2020 has undoubtedly been a difficult year for all of us, but if it were a competition, Julian Muller would be up there with one of the most mentally challenging few months I’ve heard of in a long time. Having been diagnosed with Lyme disease near the end of 2019, everything was leaning towards a summer stacked with gigs off the back of his recent solo success. No doubt, that’s been cut short, but the Frenchman has found solace in Call of Duty, his cat and most importantly, his cheesy side.
I first met Julian at a Fée Croquer event Tommy played at in Paris last summer. At the time, he was playing alongside his good mate Jeremy (Hadone) as one half of 90 Process; the ready-to-play raw techno unit that mashed together what felt like 90s gameboy sounds with drums fit for the warehouse they had been booked to play on the night. Since then they have gone their separate ways, with Julian flying with seemingly no restrain down the most interesting route of trance-y techno via London-based label Lobster Theremin and Mama Snake’s Amniote Editions (Under his ‘Atheris’ alias; we’ll get to that later) along with a handful of remixes and releases on VAs too. His strictly vinyl approach has earned hat tips from many of the genre’s most respected heads, including our own, Sunil Sharpe. His strictly ‘doing my own thing’ attitude earned an attentive hat tip from me, which brings us up to this point.
Having put the interview off for two days to help my Mam around the house (Yes, we’re really at this point of quarantining), 3pm GMT seen myself and Julian connected via a video call, with his headset already more advanced than my cracked screen and cheap recorder. In very French fashion, he lights a smoke midway through his first answer. The question being the COVID-19 equivalent of chatting about the weather – How’s your lockdown going?
“It’s been so-so. I’m at home in Brussels with my cat and my flatmate so basically everything is OK. It was really hard because as you know I just got this disease right before Coronavirus, so I spent 3 months in bed and then when I started to feel better this Corona shit came out, so it’s been almost 6 months of being at home. I’m happy I’m not becoming crazy right now as I don’t know how I’m managing six months at home. On one hand I’m feeling tired, but on the other I just want to move on being able to leave home or something like that. It’s nice to be able to make music, but now I’m feeling a little bit crazy.”
Speaking as someone who shaved their entire head at 6am after one too many days in isolation, I’ve found going a little bit crazy is an interesting exploration into what makes you tick and wondered if Julian was thinking the same,
“I’ve had that. Now it’s just all the same, I’m waking up, going to the sofa, having a coffee, making music and playing video games, which is totally new for me. I never played them. I’m playing Call Of Duty, killing some people. All the aggression is going into the game, so I’m chill.”
With all of the doom and gloom of lockdown, there has been a peculiar upside to it for Julian’s music career as there had been for me. While his 2020 has been about as stressful as it could’ve been, the past few months has seen his music find a home in plenty of newfound fans’ hearts, which has definitely spurred him on despite the obvious drawbacks;
“Lockdown has been a lot more positive than negative for my music career. Seriously positive, it’s just shit because you’re not seeing the light in terms of gigs, but in the big picture, it’s been crazily good for me. I saw the difference of before and after. We don’t have that element of posing on Instagram and now the public has to focus on music a little bit more.
“Before the lockdown, I was stuck in bed, feeling really sick – it was really hard. I made some tracks that I still have open that I need to finish. When the lockdown started and I was feeling better, I wasn’t productive for like the first ten days, I was just saying ‘I had tons of gigs and everything’s been cancelled’, just feeling shit so I started playing video games. Now it’s getting better and better, I’m making many tracks, only in the morning; that’s the only way for me. Basically, I’m waking up and making music until 2 or 3pm. Lockdown has got me a lot more productive because you have nothing to distract you. If you haven’t got any ideas, which is happening to a lot of producers, you just sit at your desk and just start and reset and start and reset. Once you get an idea it’s a lot easier to finish it compared to before. That’s the good side of the lockdown, I’m just not sure how long it’ll be like that. At a certain point, making music every day will kill your productivity.”
Pulling a quick U-turn away from the seemingly never-ending global pandemic, having only met Julian a year ago, it feels like his solo career has really shot into the gear since then, leading one to forgivably think that he’s somewhat of a newcomer when it comes to production side of things. A very quick trawl through his existing social media brought me back as far as a listing in Tresor in 2014; this is no spring chicken toking on a vape on my phone screen all the way from Brussels.
