Interview with Aera

by Dorian Goldman

Welcome back to FictionLab where, in anticipation of our Lossless showcase with SBTH and Aera on Saturday, April 29th, Aera was kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions.

Aera, aka Ralf Schmidt, has been making music since the 90s. Having produced music for over a decade, he started his label (Aleph Music) in 2010, where he released only his own tracks. 

Fast forward a couple of years later, when he finally decides to send out some of his tracks to a few people, and he immediately gets his infamous track “Freak Wave” signed by Innervisions in 2014 and a year later, “You Know Juno” on Maeve in 2015.  The momentum didn’t stop there though with the release of his killer EP “Running Hot” on Innervisions (IV64) last year which was a summer hit, his last EP John Talabot’s label Hivern Discs, and his recent remix of Content Aware Scale on RePublik Music. 

In addition to being a renowned producer, he is also known for is incredibly versatile and powerful DJ sets. We are fortunate enough to host him for this Saturday, April 29th at the Lossless showcase alongside Mathias Schober and Thomas Herb. 

Welcome Aera, thanks for joining us for a Labchat. 

All of your releases up until a few years ago were on your label Aleph Music before Innervisions signed your track “Freak Wave.” You’ve mentioned before how this afforded you a certain degree of freedom -  you weren’t obligated to produce music for ‘other people,’ just yourself. Now that you’ve released on big labels such as these, do you feel there is any additional pressure to foster a particular sound or appeal to certain audiences when producing? If so, has it escalated over the past couple of years?
I don't feel any pressure when making music, it's actually one of the few areas in life where I feel I have complete freedom and control over what I am doing. If I started to think about audiences or a certain sound, I wouldn't be able to create. I can only go with my feelings and gut instinct. I've been making music for such a long time, I don't know any other way.  
What might have changed is that I am more open to feedback and suggestions from people that I work  closely with and whose opinion I trust, but only at a relatively late point in the process of creation. Questions of detail or technicalities such as volume levels, different approaches in arrangement etc. In those fields a second opinion often helps to elevate a basic track to the next level. 
Dixon for example gave amazing input on the Innervision EP, and some close friends such as The Drifter or Engyn from Outcast Oddities are always giving me great advice.

Have you noticed the crowds have changed since you started releasing on other labels, or that you feel pressure to play a particular sound?
The crowd changes from gig to gig, and so does the music. I can only go with what feels right in the moment, without trying to think too much about any expectations or pressure. Djing for me is a give and take, an exchange of energies. The crowd would feel if I play something that I don't stand behind completely.

You took a break from your dayjob at Native Instruments in 2013 and moved to La Gomera (Canary Islands) for the winter. What was your day-to-day like there, and did it have any influence on your music production or DJing today?
I brought some studio gear with me into an apartment with a panorama view overlooking the Atlantic ocean. It was the most beautiful place you can imagine, sunsets every night and highly inspiring. I wrote a ton of music over there, like Freak Wave which came out on Innervisions, You Know Juno on Maeve and even parts of the latest Hivern Discs record (Lumen). I still think about it a lot, trying to get into that headspace.
It was also there that I made the decision to put it all on one card and start working on making music for a living. So in that way, it had a huge influence on where I am today.

Your release Flowers on Fire on was remixed by Mano Le Tough long before you released a track on Maeve. Did you have a relationship with these guys (Mano, The Drifter, and Baikal) before signing with their label? How did that begin?
Around 2010, Mano and The Drifter had a regular party called “Passion Beat”.  They were some of the first in Berlin to ever book me,  they supported me from the start. 
I must have played for them at least 3 times, and we became good friends in the process. I know that Mano was a big fan of Flowers On Fire, so when I was looking for remixers, he was the first one  I approached. 
They were also among the first people I sent my La Gomera demos and the Maeve release came about really naturally. 

You were born in a small town in Northern Germany where you happened to be fortunate enough to gain considerable exposure attending a youth center. You then moved on to Hamburg where you started to work for Wordandsound, one the main distributors of House and Techno records.  Later on you moved to Berlin and started working for Native Instruments.
All of this time you had very few distractions and were able to focus on music. Now that you’ve gained international exposure and are surrounded by parties and other artists, do you find this distracting, inspiring, or both?
When I still had my day-job, I had much less time for music than I do now. It was always a struggle to find the time to work on something. I was also surrounded by so much electronic music during the day, that I sometimes just wanted to go home and put on something completely different, a Jazz record or some Leonard Cohen.
Now that I am traveling, meeting fellow artists and Djs  etc, I am more inspired than ever, and whenever I am home in Berlin, I go to the studio every single day.

Where do you see your career heading over the next few years? Do you still keep up with Aleph as well? If so, do you reserve this for tracks which you don’t think fit into another label’s sound?
I just hope I can keep on making a living with my music, travel the world and make new friends along the way. Even though it's a bit quiet at the moment, Aleph Music is still active, and I am actually thinking of opening it up  and releasing others peoples music. We'll see. I will also keep on putting out music on other labels for sure!

We’re very happy to host you for the Fiction event next Saturday. What goes into choosing which events you will play? And what do you have in store for us?
I work closely with my booking agency on my gigs, they know me really well and I can trust their judgments. I am thankful to everyone who wants to have me at their party, I am amazed to be able to travel and play the music that I love for a living. I Can't wait to play for you guys, it's my first time in New York and I am super excited.