Oliver Huntemann's label has been specialising in dark but decidedly groovy techno for a whole half of one decade. Time for a chat…
For five years now, Oliver Huntemann's Senso Sounds label has been steadily carving out its own niche within the electronic music pantheon. While definitely classifiable as techno – and usually techno from the darker side of the spectrum at that – Senso Sounds releases seldom come less than fully loaded, too, with that all-important groove: dark room jackboot nihilism this definitely is not.
As you'll read below, Huntemann set up the label in 2014, following a move to Hamburg from his native Bremen. To date, Senso Sounds has put out 52 singles and EPs, starting with Huntemann's own Blitz & Donner and coming right up-to-date with the label's next single, The Vision by Boris, which is out in a few weeks. Along the way there've been releases from the likes of Dubfire, Maksim Dark, Dubspeeka and André Winter as well as from the label boss himself, with the biggest seller to date being Dubfire & Oliver Huntemann's Elements Remixed in 2016. 2016 also saw the same pair helming the Retrospectivo 2008-2016 compilation, one of just two albums issued to date by Senso Sounds – the other being Huntemann's own Propaganda last year (which holds the label record for physical sales).
Now, in honour of fifth anniversary, there's another compilation coming up, which seemed like a good excuse to find out a bit more about the label…
When was Senso Sounds set up, and why?
"It’s our fifth anniversary this year. The label's actual birth date was 21 July 2014, with the release of my Blitz & Donner single."
And there's an anniversary compilation in pipeline, I gather…
"Yes, the anniversary compilation is in the making as we speak. The major artists are all delivering brand new exclusive tracks, and there are already some bombs on my hard disk!
"We're also gonna have a few showcase events – in fact we already started, with our annual OFF Week rooftop pool party in Barcelona. Another special one will be our appearance at Deichbrand Open Air on Germany’s North Sea coast, because that happens exactly on our birthday, 21 July. We’ll be taking over a whole stage for the day."
How many people are employed by/involved in running the label?
"I run Senso Sounds by myself, but I have help with the label administration from S.E.N, who also run Poker Flat and Audiomatique with Steve Bug, and help Trentemøller with his projects. The distribution is done by Paradise for digital, and Word & Sound for vinyl and CD.
"Additionally, I work with some freelancers. Anne-Marie Pappas does the outstanding artwork, Adam Carter from Exclusive London handles DJ promo, and Pascal Mühlhausen is in charge of social media management and pre-vetting demos."
Despite being first and foremost a househead, I can get to Senso Sounds' style of techno because despite the moodiness there's a real funk and groove there – is that something that's important to you? And how do you describe the label's music policy?
"There’s basically no rule but one: the sound is the key! If someone has a dark attitude in his or her sound, loves techy grooves for the dancefloor and has a unique style, their chances to be featured on the label are good.
"That last part, a unique style, is very important. I try to maintain a specific sound but I also appreciate that every artist on Senso has their own style. Shaded, for example, is more groovy with tiny bits of techno vocal snippets. Maksim Dark more than lives up to his name, while my buddy André Winter sets the threshold one bar higher with every release – he's one of the most underrated producers in the scene.
"I really like that every artist can represent his own style: the artists shouldn't have to bend just to be on the label. Carlo Ruetz, for example, has various styles, and some fit Senso really well and some not so much. So I don’t mind that he’s also releasing on other labels such as the great Mood from Nicole Moudaber – it’s about supporting the creativity of the artist."
Mind you, these days techno and house seem to be a lot closer together again… certainly closer than they were for most of the 90s, for instance. Thoughts?
"That’s what I love about electronic music in general: it’s constantly changing and evolving!
"I rarely use vocals on my tracks, but I do enjoy the work of artists like Radio Slave, who combine house and techno very well, with just the right combination of a simple, straight techno beat and minimal vocals. So yes, as you say, house and techno seem to get along pretty well these days."
I noticed that your own socials rarely use the word "techno," referring instead to the label's output as "the finest underground dance music". Is there a reason for that?
"Indeed we have a reason for that, and it’s the extension of my previous answer – when I look at myself I think I’m always caught between two stools, too! Never as bright and cheerful as Diynamic and never as hard and fast as Ostgut. Combining the best of both words makes me happy.