“Actually, the first gig I played was in Berlin at Arena for the label, CLR. It was a mess, I’m happy no one was there to see it. I’ve always wanted to stick to vinyl, but at this time I wasn’t a very good DJ on vinyl at all. I played a shitty set, to add to the fact that I wasn’t a very good DJ, Skrillex was playing really close to us. He burned out the electricity and I got a 30 minute break in the middle of my set which wasn’t the best for my first gig. It was like 2014, I was 21.”
Techno, especially Julian’s take on the genre, has seemingly never been as popular as it has been right now, with plenty of central European parties becoming almost household names to fans all over the globe. Somehow there’s been a running Ed Banger theme throughout this initial string of VSN World chats, and while that wasn’t the case on this particular day, has the popularity of more mainstream electronic music being the go-to for teenagers in countries like France, Belgium and Germany led to the flowering techno community we see right now?
“I don’t think so. I’m speaking for two generations here, in terms of myself and the people I know. I have listened to other genres since I was young, firstly Hip-Hop and then I got into Drum n’Bass and Dubstep, I wouldn’t say I was listening to Aphex Twin when I was 12. I was listening to shitty Drum n’Bass and Dubstep -“
– So Skrillex’s interference with your first gig was a sign from above?
“- I said to the promoter ‘I left Dubstep and Dubstep is fucking me now!’
“Anyway, I think now it’s a bit different, I think that techno has become something more mainstream and the younger generation is taking more and more drugs, something I don’t find personally very ‘cool’. I am speaking for France especially, given that I’m French. I think that a lot of it is down to drugs and people taking them earlier and earlier. People are looking for stuff that is different to the mainstream, now that Dubstep and EDM are the big mainstream sounds. I think there are lots of new kids trying to be cool, before they would’ve listened to different stuff, but now techno is the new underground mainstream.”
Despite the hyped nature of it, have you found it to be a good or a bad thing overall?
“It’s a good and a bad thing. The good thing is that for sure we have a big community and people are trying to listen and discover more artists, which for sure leads to more opportunities for smaller names to be discovered thanks to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and all that. I Hate Models is an excellent example of that, he blew up off of having some good tracks that the decided they liked. I think the power of social media is good and bad; good, because you can get yourself known and listened to really fast because the public is looking – it’s cool to discover new artists. On the other hand, it’s a mass concept, I saw so many talented artists that were in the spotlight that’re still doing the same good music and people just pass on to the next one.”
Once you really get onto that circuit, it must be somewhat difficult to determine what’s real and what’s not, in terms of genuine connections or people hopping onto trends. Given the more extreme aspects of trance that Julian is into he has seen trends come and go for some time;
“I’ve been around for a while now doing my shit, trying to step back from the circuit so I think I have my own perception of the music industry, which I think is close to the one Sunil has. These kind of guys are the examples I want to follow, they never play any fake shitty games, they play their music even if at a certain point people aren’t into it. A lot of people find me now and think ‘Oh a new guy doing the same shit, trying to follow a trend’ and I’d been doing that for so long and getting rejected so many times too!
Along with the above link, his bond with Lobster Theremin and its many sub labels has definitely been a recurring theme throughout his musical growth, both with 90 Process and his more recent solo releases. While there are many more techno orientated suitors looking for his signature, a place where he can be himself is paramount he says nonchalantly while now toking his vape.
“I love Lobster and it’s like family for me now. You can expect to get a wider audience from this and get known by plenty of other labels too. I said; ‘Why am I looking to more hyped labels that want me to change my style for them?’, then I wrote to Jimmy [Asquith] that I have 20 tracks waiting on my desk. He said he’d release everything, so it was an easy move in the beginning. I got really happy because I mightn’t be getting loads of feedback, but in years time they’ll reflect what I want to be in the music industry; not giving a fuck, doing my shit and releasing totally different stuff. Lobster is the home where I can go wild.
“I’m never going to betray the people have trusted in me. Jimmy doesn’t give a fuck about the hype, he releases the music that he likes. I have noticed the fake parts of the industry and I’m not going to be fully stepping into ‘the game’. Keep a step in and a step out”
“That’s what’s driving me. I don’t want to go full punk, because the public wouldn’t understand. You can play the full punk game, then you have to open your mouth and explain why and the public will not understand because they’re not that interested in what goes on behind the scenes. You can play the game a little bit and control your image, but still not be what I’d call an ‘Instagram DJ’, it’s tricky. Instagram and that is nothing bad, you deserve to use social media to get known when you do interesting projects. What I hate is the people that get known or big because they post cool pictures, some people get massive just from doing that. I wouldn’t say to any artist, fuck off don’t use Instagram etc, but don’t focus on it, make music and cool projects so you’re productive not just a poser.”
