partying, but at the same time the lake is so clean you can drink out of it. We’re a big family here, we take care of each other, and I guess this is rare.

How was your experience at Boiler Room?
It was nice! A lot of friends came to dance and it felt really familiar. Normally, I hate to be filmed, so it maybe wasn’t the best hour of my life, but the experience was great and the set went well. It was also an honour to play the first set ever for Boiler Room in our country and everyone had fun. It was sooooo hot in there, though. I was sweating like hell!

The relationship between DJ and his audience is often deemed to be the most important part of any show. Do you agree?
Yes and no, but mostly yes. When I’m listening to someone who’s in the tunnel and loves what he’s doing behind the booth, you can definitely feel the energy. But I also have had great nights even when I listen to someone who I rarely see because it’s so crowded. All in all: if you have fun, [the crowd] will have fun. Music is to dance to. Show them your best tunes and be grateful to have the chance to make people happy with your music. That’s the most important thing about the relationship, in my opinion!

What should fans expect from your newest EPs?
It’s really diverse. On Drumpoet Community, there will be a more ‘classy’, housier EP, with some sampled stuff in there. On WHITE, there’s a breakbeat house tool coming and on Ozelot, two really trippy cosmic tunes with a darker touch [are coming]. My schedule is a bit mixed but I’m happy to not stick to only one genre. Right now I’m also working on some hip-hop and funk stuff with my good friend [fellow Zürich DJ] Abdel Hady, so let’s see what an eventual forthcoming album will bring.

What’s it like to release new records on your own new label?
I’m super excited to launch Ozelot. We can express ourselves 100 percent, not just in the music but also with artwork, label nights, etc. It’s also a circle of friends who will contribute tune by tune, so it's a family project! And with Lobster Distribution from London, we found a nice partner for this first record, who will spread it to the right channels.

How does Ozelot differ from Congaloid, your label with Stefano Ritteri?
Congaloid is Stefano’s baby and I only help him out sometimes with artwork, beers and suggestions. I think Congaloid is more ‘danceable’, a bit more on point. Ozelot is more cosmic and cinematic. Definitely check out the new Conga release by Nandu. It’s a banger!

Every DJ has their own way of connecting with their audience. What would you say is your method?
That’s a hard question… I really like to party when I play but sometimes I’m also really concentrated, so I don’t know exactly what would be unique about my interaction with the crowd. I’m always grateful and happy when I play, so if this happiness can seep into other people’s moods, my mission is complete.

The label WHITE will soon be releasing its final tracks. The label’s played a significant role in the modern deep house scene. What do you consider its legacy?
WHITE is definitely a really important label for modern deep house music and I’m really proud and happy to be a part of it as it was my favourite label [especially after] I got signed. Can you imagine how happy I was when Oskar [Offermann, the founder,] told me that he digs my tunes? After this, I got to know Oskar really well and he’s a really inspiring guy. He is also a good cook, just have to mention that here as well! I feel a bit sad that Oskar and Adam are closing the label, but they have their reasons and I hope that they will continue their great work with something new. Being part of the label’s last vinyl, especially in such an amazing VA box, is amazing.

Tell us about your most memorable DJ set performance and what made it such a highlight.
I had some great moments. Playing at the sea in Croatia at the Lighthouse Festival was amazing, and then afterwards I fucked up my foot on a reef and they gave me morphine. Playing on a big stage in front of thousands of people at street parade in Zürich, next to all the historical buildings, definitely made me pee my pants a hundred times. Playing at an occupied house with a big armada of policemen running through the doors was also interesting but only because we were faster than them. So I guess I’ve had some highlights so far. Hopefully the next will follow when I’m in Hong Kong to play Social Room!

Are there any particular festivals or clubs that you’re keen on?
I count Club Zukunft [in Zürich] as my musical home. I’m in love with the club and the people behind it. They always book amazing DJs and I’m really proud to be a resident there. They are also running Drumpoet Community and Zukunft Records – a big pool of great people and musicians. I guess the mix of things makes Zukunft so perfect: it’s not too big, they have a good soundsystem, a Rane rotary mixer and an amazing team. It always feels like coming home!

What do you think youngsters need to be aware of when starting in the business today?
It’s pretty simple: produce amazing music, love what you do, be humble, stay informed and everything will be all right!

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