"Of course, we do use the word techno, for example when you check our demo guidelines. It’s not like that we try to avoid the word, it just seems like that every year the definition of techno is rewritten. For most people, techno is just hard industrial stuff but the variety of this genre is huge. It’s sometimes just more elegant for us to use our own definition “the finest underground dance music” as we have a particular sound."
You previously ran the Ideal Audio and Confused Recordings labels. What are the big differences between those labels and Senso Sounds?
"The main difference is that Ideal Audio and Confused Recordings were both based in Bremen. I ran both of those labels with my former business partner, but when I moved to Hamburg around 10 years ago, I just had the feeling it was time to start something new, with a local crew here in Hamburg.
"It was kind of like a reset button – music-wise, as well, because with a new crew and new artists the sound also changed. I guess you could say the sound got fresher."
What did you learn running those labels, that's helped you since you set up Senso Sounds?
"Experience is always good when you want to start something new. I had the contacts with distributors, a network to a lot of artists and I knew what it would actually cost – financially and time-wise – to run a label. That really helped a lot."
Your career as a DJ, producer and label owner now goes back a good quarter-century. In all that time, what was your biggest-ever mistake, and what was your most genius move?
"At the end of the 90s, I lost myself in some cheesy electronic pop projects and it happened the way it had to. I couldn’t do it anymore and had to stop it. One year without money, selling my car to my parents to find myself back. I knew I’d find it and never gave up but it was a hard time.
"I started producing only stuff I’d play in my DJ sets, and very soon it paid off. The first H-Man EP on Giant Wheel [H-Man was Huntemann's mid-00s project with Stephan Bodzin] brought me back to life and business."
Senso Sounds runs alongside your Kontrast Artists bookings agency, so tell us a bit about how the two intertwine. Are there ever any times where the two come into conflict, or when it feels like you've bitten off more than you can chew?
"The agency was founded around the same time as the label. I'd moved from Plantage13 to Cocoon Bookings, and both agencies were great, but it never felt like home. So I decided to run my own and I asked my tour manager Suratt if he can imagine to run it with me, as I knew becoming an artist agent was his big dream.
"Ever since then, there's always been a lot of cross-over with the label. Most of the artists signed to the agency have also released on Senso Sounds, and those links help us to develop the network really well. For example, if most of the Senso artists are also listed in the booking agency, it’s way easier to organise showcases. We also tend to get more demos from the artists. So far, I’ve never had the feeling that it is too much!"
Events are important for a lot of labels these days, so are there any upcoming Senso Sounds club nights/parties/festivals/etc to tell us about?
"As it’s our birthday year we'll actually be hosting quite a few events this summer. Watergate, Berlin and hopefully KAFES, Istanbul will all be experiencing Senso Sounds takeovers, and Südpol in Hamburg will host a 24-hour party on 13 July.
"OFF Week just passed by us and it was outstanding. Our small boutique pool party has had such a great vibe for five years now, and I’m really happy that we’re back there with Senso on 20 July. Then, that same weekend, we head straight back to Germany to take over a whole stage during Deichbrand Open Air."
And what's coming up on release-wise?
"Well, our five-year compilation is in its final steps, as I said, and I’m happy to have a lot of Senso regulars around for that, plus a few fresh faces.
"I just signed a single from Boris (Elsewhere, NYC/Berghain, Berlin) which I’m super-stoked about, and I also spent some time in the studio myself, to deliver some fresh tunes. So we have some busy months to come."
Finally, what else is going on in the world of Oliver Huntemann and Senso Sounds right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"We recently put out our 50th release, and used the occasion to launch a new series of EPs called KONTAKT, which will focus on collaborations between our artists. But the main focus for me and the label this year is the compilation and the fifth birthday celebrations. I have a few other ideas but they need time to grow; right now it’s more important to focus on our anniversary."
Words: Russell Deeks Team pic: Julian Erksmeyer
The Vision by Boris is out in August. The Senso Sounds fifth anniversary compilation is coming soon.
Tags: Oliver Huntemann, Senso Sounds, Hamburg, Kontrast Artists, Stephan Bodzin, H-Man, Ideal Audio, Confused Recordings, Boris, Dubfire, Maksim Dark, Dubspeeka, André Winter, Carlo Ruetz, Mood, Nicole Moudaber, Shaded, S.E.N, Word & Sound, Deichbrand Open Air, OFF Week, Barcelona, techno