Once a duo, these two German veterans have been working separately for the past 20 years. But the pair recently joined forces once more, with startlingly good results…
Okay party people what we're gonna do right here is go back – waa-aaay back. All the way to the early 90s in Frankfurt, in fact.
That's when two young techno DJs called Thomas Wedel and Norman Feller started making tunes together under the name DJ Tom & Norman. Tracks like 1993's Tales Of Mystery and 1995's Thundergod proved a big hit in German clubs and beyond, helping to define the blueprint for the then-emerging acid trance style, and the pair released two albums together – The Various Definition Of Our Musical Style (Overdrive, 1994) and The Final Exhibition (Dance Pool, 1995).
But before the 90s rolled on much further, the two – both of whom already had releases to their name before the DJ Tom & Norman project, it should be pointed out – had gone their own separate ways once more. DJ Tom became Tom Wax, in which guise he became (and remains) a big name in both trance and techno circles, while young Norman reinvented himself as Terry Lee Brown Jr, under which name he's been a regular on the Plastic City label and a darling of the deep house scene ever since. And that, as they say, was that.
Er, except it wasn't at all, as it turns out! Because a couple of weeks ago saw the release of Pieces Of Music. Credited to Terry Lee Brown Jr & Tom Wax, this long-player represents the former duo's first musical collaboration in two entire decades. It also just happens to be packed to the brim with some truly excellent house music, broadly categorisable under the deep house umbrella but quite techy in feel and replete, too, with numerous nods to the rave era. Which, of course, is where the two came in.
Anyway, that's the basic story. Beyond that, well… we could have asked them a load of questions about it all, couldn't we? We could have dug deep into how they first met, the reasons for their splitting up in the first place, the many, myriad twists and turns of their respective solo careers, their shared love of producing under a bewildering array of aliases, their thoughts about the wide range of genres they've worked in over the years and the contrasts between them, and of course the whys and wherefores of their unexpected reunion in 20290. But, y'know… we're lazy!
So we got Tom (he's the one with the beard) and Terry/Norman (he's the one without a beard) to interrogate each other instead. Take it away, guys…
TLB: Hey Tom, I never forget the legendary snare on Arpeggiators' Freedom Of Expression. How did you get that snare sound?
TW: "We produced this track in 1992, and back then didn’t have any of this fancy techno equipment like a 909, 808 or 303! So we had to create sounds on our own and did some live recordings – like this snare. It was actually the sound of the door of a steel cabinet in our studio slamming, but it worked out really good in that tune!"
TLB: When we first met in the studio to produce an EP – can you remember what the first track we made together was? I can… and I'll give you a hint, it wasn't Tales Of Mystery!
TW: "Sure, I remember that one – we started with Neverending Relaxation Of The Mind, which I still think is a great tune, with a monumental two-minute breakdown and great atmospheres. This was the birth of our Tom & Norman project back in 1992!"
TLB: I'll never forget your wonderful Roland collection (909, 808, 303), but you had many other wonderful synths in your studio, and I can't remember them all! We're talking real synths, of course, not plug-ins… so, what were they?
TW: "Over the years nearly every cult synth had a place in my studio. For example, the Waldorf WAVE or the Oberheim Matrix 12 were the flagships that added some special flavour to my tracks."
TLB: We only had ever did one live show together – do you remember that? In front of us were Sven Väth and then Richie Hawtin… unforgettable scenes. What do you remember about that night?
TW: "Yes, that was the OMNI New Year's party in 1994 – that event was the reason I didn’t play any DJ gigs on that date for some years! We played after Sven Väth at 5am on New Year's Day and everybody there was going crazy, including the promoters. It seemed that we were playing in a madhouse with just over-drugged people, and then Sven would shout ‘RAAAAVEEEEE’ through the microphone and all the ravers went mad! Unforgotten and legendary!"
TLB: After you worked at Influence Recordings, Sven Väth recruited you as an A&R for Harthouse. That whole building was somehow magical, the purest music factory (in a positive sense). Who were all the people and labels working and producing music there? At that time I was very proud to work with you in Ralf Hildenbeutel's Harthouse studio, on a track that unfortunately never came out…
TW: "Yes, Strahlenberger Street 125a was a pure melting point, with a lot of music producers and labels having their home base there in Offenbach near Frankfurt. Logic Records with Ancelotti/Muenzing from Snap! started their success story there, as well as Sven Väth with his Harthouse label, plus Oliver Lieb and other producers had their studios there as well.
