The German soulful house legend picks 36 of his all-time favourite tunes
A stalwart of the German house scene since the early 90s, when he first began DJing in his hometown of Wuerzberg, Ralf Gum is undoubtedly the country's foremost exponent of the soulful house sound – though since 2012, he's been based in South Africa, from which base he's since become the first German DJ ever to play in neighbouring Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland.
As you'll read below, Gum has been a lover of African and Latin music since a young age, and both have informed his productions over the years. But his new album Progressions – out on his own GOGO Music label on 1 March – is arguably his most Afro-centric yet, and has clearly been influenced by the past half-decade absorbing the deep, percussive, ultra-soulful style with which South Africa will now forever be associated.
Progressions is his fourth studio album and, as the first didn't arrive till 2008, the latest fruit of what has been an incredibly productive past decade. So what better time to invite him to take a step back and talk us through 36 of his all-time favourite records?
Take it away, Herr Gum…
Six early influences
Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force – Planet Rock [Instrumental] (Tommy Boy, 1982)
"There were various records with this similar groove at that time, and I loved mixing them when I just got my first opportunities to use turntables at a friend's place. Planet Rock was the first one that came to my mind. It is a classic of course, but I was always more into the instrumental."
David Bendeth – Feel The Real (Sidewalk, 1979)
"Disco always was roots, foundation and a strong influence for me, as I collected a lot of 70s disco during the late 80s. I could mention many artists or tracks, as well unknown records, but Feel The Real always stayed on top of my list. A beautifully written song played by a great combo of musicians."
Fela & Africa 70 – Zombie (Coconut, 1976)
"Fela Kuti’s Zombie album was the first Afrobeat record I came across at the local record store, maybe around 1989. Except for a Miriam Makeba album which was in the collection of my parents, it might have been the first time I intentionally came in touch with African music. It had huge impact on me and made me dig deeper."
José Mangual & Carlos Patato Valdez – Masacote (Latin Percussion Ventures, 1974)
"I must have found the album Understanding Latin Rhythms around the same time as Fela’s Zombie and immediately fell in love. Percussion always had a magical appeal to me, and this was an amazing source of rhythmical knowledge and definitely schooled me. Masacote has always been a highlight of the album, which contains many more great grooves."
Chip E – Like This (DJ International, 1986)
"At Christmas 1986 my parents put a very special vinyl under the tree. The House Sound of Chicago had formidable success around that time, and wasn’t too hard to find. It introduced me and many others in Europe to the acid and house sounds coming from Chi-Town. This album is probably the basis for my appreciation of four-to-the-floor electronic grooves. It contained Like This, Love Can’t Turn Around and other classics, but it was probably Steve 'Silk' Hurley’s Jack Your Body which I was digging most."
De La Soul – Say No Go (Tommy Boy, 1989)
"For a few years I was into hip-hop and collected a bit of it, although not as crazy as other genres. There’s been a time for Public Enemy, I listened to Cypress Hill or House Of Pain, as much as the whole breakdance vibe from the early 80s and everything in-between. 3 Feet High And Rising was like a breeze of fresh air in its time, and still sounds positive and attractive today."
SIX RECORDS THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE
Bobby Konders – Nervous Acid (Massive B, 1992)
"The closest town which had a real club scene at that time was Frankfurt for me. The sound of Sven Väth at the legendary Omen is engraved in the memories of my late teens and early 20s! The first time I heard him playing this track, it really took me to outer space. I heard Dr Alban’s Hello Africa for the first time that night too, and it blew the dancefloor away. It was his timing which made great records sound extra special."
Black Traxx – Your Mind Is So Crazy [Original Mix] (Night Club Records, 1992)
"When this came out, it did to me exactly what the title says. Simple as that. Since around 1991 my personal taste shifted more towards the US house sound and this became an essential record, one that in my mind I still have crazy love for."
Basic Channel – Phylyps Track II (Basic Channel, 1994)
"As a househead, New York always had special attraction, especially in the early 90s, and I visited there a few times. On one of the trips I met Lem and Jon of Mood II Swing: in my memory, it was late 1993 and we were hanging out at a club in Manhattan, when suddenly within a deep but soulful house vibe this track dropped. I ran to Jon who usually knew all the new stuff, but he wasn’t sure either. Now, seeing the release date, either I'm wrong or the DJ had it early. I can’t recall who played that night, but he and this record made an ever-lasting impression!"
