Dixon's brilliant is a study in deepness.
Thu May 3 2007
At first blush, the notion of tagging Steffen “Dixon” Berkhahn as the selector for a Get Physical compilation smacks of heresy. Dixon, after all, became internationally known through his association with Berlin’s Sonar Kollektiv, the jazz-and-soul cooperative headed up by the DJs and producers of the Jazzanova crew; the Get Physical label, also Berlin-based, is mainly known for a sparkling, slightly goofy version of electro-tech. Even Dixon, who’s spinning at Cielo on Saturday 5 to celebrate the release of Body Language 4, recognizes the oddness of the situation. “I think I’ve had perhaps a total of one Get Physical record in my box over the last three years,” he says with a laugh. “So I’m definitely not an obvious pick for them. It was definitely strange for both sides.”
Strange, yes—it’s practically a clubland version of Nixon in China—but the partnership’s borne tasty fruit: Body Language 4 is a moody collection of emotive, largely vocal-driven deep house, subdued enough for contemplative headphone listening but with more than enough thump to be prime dance-floor fodder. In that respect, it’s a reflection of where both parties have been heading: Get Physical’s sound has been edging into ever-deeper territory, while Dixon—who was spinning house long before his Jazzanova connection came about—has been returning to his four-on-the-floor roots in the past few years.
The DJ, 31, views the alliance with German practicality. “I felt that the people that would normally buy a Dixon mix-CD probably wouldn’t care what label it’s coming out on,” he says. “If they like it, they like it. But this will also get a completely different audience, the Get Physical audience, to hear my music. For instance, I recently ran into Miss Kittin. She came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I wanted to introduce myself and tell you how much I love the new mix-CD.’ My first reaction, of course, was, Miss Kittin is liking one of my mix-CDs? And then I realized that the only reason she even picked it up was because it was a Get Physical mix-CD; she would never have picked up a Sonar Kollektiv mix, I don’t think.”
The compilation features a number of tracks from Innervisions, the label Dixon runs alongside Kristian Beyer and Frank Wiedemann, together known as the brilliant deep-tech duo Âme. The imprint, originally a Sonar Kollektiv sublabel but now independent, kicked off with a bang: Its second release was 2005’s “Rej,” an Âme-produced soul-stirrer that’s perhaps the most ubiquitous club track of the past few years, finding favor at parties ranging from minimal throwdowns to soulful-house soirees. The song’s name is, contrary to popular belief, pronounced ray. “It’s the starting position in karate,” Dixon explains. “Or tae kwon do? No, I think it’s karate.… Anyway, that track helped us get started not only because it was so big, but because it got big so slowly. It was a long time, like around spring of 2006, before everyone was really into that song. There was no hype or anything—the track just slowly caught on, and was constantly getting bigger and bigger. I think the time that it took to get big kind of gave us time to figure out what we were doing.”
They’ve seemingly figured it out better than anyone. Innervisions is, along with Get Physical, one of the most respected labels of the house and techno realms. It has methodically released killer track after killer track, including another world-conquering club hit, last year’s “Where We At,” coproduced by Âme, Henrik Schwarz and Dixon himself. That cut, infinitely more banging than the delicate “Rej,” exemplifies one of Dixon’s career secrets—always keep ’em guessing. “With the success of ‘Rej,’ we had the fear that people would expect that everything from Innervisions would sound just like it,” he says. “But so far, we’ve avoided that; some go a little bit this way, some go a little bit the other way. It’s like a DJ set: If you play one track that people really like, you can try something different on the next one and people will still listen. You have to let people breathe—if you just play big songs all the time, at a certain point people just stop caring. And we want them to care.”
Dixon spins at the Get Physical party on Saturday 5.