"And yes, I remember – we were asked to produce a track for Harthouse by Sven Väth, but after a weekend in the studio of Ralf Hildenbeutel, we finished a track that was never released. Maybe one day we will include this one on our lost tapes album!"
TLB: What are your plans after releasing our Pieces Of Music album?
TW: "My next solo long-player, Driven By Passion, is finished as well and will be out soon. After our co-operation I teamed up with some other long-time friends and buddies like Michael Wells, Jan Jacarta, Strobe, AKA AKA, Rummy Sharma, ASYS and Kai Tracid to release new tracks in the next month. My winter as well as the corona lockdown was very productive, and I’m very excited to present you all the new tunes soon."
TW: Why and how did you get your passion for music? Who was your hero when you first listened to music, and who is it today?
TLB: "I can still remember my father's tape recorder. The tapes he had were packed with the sound of the 60s and 70s, from rock & roll to soul, and as a small child I spent hours in front of the tape recorder and listened to the music. In the 80s, I was a big fan of all the fantastic Trevor Horn productions – and I still am today.
"And maybe that was a crucial reason why there was never a real 'favourite band' for me; rather, I've always been drawn to the producers. However, I have to admit that I was in tears when I had the honour to experience Kraftwerk live in Frankfurt."
TW: Do you remember the production of your breakthrough track as Norman – The Big Deal, back in 1993?
TLB: "Oh yes! How could I forget that? It really was a big deal for me, because it kicked off my career. Last but not least, I owe it to you. You were the one who signed the number as A&R at Influence Recordings and made the production process easier for me. This time is unforgettable."
TW: Any particular memories or funny stories of our DJ Tom & Norman album production back in 1994?
TLB: "That was a great, funny and interesting time. Especially since we had the pleasure of producing in a real, fat recording studio whilst still having a very good sound engineer at our side. Do you remember, the console we were mixing on was originally from Pete Townsend of The Who… that was kind of awesome!
"Our interludes on that first DJ Tom & Norman album on Overdrive were absolutely amazing. When I think of it now, I still get laughing cramps… luckily these production trips didn't notice that much, ha ha!"
TW: What was the inspiration for your first Terry Lee Brown Jr album Brother For Real in 1996? And why did you choose an Afro-American image for the cover?
TLB: "In the mid-90s I had a desire to produce house after all the 'fast' years. Back then, in Darmstadt, we had regular house nights at the legendary Kesselhaus that simply caught me. To be honest, Terry Lee Brown Jr was initially just one project among many others of mine – an experiment, really, a case of 'just do it and see what comes out'. But in this case, something came out that still accompanies me today.
"The cover idea didn't come from me, it was the idea of Uli Ambach – a gifted graphic designer who also designed all the other artwork for TLB Jr. and Plastic City. He also worked with labels like Tonika Recordings and Driftwood, the label I had with my good old friend Frank Cochois AKA The Timewriter. I can still remember it well: his first logo proposal for TLB Jr went totally down the cowboy route, which I didn't like at all, so I asked him to design a new logo. What came next was a blast – I saw it and said: DEAL! The first thing I felt was just ’Yes, that fits the music’."
TW: You have released a massive list of tracks and albums – which track of your own do you love most, and why?
TLB: "That's a tough question, and one that I can hardly answer. After all, you put time, passion and emotions into all of your productions. But in order not to spoil the game I like to think of the development phase for Terry's House, again on the Brother for Real album. It was such a special day. A day when you like everything you do. When I fired up the track in the studio everything went like clockwork. The mixer and controls were crackle-free, the synths had the right settings and the samplers were full. The effect rack was glowing and was looking forward to processing. The Atari was running well and the MIDI modem had a lot to do! And in the end, a really great session came out."
TW: Can your fans expect new Terry Lee Brown Jr solo stuff in the future?
TLB: "Yes, of course!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Pieces Of Music is out now on Rhythm Distrikt