16 Jun A Conversation with Stephan Szillus: German Music Journalism, Global Funk, Krautrock and Now-Again Records
The German music journalist Stephan Szillus can already look back on an intriguing career in the music business. We have a chat to the current Senior Editor of Spotify Germany (formerly JUICE Magazin, project manager for Red Bull and Vice) about being a music journalist in Berlin, his fascinating Global Funk playlist, his work with Now-Again Records for making the release of hidden Krautrock gems possible, and as well as a glimpse into his favourite records.
Name: Stephan Szillus
Location: Berlin, Germany
Tell us a bit more about yourself:
I’ve been a music journalist for 15 years. Started as a freelance writer, then worked for Germany’s biggest hip hop magazine Juice as editor-in-chief for six years. Moved on to brand projects, ran an independent label and an artist management company. Since December 2016, I’m been working as a full-time member of the editorial team at Spotify in Berlin.
What started your interest in music? Is there any interesting story or history behind it?
Not a spectacular story. It all goes back to my parents’ record collection and my cousin who used to let me copy tapes that she recorded from the radio. I started buying my own records when I was 10 years old. I watched every music television show available, read every magazine I could get my hands on, religiously studied liner notes and spent a greater part of my youth at the local record stores.
How has your music taste evolved over the years?
My musical taste was defined by late 80s and early 90s hip hop and skate video soundtracks. Later I got into drum & bass, trip hop, the whole abstract beat scene and the so-called indie rap world of the late 90s. The more I understood about hip hop production, the deeper I got into crate digging. I discovered that I liked some of the original sampled music even more than the tracks that sampled it. I still love hip hop, but I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz, funk, disco, rock, electronic, soul, afrobeat, ambient and other music in the last years.
Does working as a music journalist interfere with your personal way of listening to music? Does it sometimes diminish the pure joy of just listening to records?
I’ve been actively working in the hip hop industry for a long time, so sometimes the politics of the music business definitely diminish the joy of listening to (rap) records. Still, discovering new music is the greatest joy to me. And if you mainly listen to obscure old records, there’s not a lot of politics involved.
Where do you find the inspiration for your Global Funk playlist? How do you discover these hidden gems from all over the world?
The idea behind Global Funk is to highlight funky music from all parts of the world, from Ghanaian highlife to Cape Verdian synth disco, from Surinam’s 80s boogie scene to Japanese fusion and Brazilian psych folk. I look at this music through a the lens of a hip-hop head which means it’s technically not all funk. It’s hard to put it in a formula, but I guess that’s the reason why human curation is still important. My source of discovery is mainly the internet, but also recommendations from friends, artists, DJs and other editors from around the world.
You were working together with Now-Again Records for the release of the Now-Again Reserve Krautrock releases, e.g. the Paternoster album which was released last year and the upcoming re-release of German Oak. You were responsible for connecting with the artists and you are the associate producer of the releases as well. Have you been exposed to Krautrock while growing up?
Definitely. Growing up, my parents had an impressive vinyl collection ranging from progressive rock like Can to the ambient sounds of Tangerine Dream and the fusion jazz of Klaus Doldinger’s Passport. My parents were part of a 1968 student protest generation – which is reflected in their musical tastes. When I learned that most hip hop beats were sampled from old records, I revisited my parents’ collection and saw those records in another light, but they were already deeply engraved into my mind.
How was the contact to the artists established?
Through internet research, a lot of emails and phone calls. After ending up in a couple of dead ends, I was finally able to meet Franz Wippel of Paternoster in Vienna and Cäsar Czaika of German Oak in Düsseldorf.
What was their reaction when they learned that their music is still cherished and treasured 45 years later?
It’s great and rewarding to see how artists react when their old work is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Franz Wippel actually knew that their record was highly sought-after in collector circles, but he remains skeptical about the sound quality of the record. So he has some mixed feelings but at the same time seemed quite happy — in his very own, very Austrian way. With Cäsar Czaika, it was different. He didn’t know that the record sold for thousands of Euros on Discogs. He is still a musician but he dismissed the German Oak record as straight-up garbage, so at first, he didn’t see any use in re-releasing it. But when he and the former band members listened to the high-quality remastering by Dave Cooley, they couldn’t believe their ears. Now they are looking forward to holding their baby in their hands again, 45 years after its first release.