Chicago People – Love Changes (Smack Productions, 1995)
"Smack Music, Smack Production, Mentalinstrum (and their Dubs), Eddie Perez, Music Station were one of a kind, and killing it during this period. Their very own clap and hi-hat heavy sound and unmistakable chord progressions captured me. I chased all of their vinyl releases like gold nuggets and this is one of their remixes which I really played a lot."
St Germain – What’s New? (F-Communications, 1995)
"The whole Boulevard album came out on three vinyl EPs prior to its full release. What’s New? was included on the first EP and the mixing of it, the minimal bassline, punchy drums, plus the lovely saxophone combined with the spoken vocal, which then namechecks the above-mentioned Smack, got me right away. Of course the whole album is brilliant and an all-time classic."
Todd Edwards – Can’t You Believe? (i! Records, 1995)
"Seems like 1995 was either a good year for music or a life-changing time for me! Probably it coincides with the period when I became sure that music is a calling and house music my thing. Todd Edwards sounded so different and was the first one to do sampling differently to my ears. It totally fascinated me how he chopped up vocals and sample snippets."
SIX PERSONAL PRODUCTIONS
Hacienda – Sabor [Ralf GUM Latin Flavour Remix] (INFRACom!, 2000)
"In the late 90s and early 00s I was feeling the Latin-influenced sound a lot, and this is one of my favourite remixes from that period – even though I never actually played it that much myself."
Ralf GUM ft Diamondancer – All This Love For You (GOGO Music, 2008)
"Diamondancer killed the lyrics on this track, and the rather simple Rhodes line is one of the first chord progressions I played on my newly owned Fender Rhodes. Of course Rocco killed the remixes, too, and helped make it a classic."
Ralf Gum feat Kafele – Complicated (GOGO Music, 2010)
"This is one of those tracks where I would not have expected such great feedback, from dancefloors at least, for the Original Version. I’ve been aware of its popularity in South Africa, but when I’ve been to WMC 2010 and heard it in so many sets it touched me."
Ralf Gum feat Monique Bingham – Take Me To My Love (GOGO Music, 2012)
"This song will always be special, not only because of the success it meant for Monique and me, especially in my new home, but as well because of the two years we’d been working back and forth until we both felt that it slaps! Many in the motherland called it a national anthem in 2012."
Ralf Gum – With Her Hand (GOGO Music, 2014)
"An absolute highlight since my relocation to South Africa was recording Hugh Masekela. I could have mentioned him in my early influences, too, and the outcome of the two songs we recorded in two hours is amazing. I will forever cherish that he gave me the opportunity to meet and work with him."
Ralf Gum – We Repeat (GOGO Music, 2019)
"Taken off my forthcoming album, this is my first collaboration with legendary Detroit vocalist Paul Randolph. His lyrics make it a timeless anthem already, and what makes it really special to me is the dope string arrangement, which was written by my co-producer Nivalito and played to perfection by Susan and Evert from the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra. My first ever string recording!"
SIX RECORDS THAT NEVER LEAVE YOUR BOX
Romanthony – Bring U Up (Black Male Records, 1995)
"Reworked, remixed and edited countless times, but it's still the Original I prefer. The horn stabs, groovy beat, Prince-vibe guitar and vocal combination is exceptional. An amazing artist who left us way too soon: may his soul rest in peace."
Fonda Rae – Living In Ecstasy [The Groove Mix] (Freetown Inc, 1996)
"An outstanding production by the outstanding Mood II Swing, who were on a roll at that time. I had the Freetown release of this, which is one of my absolute favourite labels from the mid-90s. They released outstanding songs, many of them being classics nowadays."
Chocolate City – Love Songs (Deep Dish Records, 1995)
"Chocolate City was an alias for the young Deep Dish, and I could not stop playing this record when it was new. The musicality is amazing and I always loved that the track completely changes around the seven-minute mark."
Blaze present James Toney Jr Project – Elevation (Life Line, 2000)
"Josh Milan and Kevin Hedge AKA Blaze have to be mentioned somewhere when compiling such a list! Here I chose one of their later releases, Elevation. Their earlier productions could as well be named in early influences, and this is one of several of their tracks which don’t leave the box."