While topics such as murky backstages and coronavirus can be draining, it’s worth noting that the man with the best ponytail in techno has definitely been taking it all with a pinch of salt. For every kick drum, there’s a massive europop synth and for every dark warehouse, there’s also a green screen of a beach, so this isn’t someone taking themselves too seriously, in fact, quite the opposite. At the same time, his music undoubtedly has a hard edge to it that knits together the smile-inducing aspects. While the apparent video-game cheese that has been with us even since 90 Process happened to be a coincidence, there definitely seemed to be a Dave the Drummer-ness to his most recent Lobster release at least.
“It kind of just happened but it also comes from my inspiration. Like Dave and all the guys from the UK were true inspirations for my music, especially for drums, percussion and groove. What I added to that was melody which comes naturally to me. It’s what I love. I never thought ‘OK, I’m gonna do a Dave the Drummer track’. It’s funny you mention him, I’m going through these old labels, listening, trying to take inspiration; ‘OK, they’re rolling the tom etc’, let me try that. I’m trying to be as close to that as I can, it’s a lie to say everything comes out of my mind as nobody does that, but for sure I took big inspiration from that era for the grooves and bass of my tracks.
“At that time [of 90 Process], I was really interested in rave sounds so we found a really good mix. I wanted a harder and more raw sound. Thanks to Lobster again, they didn’t try to control what we did. It’s sad that we had to stop the project because we could’ve done a lot more with it, but that’s life.”
So with 90 Process wrapped up, is Atheris something you’re looking to move forward with or was it just a once off thing?
“It’s funny you ask that! That’s because of Mama Snake. When you release on her label (Amniote Editions) she asks you to take an alias, only for her label and related to snakes. So that’s why Jeremy was called Mehen and why everyone on there has an alias, which is fun. I got many requests wanting to release Atheris, saying that it’s really different to Julian Muller but I’m like, what the fuck man, it’s the exact same, just under a different name because of Mama Snake and her label. I’m usually not happy with the idea of an alias as it can distract people from what you’re trying to do, but if they’re her rules then stick to it and it was fun to do it!”
Having spoken about his future plans on starting a label while his platform continues to grow, I ran with the recurring theme of asking who are the artists we mightn’t know of that he thinks are destined for greatness, without even having to think he listed two immediately;
“There are two guys I’m always trying to push as much as I can. One is called MRD and the other would be Trudge. I really aim to push these two guys, they’re sick, they’ve got a vibe that nobody has. Trudge is a genius, even when it comes to two-step and slower shit. With MRD, he’s got this Copenhagen vibe but with a new spin as if he was like ‘OK I’m going to show you how to do this’.”
Really though, where does your cheesy side come from?
“It’s hard to say, I’m really sensitive I think. I grew up with my Mum so I think I got a more feminine way about me. In Berlin, I was hanging out a lot more with the gay community too, which isn’t meant to sound sexist or anything like as if being around girls or gay people makes you cheesy, but more so that I lack masculinity, which you can feel in my music. The other thing that is always driving me is emotion. I listen to mainly rap and hip-hop a lot of the time, because I like music that shows emotions, not just the straight up in your face stuff. That was for when I was younger, I grew up in a bit of a ghetto for a while, so I was playing the tough guy, listening to hard rap and that
“When I left for Berlin I realised, actually I am sweet.”
“I’m a cheesy guy, if you see me speaking to my cat (Shoutout to the main man, OG) you would say ‘I don’t know this guy’, I speak to my cat like a baby. No big inspiration, just my background.”
We wrapped up on this, the most honest of notes from someone who has a much more unique perspective on life and music than a lot would would wish for. For the meantime, maintaining sanity is the goal, with the prospect of clubland’s grand reopening still seemingly a long time away. For now, looking forward to a potential graduation from Call of Duty to Animal Crossing, which may lead us to Muller’s most emotional and music yet, is about all we can hope for in the short term.