Concerning the recording of German Oak there are a few rumors circulating. Some say it was recorded in an air raid shelter, others say that it was actually recorded in the 80’s – can you shed some light on the recording process?
It was indeed recorded in an air raid shelter which served as a rehearsal space for the band in the early 1970s. I was there, with the former band members. The original Bunker in Dusseldorf-Hamm is still intact. The album was recorded in 1972. The guys used to tape their sessions at the Bunker with a simple cassette recorder. A vinyl collector and all-around crazy guy called Manfred “Warlock” Uhr assembled the best moments of these tapes, created artwork and pressed up 200 records. The rest of the story will be published in the extensive liner notes of the German Oak re-issue on Now-Again.
Share with us your most cherished vinyl possessions and tell us a little bit about them:
1. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (Capitol)
Just a classic hip hop record, nothing rare or obscure. This is the album that started the whole sample digging craze for me, the lifelong search for the ultimate breaks and beats. It was The Dust Brothers’ masterpiece, made out of more than 100 samples. My copy is a remastered reissue version from 2009 that I especially like for its fold-out sleeve. I love the iconic cover, a panorama view of a street corner at Rivington and Ludlow in the Lower East Side, shot by photographer Jeremy Shatan.
2. Company Flow – Funcrusher EP & Infokill 12″ (Official) / Juggaknots EP (Fondle ‘Em) / Indelible MCs 12″ (Rawkus)
I had grown up on everything from Rick Rubin and the Bomb Squad to the Native Tongues and Acid Jazz. But by the mid-1990s, in the so-called shiny suit era, I started feeling a little estranged from hip-hop. Naturally, I gravitated towards neo-soul and more abstract and electronic stuff. These underground white label 12-inches re-ignited my love affair with straight-up rap music. They came out in 1996/1997, around the time Tupac and Biggie were murdered. I started collecting indie rap 12-inches, and this is the reason why I still own a lot records by artists with names like Mr. Complex, Jigmastas, Rawcotiks, Dr. Octagon, Rhyme Inspector Percee P or Freestyle Professors.
3. Eins, Zwo – Sport EP (Yo Mama)
Arguably one of the best German hip hop records of all time. MC Dendemann and DJ Rabauke nailed the Hamburg City hip hop spirit with four tracks consisting of lush but crispy sample-based beats and witty lyrics about slacker lifestyle, hip hop ethics and other stuff that mattered a lot to me in the late 1990s when I was living in Hamburg myself. The original pressing is pretty sought after, even though it’s not crazy expensive. It usually goes for 60 to 80 Euros on Discogs.
4. Paternoster “Paternoster” (Now-Again) / “Remixes and Versions” (Heart Working Class)
These two are obvious choices. I never owned an original Paternoster album copy — way too expensive and rare. So I feel very blessed to have been a part of the production of this amazing sounding re-issue with great liner notes by Egon and unreleased photos from the band’s archives. I also put out a little remix project with some of my favorite hip hop producers from Germany and Austria on my former label: “Remixes and Versions” contains Paternoster-sampling hip hop beats by Afromaniac, Dexter, Badan, Ghanaian Stallion, Brenk Sinatra, Kabuki, B-Side and Disco Rigido (Twit One & Lorenzo Merluzzo). I am actually kind of proud of the result which ranges from throwback boom-bap to trap and afro house. Very eclectic and exclusive, just like my own taste. Ha!
Check out Stephan Szillus’s Global Funk playlist here: Global Funk Playlist at Spotify
Read more about the release of “German Oak” on Now-Again Reserve here: German Oak on Now-Again Reserve
Photo Credit (photos of Stephan Szillus): Claudia Kunze
Photo Credit (German Oak): Now-Again Records