Filsonik – Can U [Syam Music Mix] (Un-Restricted Access, 2006)
"So simple yet so effective, this groove never gets boring, and is still copied and sampled by many. It is always a secret weapon that I still use from time to time."
HNNY – Trummor (Local Talk, 2012)
"A great percussion tool and so much more. Usually I don’t like overuse of effects in DJ sets, but this one combined with the Pioneer mixer Echo effect and some EQ is something else."
SIX BBQ RECORDS
Erykah Badu – Appletree (Universal, 1996)
"Baduism was the blueprint of a relaxed Sunday afternoon soundtrack for me when it came out. Sonically, the focus on the Fender Rhodes with those often rimshot-heavy grooves spoke to me, and still does. The quality of the songwriting is beyond question, too. Timeless."
Bah Samba – Calma (BKO Productions, 2005)
"With Four, Jullian Bendall released a great, mostly Latin-influenced album. At a BBQ or in the car, it still does the trick today for three generations: my mother and even my kids (at the age of four and six) like this one."
Micatone – A Part Of Me (No Zession, 2001)
"A lovely, chilled-out song with some nice subtle sound effects and a great-sounding Lisa Bassenge on vocals. You’ll never go wrong with this"
Azymuth – Partido Alto (Milestone, 1979)
"This track doesn’t really sound like it's from the 70s: it's Latin jazz music at its best. It's also the song which made me a fan of Azymuth. Just take a whole playlist of their songs and you’ll have a great braii, as the South African BBQ is called."
Roy Ayers Ubiquity – Everybody Loves The Sunshine (Polydor, 1976)
"An obvious choice, as of course everybody loves the sunshine and Roy Ayers!"
Kem – Love Calls (Motown, 2003)
"Kem’s voice is something very special and I would not mind if he performs some songs at my next BBQ! Love Calls of course is one of his big hits and that’s for a reason, as it is simply a beautiful song."
SIX AFTERHOUR RECORDS
DJ Camacho – Renegade [Fugitive Version] (Sumo Records, 1995)
"New York late night vibes. I heard Renegade for the first time played by Camacho himself and maybe that’s why I like it even more, but I never stopped dropping it and it always sounds great."
Glenn Underground – What Glenn Thinks (Unified Records, 2009)
"This might not appear like a typical afterhours record right away, but just drop it in the early hours and let it play for the full 11 minutes. It will carry you away. PS: It works during the daytime, too!
Version – The Brighter Side [Jimpster Remix] (Miso, 2008)
"I admire Jimpster’s work no matter what mood he goes for. In my opinion, there’s hardly a more consistent house producer out there. As I did not fit him in anywhere else already, I chose his mix of The Brighter Side as it's perfect for those late nights. His Reprise sounds great too, and Version is of course a collaboration between two other masters, namely Charles Webster and Atjazz."
Manoo – Abyss (Deeply Rooted House, 2008)
"I simply love the sound design of this track. The evolving pads are lovely, and this is probably my most played work of Manoo’s huge catalogue."
BLVD East – Mototronic [Main Mix] (CD Pool, 2007)
"This track always adds good energy to late night sets. The percussive groove, subtle acid line and its harmonies make it a great record to make the crowd fly away."
BeBe Winans – Thank you [Kenlou Horn Mix] (Atlantic, 1998)
"Not necessarily an afterhours record, but a great song to end a night on. On a list with many house classics there should always be a Masters At Work production, even you find it now in a category where you would not have expected it!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Ralf Gum's Progressions album is out on GOGO Music on 1 March – order it here
Tags: Ralf Gum, GOGO Music, South Africa, soulful house, Afrika Bambataa, David Bendeth, Fela Kuti, Chip E, De La Soul, Bobby Konders, Black Traxx, Basic Channel, Chicago People, St Germain, Todd Edwards, Diamondancer, Monique Bingham, Hugh Masekela, Romanthony, Fonda Rae, Deep Dish, Blaze, HNNY, Erykah Badu, Bah Samba, Micatone, Azymuth, Roy Ayers, Kem, Motown, DJ Camacho, Glenn Underground, Jimpster, Manoo, BLVD East, BeBe Winans